Big Game Hunting in Newfoundland

Guiding JR – “Phew Man”

You see them come and you see them go but at first glance you knew this young man was ready to rock and roll and that he knew his craft, he knew how to hunt. He came to Newfoundland to hunt moose with his father, Steve, and his friend, Max. This was his first guided hunt outside of his homeland and he did not know exactly what to expect but whatever it was he was ready for it. Jeremy Robertson is from Indiana and ironically many of the people from Newfoundland and those from Indiana have a lot in common. Jeremy took his living from the land and the guides at camp took theirs from the sea. In both cases you get up early and you put in a good day’s work, whether at sea or on the land.

I have been outfitting since the early 90’s and I had the pleasure of being this young man’s guide. In his late 20’s and weighing 200 lbs there was not an ounce of fat on his six foot frame. Early mornings and long days on the farm prepared him for whatever the hunt demanded. You fly to camp one day and you hunt the next. It is an opportunity for the hunters to get an appreciation for the terrain and for them to get to know their guides.

The hunt was at Indian Pond and although they chose to hunt early in the season when the weather is generally good, in Newfoundland there are no guarantees. Indian Pond has a fiord-like appearance and at first glance you realize that glacial action as recent as 18,000 years ago carved this masterpiece. Erosion has yet to fully smoothen the landscape and the towering hills and cliffs which adorn the lake make for spectacular scenery; the forested areas in the lowlands are a haven for moose.

The night before the hunt was to begin, a southeasterly wind steadily strengthened to a 40 to 60 knot gale as the winds funneled through the gorge. Heavy rains, more horizontal than vertical in direction, pounded the lodge and the wave action in the lake made it unsafe to utilize the boats. The clock was set two hours prior to dawn but there was no need. The guides at camp know the importance of getting up early and being in the field at first light. At 4 o’clock as I made my way out to start the generator so that breakfast could be prepared, I greeted Jeremy as he sat in the darkness impatiently waiting for the hunt to begin. I was greeted with “phew man” an expression that would come to characterize the hunt. I had drifted in and out of sleep for some time and came to realize that one of the hunters, JR, had difficultly sleeping and could not wait for daylight and for the hunt to begin.

The aroma of perked coffee, toast, fried bacon and eggs permeated the lodge and after a hearty breakfast JR, his father and Max were ready to set out. The weather dictated otherwise however. The guides consulted each other, checked the weather and decided to sit for awhile and wait for conditions to improve. We hunt in all weather conditions in Newfoundland but when safety becomes an issue it is much wiser to “put up for a bit” as we say. The hunters were pumped, adrenalin flowing and the thirst for the hunt insatiable. You could see the element of disappointment in their eyes, especially JR’s, when they were told that we were going to sit this one out.

Early morning dragged on with not much improvement in the elements. By mid-morning however, there were some indications that the worst was over and things were about to get a little better. I nonchalantly began preparing a lunch and putting my pack together. I checked my gear, jumped in my camo, checked the weather and as I threw my pack over my shoulder I asked JR if he intended to go hunting with me or was he going to stay at camp for the remainder of the day. He was curious for some time as to why I was shuffling about. For the others who planned to utilize the boats for the hunt, safety was still a factor and they had to continue to wait it out. My plans were to leave on foot, “shanks mare” as we call it. Upon asking Jeremy what his intentions were his face lit up and he leapt from his chair, grabbed his jacket and in seconds was out the door rifle in hand.

My initial plan for the first day was to head to and hunt the perimeter of Squaw Lake. Squaw Lake is another significant water body approximately a two hour hike in a northwest direction. I had hunted the area the previous year and sighted a number of trophy class animals. Moose are not to any degree transient and most of the time they live out their life in a predefined area. Nothing within our hunting area would push the animals out. They have an abundant food source and given the area has been classified as a Wilderness Reserve there is absolutely no interference from man. It was a very good chance that the moose I spotted a year previous would be in the same general location, at least that is what I was hoping for.

We had to rethink our plan however, given that our day had been shortened because of weather and we had to make sure that we did not stray any great distance from camp. Even though the weather had improved it could worsen at any moment and in such cases a two hour hike back to the lodge would be onerous and challenging. We decided to hunt the terrain directly behind camp and concentrate on the base of the mountain to our left. A bull was spotted from camp the previous day and it was my intention to check to see if he was still there and just how big he was. Twenty minutes from camp we stopped at our first vantage point and glassed a small valley that ran from the mountain’s summit to its base. The valley was wooded on the side opposite us and provided good habitat for our quarry. After exhausting every corner our glasses would permit us to and not spotting anything we decided to push on. It took us another 20 – 30 minutes to reach our second vantage point. The leeward side of a rocky knoll offered some protection from the wind and a good location to glass a significant area. On a couple of occasions I thought that I heard something other than the wind but was unsure. It wasn’t long however when both of us heard a discernible and unmistaken crack. Directly behind us was what we call in Newfoundland “an island of scrub” and as I turned to Jeremy I pointed and whispered “he is right there”. We had to move a couple of hundred feet to a little higher ground to get a visual and sure enough we could glimpse the antlers no more the 35 yards from us. It was a nine pointer, mid 30’s in width with some palmation. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere and we watched him for some time. Jeremy pondered whether or not he should take him but in the end we watched him run off, his head held high and his jaunt grandeur. The boys at camp did get to utilize the boats and motor to the other end of the lake where Steve took his moose. Given the extreme weather conditions, a very exciting and successful day one.

Day two began much like day one. The winds, however, did not carry with it the same degree of pounding rain and conditions improved rather quickly. Despite a short delay we were trekking off, destination Squaw Lake. The first leg would carry us over the same terrain that we had hunted the day prior and as we passed the location where we stalked the moose both of us reflected on the previous day’s experience and the majesty of the bull we set free. A few thousand feet beyond that point we found another location that offered shelter and a point where we could glass a smaller lake and significant valley. We were not there very long before we spotted a cow moose leave the security of her cover and take off in the opposite direction. The wind was swirling in every which way and she obviously picked up our scent and decided that she should get out of there. We continued to hunt the base of the mountain which offered ideal moose habitat. It was our intentions to hike along in a southwesterly direction and then swing directly north and intercept the lower end of Squaw. We had started in this new direction and gotten to a little higher ground when we spotted a nice bull behind us on the open highlands.

My immediate expression was one of frustration. The moose, although a good distance off, was directly down wind and there was very little vegetation we could use to our advantage. We watched him move in the general direction of the hunting lodge and all of a sudden he dropped in a hollow and out of sight. I put my hand on Jeremy’s shoulder and said “now is our chance, come on”. We pushed hard to get to the opposite side of a ridge so that we could conceal our movement and to a position whereby we could get downwind. There was a chance that he would catch our scent but I was banking that the high winds and the fact that the moose was in a hollow would work to our advantage. It was a long shot but it was our only chance. The bull was in no hurry when we first spotted him so we stood a chance of cutting him off at a predetermined rendezvous, even though we had to circle our prey to do so. After about 30 minutes we crested the hill to where we thought we would spot him again. Nothing. We pushed on a little further until we came to a small stand of fledgling juniper. I decided to sit for a bit so I pulled off my pack and told JR to get comfortable. We were on the opposite side of the small lake where we had spotted the cow earlier in the day and between us and the pond there was a “droke” of woods. I was thinking that the moose could not have gone far and if we were patient enough we could catch glimpse of him again. We were in the middle of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I turned to Jeremy and said “there he is, get ready to shoot”. JR asked what the distance was and I immediately stated 175 yards. The moose was at the periphery of the trees and even though I had a rangefinder there was no time to use it. With one step the moose would be gone and our opportunity lost. Jeremy shot and the moose was as surprised as he was. I told him to relax and chamber again. This time his aim was true and the big bull dropped to the ground. The distance was actually 183 yards and his 30-06 with the recommended 180 grain Hornady bullet did the job.

By the time JR got his moose it was mid afternoon. We caped and cleaned the animal and headed back to camp with the trophy. We would wait until the next day to retrieve the meat. The weather eventually changed for the better with beautiful sunny days for the remainder of the week and into the next. Max took his moose by the side of the lake early Wednesday morning and the following week everyone was successful on Monday. Ironically I never go to hunt Squaw Lake but we did get the opportunity to hike to the area the later part of the second week. My inclinations were correct as we spotted several large bulls and amongst them some recognizable trophies. Well there is always next year.

Dean Wheeler

Tremendous guides, high success rates and quality animals are what set Sou’wester and Caribou Valley apart. Deposits to book your hunt can be placed on your chargecard. If looking for additional information or to book simply give Dean a call toll free at 1-877-751-1681 or email at dean.wheeler@nf.sympatico.ca.

 

Meet The Owner

Dean Wheeler has been outfitting since the early 1990’s and together with his wife, Bonnie, they own and operate both Sou’wester Outfitting and Caribou Valley Outfitters.  An industry advocate who is respected among his peers for providing a quality hunting experience, Dean is the current President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Outfitters Association.

“Thank you for an incredible experience! I’ve shared with several men back here that if they want basically a “sure thing” hunt… Dean’s place is the place. I’ve know guys who’ve paid a lot to come back empty handed. The only way I can imagine that happening at Dean’s place is if you can’t shoot! Which was a challenge for me since I hadn’t shot a gun in 20 years. Just bows for me… but I’m glad that I switched to a gun!”