Outfitter: Portland Creek Outfitters
Location: Portland Creek, Newfoundland
Dates: Sept. 29-Oct. 2017
Style of Hunt: Spot and Stalk
Success: Woodland Caribou
The Drive North
In September 2017, I traveled to Newfoundland with three other sportsmen to hunt caribou and moose. We took the northern route, crossing at Sault Saint Marie, driving through Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and then taking a ferry to Newfoundland. We drove straight through for 36 hours to the ferry landing at North Sydney, Nova Scotia. The six-hour ferry ride allowed us a chance to get a few hours of sleep. Once we were back on the road, it took us about five more hours to get to Portland Creek, where the outfitter was located. The total trip took about 47 hours each way.
Our schedule was to fly into camp mid-day on Sunday and fly out the following Sunday. We arrived in Portland Creek on schedule and the weather was rough. The wind was blowing at 30 miles/hr and raining, so we couldn’t fly into camp. We had to check into a motel to wait for the weather to calm down. We flew into the hunting camp around mid-day Monday.
Observations During the Drive:
· Most of Canada has dual-language (English and French) signage, except Quebec. Signs in Quebec are in French only.
· While driving through New Brunswick, I was surprised to see modern, four-lane interstates, farmland, truck stops and restaurants. It was much like driving through northern Wisconsin.
· It’s difficult to sleep in the back seat of an F-150!
· The ferry is HUGE! There were lines of semi-trucks, buses, pickup trucks and trailers that boarded, and hundreds of people.
· The border crossing was easy. We missed the turnoff for U.S. customs going to Canada, so we caught a little grief about that on the return trip, but no major problems. My observation is that U.S. customs doesn’t care what animals you bring back. My truck has never been checked by US customs on the trip home. Just make sure you have the export permits for the animals you are transporting.
· I don’t think I would travel that far without stopping to sleep again. Even though we tried to sleep in the truck, fatigue was a serious problem. Another problem I had was my legs cramped up. While on the ferry, I had to walk the stairs to get the cramps out of my legs. When I take a trip like this again, I will stop at a hotel halfway through, and get six hours of sleep.
We pulled a single-axle, 5-by-7 enclosed trailer that was lined with sheets of Styrofoam. The trailer was basically a homemade rolling cooler, and worked well for transporting meat on our drive back. There was still a lot of ice in the trailer when we unpacked in Eau Claire, WI.
Our Ride To Newfoundland Our Hotel/Restaurant/Bar for 4 nights
The Outfitter & Camp
Portland Creek Outfitters is a family-run organization. Shelly runs the operation and does a great job. The outfitter has 13 camps in the Northwest corner of Newfoundland. Their business is run out of their homes in Portland Creek. Hunters rotated throughout the kitchen of their home to get licenses and export permits, schedule fly-ins, etc.
The hunting camp is about a 15-minute flight in a float plane east of the village. The outfitter has two float planes that fly from lakes near town to the camps. We all had our own guides. The laws in Newfoundland require that nonresidents hunt with a guide. The guides were very capable, knowledgeable and motivated to get their hunters in front of animals.
The hunting camp was more than adequate. The cabin was a real log cabin on a small lake called Cat Arm Lake. The camp has two bedrooms for clients, two bedrooms for the guides and one for the cook, full bath, full kitchen, dining area and laundry.
The cabin is heated with wood and has a gas powered electric generator that ran mornings and evenings. Our camp had a camp cook that made the best meals I ever had on a hunting trip. I usually lose weight on hunting trips, but I didn’t lose much on this one.
The terrain was primarily open hilly country with patchy scrub spruce, boulders and ponds that dotted the landscape. The ground was wet everywhere. The ground sloshed with every step. There were areas where the ground seemed to float, because it was like walking on a mattress under foot. There were many hidden trenches cut in the ground by running water, and brooks to cross by jumping from rock to rock. The most amazing thing was that the ground was as wet on the hill sides and on top as it was in the valleys.
I hunted caribou and the other three sportsmen hunted moose. My caribou hunt was primarily spot and stalk, and the caribou were few and far between. I got the impression that the camp we were at was a good moose camp, but not the best place to hunt caribou.
During the 2017 season, the camp only took four caribou. Two of the caribou were yearlings, one was huge and mine was mid sized. I was told by another hunter in town that Portland Creek Outfitters has another camp called Blue Pond, that has herds of hundreds of caribou. I was given the chance to hunt at Blue Pond for a day if I didn’t fill my tag by Friday, and if the weather cleared so the planes could fly. I didn’t make it to Blue Pond.
The moose hunters used cow calls, and spot and stalk. The moose were rutting, and the hunters saw moose, but they were all young animals. One of our moose hunters shot a small bull on the first night, and the other two passed on animals early in the hunt. I heard that the groups before us had shot 11 moose. We ended up shooting three moose, and the group after us shot at least one. The camp’s total was at least 15 bull moose! Yet, few of the bulls had over 36-inch wide racks.
To learn more about how I got my caribou and spent a night under a rock, read the full story.
Other game animals in the area are bears, ptarmigan partridge and spruce grouse. Newfoundland’s bear hunting license allows two bears per license, so we assumed bears were plentiful. We planned on buying bear tags and the outfitter agreed to have baited sites to hunt. We were told that bear hunting will be part of our package when we booked the hunt.
When we got to Portland Creek, we learned that sites were not baited, and bears were not plentiful in the area we were going. But the outfitter sent a bear license with us in case we wanted one. At camp, we were told that they haven’t seen a bear in years. So, we were misled. However, one of the hunters in our group saw a couple of bears and hit one that wasn’t recovered.
We saw partridge and grouse on our hunts, and I would have hunted birds with my bow if I filled my caribou tag earlier.
Choice of Weapons
I like to think of myself as a bow hunter first and rifle hunter second. Given the choice, I’d rather take an animal with a bow than a rifle. But, in a case where the hunt is expensive and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I will use a rifle. My trip to Newfoundland falls in the rifle category, but I brought my bow to hunt bears over bait, and in case the terrain and cover would allow a close shot on a caribou. The terrain was very open, the caribou were few and far between, and I wasn’t able to hunt bears, so the bow was extra baggage.
The Meat Cutter
There are two meat cutters with walk-in freezers in the Portland Creek area. The outfitter will fly the meat out and take it to the butcher for freezing or for full processing. Two moose from our group were fully processed, my Caribou was frozen in quarters, and the third moose was loaded from the plane to the trailer for the drive home.
We had a mix of sun, clouds and rain but it was always windy. The stunted trees in this area were flagging, which means that the branches grew more on one side of the tree than the other. It was easy to see that this area is always windy. There were days we had to brace ourselves so we wouldn’t get blown over. During our trip, we only had one night with frost, but more bad weather days than good.
What I Packed
We were limited to about 75 pounds per hunter. I had one large duffle bag, rifle in a soft case, bow in a soft case, mesh bag with boots and day pack filled with gear.
This is what I brought and used:
Irish Setter rubber boots, Running shoes (used in camp), Boot drier (came in handy), multiple pairs of camo pants, shirts and coats. I brought multiple pairs since I planned on getting wet and having to change clothes. I ended up drying my clothes by the wood stove in the cabin overnight, so I didn’t use all of the clothes I brought.
I packed the following gear in my day pack:
Game Hide rain suit (the kind that fits in a pouch), Range finder, Cellphone with GPS and maps down loaded, Backup phone battery, Compass, Flashlight, Headlamp, Matches and lighter, Emergency blanket, Reversible orange/camo hat, Rubber gloves, Cloth gloves, Lip balm, Water bottle, Granola bars, Knife, First aid supplies, Parachute cord, Paper towel.
In my pockets, I carried a knife, matches, small flashlight and usually a compass.
I brought Gore-Tex boots and archery equipment that I never used.
Would I recommend hunting Newfoundland?
It depends on what you are looking for in a hunt. Newfoundland is an easy place to hunt for someone that isn’t in great shape. There are a lot of animals close to camp, but they are not very big. A hunt there can be made tough by walking long distances, which our group did, but a hunt in Newfoundland doesn’t have to be that way. The terrain is open, so it’s easy to see and it wasn’t very cold so it was one of the easier hunts I have been on.
Would I Recommend Portland Creek Outfitters?
Portland Creek Outfitters is a big operation with many return customers. The people are friendly, helpful and hardworking. I only saw one camp of 13 they run, and only met one crew, so it is hard for me to have an opinion, but I can comment on what I saw.
The camp, food and flights were all great. The only issues I had was the lack of caribou and riding on the back of the 4-wheeler. The camp only had one working vehicle, which was a 4-wheeler that wasn’t made for two people, rifles and gear. The 4-wheeler would be fine if me and my buddies were hunting on our own, but when it’s an outfitter serving paying clients, an Argo is the better way to transport people in that terrain.
Would I Go Back Again?
No, I wouldn’t go back because I’ve “been there, done that”. Now it’s time to move on to other adventures. I learned a lot from my guide, but I don’t like having a guide. I want my success or failure to be on my ability alone.