It’s no secret that Alberta enjoys the status of a trophy-whitetail El Dorado, at least in the minds of hunters and especially in the promotional materials put out by many guides. As in all things, though, caveat emptor (buyer beware) still applies, even north of the border. Because it is illegal in the province to buy hunting rights to private land, most outfitters are subject to the goodwill of farmers and ranchers when it comes to obtaining access to prime habitat. Consequently, they may not have exclusive access to land or any control/input over what happens on it as regards wildlife and hunting opportunity. More than a few guides like to boast about the “record class” bucks they took last season, while failing to note that those two or three trophies were the products of having set out scores of far less successful hunters in the field. And no one controls the weather. This last November, for instance, was warm in Alberta, pushing the bucks into a nocturnal pattern that reduced hunter success.
One outfitter I know who manages to avoid most of these pitfalls (even he can’t do anything about the weather), while offering some very interesting extras on his whitetail hunts is Stan Reiser of Alberta Trophy Hunts. I have known Reiser and hunted with him for nearly 20 years, going back to when he began outfitting for black bear very successfully on the Peace River. Reiser also outfitted packstring hunts for elk in the southern part of Alberta, taking many B & C record bulls; but in the last few years he has narrowed his operation to concentrate on whitetails in a mixed-forest-and-agricultural area south of Edmonton.
There are several advantages for Reiser and his clients here, the first being that Reiser grew up in the area and owns substantial amounts of property in it, which he keeps cattle-free and devotes almost exclusively to wildlife. He also has a number of relatives who are landowners here. Reiser’s knowledge of the area, his contacts and his familiarity with the agricultural life enables him, as well, to obtain permission to hunt from many of the other farmers and ranchers, giving him access to a territory of 6,000 to 7,000 square miles of private and public (or “crown”) land. Over that entire area, Reiser accommodates only some 16 deer hunters each year.
Reiser’s success rate in 2002 on whitetail and mule deer (the two species are found throughout his hunting territory) ran about 60 percent. Keep in mind, however, last season’s hunting conditions and the fact that the majority of Reiser’s clients are serious trophy-deer hunters who are looking for a 160-gross or better whitetail, or no deer at all. A very large number of them are repeat clients, and Reiser’s bookings are already starting to fill up not just for 2003, but 2004 as well.
In addition to outfitting for whitetail and mule deer, Reiser is branching out into something unique for deer outfitters – moose. Moose are far from uncommon in Alberta, but in general they are found in dense swamps or at the end of long rides on horseback. In Reiser’s area, which includes a number of places adjacent to provincial-park land, moose are found in poplar stands and bogs, as well as in fields and meadows, where it’s not unusual to see them feeding in sight of deer. Reiser, as with his deer, employs whatever legal and ethical hunting method is necessary to try to locate a moose for his hunters, whether it is by conducting drives, still-hunting or using stands. More often than not, though, the moose can be spotted from a 4wd vehicle, and then stalked. This past November I hunted moose like this with Reiser and killed a 48-inch bull that we spotted in a field at first light. As far as Alberta moose go, there aren’t many that are more accessible than the ones Reiser hunts.
The rifle moose season coincides with deer season during the month of November, but rutting bulls can also be hunted during the September-through-October archery season, with mid-September to mid-October being the best time to try to call a moose into bow-and-arrow range. Moose can be hunted alone, or as an add-on to a deer hunt. The best times in November for moose and for deer, it should be noted, do not mesh perfectly. Early November is best for moose. The middle to the end of the month is the height of the deer rut and is best for big bucks. But good trophies of both can be found at anytime. An awful lot of Reiser’s deer-hunting clients end up kicking themselves for not having a moose tag when they see bulls almost every day.
Right now, Reiser’s moose hunts for 2003 are priced below $4,000, pretty much a bargain these days. His deer hunts (either whitetail or mule deer, if he has any openings) are $4,200, and a combination deer and moose hunt is $6,600. Rates include six days of hunting 1 x 1, lodging in one of four two-person electric-heated sleeping cabins (with close-by shower and toilet facilities) and meals in Reiser’s modern log lodge. There are 60-inch moose seen every year, but a hunter willing to concentrate on moose realistically ought to expect a bull in the 40-inch-plus range. And hunters happy with just meat bulls virtually never go home empty handed, giving Reiser an overall success rate of about 90 percent for this species. A hunter looking to take both trophy whitetail and mule deer and a moose should figure on booking a two-week hunt, with 12 hunting days (no Sunday hunting in Alberta), at a cost of around $10,500. If a hunter tags out early and wants something else to do while still in Reiser’s camp, there is no shortage of coyotes around. I have never seen so many “song dogs” in one place, spotting over a dozen in the course of a morning’s drive around the area, almost all standing out in the open, oblivious to the presence of humans.
Besides big game and predators, Reiser also outfits for ducks and geese, with that season starting in September. During the November deer-and-moose season, waterfowl is still open, and the shooting for giant Canadas can be outstanding. There are also grouse to be found in the thickets, and Reiser’s camp is right next to a lake where he keeps his boat and guides for trophy walleye, regularly taking fish that weigh in the double digits. Rifle, shotgun, fishing rod… fur, feathers, fins… decisions, decisions.