ALBERTA WHITETAIL HUNT IN 2021

 

Well, to say it had been a normal year, would be a huge understatement, to say the least. My community suffered through some extremely unreasonably hot weather this year in June, setting a new high for Canada!! Within a few days of setting this record, a devastating wildfire hit our town and levelled most of the downtown area, including the village’s infrastructure, with the residents being evacuated and scattered to the four corners of the land. I am an elected official in the municipality and stayed behind to assist those coming into the area to deal with this overwhelming ordeal, with knowledge of the local area, something which was appreciated and saved the incoming personnel vital time. This untimely catastrophe certainly placed a definite crimp in my hunting plans for the upcoming season. I found myself deeply involved, due to my position on the Council, in the planning the re-build of our once thriving community. As far as hunting near home was concerned, when I drove up in the mountains to look at the destruction the fire had achieved to the area, I was just in total shock at what I saw. Areas where I had successfully hunted for Mule Deer and Black Bear had been reduced to ash, with nothing standing in which those animals could seek refuge. One small area had been spared and that was about one square mile near the cliff -faces called home by the Bighorn Sheep that inhabited the area. During the drive up the mountainsides, what had looked like nice roads with coniferous trees on either side, finally showed their true colours. On one side of the narrow road, used mainly for one-way traffic by logging trucks, it was almost a sheer drop, while on the other side the terrain was extremely steep in the other direction. Having experienced some much-needed rain, I was able to determine there were no living animals in the immediate area, as the soft texture of the road, displayed no tracks whatsoever!! On my way back down and leaving the narrow logging road and once again descending on the paved local road, I did come upon a band of Bighorn Sheep, totalling 23 members (3 young rams, 12 ewes and surprisingly 8 lambs). I guess Mother Nature had provided her dependents with the good sense of when they smell smoke, danger of fire is not far behind and it is time to “Get out of Dodge,” unlike humans, who become enthralled by wanting to see the flames, which in the case of animals would contribute to their demise. The sheep just got on the cliff faces where there was no fuel, so were able to wait out the passing of the deadly fire.

Well, things started to resolve into a mundane working schedule, and I found that I could depart in November to Alberta for my annual hunt with lifelong friends living there. Last year I had been fortunate enough to have been successful in getting both the Rocky Mountain Elk and Mule Deer draws for the are I hunt over there. This year I was not eligible for any of the draws, so would be just hunting Whitetail Deer with an over-the-counter tag. I was truly looking forward to just getting away from all the hurt and anguish and suffering the residents who lost their homes were experiencing and which nothing, but time can heal. I was fortunate enough to be one of the few who did not lose their homes and for that I am forever grateful. I would be in constant contact with the Mayor, Councillors and Staff via cell phone during my absence. I ensured my absence would be conducted between scheduled Meetings of Council, so everything was in place for my one and only hunt for the Fall of 2021.

The drive, which is 1500 kms long, was uneventful and the weather in Alberta was pleasant. Always great to see my friends each year, as with advancing age, one never knows for sure how many of these gatherings are in our future. Got all my gear into the house and went to the range to ensure my rifle was shooting well. On this hunt, I had decided on using my Interarms Mark X with a new Walther medium magnum barrel chambered in 7mm STW topped with a Zeiss Conquest 4 6 – 24 X 50 scope and shooting Berger Elite Hunter bullets in 195 grains weight. This combination had proven itself on the range back home out to 800 yards, but this would be its, “Baptism of Fire” in the grain fields and bush lots of Alberta against the wily Whitetails, which inhabit this area. The range work here mirrored the work back home and with a minor adjustment, I felt extremely confident for my hunt. A picture containing mammal Description automatically generated.

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Last year’s large-bodied mule deer buck

 

As depicted in my previous articles of hunts in Alberta, the Hill, which dominated the surrounding grain fields and bush lots would be the initial start point as it commanded a super view for a long way in all directions. On this trip, I was only able to hunt Whitetail, as I had been unsuccessful in drawing either an antlered elk or antlered mule deer tag. My next most important aspect of gathering intelligence on the deer in the area, centered around what grain had been planted in what fields? Barley is the preferred food source for these deer, but in the fields which I liked to hunt, wheat had been the crop of choice this past growing season. Well, not barley, but the wheat would provide ample food for the deer and knowing the location of the food source would definitely be a big plus for my side - smile.

First few days were quite warm, and the bucks were not really moving well, and this coupled with a full moon certainly lent to a lot of glassing of empty spaces. A bit of breaking the monotony was occasionally, I would see a mule deer buck trailing a soon to be receptive doe. Only one was of a shooting size and he was wide, but his top right antler had a broken rear tine. I bumped into this guy no less that four separate occasions during my hunt this year. Two of the encounters were under 25 yards, with him being led around by a receptive doe. Most of the mule deer bucks I was seeing were high and narrow and this guy was the only one I saw with antlers outside his ears. Also, saw a couple of small whitetail bucks moving around from bits of cover to bits of cover and there were a few whitetail does moving back to the bedding areas at first light, although not seen every day. A deer with antlers in the snow Description automatically generated with low confidence.

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Last year’s 5 X 5 whitetail

 

Well, after watching from the Hill for several days, I decided to change tactics and position myself beside one of the wheat fields, as the whitetail does seem to be frequenting them. The layout was advantageous, as a large grass field bordered the wheat field, and they were divided by a three-strand barb-wire fence. Also, there was a very small bush lot located about halfway down the fence and I would be able to park my vehicle in it and save me a couple of miles of walking. This place provided an excellent view of most of the wheat field and all the grass field. There were two main pathways from the bush to the wheat field and they both bordered the grassland. Whitetails are somewhat secretive animals and do not like to be caught too far from protective cover. So, with two long lines of bush at either end of the grass field, they had ample cover to make their way from the bedding area to the wheat field. I am an avid hunter, but also fully enjoy just being in the Great Outdoors watching Mother Nature’s animals “going about their business.” One is witness to many different things and seldom sees the same thing twice while a part of this wonderful experience of sitting on stand.

Well after the first couple of days, I was truly wondering if I had made the correct decision? Not much had transpired, with a lone two-point, young mule deer buck walking across the grass field during mid day. On Day #4 while approaching the bush lot, two sets of antlers suddenly appeared on the horizon in the breaking dawn. I immediately stopped the truck and reached for my trusty Leica binos with built-in rangefinder. Well, the smaller buck was a nice symmetrical four-point, but his buddy had four points also, but a lot of trash on both sides. There was a doe and her fawn accompanying these two. They worked their way along the fence-line and then bounded across the grass field heading towards the large woodlot, favoured as the primary bedding area. I watched as they approached the large woodlot and the fawn jumped the fence bordering the grass land, quickly followed by the smaller buck. Then, the large buck got in front of the doe and tried to prevent her from jumping the fence. I thought this action strange and after a couple of minutes they both jumped the fence and disappeared, from sight. My only reasoning for this was there was a known bigger, more dominant buck already in this area. About an hour or so later I caught movement in a field approximately two miles to the north of me. My Leica’s quickly determined that it was a whitetail buck and the spotting scope confirmed that and that it had a nice rack. He disappeared into a small bush, and I didn’t see him come out? Another hour passed and again movement caught my eye, same buck, but a lot closer now had just jumped the fence and entered the grass field heading towards the bordering bush. I got a good look at his antlers and saw they were 5 X 4, so decided to pass on this fellow, as I have always set my mind on taking mature 5 X 5’s. This guy was following the scent of a receptive doe as an hour or so later he surfaced a long way out and making his way to a large bush lot with his nose glued to the ground.

Well, another couple of days passed and there certainly wasn’t much action happening around the wheat filed?? I decided to walk the fence line to see what had been coming and going and was totally surprised at the number of tracks entering and departing this field. With the weather mild, the deer were not forced to continually eat in order for their bodies to produce the BTUs to keep them warm. I had been there for two weeks now, and I would personally consider the “action” as far below normal for this time of the year. The mule deer were in full rut, but I had only seen the occasional whitetail buck on the move and only the one who seemed seriously on the trail of a receptive doe. Well, I decided to invest one more day in this location, before admitting my defeat and re-locating to another area. The deer were definitely using the area and apparently in good numbers, but not at a time that I needed them to - smile. The day seemed to be passing uneventfully, when suddenly, I saw two whitetail fawns running across the grass field. When they were within 30 yards of my truck, they came to a screeching halt and just stood there absolutely still. They looked at the truck and then at each other and back to the truck and then sort of skirted it and headed to the wheat field. Well, this certainly changed things, as seeing the two fawns meant their mother had “run them off” when she was ready to be bred and, they were moving early to the field to eat. About one half hour later a whitetail doe passed by the bush lot on the other side of my vehicle without noticing it or me. As the day was coming to an end, I decided to check on the two fawns after packing my truck up for the day. I just opened the door to my truck and the light in the box came on. I looked at the area where the fawns were feeding, and both were staring across the field. When I followed the direction of their interest, I was caught off guard by what I saw. There standing on the other side of the field was a huge, bodied deer, getting ready to jump the fence and enter the field to either satisfy his hunger for food or breeding? In the fading light I could not clearly see its antlers, but when it saw the light of my truck, it gracefully did an about turn and walked up the hill and back into the safety of the woods. Now things were starting to happen, as I had not seen this fellow before.

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This year’s 5 X 5 whitetail

I figured he would not come back to this field for a couple of days, due to the potential danger he had sensed from my lights. Well, there was another wheat field about a mile and one half to the north of this one and I felt that would be where he would be during the night and hopefully the next morning. I decided to head out 15 minutes earlier than normal and get set up for him, if he paid attention to my plan - smile. I was planning on setting up about 700 yards south of this new field where I would be able to visually cover a greater part of it. I arrived where I felt I had the best opportunity on seeing him or any deer in that field. Night was easing out and a long slit of orange light started to be seen in the east, eluding that dawn was only a short time away. I eased out of my truck (the light was taped this morning) and started to assemble my gear when I discovered I could not find my cell phone. I always carried it as at 73, one can never know when one may require assistance, especially with help getting a deer out of the field. I searched the truck high & low but to no avail, then decided to return to the house to see if I had left it there? Light was arriving faster than I wanted and because of my forgetfulness, I was going to lose the surprise of the morning hunt. I got in my truck and edged my way along the treeline to a gate at the far corner. My driving lights were on, but not very bright. As I eased my way through the gate and headed toward the field, I jumped on the brakes and shut the ignition off. There about 1000 yards in front of me were two deer bedded in the wheat field. My binos confirmed this fact and I then started my truck up and turned it at an angle to the field, to be able to use my spotting scope mounted on the window. I was using my Vortex 20 – 60 power spotting scope and soon was able to identify the two deer as a buck and a doe. The buck was not very big. I used the spotting scope to observe the ground around them and there was a lot of buck brush and small bushes in a draw below them. It was light enough now to clearly see and as I panned through the brush, I detected movement. I zeroed in on it and could identify brush moving. I was able to make out the head of a deer and he was fighting the bush. I was able to partially identify mature antlers, so my interest was caught.

I decided to see how close I could get to the deer, as I had a small gently rising hill with these deer on the opposite side from me. Well, I wasn’t sure if my truck moving would scare these deer or not? I almost crept along the trail beside the fence and after covering maybe 150 yards, I noticed another deer bedded in a fold in the ground, which had prevented me from seeing it. Binos up and alas another buck, but not a shooter. As I again started my gradual excursion, I caught movement out of the corner of my left eye. As I slowly turned to see what had triggered that movement, I was met with the form of yet another whitetail buck meandering a parallel course to me, but a couple of hundred yards away. I could see this fellow was a decent buck and he was heading right for the small hillside where the bigger buck was hiding. I had stopped the truck to observe this guy and also not to spook him. I remained motionless until he had disappeared behind the small hill. I started to move forward again, with my eye on the lone buck I had recently discovered in the grain field in case he bolted and scared the others. As I approached the right-hand side of the gentle rising hill, I knew if I was just able to make it to the gate, the outline of my truck would be somewhat broken up. Finally, I eased into a good position and shut the truck off. I slowly and quietly got out of the truck with my rifle and shooting bag. Next, I found a dry comfortable piece of sloping ground on the hill and set up with a good rest for my 7mm STW. It had been full daylight for over one hour now and currently, I was positioned between the deer and their bedding area, so the “waiting game” began. 15 minutes passed, then 30 and then 45 and nothing yet? There was no way they could get past me to the bedding area, without them being exposed for several hundreds of yards, so what was keeping them? Then an antler appeared against the skyline and was moving slowly toward the bush line. Soon I was staring at a young three-point whitetail buck. He immediately put on the brakes and stared at the truck body. This lasted about 3 or 4 minutes and he took a couple of cautious steps forward, stopped and looked back at the truck again. There didn’t seem to be any danger to him from this strange, but perfectly still object. Soon he was at the fence-line and bent to get a nibble of food. He then slowly walked away from me along the fence-line and when about 300 yards away, calmly jumped the fence and made his way across the field the 400 yards to the bedding area.

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Gentle rising hill which provided both me and the deer with cover

Well, my curiosity was now piqued; were the rest following him? I settled in again for the wait and another hour passed by very sluggishly, with no action whatsoever. Well, I have hunted whitetails for more years than I care to remember and one thing I have learned over these ensuing years and that is the big boys sometimes stay in very small bush lots when they have the company of a receptive doe. What I was finding strange, was the fact that I had counted at least four bucks on the edge of the grain field just over the small knob where I was located. Well, I had to figure they were going to bed there for the day and I figured I could sneak up the side of the hill and get a peek over the hill and see if I could locate a mature buck, as I was sure I had spotted one earlier in the thick bush. As I edged my way very slowly up and across the hill (I wanted to come out in te middle of the hill when I finally topped it). There was some snow on this side, but mostly open patches of grass, so I made the time to detour around the snow, as it would be crunchy and stayed to the soft grass which would muffle any sound of me walking. Finally, I was at the top of the hill, bent over to not break the skyline. I could not see anything, where had they gone? I just started to straighten up, my old body doesn’t like the weird ways it used to bend when much younger! I must have been about ¾’s of the way up, when a small buck immediately appeared in my line of sight. He had been blocked by one of the small bushes on the top of the hill. His head came up from feeding and he tensed up. First thought through my mind, “Busted!!” But he just stood there staring at me. I caught movement below him and another buck had been bedded right beside a fence post and now he stood up and followed the other’s gaze and he too soon spotted me. They were concerned, but not too scared. Next a very nice buck walked out of the shrubbery below me. This must be the mature buck, which I had only seen his antlers raking the shrubs earlier. My rifle is not one of these modern mountain rifles weighing 7 lbs, but around 10 – 10 ½ lbs, which may not seem like a heavy rifle, but when you are 73 years old, they all seem heavy - smile. I raised the rifle and as soon as the crosshairs were on his shoulder, I jerked the trigger, yes jerked the trigger. He didn’t take but a second, to get through all the gears and hit light speed and gone. I didn’t have time to think, because at the sound of the shot, the doe broke out of the bush at full speed and hot on her tail was a huge buck. I couldn’t shoot, as I was not completely sure of the status of the buck I had shot at. I absolutely am amazed every time I see a whitetail but hit high gear and this was no exception. Not sure if I would have been “lucky” enough to hit this guy when he was eating up the ground with huge bounds and laid out like a greyhound.

I followed them with my eye for a couple of seconds and knew where they were heading, so was quite sure that I could bump into them again that day. I returned to my truck with mixed feelings. One was, should I have tried for that big boy, but what would I feel like if I knocked him down and then found the first one, I had shot at laying dead also. The other, because the time for action had already passed, was to have a look for the one I shot at first and if I could find no sign of a hit, I would go after the others. Well, I knew where the first buck was headed, so I started in that direction. My hopes started to dwindle as I could not see any blood on the ground. Now, I started to second guess myself. I was just rounding the base of another hill and low & behold, there standing in the middle of a little swamp was the buck I had shot at earlier. I dropped to the ground and got into a comfortable shooting position with a solid rest. He was about 150 yards away and quartering away from me. He did not know I was there, and I did not know how badly he was wounded. I took careful aim this time and with the crosshairs nestled between his shoulder and neck, I gently squeezed the trigger. He dropped in his tracks. Well, I now felt good that I had not taken a shot at the big running buck. I went back and got the truck and was able to drive right up to him, although a bit rough with the swampy tussocks of frozen clumps of swamp grass. I was able to cut him in half with my reciprocal saw, which I always carry with me, as I do not have the strength to get these big bucks up and on my truck. The previous year, I was able to get the whitetail buck on by myself once I had cut him in half, but it was an uphill battle. Last years mule deer buck, took three of us to get on the truck. On well, at my age, I don’t have to act macho anymore, so I got out my cell and called for help. Once loaded we went to the Farm’s machine shed where the deer was hung. I would leave him for a couple of days, then skin him and cut him up and prepare him for the trip home. I would also cape him.

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Front half of the whitetail, which made for easier loading and now ready for caping

Front half of the whitetail, which made for easier loading and now ready for caping When time came to skin him out, I was totally surprised to find only one bullet hole in him?? Now the nagging thought hit me, maybe I should have shot at the big boy. On my, isn’t hind-sight just wonderful. I was extremely happy with the one I ended up with and his tines seemed longer than the other one’s were, but the other guy had mass, mass for what Alberta is noted.