July 26, 2022
By Michael Devaney
The old adage, "If you want to kill a big one, go where the big ones are," still applies, right? Well, what are you waiting for? Canada has long been known for record-class deer, so why ignore the percentages? It's time to get past the excuses and commit to the trip you've always dreamed about.
Think of seeing those huge, near-mythical bodies, donning thick chocolate Goliath-sized racks. It's enough to put any hunter into a salivating state of hysteria and evoke hypnotic daydreams, mesmerized by the hopeful headline, "Hunter Shoots Record Whitetail." OK, that's enough. Wake up! Breaking a record might be a bit of a stretch, but in this land of the giants, there's a good chance of taking a lifetime buck, possibly even a coveted Boone and Crockett-class deer.
Mulling over the details of such a venture can seem a little overwhelming. Believe me, I know, because I've literally been there. But what if you do finally decide to go? Where do you start with your planning?
Probably the best place to begin is with friends and others in your local hunting community. They can offer a wealth of information and might even be looking to fill an opening in a group. If that's the case, perhaps you can tag along and learn the ropes first-hand If you can't find a local hunter with whitetail experience in Canada, you'll likely begin your planning by speaking with experienced outfitters.
Equipment requirements and logistics planning are more essential in Canada than in some other parts of North America. Canada can be brutally unforgiving for the unprepared sportsman. Become familiar with the proper gear, special regulations, passport requirements, timeline agendas, and the expectations of the outfitter and guide.
If traveling with companions, having the "right" group dynamic cannot be stressed enough. You'll be spending a lot of time together, in close quarters, so everyone in your group needs to get along and have the same focus, expectations and goals in mind.
If you're worried about the money -- don't be. Admittedly, traveling anywhere to hunt can be a bit pricey, but not out of reach; it just takes discipline. Like most other hunters, I spent my share of time living vicariously through hunting videos and television shows, all the while longing for my chance. But I always felt guilty about placing a financial burden on my family. Even when my chance finally did come, I still had to be persuaded to go. Luckily for me, as I was teetering on the fence of indecision, my wife sealed the deal by pushing me off the fence. I've never regretted that decision for a minute. In fact, I've been on several such trips since. Here are a few basic tips to ease the pain and get you pointed in the right direction.
QUICK REFERENCE TIPS
1) A good name is better than gold: The single most important factor to a successful, enjoyable hunt is to locate a reputable outfitter. So use every resource at your disposal: ads in this magazine, the Web, word of mouth, you name it. All of these avenues offer fruitful ways in which to become informed about an outfitter's operation, past success rate, and overall interest in your personal hunting experience.
2) Slow and steady wins the race: Start saving NOW! Open a "hunting" savings account, set up with direct deposit if possible. This is far less painful than trying to save in sporadic lumps, because the money is automatically deposited into your account before you have the chance to spend it. After a few weeks, you won't even miss it. It's as simple as using a little basic math and being disciplined enough to reach your goal.
3) The early bird gets the worm: Airline baggage handlers and TSA agents are not known for their gentle, caring nature, so plan to fly up a day or two early. This will save you tons of grief in the unfortunate event that your gear is lost or damaged by the airlines. The extra days provide ample time to get your gear located or substituted without cutting into your hunting time. If everything goes smoothly, you'll have a free day to enjoy the sights and make sure your scope is on.
Be sure to check flight regulations for traveling with firearms and ammunition, acceptable weapons case (highest quality with locking fasteners), ammo limits (usually 20 rounds max) and ammo storage (usually stored separately and in the original manufacturer's box). Canada also requires a non-resident firearm declaration permit: (form CAFC 909 (http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/index-eng.htm) along with a fee. Be sure to also familiarze yourself with any COVID-related travel regulations.
4) Clothes make the man: This cliche statement is generally meant for the business world, but it also speaks volumes about comfort outdoors, particularly when hunting all day. If you skimp here, everything else is pretty much a moot point; you'll either be unable to hunt long, if at all, or be really miserable trying. Educate yourself on the basics of dressing for cold weather and the benefits of dressing in layers for a complete clothing system. (Important: Wear only moisture-wicking clothing and leave your cotton apparel at home. This definitely includes underwear!)
Your clothing should include several layers and arctic condition boots along with these must-have accessories: face cover, baklava, silk liners and socks, wind shear protection and a hand muff. You really do get what you pay for, so choose wisely and spend the money up front on quality garments. Whatever you buy, think of it as an investment in your comfort and effectiveness. You'll have this stuff for many years to come, and on those frigid days you'll be happy you selected quality products.
5) Eagle eyes and warm hands: Quality hunting binoculars, a good binocular harness and scope/binocular covers are as important as your rifle and scope. A binocular harness makes for easy, quiet access to monitor the terrain or field judge deer; scope/binocular covers guard against blowing snow and freezing rain attaching to your optics.
Also, take plenty of hand and toe warmers. Sold with and without an adhesive strip backing which allows "hands-free" attachment, they can be used inside hand muffs, clothing, the top of your boots or to give your nose or ears a break (Caution: Inside your boot bottoms could cause a burn hazard with some products.) These lifesavers can also keep your cell phone LED display from freezing (yes, freezing!) and the cold weather from playing havoc with your batteries, flashlight and camera -- even your lunch. A fresh warmer just before daybreak and another at midday is usually enough to do the trick.
6) Be prepared for anything: Most hunting lodges in Canada aren't close to stores, so plan ahead for whatever might happen -- in or out of your deer stand. You'll need provisions for a full week's stay at camp. Make a list of everything you can think of, including cold medicine, Vaseline, unscented lip balm, shooting glasses, baking soda, urine bottle, travel-sized toilet paper rolls, tissues, etc.
Perhaps the most commonly overlooked issue in hunting Canada is the wind. It plays havoc on exposed skin -- particularly the face, which can become chapped very quickly. And believe me, there's nothing quite like the sight of a room full of hunters swapping stories over dinner, with a foot of snow outside, all looking as if they've been sunburned from an afternoon nap on the beach. Applying a light coat of Vaseline just before turning in at night will help. Also, shooting glasses can give your eyes a break from 12 hours of staring into a cutting wind.
Baking soda is excellent for brushing your teeth "scent-free." The taste is horrible, but it works! Just remember to completely rinse all residue from your lips when you're done. And even a little pre-planning like taking Vitamin C tablets a few weeks before the trip to boost your body's immune system can increase your chances of staying healthy instead of succumbing to a cold. Don't gamble; it's better to be safe than sorry.
7) Capture the moment: A good still camera, video camera and cell phone are necessities in Canada. These images will be the only documentation of your trip, so make them the best they can be. The camera should have no less than a 4 mega-pixel capacity with at least a 5X optical zoom. A cell phone with silent/vibrate mode and a broad coverage area is a must. It might well be the only form of communication available to contact your outfitter for pick-up just after that magical moment or in case of emergency. And of course, bring along chargers for all electronic devices, as cold weather drains batteries at a faster rate.
8) Getting your trophy home: Find out beforehand from your outfitter what arrangements are available for taxidermy work on your trophy. The two most common options are to bring the animal home for taxidermy work or to have it done in the province of the kill.
While the second option is more costly, it eliminates problems with U.S. customs and the airlines. Strict border rules and battling with customs agents over pre-frozen capes and antlers can be a nightmare. Getting your mount shipped to your door is much more convenient. and the finished product usually is just as good.
I've been on my share of trips to Canada, and one thing's for sure: Murphy's Law is king, especially the first time. It pays to heed advice from experienced predecessors.
There's work involved in a journey of this magnitude, but it's a labor of love. In the end, the rewards far outweigh the sacrifices. Hunting in Canada is the trip of a lifetime, an experience every avid whitetail hunter owes himself or herself, preferably while still blessed with good health. I hope these tips will help make that trip north all you've ever dreamed it would be--and more!