2013 Quebec Caribou Hunting Season Review: What Does the Future Hold For Quebec?

Caribou hunting in far northern Quebec has changed a lot since the days of the $2,000 no-frills, self-guided “McCaribou” hunts that gave so many North American hunters their first taste of true wilderness big game hunting. In the last 25 or so years since I first went north, caribou numbers have fluctuated wildly, giving rise to any number of rumors that the herd had crashed, was crashing, was going to crash. While it appears that the George River herd has indeed crashed, the once-much-smaller Leaf River herd has apparently remained strong.

The other crash in northern Quebec is the number of outfitters offering hunts. From upwards of 40 operators at one point, only five or six real players remain – and that number is likely to drop again in the next couple of years. At least two current outfitters have told me directly that they would like to sell out and retire. And, as always, the rumor mill is grinding out unconfirmed stories of potential doom for at least one other.

At this writing, it appears the biggest change in store for caribou hunters headed to Quebec in 2014 will be the new rule that cuts the number of caribou allowed per license to one animal from the two-animals-per-license rule of the past three decades or more. We gave you the whole background on this in our June 2013 issue (Article 3109 in our database). Fair warning: There’s yet another effort to change that rule before the 2014 season. More on that in a moment, but first, let’s take a look at how the 2013 season went.

As a general note, if you examine all of the caribou reports in our database and speak to the outfitters themselves, you’ll see that no one outfitter hit the jackpot for 2013 in terms of caribou numbers. In fact, it appears that most hunters contended with lower numbers of caribou than seen in previous years and had to work harder for their trophies or, in some cases, settle for younger/smaller animals than they had hoped. But if you look beyond the pure kill statistics, you see a pretty consistent picture of outfitters who have the infrastructure in place to get hunters out onto the tundra, house them comfortably, feed them well, provide guides, boats and motors and take care of trophies and meat.

For example, in report 9356, Tom Schneider, who hunted with Ungava Adventures (866-444-3445) reports, “Ungava Adventures is a good, honest outfitter with excellent guides and staff. Their communication and information is the best that I have ever seen with any outfitter. All of the hunters in the camp filled both caribou tags. The number and size of the caribou was below a normal year, but that is just real hunting and not something controlled by the guides or outfitter.”

Pete Ridd (9392) recommends Ungava Adventures despite the fact that he found “tough hunting due to scarce animals.” For the highlights of the hunt, he lists “guides’ diligence putting hunters on good bulls despite tough conditions.” Robert Coleman (9391) says he completed his caribou slam with two very good bulls. “The big movement didn’t come through, but I still saw plenty to choose from.”

Also giving Ungava Adventures a thumbs up were Chris Lattin, T. Mengel, Jon Larson and Terry VanDam (9357, 9359, 9366, and 9380) all booked through Cabela’s, plus, Chad Koske (9365) and Tom Davison (9358), who says, “Without the migration in normal mode, this turned into a spot-and-stalk hunt, which was much more demanding but also extremely rewarding. I shot two great bulls.”

The one mixed report (9403) we received on Ungava Adventures is from bowhunter Joe Roberts who didn’t take any caribou. You can find the full story in our Controversies section on page 15 of this issue.

We spoke with Sammy Cantafio, owner of Ungava Adventures who told us that he took 72 hunters this season, and they took 140 bulls (two European hunters took one each, one bowhunter took none). He’s hoping to take 100 hunters for 2014. Prices for 2014 are all-inclusive from Montreal: $7,450 for a semi-guided 3×1 hunt, $8,450 for 2×1 and $9,450 for a 1×1 hunt.

We also received two very positive reports on Kevin Mattice’s High North Outfitting (705-789-5754). Canadian TV personality Corey Popick (9402) reports taking two good caribou on his early-September hunt and says, “Awesome staff and camp life, huntable populations of roaming caribou, great fishing and wing shooting.” Mexican hunter Francisco Michel VillaseƱor (9368) says, “I will recommend this hunt to my clients, a very good outfitter and very good camp. We were seven hunters, and we all went back to Mexico very happy. I hope to come back someday in the future.”

Mattice’s is the smallest of the caribou outfitters operating out of Kuujjuaq, taking only 30 hunters this year. He takes no more than eight hunters per week and charges $7,750 for an all-inclusive six-day 2×1 hunt, including airfare from Montreal.

We also have a positive report (9308) from subscriber Christian von Schuckmann on Cargair (800-371-2371). “No problems at all with this hunt. All of us five hunters had a good time. Camp guides Norman and Eric, nice people, were a little reserved, but good guides who make sure you get your game.”

Cargair hunts out of LG4 on the western side of Quebec, which clients reach by road. This is a 1,800-kilometer (1,100-mile) drive from Toronto, though charter flights can be arranged. Without added airfare costs, a six-day unguided hunt with Cargair is only $3,400 from LG4, all inclusive. We talked to Norman Ouellette of Cargair at press time, and he has 110 tags available and is planning to book 75 hunters for 2014.

Finally, Jim Banducci (9396) gives a thumbs-up to a hunt with Safari Nordik (800-361-3748). Banducci told us by phone that he had met Safari Nordik representative Kurt Santoro at the Sacramento SCI banquet in January and had booked his hunt then. “Apparently they didn’t have enough tags for the number of hunters they’d booked and had to hold some kind of drawing for the tags they had. I was one of the lucky ones.” Banducci tells us he didn’t see many caribou on his hunt, probably 40, total, but one of the ones he shot green scored 395. “I took a small representative bull with a double shovel the first day, then held out for bigger. You don’t need to see many bulls if one of them is huge.”

The recent restrictions on the number of caribou licenses available has hit Safari Nordik particularly hard for three reasons. First, they have run for many years on a high-volume business model and have traditionally booked a lot of hunters. They are also the only remaining outfitter to guarantee their hunts. That has created a significant backlog of hunts they must deliver for free. And finally, in the past few seasons they had to postpone a number of hunts, including return hunts on their guarantee program. Since the number of licenses they have available is based on licenses actually issued in 2012, Safari Nordik was left with more demand than licenses available. We asked Santoro, who books hunts for Safari Nordik and works for them during the caribou season, for details on the issue. Santoro told us, “In 2013 we hunted 130 hunters; 122 hunters tagged out on two bulls; eight shot one each. Our season was flawless except for the tag allocation. Weather only played a negative role four days where we couldn’t fly. The migration never got going strong; however, our camps had caribou the whole season.

“We had pre-sold hunts for which we were not able to get tags for the clients due to the government regulations. We had more hunters than tags; so, we did our own draw and that’s how tags were awarded. We will have enough tags this coming year as the pool doubles because the tags go to one per hunter.

“There are 120 postponed hunts from 2013 to 2014. And all Safari Nordik hunts are guaranteed. We currently have 380 clients scheduled for 2014. Everyone who did not get a tag in 2013 was postponed to 2014. They also received an offer to hunt again with us for free because they bought a two-caribou hunt but in 2014 will be able to shoot only one caribou. Those free hunts will take place over the next couple years at the clients’ discretion. The industry will suffer greatly, and we are expecting there to be a surplus of tags this coming year due to the reduction of hunters coming and the tags available.

“The one caribou rule definitely has affected sales. That said, inquiries and bookings are normal for this time of year. Safari Nordik offers a basic, unguided hunt for $5,995 USD, a 3×1 guided hunt for $6,995. These are all-inclusive from Montreal, minus license. A ‘platinum’ package ($7,995) includes roundtrip airfare from anywhere in the continental US, plus hotels in Montreal. Licenses are not included in any of these packages.”

We haven’t received any reports from hunters who went north with Leaf River Lodge (800-463-4868), but outfitter Alain Tardif told us he had hosted 150 hunters for the 2013 season. “The weather was very bad; it started snowing the first week of September and snowed for two weeks with high winds. Then, the last two weeks of September was warmer than usual. Hunting was hard, but we managed to get everyone caribou, sometimes having to do fly-outs when weather permitted.”

Tardif hopes to take about 150 hunters for 2014 and is about 65 percent booked. Prices range from $7,495 to $8,495, depending on guiding options. He’ll be exhibiting at the Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, and Safari Club International in Reno.

We also talked with Peter Palmer and Bernie Domingue of Tunilik Adventure (866-648-1595). Except for two clients who only took one caribou apiece, all of their 96 clients took two caribou. Tunilik offers two different types of hunts. Their standard hunt ($7,995 for 2014) puts no more than eight hunters in a camp with three guides and a cook. Their “trophy” hunts ($12,000) take no more than four hunters with three guides, and a floatplane is kept in camp to allow greater mobility. Tunilik still has slots available most weeks of the season.
And finally, we heard from Richard Hume, of Jack Hume Adventures (877-563-3832), who told us this year was particularly good for him as the unpredictable migrations brought caribou in range of his camps easily accessed from his Lac Pau base. “All in all a great season. We hosted 144 clients in 2013, and I plan on booking the same for 2014 at the same prices. Should we regain the second caribou, I will simply offer the second caribou for any additional license cost, plus $200.” Package prices range from $4,900 for a drive-to, self-guided European Plan, to $11,000 for a special late-season all-inclusive trophy hunt. The most popular plans range from $7,000 to $7,900.

“The first big herd of caribou made its way south of the 57th early in the season this year. I managed to keep two out of four camps south of the 57th throughout the entire season. Of course, having five hunting camps accessed from Kuujjuaq as a back-up also came in handy, as camps like Bobby Lake ran 100 percent success with all hunters tagging out from the start of the season until the very end. During the last week of the season we had a second herd of caribou moving south at over 100 miles a week! Hunters witnessed thousands of caribou migrating through and caribou scattered over a vast territory.”

The wild card for the 2014 season remains the one-caribou-per-hunter regulation we told you about in June. Outfitters have been fighting that tooth and nail and their latest proposal would keep the current caps on numbers of licenses available but would allow hunters to purchase a second license – creating, in effect, a two-caribou hunt for anyone who wants one. Given the historical patterns, we don’t expect this issue to be resolved anytime soon. If you have booked a one-caribou hunt for 2014 and you would like a second animal, keep in close touch with your operator.

With caribou migration patterns so predictably unpredictable, you might legitimately ask if the reports in our database are even worth looking at. Having watched the Quebec caribou scene closely for more than 25 years, I can tell you that, in my opinion, the only way to predict the future with any caribou outfitter is to take a long, hard look at their performance in the most recent seasons. The solid operators who have consistently delivered quality hunts in the past few uncertain seasons are the ones most likely to produce for 2014 and beyond.