ANNUAL TREK TO ALBERTA FOR WHITETAIL
It was that time of the year where the personal feelings become mixed. On the positive side, another chance to hunt the elusive whitetail bucks inhabiting the farmland of Alberta, yet on the down-side, this would be the last hunt of another year and that is sad. Up early in the morning and on the road for the 15 hour drive to eastern Alberta. Roads were bare and the sky cloudy, which makes for excellent driving conditions, especially in mid-November here in Canada. Our journey is broken into two legs, with the first from our homes in Lytton, BC to Edson, AB, where we have a nice dinner and a satisfactory sleep before hitting the asphalt for the last leg. Up early once again and on the road in order to hit the local Cabela’s in the city of Edmonton. Here we pick up our hunting licenses as well and anything else which catches the eye of a hunter - smile.
Soon we were driving into the farm yard and offloading our gear, of which some would remain in the heated garage and the remainder to accompany us to our rooms. We were alone as my friend and his wife were away for the day, so once we were fairly well settled, we headed to the bush to see what was moving. We were fortunate there was some snow on the ground, which makes things mush easier for us to locate where the whitetail deer are bedding, moving to the feed area and where they are feeding. As mentioned in previous articles, we always head for the “Hill” which provides a commanding view of the farm country for about 5 miles in all directions. Rarely do we get to the top that we do not see mule deer moving and feeding in the buck-brush, while we usually do not expect to see whitetail moving until the sun is low in the sky. This day was no different than many other first day arrivals over the past years.
We hunt the mountains of our local area and at times can go days and even weeks without seeing a deer (mule deer). Always different in this area of Alberta, although there are more populated area where one can hunt. We saw lots of mule deer, but no whitetails that afternoon. Soon we were back at the house visiting with our friends and as usual, the question I always ask is, “What was planted in this field, this field and that field.” Reason for this simple enquiry is whitetail love barley foremost and wheat secondly. We decided to be on the Hill at first light in order not to spook any deer on the way through the fields on our drive up there. The weather was excellent, at least for us - smile. I prefer the frigid temperatures, as the deer are forced to feed later at first light and to come out earlier in the late afternoon.
With a brilliant white background, deer are very visible moving about, especially when you are in an elevated position, such as the viewpoint we were currently situated on. Soon, we were able to detect the movement of mule deer does and their fawns working their way through the buck-brush, nibbling on the succulent tips of the brush. The movement continued for about one to one and one half hours and then they made their way into the thicker brush to bed for the day. We saw a couple of young mule deer bucks moving about, trying to locate a receptive doe who wasn’t already a part of a mature buck’s harem. The rut had just begun and previous experience led us to know any of the big mature mule deer would be in the thick cover tending to their females, who would come out to feed, but would always return to his location in the heavy timber. After the main rut is finished, then you will catch the “big boys” covering a lot of ground, as they search out any does who have not already impregnated. This is the time I love to hunt mule deer, but we did not possess a mule deer tag as we are considered non-resident hunters and have to apply for a draw, which we usually receive in this area every third year. Outfitters have an allocation of mule deer tags for their hunters, so one does not have to worry about being drawn. Anyway, we were here to hunt whitetails, so after the mule deer were settled for the day, we headed to a far field which had barley grown in it that year.
As we made our way towards this field we were impressed by the amount of deer sign heading to this field from every direction. Things were looking up for us and we decided to set-up in this field for the afternoon hunt. Fortunately for us, there were large round bales of straw left in the field and these presented us with excellent cover. I dropped Jimmy off near a bale which would provide him with an excellent view of a huge woodlot and trails leading into the field where the deer made their way from their bedding area to feed. Once I let him and his gear off, I made my way back to the other end of the field where I would set up. I off-loaded my gear, minus rifle and drove to a place where the truck would remain hidden from the prying eyes of any whitetails making their way to the field. I always keep my rifle with me, as it would be extremely embarrassing to be making my way to my location and bump into a buck, just to watch helplessly as he either sauntered or ran away.
I had picked, a bale which afforded me an excellent view of an old hay field with several large clumps of brush. I have seen many good whitetail bucks in this area over the years, but this is the first time there have been bales left in the field. This year the harvest had been unseasonably late, hence they did not have time to retrieve them and the fields had been wet, so the weight of these bales would prevent them from being trucked out of the field until the land was frozen solid.
I sat here beside a bale and the deer bedded in the bush to the right
I was just getting settled in when I heard three shots from the area where Jimmy was set up. I waited for about one half hour, just in case he had wounded a deer and it came my way or maybe he scared a buck up with his shooting. I gathered my gear together and then started the long walk to get the truck, then returned to pick up my gear and headed down the field past the bush depicted in the picture above (a bit over a mile away). When I arrived at his location, all I saw was an empty chair settled against the bale. I couldn’t see him anyway, so I got out of the truck and saw his footsteps were headed towards the large bush. I drove the truck over to the edge of the bush, fully hoping to find him field dressing the buck. To my surprise, I still could not see him. I parked the truck on the highest piece of ground and honked the horn. Soon he appeared out of the trees and made his way to the truck. I asked him what had happened and he told me he was sitting looking at the bush lot and suddenly movement caught his eye and when he looked in that direction he observed a large whitetail buck ambling parallel to his position. He used his sticks to steady his rifle and took the shot. The deer turned and headed to the trees. Jimmy wasn’t sure if he had hit the deer or not. I asked him where he had last seen the buck and he pointed to a lone tree growing along the fence-line. We made our way to that location and could not find any blood. There were just so many tracks in the snow that tracking a deer not leaking blood would be neigh impossible, I walked back down the fence-line and then crossed it and slowly started to walk to and past Jimmy looking for sign of a wounded deer jumping the fence (a wounded deer will definitely not have a graceful landing). I did not find any such sign. I then walked the edge of the tree-line looking for blood. It was getting dark and I told Jimmy we would return in the morning and try to find it. He was sure he hit it hard.
We were up early and at first light were back where we had finished off the search the previous day. There was an old road going through the bush, so I started down it in order to see if the buck had crossed it. There were tracks everywhere and after I had gone a couple of hundred feet without any sign, I decided to circle the area where I had stopped. I methodically expanded my circling process and about the third circumference, I hit a set of large buck tracks and as there were within my search area, I decided to follow them a short way. I had not gone more than ten feet, when I spotted a speck of blood in one of the tracks. I followed them a bit further and found a bit more blood in the track. Two things which I did immediately and the first being I removed my gloved and pinched the blood spot between my fingers and when I un-pinched them I could see the blood spot smear on my fingers. I do this as there are little red seeds in this country and I do not like mistaking them for blood. Next I looked at two things, colour of the blood and it was a bright red which told me it most likely was muscle blood and more importantly its location was in the track, which meant the blood was not “spraying” as it would from a lung or heart hit. What surprised me was the fact that soon his trail crossed the road which I had previously walked down. But he had not lost any blood while crossing it.
I called to Jimmy that I had found blood and soon he was standing beside me. I had him walk parallel to me about 10 – 20 yards away from the track. I wanted to concentrate on the track, but it is always good to have someone alert, in case an animal is jumped out of its bed. We followed this fellow for a couple of hours and twice he had stopped to check his back-trail. He was not scared - remember we had not pushed him the previous day. Soon we climbed a small hill and he had bedded three times in a space of about 30 yards. This made me think he was not in good shape, but this was the first sign that he was not good. We tracked him for another hour or so and finally lose the blood trail. It was obvious by his track, that he had received nothing more than a flesh would. I had to think that the three beds were not a sign of him not wanting to move, but that he could not get comfortable with his would?
I have tracked many whitetail bucks over my 50+ years of hunting and have found in most instances, if you provide a wounded one with enough time to exit the “danger” area, he will want to bed once he feels safe and once bedded, they seldom get out of the bed. If pushed, they are remarkable at the seriousness of a wound which one would think would keep them down, only to have them crashing away in the bush. One other interesting thing I have observed over the years and that is if pushed hard and near death, their last act on this earth is to jump as far as possible off their trail and land either in thick cover or behind a log. Seems they want to hide from predators\scavengers.
Well, one has to look at the upside of things and one was that we were sure he was not hurt bad and would survive the flesh would and secondly, it was invigorating and healthy for me to get a nice long walk in the bush. Jimmy wanted to remain in the same place for the afternoon hunt, even after we had probably chased every living thing out of the bush - smile. I was going to utilize the spot I had been at for the afternoon hunt as well. We got set up and after I was sitting in my chair beside the bale about one half I saw movement in the old hay field to my front about 600 yards away. My first thought which entered my mind was that I was witnessing a jack rabbit racing across the field, but something was wrong with that picture. First there were no jack rabbits in this country - smile. I brought my Leica Genvoid 10X binos to my eyes and was rewarded with a small three point whitetail buck racing across the open field for about a full mile. I thought to myself - that boy will be around for a while as he is taking no chances whatsoever. I ranged him at 635 yards and watched him until he enter a copse of trees, one that was a safe corridor to the barley field in which I was sitting. I just love being on stand and watching the animals in their world go about their business.
About 45 minutes later I noticed movement off to my right and made out a whitetail buck making his way up a re-entrant and through a group of about four or five sparse trees. I once again brought the binos to my eyes and was able to tell he was a mature buck, so I decided to watch him and if he presented a shot, I would take it. I slowly slid out of my chair and lowered myself on to my shooting mat where my Fierce Fury in 300 RUM lay resting on its Caldwell Accumax Premium Pic Rail Bipod topped with a Zeiss Conquest V4 6–24X50 scope. Fortunately, for these old eyes, he was not moving like a jack rabbit, but trailing what appeared to be a “hot” doe who had meandered through this area, well before I had set up. I was able to get as comfortable behind the scope as the un-level ground would allow for and soon had him in the scope. He was much closer through the 24X level of the scope and it was easy to tell he was a mature buck. Eye off the scope and on the binos in order to range him. He was at 545 yards and moving on a path which was parallel to my position. It was going to take him several minutes to cross the open field, at the pace he was doing. He stopped and I thought that would provide me with the time I needed to shoot him. He was at 515 yards and I dialed the scope to that distance. I gently squeezed the shot off and he began to run, but not flat out as he should have been, if scared by the shot? He covered a couple of hundred yards and stopped once again, looking behind to where he had come from. I was quite sure I had missed him with that shot. I usually limit myself to a maximum shooting distance of 300 yards when hunting deer size game, although a couple of years ago while hunting in Spain, I had taken a Beceites Ibex at 400 yards and a Pyrenees Chamois at just under 400 yards - both stationary and also a bit smaller than a whitetail.
I quickly threw the binos up and re-ranged his current position and it said 485 yards. I rapidly adjusted the dial on the scope and settled in behind the rifle. The buck was quartering towards me, but was still presenting a good view of his vitals. I rested the stock on my sandbag and squeezed it until the crosshairs were steady just behind the shoulder. As the trigger broke, I remember seeing the crosshairs slightly higher than I wanted. At the sound of the shot and the gentle recoil (muzzle brake) he folded in place. I looked at him through the scope and he was down for the count. I headed for the truck and when there drove over to where Jimmy was situated. Upon arriving at his location, his first words were, “Did you shoot that little three point?” My answer was an emphatic and resounding, “No.” I told him I had watched the little three point, but even if I had wanted to shoot him, he never slowed down once in crossing that opening.
It was getting dark and we still had to find where the deer lay. There had been a wire fence between myself and where the deer had been, so it was a long cross-country ‘bouncy’ drive to its location. I know the area well, but still had trouble locating the buck. Finally, we spotted it laying on the ground and once field dressed and loaded on the truck, we headed in for supper. I had hit him a bit higher than I wanted and a bit further back, but the 210 grain Nosler Accubond Long Range bullet had broken the deer’s spinal column.
My Whitetail on the back of my truck (I do not do selfies well - smile)
Next morning we decided to perch on top of the Hill to see what was moving. As soon as it was light enough we started seeing mule deer moving throughout the buck—rush getting the last nibbles before bedding for the rest of the day. About an hour after first-light we saw a huge whitetail buck step out of the bush and start ambling in our direction. Well, this got the old adrenaline a-pumping I can assure you. He only covered about 100 yards before he stopped dead in his tracks and just stood there. I nudged Jimmy and said there is a good shot for your long-range rifle. He looked at me sort of strangely and said, “How far?” I tried to range the buck, but couldn’t get a good fix on him. I moved my binos to the tree-line he had come out of and said to Jimmy, “It is about 1050 yards.” He felt it was out of his distance comfort-zone for shooting. Probably just a well, because the buck turned and returned to the bush he had previously vacated. This told us that he probably had a doe in there.
It was still very early in the day, so we decided since I had already taken my deer, that I would have the honour to make my way to a bush-lot about a mile and a half away and slowly try to push this buck to where Jimmy would position himself. The weather was just below freezing, so Jimmy would be able to endure the cold for a couple of hours while I did the physical stuff (that will teach me for taking the first decent buck I saw - smile). It took Jimmy about 45 minutes to get in place and me just over an hour to start into the bush. I made my way slowly through the bush in a zig-zag manner. It is really hard to move a large, mature whitetail buck by yourself, hence the slow, methodical movement. I have been in this position several times in my hunting career, only to have that mature, trophy buck either sneak behind me or to lay on the ground hidden from view by a bush or log.
Well, this time was no different as we never saw this guy again. We went back to the hill for the evening to see if he surfaced again, with plans to hunt the grain-field in the morning. Several mule deer bucks were seen from the Hill, but no whitetails. Soon, another day came to a close, one with lots of excitement in it and with promises of great things to come.
I drove Jimmy to his bale well before daylight and he got set up to see if he would be able to catch a mature buck making his way back to the safety of the bush from the grain-field. I left and drove well out of his area and just enjoyed watching the deer moving back to their bedding area, although all were mule deer. I waited for a couple of hours then went to check on Jimmy. He was all smiles when I drove up and said, “What took you so long, I have been waiting for nearly an hour?” I retorted, “Just wanted to give you lots of time and didn’t want to spook any deer by driving in too early.” His reply was, “Well, I had a decent buck come in about an hour ago and decided to take him, so let’s go get him.” I drove into the field where the buck lay and we field dressed him and loaded him on the truck for the travel back to the Farm, where we would process him further.
Jimmy’s large-bodied buck
This year it was a rather quick trip as I had to be back in British Columbia to receive a shipment of African trophies. The drive home was uneventful, although 15 hours in duration, but the road conditions both going and returning home had been excellent with dry pavement, except for one small snow-storm. We are looking forward to 2021, especially me as I am due for both the bull Elk and Mule Deer Buck draw - I can hardly contain myself.