James Smedley's 11th-Hour Deer

On the last day of his hunt outside of Thunder Bay, James Smedley manages to harvest a doe when all hope of such a thing is slipping away.

“Let’s hunt till noon,” I text my hunting partner, Gord Ellis, who is hunkered down in a ground blind 500 metres away over the rise of a hill. I'm in a ground blind along the wooded edge of an open field east of Thunder Bay. It’s a cool, overcast, mid-November morning. Although in the final stretch of my hunt, I’m still hopeful. I keep careful watch over the rolling grassy field, occasionally scanning the bush line with binoculars to a corner where Gord has sweetened the property with a pile of grain and apples. An animal could appear at any moment.

Over the last few days, I’ve spent hours gazing out at this mix of bush and clearings. One evening a mature animal walked across the field, well out of range and partially obscured by a dip in the rolling landscape. I also spent a day hunting a bush lot east of the city with Gord’s dad, Gord Ellis Sr. That day was marked by relentless pouring rain and the sound of a deer approaching my soggy hiding place from behind, then huffing and running off unseen.

This morning is my last attempt, and although I’m in no hurry to stop hunting, I decide that quitting by noon would enable me to get back to my home by suppertime. At about 9 am, there is clearly an animal walking around in the woods nearby, but it never shows. By 10:30 I’m contemplating packing up and starting my six-hour journey home, but continue to glass the field and bush line. When noon rolls around, I reluctantly accept that my hunt is over, pop the slug from my 12-gauge, stow my rangefinder, and collapse my shooting stick.

A text from Gord says he’s waiting for me in the truck. I crawl out of the blind and work my cramped muscles with a short jaunt along the bush line. While stretching my arms up into the air my peripheral vision picks up something out in the field. I slowly turn my head to see a large doe about 400 yards away, working her way toward me. Standing out in the open I fully expect to be spotted, but each time she stoops to munch on grass I take a step towards the blind. Eventually, I make it back to my hiding place, reload and text my partner, “there’s a deer in the field.” By the time I raise my rangefinder, she is within 60 yards and closing. I shoulder my shotgun and squeeze the trigger.

hunter with harvested deer
James Smedley with his 11th hour Northwestern Ontario doe. (Photo credit: James Smedley)

Gord arrives shortly after to help field dress and load the 11th-hour doe into my truck, and I’m on the road only slightly behind schedule.

Thunder Bay area has a potent mix of thick forest interspersed with agricultural fields that supports a healthy population of whitetail deer. Flanked by deer country and loaded with accommodation options, the city of Thunder Bay is a productive Northwestern Ontario deer hunting destination.

About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.


Visit James at www.jamessmedleyoutdoors.com

Recommended Articles

Crossing the Border into Canada

How to legally bring your hunting rifle into Canada.

A Bear Hunt That Keeps You Coming Back

Returning to the place that landed us two giant bruins, 5 years later!

Grouse Hunting in Sunset Country

You won't have trouble reaching your ruffed grouse limit here

A Beginner's Guide to Hunting in Ontario

Everything a first timer needs to know.

Deer Hunting in Sunset Country

An overview of deer hunting in Northwestern Ontario—and what the future holds

Top Pheasant Destinations

6 amazing places in Ontario that offer quality pheasant hunts.

Fall Moose Hunting

Try These 6 Tips to Help You Get Your Moose

A Dryden Buck

Hunting Trophy Bucks in Dryden, Ontario

Bear Country

Hunting Black Bear at Red Pine Lodge

Where Big Bucks Roam

Ontario's Sunset Country is a Hidden Gem

Understanding the Rut

Simple tactics for a successful deer hunt.

Big Woods & Storied Bucks

Whitetail Deer in Eastern Ontario

A First-Time Bear Hunter Visits Watson's Kaby Lodge

Ty Sjodin brings niece Kalie to Algoma Country for her shot at a fall black bear

Ontario Turkey

Hunting with Wingeather Oufitters

Ontario's Deer mecca

Northwestern Ontario has everything a hunter could dream

Ontario's Largest Moose by a Female

A father and daughter's big game hunt in Ontario.

A Northern Ontario Moose Hunt

The opportunity to hunt a bull moose is a great privilege.

Spring Bear Hunt at Olive the Lake

A return trip to Olive the Lake in Northeastern Ontario results in a big game hunt to remember.

Fins and Feathers

Hunting Grouse at Gowganda Lake Lodge

Cornfield Bears

An Effective Way to Hunt Ontario Black Bears