KENORA, Ontario — Two central Wisconsin hunters say they were
harassed, shot at and feared for their lives while pursuing trophy bucks in the Canadian
“We were scared,” said Rick Koenig, 60, of Wausau. “I’ve never
had anything like that happen to me before. I won’t go back. That was a little too
much for me.”
Koenig, along with his son, Brad, 31, of Wausau, son-law Chris
Laska, 28, of Dale in Outagamie County, and Dennis Webb of Edgar, traveled to the
Kenora area in northwestern Ontario at the end of October.
Deer hunters from the United States have traveled to portions
of Manitoba and Saskatchewan in search of trophy whitetail bucks for several decades,
but in recent years, northwestern Ontario has become popular. Wisconsin hunters are
attracted to the region because it is within relatively easy driving distance.
“I shot a really nice buck in the Kenora area two years ago,
and my cousin went to the same area last year and got a nice buck,” Rick said. “We
didn’t have any problems.”
The quartet spent their first day in Ontario this year scouting
public “crown lands” for likely hunting spots, he said.
“We had parked along the road and when we got back to the truck,
a car pulled up in front of us and another pulled up in back. They parked us in. A
guy got out, shook his finger at us and said we couldn’t park there.
“We said ‘OK’ and the next day — we had another vehicle — we
parked way off the road in a ditch about a quarter mile away. When we got back to
the car we found a note on it that read, ‘Get this (expletive) car out of here.’ ”
Wanting to avoid conflict, Koenig said his group opted to move
their hunting efforts nearer the Manitoba border about 50 miles from their motel.
“We had a four-wheel ATV along and took it about 3-4 miles down
a trail we found,” he said. “It looked like an old logging road or trapper’s trail.
We came to a beaver pond with fingers of land between rocky cliffs and water. There
were buck rubbings, on trees, the size of your thighs. We split up and took stands.
“All of a sudden, there was a round of shots — bing, bing, bing,
bing, bing. It was a .22 rifle. At first, we didn’t think anything of it. We hadn’t
seen anyone and we were dressed in blaze orange. Then one of the shots whizzed over
our heads … and we said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’
“I moved as we started to leave and a shot hit right where I
had been sitting. That really shook us up. There would be a round of shots, then silence
as the guy apparently reloaded. Then the shooting would start again.”
Koenig wanted to fire a round from his deer rifle into the air
to let the hidden shooter know he was firing in the direction of people but Laska
quickly talked him out of it.
“He’ll think we’re shooting back at him,” Laska pointed out.
In all, 40-50 shots were probably fired, the two men said, with
bullets “hitting the ground, rocks and trees all around us.”
“In blaze orange, it’s pretty hard to hide,” Laska said. “I
hollered, ‘Hey, there are hunters in here! Quit shooting!’ But the shots kept getting
closer. Finally, I yelled, ‘Please stop shooting at us. We’ll get out of here.’
“I was laying on the ground with my GPS trying to figure out
the closest way to get back to our ATV. We took off running. The guy didn’t shoot
The two men reported the incidents to local officials of the
Ontario Provincial Police. Koenig said they later heard reports of other incidents
where hunters had been physically chased from the woods or had tires slashed.
“I think it’s important that people know it’s not the wonderful
place it used to be,” Laska said. “I don’t know if people don’t want foreign hunters
in their hunting areas … or what the problem is.”
Colleen Ross, owner of the Kenora Inn Motel where the Wisconsin
hunters stayed, said this is the first year hunters have complained of problems gaining
access to public hunting lands.
“I think some (local) people have this idea that if you are
from out of the country you ought to have a guide or tourist outfitter with you,”
she said. “If you don’t, they feel it’s taking money out of their pocket.”
Laska said a police official suggested the shooting incident
may have been an encounter with a hermit who didn’t want anyone in his neighborhood.
Constable David Lovell of the Ontario Provincial Police said
there have been minor incidents involving other hunters “but Americans are not being
harassed more than anyone else.”
He said the most common disputes involve hunters from outside
the area hunting on land that is not open to public hunting or hunting public land
where other hunters “feel the area is theirs.”
Joan Hubay, enforcement supervisor of the Kenora Ministry of
Natural Resources enforcement unit, said there has been an increase in complaints
caused by “conflict between hunters and hunter ethics.
“In general, it’s hunters targeting the rut and being concentrated
in a short period of time. They’re all trying to get the best areas to hunt and they’re
stepping on each other’s toes.”
Problems have grown in recent years as deer hunting’s popularity
has increased, she said, adding that the conflict involves residents versus residents
as well as non-residents. Although there is plenty of public land, the favorite areas
for hunting typically have relatively easy access, she noted.
Laska said he’s not ready to abandon Ontario deer hunting.
“I’d love to go back,” he said, “but I probably won’t go to
the same area.”