September 22, 2010
This relatively small island, located at the junction of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, offers some outstanding bowhunting opportunities for big whitetails.
Photo courtesy of Pete Schoonmaker.
When I first saw the advertisement and the photos accompanying the description for hunting whitetails on Wolfe Island, I was a little skeptical. It was only natural because over the years I have been on many whitetail hunting excursions with outfitters, and I've seen the good, the mediocre and the really ugly.
Wolfe Island, Ontario, is a 7-mile- wide by 23-mile-long island located at the point where Lake Ontario flows into the St. Lawrence Seaway. The much larger Anticosti Island, located some 650 miles to the northeast in the St. Lawrence Seaway where the seaway empties into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, has long received most of the attention from whitetail hunters.
But the rich history of Wolfe Island goes back to the original American Indian occupants and the whitetails that sustained them. From there it encompasses the earliest French explorers in 1603. Later, in 1792, the island was named after the British General James Wolfe. The first settlers found fertile soil and an abundance of fish, waterfowl and whitetails. They cleared the land for cultivation and dairy farming.
Jump ahead to the present and the scenario remains much the same today except for the introduction of plains bison in 1995 and wild turkeys in 1999. What sets the whitetail hunting apart on Wolfe Island, beside the fact that the entire island is a perfect mix of agriculture and woodlands, is that these free-ranging deer have never been exposed to an open gun season (at least in modern times). The only way you can hunt Wolfe Island whitetails is by bow.
Brown's Bay Hunt Club, a whitetail outfitting service on the island, has been in business for 10 years. The club operates out of Brown's Bay Inn and hunts 4,000 acres with over 30 stand locations. The waterfowl hunting here is also second to none. The inn limits its bookings and runs a first-rate waterfowl and whitetail operation ranging from quality habitat, to well-placed duck blind and tree stand locations, to excellent accommodations, staff and dining -- all at one inclusive price. (The nightly sit-down dinner of chef-created meals is excellent and definitely not your normal camp fare.)
Brown's Bay Inn owner who Ron Otto, who has hunted extensively across North America, told me, "I wanted an outfitting business to be run as if I were the client. Limited hunters, quality game to hunt, good food and lodging at an all-inclusive price. No surprises."
And he wasn't kidding! It's obvious that his formula works. In the past, I've made three trips to this whitetail island.
As one old-timer bluntly put it, "To live on Wolfe Island (the windy island), you have to be psychologically capable." I had a hunch by the geographic location of this island that it probably was a little breezy, and it was! The whitetails have learned to live with it. The heaviest buck ever taken by a hunter on the island was 340 pounds (not field dressed), so they must get plenty to eat despite the constant wind.
During my first trip to the island my hunting partner Don Robbins and I saw, from well-placed stands, 26 bucks and 85 does. The stands are comfortable, quality-built ladder stands, or hanging stands -- "pin-ups" as the guides refer to them, all constructed by the expert staff.
I rattled in one buck that must have urinated a gallon as he pawed the ground 15 yards away. The varied tones of a True Talker deer call reeled in numerous bucks and does. And my doe estrous deer lure enticed one doe to lick the lure completely off every twig and plant I sprayed it on as I walked to my tree stand. It took that deer a good half hour to finally complete the job at the foot of my tree.
But as luck would have it, the big bucks were just going nocturnal on the eve of the rut. I did call in one 10-pointer, but he was with three does and I couldn't entice him those last few yards for a clear bowshot. The biggest buck I saw stood up at last light after having bedded in a patch of red dogwood. His high, white 10-point tines could be counted with the naked eye as they stood out in the dusk. But according to my rangefinder the big-racked buck was an unfortunate 327 yards away.
On my second trip, my father and I traveled to Wolfe Island in early October. My father wanted to experience the phenomenal waterfowl hunting while I resumed my quest for a bow buck on this deer-rich island. Duncan MacDonald is the head guide. Without question, he's one of the finest funnel finders and stand setters that I've ever encountered.
My first evening hunt was from a stand located in a narrow band of woods with a bay behind me. Overgrown fencerows surrounding an uncut field were in front of me. Eight deer passed by that stand. One 6-pointer stood at the foot of my ladder stand and rubbed his pre-orbital glands on apple branches. During that hunt I sat in a number of well-placed stands and saw numerous bucks.
One tree stand was in a 2-acre patch of mature hardwoods and cedar trees surrounded by a soybean field on two sides. Dense bullwhips and an inland canal made up the other two sides. The stand was set 20 yards off the soybean field near a corner of converging terrain. I rattled at 6:50 a.m. Five minutes later movement caught my attention just below the sunrise/shadow line on the sloping field. It was an 8-pointer coming in full bore. He circled to my left to get the wind to his advantage as he looked down into the woods. He was a dandy buck, but not the caliber deer that I knew dwelled on this island.
On the last evening of the five-day hunt, I returned to that stand. Duncan felt it was worth another sit because of a wide, heavy-beamed 10-pointer he had seen in the area. At last light, I heard movement behind me. I turned to see the haunches of a large deer moving under the autumn leaf canopy. The next leafy opening revealed the very antlers Duncan had described. As the big Wolfe Island buck stepped into a clear shooting lane at 16 yards, I picked a spot on his shoulder and squeezed the release. Instead of the welcome hollow "tuuump" sound of a double-lung shot, there was a "zzzzz-whack" like I had slapped him with a whiffle ball bat. I had blown a fletching. What were the chances? Duncan called a few weeks later to ease my frustration because he had seen the healthy 10-pointer on three occasions running with the 8-pointer that I rattled in.
Thrills & Chills
It was the end of October and the bucks were beginning to make their presence known. The wind was right for hunting from a ground blind Duncan ha
d in mind. When bowhunting, I air wash my outer garments and spray them down with Hunter's Specialties Scent-A-Way Human Scent Neutralizer and I bathe with an HS Scent-A-Way Shower Kit that includes soap, shampoo, moisturizer, deodorant and lip balm.
On this morning hunt, the "scent free" theory would be put to the test. Tucked in amongst horizontal logs and limbs against a huge double-trunk basswood tree, I made certain my Mathews Switchback could be drawn without obstruction. As I sat in full camo, a doe approached another nearby basswood tree that was an amazing signpost tree with buck rubs from many years of territorial marking. The doe proceeded up to the tree not 15 feet away and began smelling the new rubs. She moved over to a fence line and stared out into the field.
Peering through the tree trunks, I saw a stout, gnarly 7-point buck approach the doe. She jumped the fence and he followed her into the field. Later, four does and two yearlings walked between the signpost tree and my scent-free camouflaged figure pressed into the crotch of the basswood. What a thrilling morning of close encounters!
A swamp with a long, narrow ridge through its middle possessed several new scrapes and rubs. At the end of the ridge I harnessed into a tree stand at 3:30 in the afternoon in the pouring rain. To top it off, the horizontal rain was assisted by a 25- to 30-mph wind. Fortunately the protective envelope of my Gortex rain suit kept my carcass warm and dry. I had the hood cinched so tight only the end of my nose showed. But the weather forecast was true, and at 5:15 the clouds lifted, the rain stopped and the wind let up. Immediately, all the small birds and squirrels came to life after a day and a half of the oppressive storm.
At 5:45 I spotted a deer out of the corner of my eye slipping up a fence line 50 yards to my left. The antlers were evident and the body was big. The buck stopped at a fence corner and inspected a stand of corn across the cut field. Chills ran through my body as the buck's head turned side to side. High, 10- to 12-inch tines on a heavy beamed white rack were breathtaking. The incredible buck raised up and cleared the fence with his massive frame and majestically trotted to the corn. A whitetail scene that I will never forget!
A Wolfe Island Wallhanger
On a clear, 30-degree late December afternoon, beef farmer Duncan MacDonald headed to a stand in a maple tree that was sheltered from the howling Lake Ontario wind by cedar and pine trees. His season of guiding clients was over. A driving west wind was gusting at over 30 mph, producing a sub-zero wind-chill factor. Duncan's watering right eye reminded him that only one week earlier he'd been blinded in this eye from an incident while handling cattle. It had been an incident that threatened to spoil any chance of participating in his favored annual event -- a few days of bowhunting the late-season whitetails of Wolfe Island.
It was now Dec. 28 and he was running out of time. There was one piece of property he had scouted that looked promising, but it would be tough to hunt. It looked like a prime parcel for late-season whitetails, as it provided water, cedar, spruce, pine tree cover for protection from the elements, and agricultural foods on four sides. Although Wolfe Island whitetails have never encountered an open gun season, the biggest bucks rarely make an appearance. With the rutting season winding down and the demand for food on the rise, Duncan felt that this patch of island land had exceptional whitetail potential.
Three previous short visits to this stand location had produced sightings of several 2 1/2-year-old 8- and 10-pointers. But this seasoned whitetail hunter knew from the available deer sign that a much bigger buck was using this cover. A weather front was approaching Wolfe Island's position at the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Duncan sensed opportunity and headed to the dense patch of softwoods and brushy cover that deer often drift to in tough weather. The whitetail hideout was surrounded by prime farm country with corn, alfalfa, soybeans and wheat that connected to a brush line that passed a scouted tree stand location at 30 yards.
As dusk approached, a big, white- antlered buck appeared in the brush line and jumped the farm fence. It was a big buck that Duncan had never laid an eye on until this moment. The hunter eased to full draw and aimed behind the front shoulder of the huge buck, quartering by at 18 yards. With a squeeze of his release the Mathew's SQ2 launched a well-placed arrow. The big island buck loped off 60 yards. Then he paused and dropped. The Wolfe Island trophy whitetail featured 10-inch tines on 23-inch beams with a 20 1/2-inch inside spread. Those measurements produced a gross score of 174 1/2 inches of antler!
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Bowhunts on Wolfe Island are available from Oct. 1 through Dec. 10. For more information, write Brown's Bay Inn, P.O. Box 219, Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada, K0H 2Y0. Or call (613) 385-2533 or visit www.brownsbayinn.com.