Remembering the Traditions
A Fine Northwestern Ontario 10-point Buck
THE Nestor Falls Deer Hunt Camp
“The "hunt" is about the people, the place, and the friendship; the setting is nature and the wildlife.”
‘The Rivard’/Feb 2010
During the 1990s THE Nestor Falls Hunt Camp brought together a cadre of 8 guys who, with one exception, worked or had worked in senior management positions with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources; the exception was a chap whose time in government service had been with the sister ministries of Tourism, and Northern Development and Mines, but whose career cultural background made for instantaneous integration. Augmenting the group from time to time were sons of some of the members (including natural resources tech Steve Therriault for seven different years, teacher Marty Straight on three occasions, and engineer Jeff Rivard in two separate years), and the occasional friend. Professionally the members represented three biologists, one forester, one geologist, one planner, one political scientist, and one forest tech, a mix making for some really interesting late night discussions! Subsequent to retirement from government five of the individuals took up consulting, one became an entrepreneur in the Tourism sector, one became an internationally recognized Labrador retriever trainer, and finally one, in retrospect perhaps the wisest, simply enveloped retirement, emulating the fine example of the country gentlemen familiar from his Irish childhood.
Nestor Falls is found in Ontario's southwest corner on the east shore of Lake of the Woods. Our hunting area lies south of the lake and west of Highway 71, something of a 45 minute drive from the community. The community, perhaps 300 souls in winter, is focused on Lake of the Woods and the provision of access and accommodation to sport fishermen and other recreationalists in the summer when population expands perhaps four-fold. Nestor Falls lies within the westward extension of the Great Lakes-Saint Lawrence forest zone, the most obvious key expression of which is the scattered presence of small clumps of burr oak on the ridge tops. The area tends to be the warmest and driest zone of Northern Ontario (there are small prickly pear cactus growing on rocky islands on Lake of the Woods) and generally good habitat for whitetail deer. Whitetail population densities south and east of Lake of the Woods are usually some of the highest in Ontario.
The Gohere Road Hunt Area
Our hunting area is marked by a series of irregularly shaped rounded ridges separated by irregular lowland swampy areas variously containing stunted tamarack and sphagnum to black spruce and sphagnum, and occasionally some black spruce and cedar mix. Drainage is seriously deranged, in part due to low elevation differences coupled with centuries of active beaver construction, and consequently small to large, grass-laden, often alder-strewn, beaver meadows are abundant.
Typical Beaver Meadow Among the Ridges
There are two significant streams crossing the area, the Splitrock River on the west and Log Creek to the east adjacent to the Highway 71; both eventually snake their way into Lake of the Woods and Caliper Lake respectively. Elevations in the area range from about 330 meters above sea level along the Splitrock River to some 390 meters on top of some of the ridges (although in the middle of a climb it feels considerably much more than 60m!!). Ridge tops throughout the area were subjected to glacial lake activity some 8,000 years ago and for the most part tend to be devoid of significant soil accumulations. However, ridge tops are generally treed with relatively open stands of jackpine, minor spruce, and some mixed aspen and birch where soil pockets are present.
A View on a Typical Ridge Top
Individual large bucks tend to take charge of individual ridge tops. Where they exist soil aprons around the ridges and drier lowland areas carry significant stands of aspen with some minor birch, and interspersed balsam fir and spruce, and often a thick under storey of hazel brush making for excellent doe/fawn habitat.
The area is currently part of the Crossroute Forest, and was part of the fibre supply for the conifer pulp/paper mill in Fort Frances, and more recently for the hardwood OSB mill in nearby Barwick. The area is transversed by a network of old roads and trails which appear to have originated back in the 1940s and 1950s with the last extensive harvest in the area. That harvest spanned the transition from horse logging, as evidenced by the presence of couple dilapidated horse barns, to mechanical harvesting methods as evidenced by the presence of rutted skidder trails, the occasional discarded oil/grease container, at least one abandoned 'number plate', and other assorted metal debris at what would appear to be temporary 'maintenance sites' on some ridge tops. It is likely the area had been subjected to one even earlier period of harvesting, perhaps from the Lake, which removed the anticipated mature white and red pine and the occasional large white spruce; but with the exception of the lack of presence of those species, evidence for that harvest is not available. Of interest, many of the ridge tops show evidence of a major salvage operation, likely in the early 1950s, of wind-thrown jackpine which appears to have been fallen/uprooted by a significant wind event out of the southwest.
Second pass harvesting of the regenerated forest was getting underway in the Strachan Road area in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, and in the Gohere Road area circa the late-1990s and early 2000s. It was generally evidenced in the form of a few small scattered patch cuts, although some strip cutting of lowland black spruce also occurred in the Gohere area.
A Dead Sentential Jackpine Left for Wildlife Habitat in a c2000 Patch Cut in the Gohere Area
Our observations would suggest that active harvesting in the area had perhaps three significant effects on the deer hunt: i) it improved access into the area as brush along roadways was removed, culverts replaced, gravel added to road surfaces, and beaver dams that impeded road access removed, ii) it made for extensive forage areas for whitetails as the forest, particularly aspen, grew back, and iii) it appeared to make some of the local bucks more vulnerable immediately after the harvest and before they became fully acquainted with the changes in their habitat.
Strategically, whitetail populations in the area are controlled by weather. Twice in the life of the hunt camp we have seen high populations crash as the result of heavy and long lasting snowfalls accompanied by deep temperatures (1997/1998 and the adjoining winters of 2012 and 2013). A strong local wolf population tends to maintain herd health on an ongoing basis - we have heard up to four separate packs in chorus on a November morning. When the herd is strong recreational hunting pressure is insufficient to have any long term deleterious effect; however, intensive hunting on the heals of a herd crash could slow down recovery. To compensate MNR significantly reduced its extra tag program for the area in 2015.
For the record Hunt Camp efforts during the period 1987-2003 produced 68 deer, of which 39 (57%) were bucks.
The Early Years – 1987-1990 – Getting Started
1987 was the initiating year of what later evolved into THE Nestor Falls Deer Hunt Camp. The prime participants were Bill Therriault and Gene Murphy. Steve Therriault also began the trek to Nestor Falls but when our fearless trio encountered a “big buck deer crossing highway 11” just east of Shabaqua, Steve abandoned the jeep in his stocking feet and, ascending a small hill on the adjacent power line, took bead on the buck below and brought down his very first deer. With that his hunt was over and he was summarily put on the bus in Atikokan to return to Thunder Bay and the high school classes that he would have otherwise missed! Steve Toole, who was District Manager in Atikokan at that time, was seen to be a fair trade for Therriault the Younger and accommodated himself into the party, after he and Murph went to a NOTO meeting in Atikokan….you gotta love the dedication! Later in the week Bill’s friend John Bourgeault from Hearst and MNR biologist Ted Armstrong from Thunder Bay joined the group for a couple days each. Other than Steve Therriault’s fine enterprise, no further deer were taken.
Drawer of First Blood The Location of That First Dastardly Deed (22 Years Later)
"The Young Stevie Therriault"
Murph has noted that this was the beginning of his interest in the fleet whitetail and the beginning of his education in their habits; to that point in time he had been singularly a moose hunter. He noted he had purchased a .308 for the venture that had open sights. He was induced to acquiring a scope for the trusty rifle after missing a buck during the week.
The hunt that first year (and through 1999) was carried out over the first week of November; Murph recalls that the ponds were frozen over that first year. Earlier information would suggest that there was no snow on the ground. Murph notes that the party travelled to Nestor Falls in his Jeep; since Murph apparently had to return to Thunder Bay earlier, Willy returned in his friend’s small truck with camper. The participants stayed in a small cabin at Caliper Lake Lodge which at that time was owned by “a nice old guy whose kidneys gave out over the next couple years” at which time the camp changed hands. They had to leave the water running all night to keep the pipes from freezing. The practice of taking grub from home and cooking on site was initiated that first year. It may be worthwhile adding that this meal process over the years has provided some simply fantastic feasts ranging from pan-fried walleye, to deep fried wild turkey, to slow-cooked porkette, to jabalaya, to lobster and mussels, to roast caribou ribs, to hand crafted tourtiere, to bangers and mash, to some of the best spaghetti in Northern Ontario - the week is worth the effort for the food alone!
Hunting in 1987 focused on the Strachan Road area, mostly in 7B up in the vicinity of the Two Shacks; the hunt was said to have been a five day affair.
One of the Founders The Other Founder
"The Murph" "The Young Willy T"
In 1988 Steve Toole again joined the two Thunder Bay swashbucklers on their Nestor Falls fall adventure. They followed the pattern set in 1987 – first week of November for about 6 days (the Saturday to Friday approach had already become standardized), travelled in Gene’s Jeep (a fixture through 1999), stayed in the same small cabin at Caliper Lake Lodge (that year the water system was insulated with straw), the lake was frozen over and there apparently was some snow on the ground, they hunted the Two Shacks area, they took nothing home to the larder.
Therriault recalls some “pretty good bullshit sessions” about Ireland and the influence of the Catholic Church; he recalls being both intimidated and awed by the depth of knowledge of his two Irish compatriots on the topic.
The Other Irish Compatriot
“The Stevie Toole”
1989 saw the troupe reduced to just Willy and Murph in their continuing quest to finally slaughter a whitetail. Due to a lack of running water they could not stay at Caliper Lake that year and managed to find accommodation in another facility in Nestor Falls that had a “bunkhouse feel” to it; they were the only party in the camp as earlier hunters had already checked out. There apparently was a “fair amount of snow” and it made for a tough hunt. The record indicates they finally were able to connect!!! Again the boys headed to the Two Shacks area. Willy finally managed to bring down his first deer, a 10 point buck, late in the day off the hill near the beaver pond; he later got a doe in the same general area but slightly to the east of his first kill. Willy apparently wounded another doe one morning at 7.30 am which they tracked all day but never managed to take down.
Willy recalls the two of them taking turns falling asleep at the table while in deep, late-night discussion about the importance of MNR.
In 1990 the group was back into Caliper Lake Lodge, this year with Toole returned, and with new inductees John Chevalier from Timmins and Bill Straight from Kenora. Apparently Cleary was the new landlord at Caliper Lake and because of their party size the boys were assigned to their home for the next 11 years, the big log cabin. Of interest, Steve Therriault was hunting in the area with another party of young lads from Longlac/Chapleau housed in a trailer(s) off the Strachan road.
Our Gourmet Breakfast Chef Quiet Efficiency
"The Chevy" "The Bill Straight"
A word on the big log cabin. It appeared to have been built in perhaps the 1940s and likely formed the core of the original Lodge operation. Two levels of foundation logs had been previously replaced, probably in the 1970s. It contained two stories with two small bedrooms upstairs which would accommodate four guys. The main floor contained a kitchen, with a door opening outside, a four piece bathroom off the kitchen, a large combined dining/living room, and an attached sun porch with rarely-used outside access. The sun porch was used as sleeping accommodation by Willy and Barker. The camp was quite well appointed boasting hot and cold running water, a double stainless steel sink, a dishwasher (the wives always rolled their eyes when the dishwasher came up in conversation!), a fridge, a stove with working oven, a microwave, and a working TV in the living room. One notable attribute was a blue-background painting of a wolf at night on a treeless side hill voraciously eyeing a ‘Serbian’ village with evil on his mind! The cabin was roomy and comfortably housed the entire party.
The Dining Area of the Big Log Cabin
(Murph, George McCormack, and Willy T Solving the Problems of the World)
Hunting improved that year significantly, but it is not known if it was simply a matter of more deer or whether the ‘training’ over the previous three seasons had finally paid off. Firstly, Murph managed to take out his first animal, a spike horn buck, and later a fawn; the latter had been wounded earlier in the day by Steve Therriault who was still hard on its tail when Gene brought it down. Steve tagged it. Therriault senior took out a buck in Unit 10 not far from the gravel pit where we occasionally sighted-in rifles. The gravel pit was adjacent to a small fresh cut coming back heavily to aspen and overlooked by a recently constructed tree stand. Steve Toole became the first of the gang to get lucky on Saturday afternoon when late that first day he hit a good buck on the side hill east of the beaver dam next the Two Shacks. Unfortunately, the shot allowed the deer to loose itself in the new growth and it was not found until the next morning. Steve dutifully dressed the animal and took it out but several days later discarded it on the advice of his butcher. Chevy, in his first year, took down an eight point buck back behind the Two Shacks; he recalls Steve Toole assisting him in the drag-out and recalls they had difficulty with the antlers getting caught in the sphagnum as they were hauling it through the black spruce swamp. Oh the joys of the hunt!! Of interest, Steve Toole reported that during this week he watched from his deer stand as a wolf attacked and killed a fox; such a rare and privileged sight!
The 1991-1999 Period – The Hunt Camp Matures
1991 was something of a unique year from several perspectives. All the previous year’s participants were back with the exception of the fact that there was no Steve Therriault presence in the area during the hunt. However, George McCormack, recently retired from MNR in 1989, had offered to attend the gathering as sort of a camp cook and home-fire keeper; he was well received. Also, Bill Therriault’s cousin, Chris Seymour from London, England, attended his first hunt and added a distinctive British aspect to the gathering. The guys gamily left Thunder Bay in the early morning of Saturday, November 2 in the midst of a snow storm. The storm became increasingly intense as they progressed west and at Atikokan they were forced to sit it out until 5pm. At that time Highway 11 westerly was finally opened and they followed a plough all the way to Fort Frances. It has been suggested that some time may have been wiled away in the Legion.
Old World Enthusiasm
The hunting that year was tough because of both snow and cold; however, the record suggests that four deer were taken: Murph a buck, Willy a fawn on the hillside near the Two Shacks, Chevy a fawn on Thursday from the top of the ridge behind the Two Shacks, and Straight his first deer with the group, a doe that suddenly appeared on Thursday afternoon across the beaver pond on the Strachan Road as Bill was walking out; one shot put her down.
Chris Seymour recalls the snow and the slow trip to Atikokan. He noted that much of the discussion that week focused on MNR reorganization as the first of several initiatives was nicely underway, with Therriault as coordinator for the Operations Division. He noted that he shot at a buck one morning about 15 minutes after being posted to a location but the best he drew was a trace of blood in the snow; Willy missed a fawn some 20 minutes later. He recalls Murph dropping a wheel through the ice on the beaver pond that flooded the road and that Willy managed to drive it out; after that walking the pond was the order of the day. On driving out on the last day they saw a big buck standing in a cutover. He and Toole jumped out and inserted magazines; the deer ran on the first click of metal. They both missed! He recalls seeing a ‘goshawk’ dive into the snow for a mouse which it then proceeded to eat sitting on a log 20 feet away completely oblivious to his presence. He also recalls a rabbit (hare) hopping up to within 5 feet when he was squatting doing his business and the priceless, lengthy two-way stare that went on until he realized his bum was getting cold!
Gene and Bill believe this was the first year of the card game 'Liverpool' which Chevy introduced in his second year. Gene also believes that this was the first year of TV availability and recalls Therriault dressing Chevy down for watching football rather than participating in real (!?!) conversation. The availability of a dishwasher became a treasured perk!!
The Boys of ’91 - The Brit, Murph, Chevy, George McCormack, Toole, Willy T
(Photo by Bill Straight)
Willy recalls heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night when he passed McCormack going the other way; George’s comment was “What the hell do you think this is, a parade?” How typical of the big guy!
The year 1992 proved to be rather nondescript with the same hunters sans Seymour. Four animals were killed, a doe and a fawn by Murph, a buck by Willy south of the Strachan Road in Unit 10, and a doe by Chevy, also in Unit 10 north of the beaver pond east of The Plantation. He packed the deer out on a pack board on a due-west compass course; it was, he recalled, “quite a jaunt”! It was the only time he packed an animal on a pack board although it “worked perfectly”. The only other highlight that appeared was Murph’s vehicle “breaking down” on a bush road and Willy having to wait for some time by a fire after dark until they were able to get the vehicle moving again and come to his ‘rescue’
1993 saw the addition of Riley to this troupe of aimless souls! Accommodation continued in the big log cabin at Caliper Lake Lodge, the hunt continued from Saturday until Friday, everyone brought and prepared a meal, and there was but an intermittent skiff of snow on the ground. Two new harvest cuts were in place on a new side road off the Strachan trending south down into Unit 10. The first was a bit of a patch cut primarily in black spruce along and at a “T” in the road, the second was about 1 km further on the east branch of the “T”. It was in mixed wood on a bit of a hill and bounded on the south by the North Branch of Log Creek with its abundant beaver ponds. Six deer were harvested that year: Murph took a large buck on Tuesday which he initially wounded and tracked southerly most of the day until finally dispatching it at about 4 pm near a beaver pond. He dressed the deer before dark and a number of us went in the following morning to retrieve it in three pieces, using Chevy’s pack board if memory serves correctly; the final leg of the retrieve was across the southerly new patch cut. Willy wounded a small buck late on Tuesday afternoon on the ridge behind the southerly patch cut. It led him on a bit of a 20 minute chase before he caught up and dispatched it; it was dragged out to the road before dark. Chevy got himself a doe, the first of a string of animals he would pull out of “The Plantation”, a six acre stand of c 1950 planted red pine with good lower visibility and for some reason a magnet to deer. Toole casually shot a nice buck on Thursday morning (our last tag) while on a walkabout on the road back from the North Branch of Log Creek. He had been in a cutover on the south side of the creek, watched at a distance as the deer crossed on a beaver dam, followed in its footsteps, and took it down at the far side of the patch cut; Straight shot an eight point buck that year in the Plantation which took him on a merry chase for about an hour until he finally dispatched it near the junction of the Strachan Road with the cut block road (the Forks); and finally Riley at 7.30 am on Sunday morning, after a less than comfortable encounter with a young moose (see below), shot a small doe at the edge of the southerly patch cut where she was feeding. She had jumped almost 10 feet straight up above the hazel to see what was making the noise and he shot her in mid air (simply luck!).
Minding the Record
Now regarding the moose … As Riley was walking toward the patch cut at about 7am on Sunday morning he was passed by Straight and Toole in Straight’s truck with the headlights on. The guys stopped to chat for a minute and during the chatting a young bull moose was seen in the headlights about 50 meters away, crossing easterly on the road along the top of the “T”. Since the guys were turning west at the intersection they proceeded on in the truck and Riley walked on and turned east. The moose was visible in the road about 100 meters away. There was also a chip van parked on the edge of the cut adjacent to the road about 75 meters away. Riley’s plan was to continue to walk toward the moose and let natural instinct take the moose into the bush at a corner and Riley would continue on to his appointed hunting area. The plan progressed well for about a minute or so until the moose, now 30 meters away, stopped on the road, turned around, and looked at Riley; the look in his eyes was not particularly friendly. Riley stopped. The moose began walking down the road toward him. Fight or flee became the question for Riley as the hackles went up on the moose’s back! Well, the moose was closer to the security of the van than the hapless hunter, and the moose was likely faster, so it came down to fight.
When the moose was at about 12 meters, hair still up on his back and his nostrils flared, Riley decided to take the initiative and fired a shot into the gravel road about 3 meters from the moose. The moose stopped, pondered the situation and the new sound, turned around and covered several meters going away. He then turned back again, hackles raised, and he advanced a couple meters until a second shot went into the road before him. With the second shot he turned and began walking away down the road. Riley began to breathe again. The moose walked about 30 meters and turned again and, once more with hackles up, decided he’d make a third advance. Riley by this time had decided he’d have to shoot the damn thing as a means of self protection; unfortunately there was no moose season in Unit 10, and even if there was Riley had no licence, and fat chance he could sell self-protection to the COs. The moose continued toward him; he pulled back the hammer on the 30-30. The moose was at about 10 meters when a truck with its headlights on pulled into the cut behind Riley. The headlights distracted the moose; he stopped, watched the lights, eventually turned, and ambled away and into the bush on the side of the road where Riley had expected he’d go in the first place. The party in the truck drove up and noted they had seen the moose and asked what had happened. Riley related his story; they decided to go elsewhere to hunt!!
Toole’s phrase “If it’s brown, it’s down!” (and applicable only to deer) was adopted as the Camp mantra in 1993.
The next year, 1994, was not particularly a highlight beyond a few items: first, we missed Toole’s presence at the hunt camp; second, Chevy took two bucks and a doe out of The Plantation area, third, that this was the year that the fawn ‘committed suicide’ by stepping between Gene and a big buck just as Gene pulled the trigger (Straight wounded a buck that same morning but it was never retrieved); and fourth, Riley finally bagged an unexpected doe with a neck shot (that was all he could see) at about 3 pm on the last afternoon up near the Two Shacks. Interestingly, after the initial shot Riley’s deer appeared to ‘stand up’ in exactly the same spot again, still only head and neck visible, and a second shot was required to make things right. Then if it did not ‘stand up’ again in the same location and a third shot was sent on its way to finally keep it down. After about 10 minutes of crawling over dead balsam to arrive at the site a doe was found in a neat pile right where she was expected to be with evidence of only one wound; it was then that the two fawns appeared in the thick balsam about 50 yards away. Providence in the form of poor marksmanship gratuitously smiled on Riley (and the camp) that late afternoon.
A note about hunting styles. There are generally two styles that are prevalent within the camp and they fall on the opposite end of a continuum – waiting to walking. Chevy is the finest purveyor of the former in the camp, carries his own stool, and often enhances his sitting with a good book. In the right location, as the record will attest The Plantation just happened to be, it can be a highly successful strategy. He has fewer ‘encounters’ than his mobile friends but certainly his ratio of kills to encounters is the highest in the camp. Riley perhaps best personifies the extreme end of the walking style, spending most of the day on his feet moving from one choice observation point to the next where a grunt or two may be plied followed by a wait of about 10 minutes; if nothing shows its on to the next observation point. Using a watch Riley has found that his capability of sitting/standing at one location maxes out at about one hour. Most of the rest of the guys use some combination of wait vs. walk with Murph being closer to Chevy in style while Willy is closer to Riley. Barker, Straight, and Rivard have the capacity to change styles to suit the circumstances. Rivard, Therriault the younger, and in an earlier time Toole have found the strategy of walking the roads to produce animals. There have been a very few, singularly unsuccessful, attempts at collective driving of certain ridges or points; the camp has not moved into the tree stand business as the terrain and forest cover is not conducive thereto; and we have not resorted to the eastern Ontario practice of running deer with dogs, although we did hear what sounded like a small beagle working off to the south of us once on a weekend. The prime deer attractor is the buck ‘grunt’ which is carried and used by all; the record is clear that it works, although not in every circumstance. A couple of the guys carry rattles in the form of small antlers or retail ‘rattle bags’; their success in attracting has likewise been demonstrated within the camp but it appears to be used less frequently that the ‘grunt’.
The Strachan Road Hunt Area
The above mentioned ‘encounters’ has developed as a subjective measurement of the interaction between the hunters and the area’s deer population. An encounter becomes a statistic when a hunter sees an animal, or calls one in/puts one up that he hears but does not perhaps see. The hunters try not to double count the same animals and would not include animals seen on a hillside two kilometers away, or one blowing down in the swamp at some other intrusion. Empirical evidence has demonstrated that the week’s ‘encounters’ will generally reflect the state of the herd; we had encounters only in the high teens during 1998/1999; they were well over 100 in the prolific 2006/2007 period.
It was in 1994 that Therriault volunteered to look after getting the camp grub. While each participant brought and prepared an evening meal, breakfasts, lunches, snacks, mix, and condiments were purchased for the camp and the cost spread among the participants. He asked Riley to go along as a helper and push the shopping cart. They attended Safeway on late Thursday afternoon (before supper!) with some general idea of what was required but no list. The process was to simply walk an isle and throw into the shopping cart anything that caught their fancy! For instance, Riley and Therriault both happen to like sardines and they come in their own nice compact lunch container; the boys assumed that all would likewise enjoy the ‘chicken of the sea’ and so they logically purchased 36 cans. It turned out that sardines simply were not that popular (but the supply lasted for five years!)! Shortages and excesses abounded in other areas as well! The result was that Murph commandeered the responsibility for future grub purchases, made the appropriate lists, and got the practice down to surgical precision! Chevy has stepped in to cover when Murph is away because the does not want the haphazardness that would be generated by Therriault and Riley.
A camp record was set by Chevy in 1995 for bagging the most deer in a single season – four, two bucks and two does with three taken in The Plantation on a single day and the fourth buck, which was standing on the Strachan Road up towards the Two Shacks road junction, the following day, likely Wednesday. Beyond the Chevalier activity Riley took a fawn with a neck shot on the ridge above and north of the Fork near The Plantation. Heavy knee-high snow greeted us on Thursday morning and completely changed the appearance of friendly landmarks. After being totally insulted by a large buck that bounded, smiling, by his watch at about 9.15 am, Riley recalls making a prearranged tiring tramp through that snow at about 9.30 am toward Toole who was waiting on “Toole’s Stool”. The tramp produced no animal activity! All collectively straggled back to camp that day, empty handed, by about 2.30 pm; the drinks were warming and the Liverpool lively!
The Fashion Maven
From a personnel perspective we bid a disappointed adieu to Steve Toole’s continuing presence in the group as he began to focus his hunting interests closer to home near Blind River; at the same time 1995 saw Ray Rivard make his initial foray out with the intrepid Nestor Falls hunters. This was the year we collectively became aware of Willy’s somewhat warped fascination of ‘the wolf painting’.
1996 saw us again fill all our tags (had previously done this in 1993 and 1994; we were one short in 1995). By the way, all of the hunters usually entered the draw for a chance at an antlerless deer and were usually always successful. Fortunately, there was an unorganized personal preference among the hunters for unit 10 (to the south of the Stranchan Road) or 7B (to the north of the Strachan Road) which generally balanced the doe opportunities and we never had to organize the draw application process.
This is the year Rivard became the second of the party to take a deer on Saturday afternoon, a fawn from the rocky ridge adjacent to the “T” in the road on the way to the North Branch of Log Creek. Willy shot at a buck early on Monday morning in the patch cut by the North Branch of Log Creek and was certain he had hit him; however, after an hour search failed to turn up any fresh tracks or blood he abandoned the quest. Wednesday morning, with the assistance of some ravens, he found the buck in the brush about 70 meters beyond the search area; the bullet had gone in the lung but not through the bottom of the chest and there had been no external bleeding at all. Bill also took a doe in the same general area and Chevy a doe in The Plantation. Riley took a good 8 point buck north of the Strachan Road in a rocky jack pine area he had labeled ‘Red Pine Ridge’ because of the presence of a massive Red Pine displaying numerous bear (cougar???) scratches on its trunk. Steve Therriault, who was again that year present in the general area hunting with the young lads from Longlac/Chapleau, volunteered to assist in dragging out Riley’s deer. Riley also took a fawn on the flat beyond the rock ridge adjacent to the North Branch of Log Creek patch cut. On Wednesday a heavy wet driving snow began about 11 am and started almost immediately to accumulate. At about 1.30 pm Riley cut a fresh track crossing the Strachan Road about 200 meters from the Fork; the deer was obviously still in a small stand of jackpine and spruce between the road and an adjacent black spruce swamp. At the Fork he found Murph and Chevy relaxing comfortably and dry inside the Jeep; nothing he could say would entice the guys to give him a hand at trying to put up that deer in the falling snow. All eventually all made it back to camp early. Thursday, with heavy snow on the trees again, was a bit of a wash out.
We arrived in camp this year with the presence of one Mike Barker in tow!
The Deer Puller
The most significant thing in 1997 was that a couple new harvest cuts had been established over the summer, significantly changing the nature of the terrain in the vicinity of The Plantation. Over the previous four years we had established the presence of two large mature and elusive bucks east of the patch cut near the North Branch of Log Creek. The first held court on the ridge immediately east of the patch cut and had been seen several times over the previous four years but had never presented the opportunity for a shot. The second occupied a ridge further east and made his presence known to any interlopers by snorting incessantly at the invader of his kingdom as he slipped off the ridge for the protection of an adjacent stand of heavy aspen and birch. Tracks in the snow the previous two years would tell the story of that buck doubling back to the ridge after the hunter had left to gleefully trample and paw the snowy five foot area where the hunter had stood watch.
After taking in the change in the terrain on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, Willy decided that on Monday morning he’d work the area immediately to the south of the new cut. At 10.15 am he brought in a large 10 point buck to the grunt and took it down. After gutting the deer he started to mark a trail north to the edge of the new cut when a second 10 point buck made its appearance and was likewise summarily dispatched. To Willy’s good fortune there were a number of able party hands available to assist in getting both deer across the cut to where they could be picked up by 4x4. Much discussion ensued about the circumstances of those two bucks being in such close proximity and common wisdom held that they were likely the bucks of earlier years, that the new cut may have had some effect at disrupting their former territorial boundaries, and that they had probably been having a bit of a row along the common boundary that morning. Beyond Willy’s two deer the only other kills that year were by Riley: i) a fawn on the ridge just north of the Fork of the Strachan Road near The Plantation. Of interest, that fawn was shot early in the morning and hauled down to the road where it was left, uncovered, under a stand of jackpine. When we arrived back late that afternoon we found the carcass had been taken over by at least three species of birds: ravens, whiskey jacks, and a red tailed hawk and they had removed most of the usable meat. The red tailed hawk was still on the carcass, and had gorged himself to the point he could not fly – we actually had to put him up off the ground into a tree by hand. ii) a buck which sneaked into the grunt at about 10.30 am on Red Pine Ridge and which Willy assisted in dragging out, and iii) a doe shot in the same area the following day. The associated large fawn curiously hung around the location for at least 24 hours.
The only other incident of mention is that Barker walked up on a small fawn bedded down in the brush; the fawn did not move. Mike shot at the little guy at a distance of about 3 meters and missed because of the distortion of aim caused by using the scope at such close range. On those nights of a full moon the Strachan Road deer herd, still laughing, circulates stories of that happening!
The winter of 1997/98 appears to have had a disastrous effect on the Nestor Falls deer herd. We only got one deer in 1998, that an 8-point buck that Riley took on Wednesday morning in a large stand of older poplar/birch in Menary Tp, within perhaps 100 meters of the Rowe/Menary Tp line. That buck was another one with great vocalization and he’d snort for sometimes up to a half hour once someone entered his territory; he and Riley had played tag in 1997. Barker assisted in the pull to the gravel pit that we have occasionally used as a target range. It is believed that this was the year that Willy convinced landlord Carry to let him take home the wolf painting for copying; it was copied and returned. Straight missed the hunt that year.
It is possible that this is also the year that Chevy ran into the only active black bear the camp followers had encountered in the first 20 years of their adventures (We did come across a black bear denned under the roots of a wind-thrown jackpine in 2007-see below). It was a cinnamon version, not uncommon in the Rainy River area, and was following along Chevy’s access trail to the particular outcrop from which he was keeping watch. Although our fearless hunter went so far as to release his safety for protective reasons the bear turned tail and ran once he saw his potential adversary. At least three other sets of bear tracks, usually made by younger bears apparently still out searching for a winter home, have been seen in the snow during our hunting weeks, two in the Strachan Road area and one up above the gravel pit on Gohere Road.
The Denned Bear - Nov 2007. Lethargic, but Awake!
Other wildlife encounters over the years include pine martin in varying color phases, most everyone has seen at least one; otters, a wonderful watching experience that simply cannot be ignored; Murph reported our only fisher encounter circa 1992; one white weasel was seen in the headlights scurrying across the Strachan Road early one morning; we have seen perhaps a half dozen moose; one bobcat has been reported from up above the gravel pit on the Gohere Road and we more recently saw a second on Hwy 71 immediately south of Nestor Falls just after dark one evening, and one lynx was seen on Highway 11 on the way to Nestor Falls in 2008; red squirrels are ubiquitous; red foxes are reported almost every year, and beavers are common unless everything is frozen up; one chipmunk, a couple mink, and one muskrat have been reported over the years. In the flying category 2004 was the banner year for Great Grey owls; Canada Geese are almost always feeding on the small lakes and beaver ponds; western magpies, usually in pairs, are occasionally seen; small flocks of sharp tailed grouse can occasionally be moved out of a cutover; and Barker saw our only white pelican in 2009. Bald eagles are regulars to the gut-pile feasts, competing with the ubiquitous ravens and whiskey jacks. Ravens provide excellent entertainment during the slow days, particularly on those cloudless blue fall mornings and afternoons when they criss-cross the area playing out perhaps 25 various styles of rarely heard, and always entertaining, vocalizations.
A Hunting Pine Martin
The 1999 hunt was missed by Willy, but errant Straight returned to the fold. Willy picked a good year to absent himself as the dear herd had still not recovered and ‘encounters’ were still down into the high teens. On Wednesday Straight led the gallant troupe north to the Witch Bay Road for a look at different territory which he believed should hold more deer. It was interesting country, somewhat more rugged than at Nestor Falls. Riley vividly recalls two circumstances of the area i) a patch of some of the largest, if not the largest, white cedars he’d ever seen along a side road, and ii) the steepness of the main hill that had to be climbed to get out of the hunting area, a hill that his 2x4 Mazda would not be able to negotiate under deep fresh snow conditions. A few deer were seen at Witch Bay but no one connected.
Thursday am, our last day, we awoke with no deer in the larder; a good Scotch mist had begun falling over the Strachan Road by perhaps 10.30 am. Wolves had been heard a couple times that week, and often they appeared to be quite near. That morning immediately east of the Two Shacks Road Murph poked his head over an outcrop and saw down the hill below him a small pack in scattering mode. A few other hunters have seen wolves over the years, in at least one instance passing by a quiet Jeff Rivard at a distance of only a few meters.!
About 4.10 pm on Thursday, wet and cold, Riley was about 150 meters from the pick-up spot at the junction of the Two Shacks Road when he decided to make one last venture down a little ridge before calling it quits, empty handed, for the year. About 150 feet down the trail he put up a doe-fawn pair and managed to take down the doe; it ran another 150 feet before expiring. Barker again volunteered his services for the short haul out to the road with this truly last minute deer. (Barker has suggested an annual trophy for the most assists in deer dragging in order to have some better chance at an award!). Because of a lot of pre-hunt optimism Murph had brought his trailer along to Nestor Falls; it was not needed! Murph missed the next three years due to Florida commitments and thus the green Jeep retired in 1999 after a decade of good and faithful service to THE Nestor Falls Deer Hunt Camp.
Speaking of awards, it was about 1999 when Ray Rivard arrived at the deer camp armed with T-shirts for each hunter upon which was emblazoned the head of a fine buck deer and over which was encrypted the year and “If it’s brown, it’s down!” (or some other astute words to live by). Rivard had become involved in the operation of a uniform supply business in Thunder Bay and had added a sophisticated embossing machine to the company to capture some of the local sports and school outerwear business – the hunt camp provided a guinea pig as he honed up his embossing skills. The shirts were such a hit that he duplicated the effort the following year, and then alternated with ball caps in some subsequent years.
In 2001 Willy took an impressive buck down on the Fisher Road; the night before we broke camp Rivard, somewhat on the spur of the moment, presented Willy with the starched white Chef’s jacket he, Rivard, had worn to prepare his meal and on which was emblazoned “Road Kill Café”, as an award for taking the largest buck. A tradition was born! The following year Rivard arrived at camp with a classy embossed shirt as an award for the chap who captured the biggest buck; all were secretly desirous! Winners over the years in addition to Therriault included Rivard in 2003 for a buck from the Fisher Road area; Straight in 2004 for the 12 pointer north off the Splitrock road; Riley in 2005 for the 8 pointer from west of the Gohere Road that required a five hour haul to the road; Straight again in 2006 for a buck downed on the edge of a beaver pond off the Gohere Road; and lastly Barker in 2007 for the big-bodied spike horn taken near Chris’ Rock.
The camp offered to cover the cost of the apparel from 2004 onward. It was also in 2004 that someone suggested that we needed hunt camp winter jackets and Rivard sought out and embossed a delightful, removable-liner number in forest-green and delivered same in 2005; some of the members have adopted that highly serviceable jacket as their regular winter garb! In 2007 Rivard established “Nipigon River Adventures”, a tourist business headquartered in the former Quebec Lodge at Red Rock; unfortunately he ‘lost access’ to the embossing machine that same year. However in 2008, in recognition of the passing of a fine, but unfortunately short-lived, tradition, Rivard graciously supplied the attending hunters with forest-green toques silently shouting out the potential of “Nipigon River Adventures”!
The Early 2000s – 2000 to 2003 – Changing Homes
The first year of the new millennium saw the plotting of a new course for THE Nestor Falls Deer Hunt Camp. Continuous deterioration of our large log cabin digs at Caliper Lake Lodge had been a fact of life over the decade of the 1990’s. This decline was most prevalent in the kitchen and the adjoining bathroom where it appeared that the floor joists had been slowly rotting away leaving the floors inclined at an increasingly sharp angle toward the centre of the cabin. On arrival in 2000 it was noted that the deterioration had increased exponentially over the summer. One of the guys commented that one really needed a seatbelt to use “the throne”, so great was the slope in the bathroom floor! These circumstances were the brunt of much conversation and on Wednesday, with the blessing of all those present, Chevy and Rivard went hunting for new digs. They returned later that afternoon with possible accommodation lined up in two cabins at a place named Arrowhead Camp located on water in beautiful downtown Nestor Falls. They noted that the elderly proprietor (from Iowa) had never previously serviced the deer hunt but, with us as anchor tenants, would be prepared to give it a shot on a trial basis next year. Rivard closed the deal later in the week and we gave notice to Cleary that we would not be returning the following fall.
The first year of the new millennium also saw the camp change hunt weeks. Traditionally the selected hunt week had been in the first week, or first partial week of November, which corresponded with the first week of open season in Unit 10. It often saw us in camp at Halloween and a visit from the Cleary kids for handouts had became a standard practice, at least until about 1998 when Mrs. C left her domestic situation with the children. (It was never clear why she hung on for so long!). In any event during our hard times of 1999 Bill Straight had casually suggested we might be missing the peak of the rut by about a week and some thought needed to be given to moving the hunt one week further into November. Bill’s suggestion generated considerable discussion and the decision was made take his advice. We convinced Cleary to book us a week later in 2000.
Now the move to a later week brought us in contact with different hunters who had traditionally hunted that week. In retrospect it appears we traded in a large cadre of Highway 11 Francophone hunters to whom we’d grown accustomed, for half-tons and 4x4s bearing the green plates of the State of Vermont ( New England hunters came to Northwestern Ontario simply for a chance at trophy bucks - in 2003 MNR seized an 18 point whitetail shot near Dryden after legal hunting hours that was field estimated to come in some 41 points over the existing world record!).
The World Record Class Whitetail Seized by MNR in 2003
That first year, however, we encountered a group of guys from North Bay/Winnipeg who had that very year moved their hunt up a week due to the inability of some of their Winnipeg crew to make their usual mid-November time slot. We overlapped with them from early Sunday morning onward and as they, too, were willing to get off the road there was a bit of a challenge ensuring that we did not interfere with each other. On Monday morning Riley had a conversation in passing with one of the North Bay guys who casually mentioned that, on the strength of running into a moose in 1999 and not having a tag, he had entered the moose draw this year and had been successful with a bull tag for Unit 7B, immediately north of the Strachan Road. Riley’s comment was that taking out a moose simply meant a couple days of backbreaking labor and he was sticking with deer. On Tuesday am at about 10.30 a couple shots were heard in the vicinity of where the intrepid North Bay hunter was thought to be; half an hour later Riley encountered him on the Strachan Road really pumped up and visibly shaking – he had just shot a bull moose up on the ridge! “Do you need any help getting him out?” Riley enquired. “Thanks for the offer but there are five of us, including one butcher, and we have some really neat wheeled and tracked hauling equipment so we should be OK! I’m just in the process of tracking them down now.” The two parted company, each to his own endeavors.
Riley encountered the hunter again the following afternoon on the Strachan Road. Delivering the moose from the kill site to the truck had turned out to be a bit more than they had bargained for; they got the last pieces to the road by flashlight at about 7.30 pm (dark arrives at 5 pm). The haul had done them all in and they had not arrived in the bush that day until about noon and intended to confine themselves to the roads for the afternoon. A pact had been justly sworn that they would shoot no more moose forever! Of interest, at least the North Bay contingent of that party has subsequently made the 2nd week of November their traditional week as well.
But what of the Caliper Lake Camp team? Willy had joined the hunt again this year and young Stevie Therriault was in camp with us; all the other regulars except Murph were present. It continued to be a hard hunt and only three animals were taken. Chevy took a buck just west of The Plantation and a fawn on Wednesday about a kilometer and a half north of the Strachan Road when the lack of apparent activity in The Plantation forced him to do some wandering. He impressively dragged it out whole, all by himself, over the period of about three hours.
Riley, after passing on twin fawns in the same area on Tuesday, was justly rewarded at about 8.30 am on Wednesday with the reappearance of the buck he had put up the previous day. After the shot the deer ran about 150 meters in trackable fresh snow before expiring. Fortunately, Riley had again taken Barker in tow that morning so had some at-hand help to drag the animal out to the road; even better, Steve Therriault arrived on the scene just about the time they were to get underway and lent his strong back to the dragging venture. To their chagrin the boys hit the mid-point of a beaver pond which lay adjacent to the road. Steve, with that innocent enthusiasm of youth, suggested that the best strategy would be for him to get his 4x4 half ton in place across the pond, toss over a rope, tie the rope to the deer, engage the 4x4, and presto, deer is across the pond and on the road ready to be lifted into the truck box. Barker and Riley were more prone to simply bulldog the deer east the additional 150 meters around the end of the pond and across the creek but had been enough captured by the expressed youthful enthusiasm to watch and learn; besides, they needed a breather. Steve put the truck in place but after several tries found that getting the rope across the pond was, because of distance, neigh on to impossible. With that evidence, Barker and Riley hooked on to the deer and in no time had it around the pond and, with Steve’s help, up on the road and into the truck box.
That same morning Rivard, in the same general area, put up a really good buck with a notable atypical rack; unfortunately he did not connect!
That year saw three kills for 7 tags; not a desired ratio but certainly a better record than the previous two!
This was our first year at Arrowhead Camp. Murph (and his scrumptious jambalaya) was the only regular not present, but his bed was occupied by Chris Seymour, our British comrade joining once more from across the pond; that made eight of us in camp. Chris claims that two of his highlights of that year were seeing the intensity of the northern lights and being approached by a red fox. He also found himself in the comic but awkward position of having his pants down below his knees when a deer broke cover some 15 meters away. He subsequently claimed to have smelled another deer before it broke cover at about 10 meters, a real possibility.
In this initial year at Arrowhead we were assigned two cabins, #’1 on the lakeshore point and #2 immediately behind it. We decided that #1 would be our cook camp and gathering place and that #2 would be assigned sleeping duty. There were three available beds in #1, a three quarter bed in one room and two singles in the other. The three quarter bed was assigned to Chevy, who had sometime in the dim distant past assumed the volunteer role of breakfast cook, to both keep him close to the kitchen as well as allowing him to get some quality sleep time should he so desire. The double room was assigned to the Therriault boys. That left five guys assigned to cabin #2, Barker and Straight assumed the beds in the two rooms, and Riley, Rivard, and Seymour were lined up in three single beds in the ‘bull pen’. It was in that year that Riley perfected the 90 second morning shower routine so as to accommodate the remaining four, in particularly Seymour-with-the-bowel-issues, with appropriate time to undertake their daily toilette. By the end of the week the move to Arrowhead was judged a huge success!
But I digress, what of the hunt? The move to Nestor Falls in 2001 was somewhat auspicious from an access point of view. In mid-June (the records would suggest likely June 14) of 2001 a massive thunderstorm system moved in from Minnesota and dumped literally centimeters of rain over the area north of Fort Francis. One prime result of that storm was the collapse of multiple, stressed beaver dams across the region and the subsequent widespread washing out of downstream bush roads (and Highway 11 in one location!). This damage included the removal of the 12-foot culvert on the Strachan Road which accommodated Log Creek about a half kilometer from Highway 71. The removal of that culvert effectively blocked truck access on the Strachan Road, although a few hardy souls subsequently innovated a method of getting their 4-wheelers across the creek. (That culvert was finally replaced c2011!). The result of the washout was that THE Nestor Falls Hunt Camp crew had to devise a replacement for the Strachan Road area and do it pronto. The result that first year was two pronged, a number of individuals decided to hunt the Gohere Road which lay just south of Caliper Lake and adjoining Lake of the Woods, and was fully in Unit 7B; a second contingent decided their fortunes lay further south along the Fisher Road which area was in Unit 10 and separated from our familiar hunting area south of the Strachan Road by the North Branch of Log Creek. While the new hunting areas required some getting used to the record speaks for a bit of a resurgence of the Nestor Falls deer herd – we bagged five deer for eight hunters that year! The weather, by the way, was generally warm to 140C on Sunday afternoon.
The Splitrock River at a Former Bridge Location
Steve Therriault shot a doe in the Fisher Road area which he and Barker retrieved with father Willy’s new truck – all Willy could say after being shown the retrieval area was “Thank God it had four-wheel drive!” After two days of trying and from a little ‘cubby’ under some conifers, Chevy finally took down the big buck inhabiting the ridge northeast of the gravel pit, a deer he claims had a death wish! Chevy initially saw the animal late Monday afternoon but it ran off too quickly for a shooting opportunity. The next morning Chevy was in the same location and casually keeping watch on a deer trail from his stool when the animal came charging down the run missing Chevy by about 3 meters, upsetting him off his stool! Later that afternoon from within his cubby in the same location, Chevy “plastered him” as he came sauntering down the same deer trail. Straight, late in the afternoon, brought a 10 point buck in to the call on the jackpine ridge across the beaver pond southeast of the camp at the south end of Gohere Bay and took him down as he was spotlighted by the late afternoon sun; a party of the guys retrieved it the next morning hauling it across the ridge, down to the pond, across the pond in Chevy’s canoe, and up to a waiting truck. A couple days later, with Seymour in tow, Straight took his second deer, a fawn, from the edge of a cut up on the east side of the Gohere just before the “Four Corners” and the junction of the Splitrock Road. Rivard took a buck that year, likely off the Fisher Road. Riley came up empty-handed for the first time, although he knocked down two does within a couple hours of each other on Tuesday morning. The first was a shoulder shot and the animal got up and disappeared when Riley was making his way towards it through the hazel; one little spot of blood was the only trace of the animal found and that 100 meters away. The second was a neck shot at about 30 meters; again the animal dropped and thrashed but promptly got up when it couldn’t be seen. Riley mistook the standing deer for a second animal and allowed it to bound away, oblivious that it was his not-too-badly-hurt neck-grazed animal. About an hour later he saw a third deer standing on the side of the road under a jackpine in a light rain back-dropped by a somber grey sky. Feeling down about his two previous unsatisfactory morning experiences he had committed himself to shoot at no more does. As no antlers could be seen, the deer and the hunter locked themselves in a two minute staring contest. It was only when the deer turned to go down over the hill that the spike antlers could be fleetingly observed glistening in the melancholy light. It disappeared!
We were once again back at Arrowhead Camp, this year with cabins #1 and adjacent #7, the pattern to be followed for the rest of the decade. Murph was still absent but the regular six and Steve Therriault populated the camp. This turned out to be the ‘Year of the Bucks’ as all of the animals taken were bucks; the Camp limited out and by Monday evening!
Therriault took two male animals south off the Fisher Road (?). At about 10 am on Monday Chevy shot at a buck on the ridge immediately north of the Gohere Road a kilometer or so east of the cabin at the south end of Gohere Bay. However, the deer could not be found, even though Chevy believed it to have been hit. About 2.30 pm Chevy was back on the ridge and noticed some nearby raven activity. One check and voila! - there was the buck of the morning. Straight had another good year, he first shot an eight point buck within meters of and at about the same time of day as the buck he had taken the previous year south of the beaver ponds. He subsequently downed a second, this one a 10 pointer, with a head shot as he climbed the trail to the ridge where Chevy had taken the big buck the previous year. Rivard took down another buck in 2002 but the location is uncertain. Barker finally made the scoreboard with a small buck from the rather high, open small ridge immediately south of the camp at the south end of Gohere Bay. Our adjustment of hunt period to a later week appeared to be really paying off.
Barker also saw a moose on the hillside where he shot the deer.
Steve Therriault and Riley both came up empty that year, Riley’s second in a row. On Sunday afternoon at about 3.30 pm he called in the largest buck he had ever seen and managed one shot at perhaps 40 meters through a screen of evergreens. It was evident that he hit the animal but it took off out of sight, sounding as if it had stopped perhaps 100 meters away where it ‘thrashed’ for a minute or so. Riley waited for perhaps 5 minutes and heard the animal ‘thrashing’ again, this time further away. He cautiously made his way through the conifer thicket to where he believed the first thrashing location to be; considerable blood was evident but no real evidence that the animal had been down. He began following what he believed to be the right track in the snow when the animal broke cover about 75 meters away and made for over the hill. Arriving at that last rest stop there were a few drops of blood to be seen but considerably less than at location one. He resumed the trail up to the top of the hill aided by the odd small droplet of blood. After about 5 minutes he glimpsed the deer and its massive rack in a surround of small conifers. The deer turned and simply disappeared. There was no blood in that last location but a couple last small spots were noted on the far side of the hill about 50 meters away. The tracks then melded silently into to well-tracked hillside; another 45 minutes of searching before dark provided no further sign. Barker and Riley went back in and covered the area the next morning to no avail.
Later that day at about 1.30 pm Riley had worked his way south into one of the new cuts established the previous winter. He was aware the cuts were being hunted that week by some Americans from North Carolina who had bought the camp (likely that winter as the camp had been vacant for some time before our first season on the Gohere Road) at the south end of Lake of the Woods’ Gohere Bay. As he came into one of the cuts from the south west he heard a shot and thought it was Barker on the far side of the cut. He was making his way toward the west side of the cut on an old skid road when he chanced on a warm, gut-shot six point buck laying across a brush pile adjacent to the skid trail. Thinking it was a result of Barker’s shot he started yelling for Mike and announcing the fact that he’d found the deer. He was surprised then to hear someone to the north of him loudly claiming that the deer at his feet had just been shot by the disembodied voice. He finally sighted what turned out to be one of the Americans in a tree stand in a large jack pine at the edge of the cut. A brief conversation ensued in which Riley was informed by the American that he indeed had killed the deer and that it had been shot from behind with the shot going in its gut and probably up to its lungs. The American also proffered that earlier in the day he has seen a really large buck cross the cut out of range to the north; that was likely the ‘thrashing’ buck of the previous afternoon. He later came to seek Riley with his 4-wheeler to help him load the deer, which they did without advantage of having the animal gutted (which for some reason he did not want to do!). It is notable that as early as that first year there was reason to suspect our American friends may have been breaking the rules; they were convicted of doing so in a major way in 2006 after an international investigation by MNR.
Finally, it turned out we were simply too efficient and left the camp, tags filled, on Tuesday morning. There was considerable regret expressed later that we had left too early and that we needed to determine a way to in the future stretch the hunt out to its full 6 day capacity. Riley developed a simply excellent winter paper on the subject but, true to form, it was basically ignored. The result decided in 2003 was that we went into that season on the principle that everyone can shoot his own tag(s) (unless he elects to share) until Wednesday and then any remaining are all in a party hunting pot.
At the End of a Perfect Day
Murph returned in 2003 and things were right with the world again! He resumed his long held responsibilities of grub manager and efficiencies went up and costs again started to go down! Steve Therriault was replaced by Ray Rivard’s son Jeff for a several day period. 2003 was the last year of single tag availability; from 2004 on hunters could elect to purchase additional antlerless tags in a hunting area.
The record for 2003 was one fawn by Murph from a side road off the Gohere; one buck by Therriault from the small beaver pond just south of the Splitrock Road; one doe by Chevy from above the Gravel Pit; one eight point buck by Straight from neigh on the same spot on the same ridge south of the beaver ponds where he taken bucks in both 2001 and 2002, with this one he became a member of the ‘Saturday Afternoon Club’; one spike horn by Riley from the second ridge in above the Gravel Pit; one buck by Rivard the location of which is uncertain; and a doe and a buck by Rivard Junior, both of which were taken down on the Fisher Road (we appear to have abandoned that location in 2005 due to hunter numbers).
We had significant wet snow on the highway on our way home on Friday that year. Riley and Barker came close (by several inches) to ‘buying the farm’ at Shebandowan when the tail of Rileys 2x4 Mazda spun out and they did a couple backwards circles on the snowy highway coming to rest on the opposing shoulder heading in the opposite direction. Riley elected to purchase a new 4x4 in February of 2004; it has served us well.
The hunt camp experience continued annually beyond the 2003 date highlighted above. However, the decision was made in mid-summer 2017 by the three remaining participants - Barker/Rivard/Riley - that they would forego the Nestor Falls experience in November of 2017. That decision was driven by a 2015 hunt which, while it produced two deer, was notable for its overall lack of encounters (only 9) and an early camp departure. The 2016 experience was even less encouraging with no deer taken (first time since 1988!) and again only 9 encounters and an early departure. Discouraging!
There had been some changes since 2003. Circumstances, generally associated with distance (and perhaps age??), reduced the original hunt camp participants over the years - Steve Toole retired first to concentrate on hunting nearer his home in Bruce Mines, two thirds of the way across the Province; John Chevalier finally gave in to the stress generated by four days on the highway from and to his home in Southern Ontario; Bill Therriault relocated to Penticton, BC; and Gene Murphy relocated from Thunder Bay to London, ON. Additionally, young Stevie Therriault took a job managing natural resources for the Yukon government out of Mayo.
Although there have been a couple health "bumps" among the participants over the period, all remain in relatively good shape and active.
In the winter of 2014 Arrowhead Resort changed hands and our gracious hosts for over a decade, Clive and Dicie, retired back into Iowa. We agreed with the new owners (Monte and Tammie, a relatively young couple, again from Iowa) in the fall of 2014 to move our hunt up to the first week of November again, and to relocate from cabins #1 and #7 to the lower level of the remodeled two story facility across from the meat locker. This allowed them an extra week to winterize the two cabins in preparation for closing.
Looking at the thirteen years of the hunt from 2004 to 2016 perhaps the most significant change had been in the area of personnel as noted above. There were continuing improvements to the first half of the Gohere Road due to active small harvesting operations until the end of the first decade; since the recent inactivity/closure of the pulp mill in Fort Frances the beavers have significantly compromised our road access. In 2007 young Stevie Therriault convinced us to use the services of a Devlin butcher during the week. Since then, except for any animals harvested Thursday afternoon, all meat went home cut, wrapped, and frozen by Greensides in Devlin - such a civilized approach to the end of the annual hunting experience! We suffered three different incidents of a hunter forgetting (age???) licence/tags, or bringing last year's tags, or forgetting ammunition; needless to say there was much scurrying around to "set things right" so as not to lose most of the week! Finding black-legged deer ticks (associated with Lyme disease) on a buck in 2010 made us all much more sensitive to the presence of the tiny arachnids on both animals and grass/brush, and their possible transfer to bodies. It has been noted that rather than getting onto the deer watch before daylight (say 7.00am) it became perhaps 8.00am; and there appeared to be a proclivity to find an excuse at least a couple afternoons to exit the bush at 3.30pm rather than the standard 5.00pm. As well as also being much more civilized, this latter tendency reduced the possible repetition of again bringing a Straight trophy buck out by flashlight! 2007 appears to have been a banner year with the most hunters in camp (9), the most kills in one day (6 on Monday), the most kills during the week (13 for 18 tags), the most encounters in a day (15 by Willy T), and the most (recorded) camp encounters for the week (109). The year 2010 saw the first instance of hunting parties (up to three) camping toward the west end of the Gohere road, significantly reducing our huntable area. It was anticipated, and proven at least in part correct, that the current crash in the herd would eliminate this problem; however, hunting competition in early November remained higher than expected.
As a final note on the last 14 years, the photo below, taken in November 2011, depicts part of a small outcrop set in a c2000 cutover off the Gohere Road, which cutover has come back heavily to aspen providing something of a whitetail buffet table. Gorilla-glued to the outcrop is an empty Ballantine's Scotch "mickey" bottle and a small plastic plaque. The plaque has been engraved " "Norm's Rock" - In memory of Norman Lillie - April 1931-May 2011 - R.I.P.". A quick review of Internet obituaries showed Norm to have been an 80 year old husband, father, and grandfather from Timmins, ON, who spent a career in electrical engineering, and who died in a traffic accident in early May of that year. While none of us ever met Norm, it was impossible to keep watch from 'Norm's Rock' without thinking about the fall experiences we must have mutually shared as a result of the search for whitetails on and about the Gohere Road.
The Memorial to Hunter Norman Lillie on "Norm's Rock"
For the record, the 30 years of THE Nestor Falls Hunt Camp (1987-2016 inclusive) have produced a harvest of 145 deer broken out as 72 bucks (51%), 46 does, and 27 fawns; the higher proportion of bucks likely reflects a combination of hunter preference, hunting during the rut when bucks are more vulnerable, and using buck calls as a hunting tool. Of the above total some 86% of the animals were harvested between 9 am and 2 pm, likely reflecting a greater concentration of hunter effort during that period; the period before 9 am and the period after 2 pm each produced an equal 7% of the harvest. Some 41% of the harvest was produced under snow cover conditions, some 59% under conditions of no snow; of interest, identical independently estimated percentages apply to snow days vs no snow days for our hunt period over the years suggesting that, in spite of tracking opportunities, hunting success is little affected by the presence of snow on the ground. Chevy's 1995 record of four deer taken by an individual during the week continued to hold through 2016, even though there were seven instances over the 30 years of individual hunters bagging three deer. Bill Straight continues to hold the record for the rack with the most points - 12 - from the buck harvested north of the Splitrock Road which had to dragged out after dark on a Thursday evening!
The state of the herd as demonstrated in 2016 strongly suggests that hunting success for the next few years will be a challenge! Without additional forest harvesting, or investment in a 4-wheeler, access to the back-end of the Gohere Road will continue to be a challenge. This will force more hunters to the east-end of the road, further pressuring the accessible herd. And if the past few years are any indication, we could be too old, perish the thought, to take advantage of a revitalized herd!
And so it ends!
It was such a good ride! As 'The Barker' so eloquently put it in September 2017...
Thanks guys all.
RAR et al
Revised, expanded, finalized September 2017