Whitetail Heaven: Hunting in Manitoba
It’s ugly early as you climb out of your nice warm blankets and begin to prepare for your day’s hunt in Whitetail Shangri-La. The weather is crisp, with a promise of snow in the afternoon as you eat a filling breakfast at the lodge and prepare for your day’s hunt. A handful of ginormous bucks have been spotted on game cameras in the area. While there are no guarantees in deer hunting, you’ve got your eye on the absolute atypical unit that has haunted the same spot every morning since before the rut.
You’ve done the work on your end. Your rifle is sighted in and every group looks like a keyhole. You’re ready for this moment, and it’s coming now. These thoughts fill you as your guide ensures that you’re settled into your ground blind. Perfect placement affords you a panoramic view of the field and tree lines, where you know your buck of a lifetime is going to appear.
A gentle doe bleat catches your ear followed by the Tommy-gun volley of clashing antlers echoing off the tree line. Then, the world falls away as the tank buck as you’ve come to know as the big atypical warily steps out of the trees. His nose is in the air, testing before he takes a few hesitant steps out of the cover. A few more slow steps and he’s in position. He’s at 150 yards, perfectly broadside, and completely unaware that you’re consciously slowing the tremor in your hands and the thunder of your heart. Slowly the rifle rises, and you ease the safety off, find your target…and easy, slow, steady…BOOM! Buck down.
It sounds like a fairy tale or the deranged ramblings of the grizzled old deer hunter at the coffee shop the day before. But for thousands of hunters, both local and those who make the trip from all over North America, this is deer-hunting reality. If you’re lucky enough to live and hunt in Manitoba, this kind of thing happens more often than once in a lifetime. Manitoba Whitetail is proving to be a bucket list hunt that will keep hunters coming back season after season.
From the mixed boreal forests in the east to the valley and farmland of the west, the transitional forest to the north and the Red River basin in the south, Whitetail deer habitat is plentiful throughout the province. Each area of the province is unique. A hunter could find himself or herself high up in a treestand overlooking old growth forest; in a ground blind nestled into a tree line and overlooking acres of prime farmland; or even posted in a willow slough on the edge of a favored watering hole. While concealment tactics change, one thing remains the same: here, the opportunity to fill one’s tag (and freezer) is a high likelihood.
Free, Fair and Wild
Manitoba is unique to many other provinces and states in that every Manitoba Whitetail hunt is a free range, fair chase, wild hunt. Every deer harvested has earned his antlers the hard way, by being bigger, smarter, and craftier than the rest of the herd. For hunters looking for a truly special Whitetail hunting experience, look no further than Manitoba. This is where every deer is hunted on their terms.
Unique to hunting in Manitoba is that this is a true wilderness Whitetail hunt. From dark until dark and all day long, Manitoba Whitetails are hunted the hard way. In Manitoba, it’s illegal to hunt deer by using baits, which means that a hunter won’t be spending a couple of hours sitting in a permanent blind then shooting a deer over a feeder.
Outfitters never truly stop scouting throughout the year as they spend months afield through the winter, spring, and summer, observing deer and constantly updating their journals. They record deer movements, sign, birth numbers, and habitat changes, all of which will affect the fall hunt.
During the winter, post-rut deer start looking for two things: food and shelter. Manitoba winters are cold and, in some years, so extremely frigid that survival becomes a major concern for deer. While hunting season is closed, it is important for outfitters to identify feeding locations and good shelter. This gives an outfitter a strong idea of how deer populations will be affected in the spring.
Are the does able to find enough food for them and their babies to thrive? Are the bucks able to find enough calories to replenish energy spent during the rut to see them through the truly lean months of January and February? That’s when temperatures can plummet to -30 Celsius or below, and snow depth can measure in feet instead of inches. From a shelter perspective, thick brush provides cover from predators while dry sloughs and heavy canopied old growth provide shelter from wind and snow. Predation is a major concern during the winter months, as well. High wolf or coyote populations will negatively impact deer numbers as these predators pick off does and fawns, as well as bucks weakened by little forage in the cold heart of winter. Needless to say, predator control ranks highly in Manitoba, so every Whitetail tag sold also allows a hunter to bag a wolf or coyote. Make sure to ask an outfitter about this bonus opportunity when planning your hunt.
Comes the Spring
When spring hits deer are feeding on leafy greens and spring vegetation. In the search for nutrients, Whitetail home ranges increase and does begin to give birth to their fawns. Seasoned outfitters know how important it is to keep a close eye on herds occupying their hunting areas. These tiny fawns are a strong indicator of the health of deer populations, because in good years, many does will give birth to twins. In lean years where predation is heavy and food is scarce, does will often birth a single fawn. Outfitters will continue to keep a close eye on deer movements and population throughout the late summer and into autumn as hunting season inches closer. While outfitters have an intimate understanding of herds on their land, Whitetails are still wild, so hunting can still be a challenge with a mature deer a major accomplishment.
Whitetail hunting in Manitoba is always an adventure. It’s exciting, challenging, and while deer populations are always in flux, the reason why so many world-class bucks are taken every season throughout the province boils down to one thing: The hunt itself.
Here, you can expect to hunt from dark until dark. The key to Manitoba monster bucks is to hunt hard, hunt long, and hunt frequently. Outfitters do their level best to dial in when deer are going to appear at their stands. However, deer movements change regularly and in fact can change daily. It all depends on everything from moon phases, to predation, to simply changing their feeding patterns.
Manitoba offers incredibly diverse Whitetail hunting experiences. From Canadian Shield and old-growth forest in the east to endless tracts of farmland and grain-fed monsters in the west, Manitoba is home to numerous geographically distinct regions, all supporting their own signature Whitetail hunting experiences.
Parkland Region – The Duck Mountains boast some of the highest peaks in Manitoba, including Mt. Baldy, Manitoba’s highest mountain. Home to a diverse mix of woodlands, rolling meadows, and wetlands, hunters will find themselves surrounded by spruce, tamarack, fir, Jack pine, aspen, poplar and birch fields. It’s not unusual to come across elk, moose and black bear as well as deer. Expanses of farmland butt up against boreal forest, and this provides deer with fantastic cover and plentiful forage year-round.
The Interlake – Arguably the heart of Manitoba, the Interlake Region rests between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg. This area has farmland, mixed woodlands, marshes, and massive water bodies, all creating a diverse Whitetail hunting environment. Poplar and aspen stands are ubiquitous here, so it’s not uncommon to hunt from a ground blind nestled in a stand of poplars on the edge of farmland. The thick cover and hectares of undisturbed terrain so close to crop land give deer excellent cover and consistent feed.
Western Region – In the southwestern part of the province, nestled against Riding Mountain National Park and sitting atop the Manitoba Escarpment, this heavily forested area holds three different ecosystems, creating numerous hunting opportunities. Grasslands collide with upland boreal and eastern deciduous forests, all of which offer prime habitat for massive Whitetails. Hunters will experience a mix of dense brush and open, rolling meadows where hunting can consist of tree stands set deep in a birch stand or a ground blind set on the edge of a meadow overlooking prime Whitetail habitat.
Eastern Region – The eastern edge of Manitoba contains the Whiteshell. The Whiteshell is the transition point between farmlands of Southern Manitoba into the boreal forest and Canadian Shield. Here, hunters will discover rich biodiversity as the mixed forest gives way to craggy rocks, rice lakes, and acre upon acre of undisturbed wilderness. A hunter who finds himself or herself in a treestand or ground blind here will marvel at the sights of pink granite, beautiful lakes, and the calls of loons drifting over the water—as well as the soft grunt of a truly massive buck through a thicket.
There are a multitude of reasons to make the trek to Manitoba for deer season. With a myriad of vastly different landscapes, massive deer, and some of the friendliest people on earth, booking a hunt in this gem of a province will leave you dreaming of more.
Manitoba’s outfitters work hard to make your hunt a success and it shows when you experience your first Manitoba Monster Whitetail Hunt. For a list of outfitters, visit www.mloa.com or www.huntfishmanitoba.ca, and book your trip today!
What to Bring for a Manitoba Whitetail Hunt
Most outfitters will provide you with a specific packing list prior to arriving in Manitoba. However, here are a few basics.
RIFLE: Manitoba hunting regulations recommend a minimum centerfire caliber of .23 and prohibit the use of full metal-cased hard-point bullets. A .270 is a fine caliber for hunting Whitetails in Manitoba, with the Weatherby Vanguard an excellent option for those looking to up their game with a new rifle this season.
SCOPE: For vastly different landscapes varying from dense brush to farmland, an excellent option is a 3-12, which will cover any and all types of terrain in the Province. I’m particularly fond of my Zeiss Conquest V4.
BINOCULARS: A good set of binos can be a game- changer. In Manitoba, a good 10×42 bino will work wonders for putting eyes on that monster buck. Enter the Vortex Razor UHD.
Ihunter – This app is Canada’s answer to onX, and it offers a host of location-based features to help you plan and stay informed on your hunt. iHunter allows you to overlay multiple boundary layers, see the forecast, and share location data with other users.
WHITETAIL NUTRITIONAL CALENDAR
Whitetail deer will seek the first available, high-quality browse and green food in early spring to revamp their ravaged bodies from a long, cold winter and the rigors of two months of rutting.
The first new-sprouting native vegetation contains more high-octane nutrition than it will have at any other time of the season. The protein and mineral content in the new spring/summer growth is toppled with nutrition, and Whitetails turn to fresh new grasses, native browse, and flowering plants to gain back what was lost in winter. The new browse shoots from these native plants are highly nutritious, bringing high-octane nutrition (from 18% to 30%) to lactating does, and boosting muscle development and replenishing weight loss on bucks who are starting to develop antlers. Annual and perennial forbs and native browse are the main tiers of a deer’s diet during the spring and summer months.
Whitetail deer require different nutritional requirements at different times of the year. Just like people, Whitetails need a well-rounded diet.
Growing bucks, lactating does, and newborn fawns require these nutritional needs: calcium, phosphorus, fiber, sodium, carbohydrates, and fat, as well as the baseline of protein and water.
By providing a good chunk of these requirements on your property, Whitetails will gravitate to your ground, and more times than not, spend the majority of their life on your property.
Nutritional Calendar Summer/Fall
Woody browse or deer browse is defined as the leaves, twigs, and buds of woody plants consumed by Whitetails. Whitetail deer are primarily browsers. Eating browse is an important part of what deer consume, especially during the late winter months and early spring months, when food is hard to come by. Browse is likely the only food
Hard mast (such as acorns and hickory) and soft mast (like apples) are a Whitetail’s main focus during the fall, when antler development has finished and does have weaned their fawns. This is when deer build up their fat reserves for the rigors of the breeding season and the upcoming winter.
Acorns and corn are low in protein, but they have huge energy and fat content, so they are staple foods in areas where they are available.
- Beech nuts
- Honey locust
- Oak (acorns)
Grasses rarely are a preferred food item of Whitetails, except during the early growth stages when the grass shoots are more digestible, from April through June. Grains, such as oats, wheat, and rye, are preferred.
- Panic grasses
For a healthy Whitetail deer population, landowners and managers have to understand and provide these deer with their nutritional needs throughout the year. Although Whitetail nutritional requirements vary by season, deer density, and physiological activity, a well- devised plan (like the ones offered by the National Deer Association) provides management practices that can be implemented to enhance deer habitats. Such a plan will provide a diversity of forages to keep Whitetails wanting to stay around on your hunting property.