Windigo Lake is about 140 miles north of Pickle Lake Ontario, or 300 miles from Sioux Lookout. Windigo Lake is as far north as anyone can drive in Ontario. I was in the Windigo Lake area of Ontario for a moose hunt the last week of September 2018, with five other hunters. None of us had been there before. Our expectations were low but wanted to explore the area, and see if we could pull one moose out between the six of us. The group had four bull tags and two cow tags. The entire group ended the week with seeing only one bull, that gave the hunter the slip. But my goals were to 1. Be safe, 2. Have fun, 3. Explore the area and learn, 4. Get a moose. I feel we accomplished three of the four objectives, so the trip was a success.
The road north out of Pickle Lake Ontario is a continuation of Hwy 599. There was a fair amount of construction in the first stretch north of Pickle. In general, the road is a well maintained gravel road from Pickle all the way up to Windigo Lake. The road is the best kept road to nowhere that I have ever seen. Seriously, the “public” road ends at Windigo Lake where there isn’t anything going on.
The road surface is primarily crushed granite. The rock size is small and easy on tires. The surface is smooth enough to travel up to 50 miles/hr on straight stretches. Average travel speeds are easily 40-45 miles/hr. We were told to prepare for flat tires on the road. I traveled with load E tires and two spares. We had three vehicles and two trailers in our group and we didn’t have to change any tires. The only issue I had with the road surface was dust. When going up to Windigo it was dry, and every vehicle created clouds of dust. Be sure to have a good quality air filter in your vehicle. On the way back down the road, the road was wet and didn’t generate any dust at all.
Sites to see along the way are a lot of trees, the Pipes Stone River, an air strip which is still in use, a few lakes accessible from the road including Stirland Lake, and more trees. I have been told that a really cool trip is to take boats on a fishing/camping trip beginning at Stirland Lake, into the Pipe Stone River and coming out at the road 20 miles south of Stirland Lake. I hear the area traveled through on this trip is beautiful country and has great fishing. This is a trip I’d like to take someday. There are a number of other lakes with road access along the way such as Menako Lake, Farmers Lake and others.
The Land, Terrain & Forest at Windigo:
I didn’t know what to expect of the forest and terrain. I looked at Google Earth a hundred times to plan my hunt, but didn’t know how far back I could get, how thick the woods would be or how swampy the ground would be.
The soil in the area of Windigo is sandy. Most of Ontario is very rocky but this area has more sand than rock. The woods are primarily Canadian Spruce with birch and some popple. The forest floor is covered in peat moss. Walking through the woods is like walking in 6” of snow. The woods have its fair share of dead falls and alder thickets, but it’s not that bad compared to other places I have hunted.
The terrain was dryer than I expected, meaning fewer swamps and more hills. It is possible to pack in off the road a mile or so, if you are in good physical condition, but it wouldn’t be practical to pack a moose out any further than 1/3 of a mile. The areas I hunted were from ¼ to 1/3 mile from the road, unless following a trail in. There are a few hidden trails that were old roads or 4-wheeler trails, that are over grown. Those trails are still walkable and can take a hunter back a mile or more.
We didn’t camp on Windigo but was within walking distance of the lake. The public road ends at Windigo but continues on into First Nation lands which are posted. The public access at Windigo is a small sandy beach area that is not suitable to launch a trailered boat. A small boat can be put in the water by hand, but backing a trailered boat in the water wouldn’t work. The beach area is too shallow and the sand is too soft for a truck. I believe there is a real boat launch at the pier on First Nation land, but a person must call and get permission to use that launch. See the sign in the pictures for the phone number.
The lake is large but looks shallow from what I saw. The shores are sandy, but I heard that there are rock hazards to watch out for in the lake. We brought small boats on our trip, but didn’t put them in, so I don’t know how the fishing is on Windigo.
We didn’t see many moose. Just one encounter that didn’t result in hanging meat. The area has a lot of grouse; both Spruce and Ruffed. Everyone saw a skunk, one bear sighting while on a hunt and a bear that stalked our camp at night, and we had a camp fox that some of the guys were feeding.
Our hunt was the last week of September. When we arrived, there were a few camps setup by Ontario residents, and after our first weekend, some of those camps were pulling out already. I expected to see triple the amount of people than we saw. During the middle of the week, there wasn’t another camp within 10 miles from us. Only once did I hear of someone from our group encountering anyone else in the woods, and this encounter happened on a 4-wheeler trail.
Even thou Wildlife Management Area 1C has the second most moose tags available in Ontario, and there is only one road that accesses the area, hunting pressure was light. But maybe the pressure increased during the first two weeks of October, after the rut kicks in a bit more and the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday comes.
Would I go back again?
Yes, I’d try it again. Since this was our first time in the area, it took us most of the week to learn the area. We found spots we liked later in the week, that we would like to try. Next time, I would bring more fuel. Windigo is a long way from a fuel station. Pickle Lake has gas and diesel, but diesel (which is what I needed) is only available Monday – Friday 9:00 – 5:00. We brought a lot of fuel in cans with us, but I still ran short by the end of the week.
There are millions of acres of wilderness and hundreds of lakes that are inaccessible. There must be hundreds of bulls growing old in the back country up in 1C, but how do you get to them?