Chapleau Crown Game Reserve

Huge Black Bears
Huge Black Bears

Ever since I noticed this reserve in Ontario Canada on a map and learning that it was the world’s largest game reserve, I was interested in visiting. It is difficult to find information about this reserve and to hear from people who have visited so I will write about my experience in June of 2008.

The 2 million acre, Crown Game Reserve is larger than any in Africa. The reserve holds the highest density of Black Bear in Ontario, of almost 1 bear per square kilometer. Believe me, this place is loaded with bear. Other animals that reside there are Moose, Snowshoe Hare, Wolves, Canadian Lynx, Martins, and Fisher. The reserve was established in 1925 to have a hunt-free zone to recover the huge losses in the unregulated fur trade, which nearly wiped out many species. Lying in the middle of the reserve is the Missinaibi Provincial Park, which offers regulated camping and canoe access to the Missinaibi River.

I visited the reserve in early June 2008 with my brother while on a general trip through Ontario for recording nature sounds. We came from Wawa on highway 101. Highway 101 was a rather lonely road. We arrived in the very small town of Chapleau to find many of the businesses have gone out of business. The main employment of the town was the large logging operation and mill. As we headed into the reserve we couldn’t help but to notice the logging trucks running back and forth on the main route through the reserve at high speed. The trucks apparently ran 24/7, and a road grader maintains the road for high-speed truck traffic. As we drove along the main western route, we found many of the trees were clear-cut and this didn’t look good. We drove further to find areas that haven’t been logged in a while. But, the western route had way too much truck traffic, so we ventured on the very remote eastern main route. There is supposed to be a circle route through the reserve, but we never really found the main route. There are a lot of very large roads left over from logging in years past which can you can get lost on.

It was cool to roam around on the old logging roads. There are a lot of trails where ATVs can explore as well. There were lots of moose and bear tracks and sign along the roads. We also saw wolf tracks. I have never seen so much bear activity before. We saw about 8 bear in the 18 hours were there, and we weren’t looking very hard. We also saw bears with cubs, and two of the largest Black Bear we have ever seen. The bear here are very different than the bear we ever encountered. These bear were not very afraid of humans. One of the bear we saw with cubs didn’t run from us, but approached our vehicle. It was sure to place it’s self between us and it’s cubs. Usually, all Black Bear run immediately. My brother got out of the vehicle hollered at the bear, jumping around, but the bear was pretty much un-phased. It came within 15 feet of the vehicle before it was more startled by a logging truck racing past. This is something like you might encounter at Yellowstone National Park. In the evening we encountered an amazing sight. While driving down a road, two large bear got spooked and ran over a hill. But, we stopped to see if we could see them more. What do you know, two of the largest Black Bear we have ever seen, came waltzing out to feed on the grass along the road. These bear could care less about us watching them. They must have weighed at least 600 pounds and looked more like Grizzly Bear. One was lighter brown in color, which is very rare in the east. My guess is that they were two related males. It was amazing to just sit there watching them eat in complete comfort. I took about 15 minutes of video of them until it got too dark to film. It may just be me, but I think this reserve can be quite dangerous with the bears not having fear of humans. We had bear mace with us, but never had to use it. I think it would be a very good place to carry bear mace with you at all times. You can’t avoid coming in contact with bear here. Even though we saw a lot of Moose tracks, we weren’t lucky enough to see any. Nor did we have the luck of hearing wolves.

The Chapleau Game Preserve is a very unique area to visit. There are lots of potential wildlife viewing, filming, and photography here. The bird life wasn’t exactly abundant, but there were a number of species common to the Boreal Forest. There are a number of beautiful lakes and swamps in the area, many with fantastic clearings for camping. The biggest problem with the entire area is bugs! They were hideous! During daylight hours you could not avoid swarms of black flies. At night, or in the shadows, you could not avoid swarms of mosquitoes. Later in the night, in clearings, the mosquitoes would let up. The bug problem made it rather difficult to enjoy the area. We were trapped in the vehicle much of the time. We had to eat what we could cold, since it was impossible to cook outside. If you wanted to go out, you had to wear ample bug protection and head net. Never the less, we were very bug bitten from the experience. I wasn’t able to do much audio recording in the area. It was very windy much of the time. When the wind died down, I had to invent a new way to get my equipment out of the vehicle. I couldn’t open the doors for long or the vehicle would fill with black flies and mosquitoes. I ran along the vehicle as my brother drove, and then quickly opened the door to grab a couple things. We would continue this until I could get my equipment out and back inside. You only have about 4-5 seconds before the swarms find you. Oh, if you have to answer nature’s call, well, your eaten alive by the swarms. We asked a gas station attendant what time of the year doesn’t have as many bugs, and he said the bugs are always around. I suspect times around or below freezing don’t have many.

The Chapleau Game Preserve is a remote area. Plan on having everything you need before venturing there and make sure you can do some repairs on your vehicle yourself, if you have to. Not many people visit the area, so you can be on your own. If you are on a main route, where the logging trucks travel, you can probably flag one. With the high cost of fuel, it is a difficult place for many people to reach. Gasoline in Ontario was running about $5.50 per US gallon in early June 2008. The high cost of fuel in Canada has shut down much of their road travelers. If you go and stay away from the logging traffic, it can be a place of many wildlife-viewing opportunities. Just be ready for the bugs!

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