Anticosti: The Isle of Whitetails

One of thousands of buck tracks on the beach at Anticosti Island. By Joe Cermele When I think back to past island experiences, things like pina coladas, tarpon, and steel-drum music come to mind. Surrounded by water always went hand in hand with surrounded by fish for me. But walking down a beach in Canada, I found something foreign. Running in every direction between piles of seaweed and the faded shells of washed up stone crabs were thousands of deer tracks--dewclaws perfectly imprinted in the sand. Oh sure, I was surrounded by water, but I came to Anticosti Island off the coast of Quebec to be surrounded by whitetails. Across this 140-mile-long island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it is impossible to move five feet without seeing a track, rub, or scat pile. The biggest draw here is that the 120,000 estimated deer on the island have only one predator...the hunter.Joe Cermele
The seaside town of Mont Joli is the first stop during a trip to Anticosti. The night before arriving on the island, I sat down to dinner in the sleepy shore village of Mont Joli on the mainland with Bill Booth of Smith & Wesson and Dave Anderson of Guns magazine. Dave and Bill would become my hunting partners for the next week. We took time to discuss our mission, which above all else was to leave Anticosti having each filled our two buck tags. In doing so, Dave and I would have a chance to field test Smith & Wesson's new i-Bolt in .30/06.Joe Cermele
Hunters board a plane in Mont Joli for the hour flight to Anticosti Island. The next morning we joined 35 other hunters at the airport, many already dressed in field attire, for the hour-long flight to the island. Our hosts upon arrival would be an outfit called Sepaq Anticosti. Sepaq can put hunters up in 19 locations across the island ranging from one to four hours from the airport in the tiny town of Port-Menier. Some are full-service lodges, some are cabins where you prepare your own meals, and some are rustic shelters with no running water or electricity.Joe Cermele
Rifles and racks sit at the airport waiting to join departing hunters on their flight back to Mont-Joli. Hunters on Anticosti are allowed to shoot two deer of either sex during their stay. According to Gilles Dumaresq, head of Customer Service at Sepaq, this bag limit holds great appeal, as it lets hunters take their first buck early on, then get picky for their second. Likewise, if time is running out and tags haven't been filled, those interested in taking venison home can always opt to shoot a doe.Joe Cermele
A Christmas card sold in Port-Menier featuring an 8-point buck in front of the Nativity scene. Aside from some logging and commercial fishing, Anticosti's economy relies heavily on whitetail. Of the 250 or so year-round island residents, a good number are employed by Sepaq, either working in the office in town, guiding, or working at various lodges.Joe Cermele
A doe waits to be fed outside as Dave Anderson orders lunch in Port-Menier. In town the deer have been given pet status. One buck in particular named Molson eluded our cameras during our visit, but others who hunt here annually have watched him blossom from a spike to a fine 8-pointer with some good mass. The town does, on the other hand, aren't shy, quickly snapping anything edible from offering fingers.Joe Cermele
A red fox stalks the author along the Ste-Marie River. Anticosti's now thriving reputation as a whitetail hunter's paradise began in the late 1800s when Henri Menier introduced 220 deer to the island. At the time there were also black bears, elk, and moose roaming the swamps, beaches, and scrub-pine. Now only a few moose remain, as the deer population grew and ate the bears and elk into starvation. Today, the bucks of Anticosti share the land with foxes, hares, partridge, and snowy owls.Joe Cermele
(above) Buck tracks weave through seaweed piles. (below) The view from the author's beachfront tree stand. Since the deer have no natural predators, they behave differently on Anticosti than in other places. They often lay low at night, feeding and moving more actively during the day. If they spot you, they stick around to check you out a little longer than normal. And since seaweed is a large part of the deers' diet, the guides told us that a salt lick wouldn't do you much good.Joe Cermele
A glimpse at Anticosti's scrub-pine landscape. (below) Guide Rock Malouin mugs it up for the camera after a day in the field. Our guide for the week was Rock Malouin, a 23-year veteran deer stalker who was born and raised on the island. Rock was a man of few words but a man with sharp eyes. He spotted deer among a landscape of tans, browns, stumps, and dead branches with remarkable accuracy. If Rock told you to sit in a stand for three hours, you'd better not move, because it was almost a guarantee you'd see a buck.Joe Cermele
One of the tree stands along an Anticosti swamp. Some hunters refer to them as "torture chairs." During the summer, Rock works as a carpenter and builds many of Sepaq's tree stands and ground blinds. The running joke among many hunters is that these stands resemble "torture chairs" with their medieval look and plywood rifle rests that draw down across your chest. Truth is, they were incredibly sturdy.Joe Cermele
Guide Rock Malouin and Bill Booth glass a swamp where Booth saw seven deer during the first day of the hunt. Anticosti is also well-known for its productive stalking opportunities. While there are many blinds and stands, endless trails allow stealthy hunters to sneak through the low brush and rattle or grunt from ground-level. A good pair of binoculars is a must.Joe Cermele
Smith & Wesson's Bill Booth gets a bead on a 7-point buck 150-yards out in the swamp. Unfortunately, the full moon mixed with fog early on in the trip made stalking a bit tough. But the still-hunting didn't fail to produce action. The daily average of deer sightings was six to fourteen.Joe Cermele
Sepaq guides hang deer in the meat house next to the lodge at Ste-Marie. By then end of our second day, four bucks hung in the meat house at our lodge. Although they were not Boone & Crockett trophies, all the bucks were respectable, dressing between 125 and 135 pounds. Bill Booth's 7-pointer topped the leader board for the biggest two days in. My smaller 7-point hangs in the middle. There is some opportunity to take a true trophy on the island, but overall, the bucks here are not massive. What they lack in size they make up for in quantity.Joe Cermele
The hunting party relaxes at the lodge after sunset. Because we were so far north, darkness fell by four o'clock, forcing us out of the woods and into the lodge. But no one took issue here. A fire always burned, propane lamps hissed, and a great meal was always on the table by 6.Joe Cermele
Tony Quindazzi sits in his favorite blind dubbed "Chateau Antonio." Aside from Dave and Bill, we shared a lodge with some other hunters who frequent Anticosti. One was Tony Quindazzi who drove over 700 miles from Rhode Island to Mont Joli to catch a flight over. Tony is now 74 and has hunted the island for the last five years. He always requests that Rock be his guide, and his Mannlicher Model 56 with a prized Kahles scope never fails to impress other hunters.Joe Cermele
The author's 5-point buck shot on the third day of the trip. On the third day of our hunt, Rock dropped Bill and Tony off and drove me deeper inland. We didn't talk much, as he spent more time watching for deer movement than watching the road. When we finally stopped, he told me to walk a trail for 45 minutes until I hit a stand. Then I was to sit until 1 and he'd pick me up. I wasn't in position for more than an hour before this five-pointer walked out of the brush.Joe Cermele
Dave Anderson gets a first look at an eight-pointer he took from 100-yards. The next morning, Dave Anderson got his chance at a nice 8-point. I took this photo around 10 a.m., but not much light penetrates the dense low pines. A deer lost in these woods may never be found, and if you do find a downed buck, chances are you reached it by crawling on your hands and knees.Joe Cermele
Dusk and dawn at the Ste-Marie lodge. As one might expect, our final night on Anticosti was both bitter and sweet. We returned to the lodge at sunset, took in the quiet surrounding before dinner and sat down for our last meal with new friends and hunting buddies. We went to bed mentally preparing for the long trip home. But something happened over night...Joe Cermele
Fog rolls in and winds kick up, stranding the hunting party on the island for two extra days. ...the wind picked up. The fog came with it. It was clear by noon that there was no way we were getting off the island. I shot this video from the front porch of our lodge.Field & Stream Online Editors
Fog over the ocean outside the author's bedroom window. For two days the plane could not depart Mont Joli to pick us up. Granted, there are worse places to be stuck, but with tags filled, cabin fever sets in faster than you might think.Joe Cermele
Always anticipating the approach of a big buck or word that the plane off the island would be able to fly, Dave Anderson sleeps with his boots on, ready for action. So you talk. You sleep. You read. You pace. And you try to get cell phone reception with no avail. Luckily, the weather lifted that Monday, and we were homeward bound.Joe Cermele
A large doe feeds near the beach after the storm passes. (below) One of many skulls nailed up on the island, this one hanging over the meat house door. While I'll admit I was eager to return to the mainland, the happiness in going home was short-lived. I was probably in the air somewhere between Montreal and New York City when I realized I needed to find a way back onto that island as soon as I could.Joe Cermele