A Deer Hunt in Ontario's Sunset Country

It’s truly a hidden gem, not just for Ontario residents but the world

Where do big bucks roam? Where is there vast amounts of untouched wilderness where whitetail populations live unpressured? I think I have the answer, Sunset Country in North Western Ontario. It’s truly a hidden gem, not just for Ontario residents but the world.

Why do I say this? Because it’s truly an untouched, unspoiled wilderness that boasts an amazing whitetail population. Every deer hunter knows that far beyond skill and gear to harvest a big buck you have to have them in your woods to start with. The key to seeing big mature whitetails grow is a lack of pressure. Sunset Country around Kenora, Ontario is full of giant tracts of public land, so vast that there are many places that have never seen a human and many deer that have never seen a human.

The big woods' whitetails are magical, they are not pressured by farming or people, they move in daylight. They act like unpressured animals. The age structure is proper where you have young bucks, mature bucks, post-mature bucks, and proper buck-to-doe ratios. The rut is more active and the natural habits of deer happen so naturally. That all speaks to a healthy herd.

hunter with harvested deer

(Photo credit: Canada in the Rough)

What does all this mean, it means great hunting. This year I hunted November with Jeff Gustafson of Jeff Gustafson Outdoors. The hunt was located just west of Kenora and an hour from the Manitoba border.

I must admit, Jeff had done months of work prior to my arrival. Years would likely be more accurate. He had grown up in this country and through trial and error and nothing short of miles on boots found what valleys, timber, and swamp systems constantly held deer. Before my arrival, he had scouted hard and was able to share scouting camera pictures of deer in different areas, sign of deer, and give his best opinion of where I should sit and what caliber of deer I could reasonably expect to hold out for.

My tag was buck only and personally, I like to see young bucks be passed to reach maturity for the health of the herd. Jeff knew I was after a mature buck and together came up with the strategy to up my odds on one. We decided I would do all-day sits in one location. When hunting big mature deer in any part of the world you need the stars to line up to see one, so sitting all day put the odds a little heavier in my favor.

On day one we were in before the sun came up, nestled into a ground blind with a comfortable chair, a thermos full of hot chocolate, and heavy lunch. The wind was in our faces, we were at the base of a ridge so deer would funnel by us and the lake further below. The first stick cracked an hour into our sit and a one-antlered 1.5-year-old buck emerged from the thick timber. He was beautiful, this pattern continued all day, we saw 6 different bucks, 1 doe, and a fawn. The oldest buck we encountered was 2.5 years old. We watched deer all through the day and the closest walked by our blind at 8 yards.

deer on trail cam

The next morning was a no-brainer and we were back in the same location. It was not as productive as the day before. But we saw deer, the movement was just much slower.

That night a weather system moved in and changed the wind, and we could not return to our same location the next morning. A bit discouraged we drove to another spot that Jeff felt just as confident in as he had seen sign and captured pictures of mature bucks. We crawled into our blind again at dark and settled in for a long sit, it was cold and well below freezing. My breath was fogging up my vision as darkness gave way to dim light. Then long before I expected it at 70 yards away a large body emerged from the timber into a small clearing, I could tell immediately it was a big-bodied deer. Then its head swung my way and I could see rack crowned on top of his head. Even in the low light, I could tell he was a good buck. He fed along the edge in and out of sight and then stopped in the clearing. The light was coming fast and I could not see his frame and tines. I picked up my binos and got a clear look at him, he was one of the mature 10 points that Jeff had on camera and one of the deer we were there to target. I never looked at his rack again; I settled up to my rifle and found the buck in my scope as it rested on my shooting sticks. For 5 minutes I watched this majestic buck through my scope but never gave me the right angle. Finally, he stepped around a small group of trees and emerged broadside, I set the crosshairs and slowly squeezed. The buck ran and I could instantly see where my shot had hit and breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing it was a good shot. I sat quietly for many minutes letting the woods calm and then called Jeff to let him know. Thirty minutes later he joined us and we walked 40 yards well-marked trail the deer had taken to my Ontario buck. He was beautiful, a clean 10 point with a big healthy body.

It was a wonderful moment in the woods as we processed the deer to the truck. We later turned that deer into cuts of meat that will feed my family all winter. I had a great hunt in Sunset Country and so enjoyed the big woods hunt with lots of animal encounters. I’d recommend this part of Ontario to anyone.

About Keith Beasley

Keith Beasley was among the first Canadians to be elected to sit on the prestigious Board of Directors for the U.S.-based Quality Deer Management Association, and in addition to his field experience as a whitetail hunter, the insight and educational exposure he has had to whitetail deer and whitetail deer management through the QDMA is second to none.

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