Big Game Hunting in Newfoundland

Woodland Caribou World Record Taken at Loon Lake, NL

The following excerpt was taken out of the Longhunter Muzzleloading Big Game Record Book, 2nd Edition, and was written by Mr. Collins Kellogg. Collins came to take a record Woodland Caribou with a muzzleloader. His summary is typical of the hunt and services provided by Sou’wester outfitting.

World Record Muzzleloading Woodland Caribou
299 7/8 — Loon Lake, Newfoundland
by Collins F. Kellogg

Woodland Caribou World RecordMany experienced big game hunters consider the caribou one of the easiest animals to hunt, if not the easiest. I would agree with this opinion except for two subspecies of caribou: the mountain and the woodland varieties. Hunting either one of these subspecies and trying to find an exceptional trophy can be very challenging to any hunter.

In hunting the mountain caribou, horses can be of great assistance. The hunter must cover a great deal of terrain while searching for a suitable trophy. Hunting the woodland caribou of Newfoundland is a different proposition because you must travel exclusively on foot. Only by shank’s mare can you get a look at a real trophy because the terrain is quite difficult. The “tuckamore” is a dense tangle of scrub spruce and balsam, virtually impenetrable, and one must detour around or bull through it. The bogs and ponds also create obstacles to ideal hiking.

During the winter of 1993-94 I received a letter from Clarence Childs, a friend and longtime Newfoundland guide, who wrote that he was going to be guiding for a new outfitter who had purchased an area that had been hunted sparingly for five years. This new operation, Sou’wester Outfitting out of York Harbour, is run by Dean and Bonnie Wheeler. The prospect sounded interesting. A short phone call later, I was set up for a 1X1 caribou hunt during late September. The rut probably would start by then.

Having taken many woodland caribou via centerfire rifle or bow, two of which were Boone and Crockett quality, I decided that I would hunt with a muzzleloader on this trip. This muzzleloading rifle was not new to me; I had taken numerous big game animals with it. I decided to change my usual load for this hunt. Previously I had always used a patched roundball in my Thompson/Center .50 caliber Hawken, but I wanted to try out T/C’s 275-grain Maxi-Hunter. After testing this bullet and a number of loads over the bench, I settled on using 100 grains of Pyrodex ® RS Select behind it. This load gave me fine accuracy with iron sights and I sighted in four inches low at 100 yards.

My wife and I arrived in Stephenville, Newfoundland, on Saturday, September 24, and were flown by helicopter into Sou’wester Lodge on Loon Lake. The lake, which flows into the Grey River, is located in the southwestern part of the island. No Sunday hunting is permitted in Newfoundland, so the following day was spent getting acquainted with the staff and discussing with Clarence the hunting potential for a trophy caribou. The guides were new to the area and had been 100 percent successful for both moose and caribou, but no really exceptional caribou had been spotted yet.

The first day of the hunt was less than perfect; we awoke to dense fog coming in from the south. By 8:00 A.M. visibility was less than 100 yards. Nevertheless, Clarence and I climbed a ridge behind camp and planned our hunt to the northwest. It was nearly noon before the fog cleared enough to permit our glassing beyond more than half a mile. We observed numerous caribou, but they were primarily cows or cows with calves, and some small bulls. In the course of the day we did look over at least five mature bulls, but none of them that would have scored over 200 points maximum. We returned to camp that evening tired but enthusiastic, since we had seen over 50 caribou.

Day two of the hunt turned out clear and sunny, and we planned to hunt to the southeast of Loon Lake. Clarence and I sailed the boat a mile or so down to the outlet of the lake and took off on foot. Following the game trails, we slogged through the bogs and forced our way through the tuckamore, gradually gaining elevation and trying to locate a place from which to glass.

When we had progressed to a position about three miles from the lake, glassing all new country as we came to it, we found a small knob from which we could survey a vast area of perfect caribou terrain. From here we could see numerous caribou feeding, including a couple of fair-sized bulls. After setting up spotting scopes, we started checking these out.

Clarence discovered a really big bull coming out of the timber about a mile away. I swung the Swarovski scope to that general area, turned down the power, and located him. When I turned the scope power up to 40X, I knew he was a dandy. After viewing him for a few minutes as he picked his way along, my calculation was that he would go 290 points, at least. “Let’s go!”

Just as we were about to leave, we discovered that there were five cows about half a mile ahead of him and that he was following them. The bull was already thinking about collecting his harem. Hurriedly, we gathered up our gear and took off in hot pursuit. A group of caribou can cover a lot of distance in a short time unless they find an interesting place to feed or bed down, and it didn’t look like as if these animals were going to do either one.

In trying to overtake them, we pushed ourselves physically, since they already had a mile-and-a-half jump on us and all our traveling was uphill. Finally, we made it to the top and found that a vast bog lay in front of us. We could see at least three miles of it but, after glassing the area, we determined that the caribou had not chosen to go in that direction. Turning to the northwest and to our left, we saw a series of bogs and small ponds surrounded by sparse timber. After a few minutes of scrutiny with binoculars, we discovered a couple of cows that were being followed by our bull. He was about half a mile away from us.

Checking the wind, we continued on as rapidly as possible, trying to cover the distance before they moved any further away. When we had traveled about 600 yards, we came to a pond and found the cows and bull feeding at the far end, about 200 yards away. When they had fed on out of sight, we carefully skirted the edge of the pond.

After moving only a few hundred feet along the trail they had taken at the end of the lake, we saw the cows feeding in a small bog a little over 100 yards away from us. The bull was not yet in sight, but we knew that he would be nearby in the sparse timber beside them. I crawled to a boulder a few feet distant and took off my backpack, placing it on the rock as a rest. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of the bull’s white cape and antlers moving through the trees as he headed for the cows.

After what seemed like hours of tension, the bull emerged from the timber. He walked directly away from me until he was 140 yards distant–not offering a clean take. At the last moment he quartered a bit, and I took the shot. After the smoke cleared from the bog I could see the five cows running away. The bull staggered for 50 feet and fell.

Upon caping him, we found the bullet in his off-front shoulder under the skin. It had penetrated 42 inches of caribou including the paunch and had taken out both lungs. We quartered the bull and covered the meat with boughs to keep off flies and birds; it would be picked up the next day. Clarence packed up the cape and antlers and we took off on the long trek back to camp. The caribou green-scored 305 1/8 the following morning. This was a little more than I had field-judged him with the spotting scope. Of all the subspecies of caribou, I think that a record-class woodland is the most beautiful, and I have been fortunate enough to have taken examples of all the subspecies. You should be prepared for some long and difficult hikes if you hunt them. I was lucky to take this bull on the second day of the hunt, but I’ve also had to pursue them until the last day. I feel certain that you will enjoy the abundance of game and the fine people on the friendly island of Newfoundland.