Alberta Bound Again
Well, exactly one week after my stint in the hospital getting the old body back in working order, we were off to Alberta for our annual hunt with friends. I felt good, but still had a bit of a problem with my mobility, especially up & down stairs. The 1300 kms drive seem to just fly by this year and after our annual stop at Cabela’s Canada store, we were finally at our final destination. After settling in and renewing friendships, face to face, I was off to bed, as the drive each year seems to take a bit more out of me with my advancing age.
Up early the next morning for a look-around, as we could not purchase our licenses and tags on Sunday. We saw lots of Mule Deer wandering around in what I call the ‘buck-brush’ feeding away with some younger bucks checking the females out and then trying to usher them off into privacy. We saw several White-tailed does also, but no bucks. Well, with lots of does around, the bucks were sure to be coming into the area soon??
Unfortunately, the next day (Monday) was a Holiday and the place where we get our licenses was closed on account of that? So another day of spotting and I was by myself driving back to the house around lunch-time, when I saw a flash of white streak through the bush. I slowed down and crawled to an opening (in the truck) and there standing in the wide open was a really nice 4 point (or as some would refer an 8 point) White-tailed buck, standing there looking at me. Guess he somehow knew I did not have a rifle in the truck? To make matters worse instead of running off at 90 mph, he slowly sauntered across the field for a hundred or so yards before entering a large clump of trees. This was a bit unnatural for the White-tailed bucks and even the does, as they usually like to stay tight to the tree-line during any movement in daylight?
I have hunted White-tailed deer for most of my adult life and know they like to stay as near cover as possible, except for maybe in the middle of the night, when they will venture into the open to feed, but usually the trophy bucks remain in the trees, until they are sure it is safe to emerge. They will travel from their safe bedding area, usually a large bush-lot with plenty of cover and numerous escape routes, by way of smaller bush-lots to the feeding area. In years gone by, there used to be quite a number of us who hunted this area (I was a resident of Alberta back then) and we would pick a high vantage point and watch the deer move back from their feeding area towards their bedding area. Some would have already completed this move well before the sun came up, but some would dally and be late in making their way back. We used to call this “pattering their movement” and one would soon learn where to set up to intercept them on their way back. But during the rut, things change dramatically, especially for White-tails. Once the buck has found a receptive doe, he likes to shepherd her off to a small wooded area, where he will not have to defend her against other bucks.
Mule Deer bucks are totally different, as they will stay near the herd of does and come out of the heavy cover to check to see which doe is in season. He will then usher her back into the wooded area to breed. It is not uncommon, at least where I hunt, to see several does feeding in the buck-brush and have the buck come out of the wooded area on several occasions to check on the ‘status’ of the does in the herd. I find Mule Deer bucks much more visible during the rut that the White-Tailed bucks. Every once in a while you will catch a White-tailed buck out in the open trailing a ‘hot’ does, but these are rare.
Well, we finally were able to purchase our licenses and tags and were off to a viewing point to see if we could find a good Mule Deer, as I had been fortunate enough to have been drawn for an antlered Mule Deer this year (usually a 3 – 4 year wait). We no sooner arrived at the viewing point when there were five Mule deer does feeding about 450 yards from us. We knew there would be a buck lurking nearby, so patience was the name of the game here. Sure enough, out he walked and I was in awe at the size of his antlers. I was able to get the spotting scope on him and his right antler was huge with deep forks, but his left side was only three points. What a shame, as he would have scored extremely well, if he would have had four on the left also.
The various types of cover as seen from the “Hill”
Over the next several days we spotted some nice Mule Deer bucks, but none which ‘tickled my fancy’ as much as that 4 X 3 had. I was wondering if maybe I had missed a chance at a really nice deer when I had decided to pass on him. Soon I knew I had made the right decision, as I spotted a huge 6 X 5 a couple of days later. He was a long way off and we did not see him again for several days. We knew he would stay in the area, as there were several ‘herds’ of does which remained in close proximity of the viewing point.
In the mean time we were seeing more White-tailed does this year than in the past couple of years, but there was a definite lack of bucks, at least we were not seeing them. My main focus was on a good Mule Deer buck first and a Whitetail second. About Day #12, we were once again sitting on the viewing point when my hunting partner turned to me and said, “There is a nice Mulie buck bedded out there in the buck-brush. Well, my eyes are not what they used to be, but when I put the spotting scope on him, he did look to be worthy of a closer look? I ranged him at 1094 yards and that is a long walk in knee-deep snow through the buck-brush, especially at my age - smile. Well I decided I would make the stalk and evaluate him when I got closer. I turned to my friend and said, “I will keep you in sight and let me know if he gets out of his bed and if he does, point out which way he is moving.” With the signals agreed upon, I started on my stalk. I had to descend down a steep hill and once I was at the bottom, I would be out of sight of the buck. I used the buck-brush on that side-hill to cover my movement until I reached the bottom. It was tough going, as sometimes the snow was knee deep and sometimes deeper. I wondered if I had made the right decision? Well, once off the hill the ground was undulating and I knew this area well, so was able to slowly make my way through the trees toward the buck’s bed. About every five minutes, I would stop and look back to see if my buddy was letting me know the buck had moved, but that never happened. I finally got on a well-used deer trail, which skirted the edge of the trees and was much easier to walk on. Soon I reached the end of the tree-line and I was still over 500 yards from his location. I headed into the trees and used them to cover my movement until I was hidden from his view and then I crossed a piece of open ground and entered another stand of trees. I made my way along the edge until I could see him laying on a bit of a side-hill amongst the buck-brush. I found a nice tree with a branch at the right height for my rifle to ‘lock’ in good. I used one of my spare heavy gloves to place under the stock where it met the tree. I used my Leica LEICA GEOVID (10 X 42) binos to range him and it showed 277 yards. A funny thing and one that writers like myself like to use (an oddity) and that is the range was 277 yards and I was shooting a .277 bullet?? I was shooting an Browning X-Bolt chambered in 270 WSM, topped with a 3 X 9 Leupold scope and firing 140 grain Swift A-Frame bullets.
Well, once I was certain my rifle was ‘rock-solid’ and that I was comfortable, I started to slowly squeeze the trigger. The cross-hairs were on a point just a short ways behind his shoulder, as this load had a 250 yard zero. When the trigger broke, the noise startled me a bit and as it should when shooting, thus knowing I didn’t ‘jerk’ the trigger. I immediately heard the bullet hit flesh and when I looked through my scope once again, he was still laying in his bed. Later my friend said that when the bullet hit (he could also hear it from that distance), the buck tried to stand up, but went right down again. I then stepped out of the cover and signalled my buddy to bring the truck over. I was not sure that he would be able to do so, as the snow was deep in places. I started my trek towards the buck and it was slow, due to the deepness of the snow. From the onset, I found the buck’s position a bit weird. It was as if he were just lying there watching me approach? To let you know how slow the walk was, my buddy and I arrived near the buck’s location at about the same time.
That was when the fun started. I was within 20 yards of where he lay and it still looked as though he was watching us? Well, my answer to his weird position was soon answered when he jumped to his feet and started running away. He was over the hill in a flash, but angled across my front and he stopped for an instant with just his neck & head and those massive antlers showing and I was able to place a shot in his neck and he went down. When we got to him, it finally sunk in, I was looking at a buck of a lifetime. Well it was nearing the end of another day and we were able to get some pictures of him, as he lay on the ground. To say I was not a “Happy Camper”, would be a huge understatement, as I had taken many good 4 X 4 Mule Deer over the years, but not in this class.
The hill in the background is from where we first spotted him
We were able to maneuver the truck into a position, where with a bit of a struggle the two of us finally got him in the bed of the truck. Once aboard, we were able to get him out of the field and to the Farm-yard to field dress him and cape him out. I was anxious to measure his antlers and they green scored 192 6/8 and 184 7/8 after deductions. Will have to see if they stay above the 180 mark after the drying period and scored with a steady, qualified hand – smile. One great thing about this guy and that is he holds his mass throughout.
Getting ready to leave the field
Well, now that my Mule Deer tag was filled, I would concentrate on White-tailed bucks. I returned to the place where I had seen the buck before I had my license & tags. There was a sparse copse of trees (they did not provide much cover) with a bit of a dip which would hide most of my body. I used my predator hunting chair and cleared a couple of lanes for shooting. First afternoon I sat there I had a tremendous amount of deer movement, both Mule Deer and White-tailed deer. Near last light I had a lone White-tailed doe skirt the treeline about 100 yards in front of me. I knew a buck would be trailing her and sure enough after five or so minutes a buck showed itself on her trail. I blew the buck grunt call and he immediately put the brakes on and stood there staring in my direction. He was not a large deer, but we had not been seeing any bucks at all, so I decided with only five days left and a nice Mule Deer already down, I would not be greedy. I took the shot and to my surprise, he turned and with his flag (tail) held high, ran into the thick cover. White-tailed Deer do not hold their tails high when hit?? I went over to the area and there were tracks everywhere. I soon was at the spot where he had been standing and found some hair on the ground, but no blood. I followed his track for a while, but soon lost it among all the other fresh tracks. I searched for him by gridding the area (walking back and forth in a logical manner). I returned to the area where he was stranding and noticed a fresh mark on a small sapling nearby. Upon closer inspection, it was apparent this was where my bullet had hit and it hit sideways? The bullet must have deflected while traveling through the buck-brush.
The next encounter with a White-tailed buck came when we were driving back to the Farm. On a small hill near some grain bins stood a really nice buck, unfortunately, shooting time had passed and we were sure we would bump into him again. We just didn’t realize how soon that was really going to be.
The next morning I was in my chair before first-light and as daylight began to brighten up the landscape, I caught movement out of the corner of my right eye. I slowly turned my head and there a scant 12 paces (I later measured the distance) away was a really nice buck, busy feeding on his way back to the big bush-lot. The wind was in my favour, but I just couldn’t understand why he had not noticed me and I knew he would before he fed into my shooting lane. Decisions, decisions, decisions - smile. I decided to try for him. As soon as I made the move with my rifle, he jumped in the air and landed running (I should say bounding) away and was over a little rise in the ground and gone forever. I was still bringing my rifle up to my shoulder - smile. Needless to say, I was choked and then ‘hind-sight’ set in - maybe I should have waited and on & on. But I have been hunting long enough to not ‘beat-up’ on myself for whatever the reason. So, I just smiled and said to myself, ”That is why he got that big and now will get bigger & wiser.”
Every day I sat there I saw deer. On the third to the last day, I was sitting in the seat and saw a White-tailed doe running across the vast opening, studded with buck-brush. Well maybe a buck would be following her. Next I see her run back across the opening and then back on her original trail and back once more. Strange behavior, I thought. Then, there he was, standing on a rise about 250 yards out. Well, there would be no excuse of hitting brush in the way this time. I steadied my rifle on the shooting sticks and held on his front shoulder. I could hear the bullet hit, but he did not go down?? Next shot was a clean miss (happens to the best of us), next shot hit also, but he was still moving towards the big timber and I did not want to have to track him through there, so fired another shot and another miss. I stood up and using a small tree as support, I shot again and down he went. I started out for the small rise I first saw him on and low & behold there was the doe, just standing there staring at me and behind her was a one-antlered spike White-tailed buck. Guess today was his lucky day, as the last I saw of him, he was chasing after her. I finally got to the buck and he was a decent one for that area, but not a monster.
First shot taken was when he was on the rise over my left shoulder
I was able to get him field-dressed in quick order, as I thought Jimmy would have heard the shot and been coming to investigate? He had the truck as he dropped me off each morning and afternoon and drove to another place to hunt. Soon the farmer & his son came driving along and offered to assist with the loading, once they had finished their morning hunt. He is a good friend and my hunter host and as usual his ears heard the shots. Jimmy was scheduled to pick me up at 9:30 am and that was an hour from the time I had him field-dressed. I sat down and took a couple of pictures and then Jimmy came along and we loaded him in the truck.
There was only 2 ½ days of hunting left, so the pressure was off me, but on Jimmy and the rest. I dropped Jimmy off early for the afternoon hunt and drove to the “Hill” to spot. I saw a large Mule Deer buck enter a strip of woods with a doe as I got to the top of the “Hill”. I was sitting in the truck enjoying a nice cold Coke and chocolate bar when I noticed a nice 4 X 4 Mule Deer buck walk across the bottom of the “Hill” and head for the same tree-line as the first one. “Well, this should be interesting”, I thought. About 20 minutes later, yet another 4 X 4 Mule Deer buck entered the same tree-line. About 10 minutes later, my hunter host and his son drove up beside my truck. I told them about the bucks and he knew exactly where they would be feeding, if not fighting?? Off they went and about 20 minutes later I heard a single shot, which either means total success or a total miss - smile. Well, about 20 minutes later I saw them driving across a field and when they pulled up beside me young Layne had a huge smile on his face. He had taken a very nice 4 X 4 Mule Deer buck. His Dad was smiling also, but for a different reason. When Layne dropped his buck with one shot, a bigger one had risen out of its bed, oh well, that is hunting.
On the last day of the Season I was sitting on top of the “Hill” with Quentin and we were seeing lots of Mule Deer, but nothing big. He had to leave to do farm chores and I decided to stay out for a while to see if I could find something big for him. He had only departed about five minutes when I spotted five deer feeding below my position. A look through my Vortex Spotting Scope determined they were a group of Mule Deer bucks. Upon closer inspection, I found the huge 6 X 5 and another big 4 X 4 in the group. I watched them for a while and then went to the Farm to pass the information on to Quentin. He wanted to know why I didn’t phone him when I spotted them. My answer was simple, “I do not own a cell phone”. He just smiled.
I met him on the “Hill” with about two hours of shooting light left. There wasn’t much movement and he pulled up beside my truck and said he was going to check another place out. Just then, I noticed what I though t was a small bull elk chasing a Mule deer doe. I pointed them out to him and when he put his spotting scope on them he said, “No Ian, that is a huge Mule deer buck”. It was the 6 X 5 from this morning. Soon there were five bucks and the one doe feeding in the field, which was about a mile and a half away. Quentin knew he had time to make a play on this guy and I decided to watch from the top of the “Hill”. I saw Quentin approach the tree-line close to where they were feeding and as I watched through the binos, suddenly there were deer running everywhere. I thought he had spooked them, when finally the sound of the shot reached my ears. Upon a closer look, I could see one of the deer was on the ground.
I had to make a decision and it was going to be dark soon - I either drove to where the deer lay and help load it in his truck or I had to go to pick Jimmy up from where he was hunting. I decided to pick Jimmy up first and then the both of us could assist Quentin load the deer. I drove a bit fast, but knew the fields quite well and the snow was passable. I picked Jimmy up and we headed to where Quentin was parked. It was getting dark now and I had to follow his tire tracks. Finally we made it to where his truck was parked and boy did he ever get a nice buck. We got it loaded and then headed in for dinner.
This was the culmination of another great hunting season, with some great trophies taken and time shared with not only great hunters, but also close friends and folks, that is what it is all about.
I was meaning to pass on a little bit of information in my last Newsletter and as most of you know, I do not advertise any products in my Newsletters, although I do mention the firearm(s), scope and ammo used on my hunts, as well as the optics. This is a little different. When we were returning from our unsuccessful Moose hunt in northern British Columbia, Jimmy mentioned a place we should stop at, as one of the gun-nuts in our community had told him about a Grocery Store in Quesnel, BC, which had a fantastic array of hunting rifles, scopes, binos, etc. all top-end stuff and at reasonable prices. When he turned into the Parking Lot, I was right behind him and almost decided to wait in the truck, as why would a Grocery Store have Hunting paraphernalia? But, I decided to follow and what I saw absolutely boggled my mind. There were several rifle display cases filled with top-end rifles and the scopes were all top-end. The store manager approached and we started discussing some of the finer points of hunting. He immediately said, “You guys want to speak to Omer, the owner of the Store”. Omar is well-versed in the shooting sport, where it relates to hunting and he, himself is an international hunter. It was like “a breath of fresh air” actually speaking to a store owner, who was so well versed in hunting and the equipment associated with it. Anyway, having been so impressed with this man and the display he had on hand, I thought I would pass it along to any of you who may be interested in checking his website. Being an avid hunter, I am sure he would make time for you, as he so readily did for us to discuss the finer points of the sport we all love so much. www.precisionoptics.net