February 05, 2019
Flip through the pages of an outdoor magazine, and it usually doesn’t take long before a story is seen concerning the wild outdoor adventure available in Canada’s province of Saskatchewan.
One of the North American continent’s agricultural epicenters, the province is also filled with vast numbers of lakes and dense timber the further north one goes into Saskatchewan’s Boreal Forest.
Put together, the rugged landscape is one that offers world-class hunting and fishing adventure — especially when one is pursuing some of the biggest whitetail bucks on the continent, massive springtime black bears or the vast numbers of waterfowl that migrate through the province each fall.
Put simply, Saskatchewan is a hunter’s heaven.
Back on Nov. 23, 1993, Saskatchewan farmer Milo Hanson showed the deer hunting community how world class the big bucks could be in the province when he downed a 213 5/8-inch typical buck near his home in Biggar. Today, a quarter of a century later, the buck remains the Boone and Crockett Club world record typical.
“Taking a record animal is the dream of many big-game hunters, so naturally that buck caused a ton of buzz,” said North American Whitetail magazine editor Gordon Whittington, who broke the Hanson Buck story to the world. “Many phenomenal deer have been shot in the province before and since, including a new archery world-record non-typical mule deer in 2018.”
Why is Saskatchewan so good for deer?
“The habitat and genetics are conducive to growing trophy animals, despite wolves and increasing numbers of moose that are starting to populate traditional whitetail areas and crowd out their smaller cousins,” said Whittington. “World-class bucks are by definition exceptional specimens and not realistic expectation anywhere on the continent. That being said, while bagging a buck the size of Hanson’s might not be a realistic goal for hunters traveling to Saskatchewan, there’s still the opportunity to take an exceptional whitetail.”
Hunting the big bucks of Saskatchewan is an unforgettable experience according to Gregg Ritz, a longtime Outdoor Sportsman Group television personality who hosts Hunt Masters on Outdoor Channel.
“I’ve hunted a dozen times in Saskatchewan,” said Ritz. “My fondest memory is in Green Lake, Saskatchewan a decade ago when I killed a heavy, dark antlered buck that was filmed by Realtree cameraman Nick Mundt, who is now an industry superstar on Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector show.”
Hunting with a muzzleloader during an unseasonable cold snap in the late fall, Ritz sat in a treestand from daylight to dark. Seeing multiple deer each sit, he finally decided to cash his unused tag in on the 10-point, 140-class whitetail mentioned above.
While he’s still seeking his own version of the Milo Hanson buck, Ritz eagerly keeps coming back to Saskatchewan for more.
“Saskatchewan is a truly remote whitetail hunt,” he said. “There’s little if any pressure from neighboring hunters or the sounds of traffic and other human activity. Hunting deer there is as peaceful as it gets. Plus, you have the mystery of not knowing what might show up. Unlike the U.S., many Saskatchewan timber bucks are never seen or captured on a trail camera.”
If the wilds of Saskatchewan are noted for its big bucks, the same goes for the black bears that roam the province, too.
“There are some huge bears up in Saskatchewan,” said Bowhunter Magazine Editor Curt Wells. “And there are also lots of color-phase bears. Like anywhere else, learning to judge a bear’s size is a valuable skill.”
Pat Reeve, who along with his wife Nicole hosts the award-winning Driven TV program on Outdoor Channel, agrees that when it comes to black bear hunting, Saskatchewan is a tough place to beat.
In fact, the Reeve family spent time at Buck Country Outfitters in Saskatchewan during the spring of 2018 with daughter Isabel taking a great bruin with a crossbow. And in previous spring hunts, the couple has taken some truly remarkable sized bears of their own on treks north of the border from their Minnesota home.
“We hunt a couple of different provinces in Canada, but we spend most of our bear hunting time in Saskatchewan,” said Pat.
Why? In addition to super-sized bruins, hunters visiting Saskatchewan have a chance to take one of several black bear color phases according to Reeve.
“It’s really good in Saskatchewan where you’ve got a chance to shoot not only a regular black bear, but also a blond, brown or cinnamon color-phase bear,” he said. “There are some beautiful color-phase bears in Saskatchewan and that’s one reason we like going back.”
They also keep going back thanks to the size-factor that Wells referenced above. In fact, Reeve’s daughter Olivia shot a 500-pound bruin a few years ago while hunting in Saskatchewan. With a 21-inch record book sized skull, the huge bear was tagged as Olivia sat on the ground using a crossbow.
As the bear came in close for a shot, there was plenty of adrenaline flowing as Olivia steadied her nerves, settled her aim, and let the Driven TV cameras record the amazing footage on a hunt for the black bear of a lifetime.
For proud papa Pat, such moments afield are the ones that keep luring himself, his wife and his kids to travel back to Saskatchewan each spring for another bear-hunting adventure.
“You’re sitting there watching these bears, and all of a sudden, a smaller bear picks up his head and runs out of there, (so) you better get ready because generally, there is a bigger bear coming!” he said.
Reeve notes that his group prefers the latter part of May during the black bear rut, a time that can be just as exciting as the fall rut can be for a whitetail hunter.
“The chance at shooting a big boar is really good during that latter part of May when that rut kicks in,” he said. “The sows have been coming into the bait and that’s when they start pulling those big boars, who are normally very cagey, in close enough for a shot.”
Like whitetails, Reeve has found that bait or no bait, big bruins are very smart, react quickly to hunting pressure, and use their noses to sift through air molecules to detect even the slightest hint of danger.
“I’ll hunt bears every year if I can, and plus it’s a great way to get kids into the outdoors,” he said. “To see a big bear come up a few feet away from a blind that your child is hunting in and to see their excitement and adrenaline level, it’s fun.”
Big on both whitetail and bear hunting adventure, Saskatchewan is also a tremendous place to chase ducks and geese each fall season.
While the trophies in waterfowl hunting aren’t measured or weighed, they can be found in the sheer volume of birds winging their way south as the transition from summer to winter occurs. I found that out several years ago hunting with Charlie Holder, owner of the Sure-Shot Game Calls company down on the Gulf Coast in Groves, Texas.
After heading north from the Northway Outfitters lodge where we were staying, we were rewarded with non-stop early morning action as clouds and clouds of ducks and geese worked the vast decoy spread that our small hunting crew had put out before dawn.
On this particular morning, as thousands of snow geese filled the air along with plenty of Canada geese and mallards, a small wad of specklebelly geese cupped their wings and headed towards our hidden position.
When our pit boss named Wally cried out “Take ‘em!”, I settled my shotgun on a pair of snow geese working the edge while Holder knocked down a specklebelly double. Hustling out into the spread, we retrieved the downed birds, hastily retreated to the makeshift blind, and started calling at the next bunch working the decoys.
A short while later, we took a closer look at Holder’s two specklebellies and discovered that these two birds were trophy specimens in their own right — two big geese that are now mounted together in the call maker’s office. Why were they trophies for a dedicated waterfowler? Because the pair of geese each wore silver leg bands put on years earlier by biologists who were hoping to track their autumn movements and eventual harvest by hunters.
With a Texas-sized grin, Holder looked at me and the others and put the whole experience of hunting in Saskatchewan into proper perspective.
“Gentlemen, I believe we’ve come to the right place!”
Indeed. Because whether the goal is a trophy whitetail buck, a big springtime black bear or the autumn waterfowl hunting memory of a lifetime, when hunting in Saskatchewan there’s never been a truer statement made.