Winter Hunt for Deer and Moose

Follow the ruts in northern ontario

Thunder Bay is still barren of snow but west of town a fresh four inches reveal deer tracks crossing the bush road into Richard Brochu’s hunt camp -- a 100-year-old homestead in the Shabaqua area. Brochu joins Gord Ellis and his dad, Gord Sr., down a road toward moose country while I focus on a series of large cut-overs near the camp. This is unit 13, traditional moose territory where angular ridges of rock rise from vast stretches of Boreal forest. Agricultural lands and expansive clear cuts join an exploding population of deer to provide great hunting for both ungulates in the same area.

Late morning we meet back at the camp. I’ve seen lots of fresh tracks, scrapes, and beds. On the moose front, Richard and Gord found plenty of fresh sign. However, it was Gord Sr. who had his scope on a moose 100 yards away but could not positively identify it as a bull until it lumbered through the bush exposing a small rack. By that time the chance for a shot was gone.

After lunch we return to the snowy November woods

Studying the map back at the hunt camp on a late season deer and moose hunt in Northwestern Ontario
Studying the map back at the hunt camp on a late-season deer and moose hunt in Northwestern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Ellis)

Within ten minutes I’m following a set of fresh tracks. They skirt along the edge of a swamp then they cross a clearing toward an island of forest. I creep in as quietly as I can. Although I know a deer is likely bedded down somewhere in the trees I’m still surprised when less than 20 meters away a doe bounds silently through the snowy cut only to stop about 250 - 300 yards away. The big-bodied deer turns broadside and looks at me. I raise my rifle. I’m a confident shooter at 100 yards but at more than double that range I watch the crosshairs dance across the broad brown side of the corpulent animal and lower my weapon.

Encounters with deer continue as I walk a section of thick spruce interspersed with old clearings now grown up with alder and poplar. I tell myself to slow down, keenly aware of just how much noise I’m making navigating the sparse woods. This is confirmed by the flash of a white tail bounding from a bed 10 yards away. The scenario repeats itself after a dry twig snaps underfoot. Although I see half a dozen animals, there are no more chances for a shot.

Back at the camp, Gord Jr. tells of rubbing shoulders with a bull moose.

"It reared its head and rack above the twigs but there was no shot," he said.

Checking the GPS on a late season deer and moose hunt in Northwestern Ontario
Checking the GPS on a late-season deer and moose hunt in Northwestern Ontario. (Photo credit: Gord Ellis)

Like the roaring fire in the camp’s woodstove, we’re all stoked for the next few days.

“The animals are here,” says Gord Sr., “moose and deer!”

I nod in agreement, "Yeah, Thunder Bay is a pretty awesome area."

Contact InfoRMATION

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Thunder Bay District
435 James Street, Thunder Bay ON P7E 6S8
PH: (807) 475-1471

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

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