Alberta's Archery Monster
by Jim Hole Jr.
(Big Buck Magazine, Fall, 2000)
The fall of 1999 was a tough one. We experienced the pleasure of some early season bowhunting and guiding for elk and moose, but the warm weather made it really difficult to connect with the largest of the big game animals. As we moved through October, we had some success while bowhunting for mule deer, but it was still less than what we had been used to in previous seasons. November was soon to be upon us, and we looked forward to hunting in some traditional spots in Edmonton Bow Area. We were hopeful that some good whitetail hunting was in store for us.
Unfortunately, our expectations were not met. The normal pre-rut and rut times were incredibly slow during the guiding in early November. So slow, in fact, that we were wondering if the big bucks were there at all. As the month progressed the hunting improved, but the weather remained much warmer than usual as it had the entire fall. By the end of November, our clients had taken some great bucks with a bow, including one typical by New Jersey’s Stan Kolendorski which grossed slightly over 180. We were in awe not only for Stan’s buck, but also for several other archery bucks that grossed better than 150. We felt fortunate because the hunting had been tough, but some good success prevailed in the end. Little did we know the best buck was yet to come.
Guiding ended the night of Saturday, November 27th, which left us guides with the opportunity to hunt many of the areas that we were familiar with for the final two days of the season, the 29th and the 30th. On the evening of Saturday, November 27th, my brother Doug, who was hunting as well, returned to camp speaking of two big typicals he had observed 200 yards from one of his tree stands. As an outfitter, to me his story got lost among all the other stories returning from the field that night. As the camp emptied on Sunday, Doug’s focus wan on nothing but the quality of the two bucks he had seen. One was a 6×6 and the other a 7×7, both were big typical sans world-class, he said. I knew to pay attention, but after a long season it just seemed like one more deer story and my attention span locked.
Doug was insistent that both of us hunt this property on Monday and he was going to place two stand sites on Sunday afternoon. I was of the mind-set that I had numerous good stands already, and I didn’t want to deviate from my plans unless he was certain of the quality of the set-up. I asked Doug one time and he responded, “That’s where we are hunting on Monday.” There was no question.
Unfortunately, the wind was not cooperating on Sunday, Doug couldn’t get the sites in place. The task was going to have to wait until Monday and hopefully the wind would be in our favor. Doug had played the game many time with big whitetails, thus there was no question in my mind that if we did get in there, the set-up would be right.
Doug and I spent Sunday evening in camp with our last remaining hunter, Lesley Parks. With Lesley scheduled to fly home to North Carolina on Monday afternoon, Doug and Lesley spent much of Sunday evening looking at maps aerial photos and discussing strategy. Personally, I was just happy not to be guiding anymore. Also, I kind of liked this arrangement: the guide was about to be guided.
We chose some other stand sites to hunt on Monday morning. They produced some deer sightings but nothing significant and no opportunities at quality bucks. I was just happy to be back in the game. When we met back at camp, Lesley and I left for the airport while Doug hurried to his area in an effort to get two stands in place. The wind was right, blowing east-southeast. The plan was to touch base by cell phone in a couple hours, get our gear together and get into position. Lesley was regretting leaving early because he wanted to see the outcome of our remaining hunts, but his schedule just wouldn’t allow it. He had taken 160-class buck with his bow in mid-November so his season was over, but to him the game was still on.
When I called Doug on my way back from the airport, he was still in the field working on the sites so I readied my gear and waited for his call. In a few minutes we were in contact and on our way. As we approached the property, Doug informed me of the particulars. I concentrated on his information and made sure I was ready with my gear. As we exited the vehicle and entered the property, we looked across the stubble barley field. Doug pointed out the two stand locations he had spoken of, situated several hundred yards distant. One to the north and one to the south, both in a thin finger of willow and sough grass connecting two bedding areas. The sites were approximately 125 yards apart, which was close, but Doug wanted to be aggressive this late in the season and have both of us in the zone. We sprayed our feet to minimize our scent, loaded our gear and we were off. As we began our 500-yard trek, I glanced over at Doug and admired his system: a bow on one hip, a stand on the other, and a pack with the necessary gear in it. As we closed the distance, I was directed to the south site while Doug took the north one. Just before we separated I asked Doug is he was planning to call. He said he wasn’t and suggested that if anyone did, it should be me.
As I approached the site, I knew it was going to be a tough one. I climbed the steps, attached my safety belt, popped the stand in, and realized that Doug had definitely run out of time, as I was going to have to do some serious trimming. Even at the risk of ruining the hunt, I had to trim because if an opportunity presented itself, the way things were, I probably wouldn’t be able to shoot. I trimmed as much as I could quietly with my shears, but a couple of branches needed the saw. In a matter of minutes I was done.
I took a minute to relax and look at the sign. It was obvious why Doug had placed the stand here with three distinct heavy trails to the east running north-south in the narrow slough bottom adjacent to the south tip of the willows that I was in. An open barely field was situated to the west, a plowed field to the east, bedding areas to the north and south, and the thin willow transition zone where I sat. I now found myself in the position many of my hunters complain about: great spot but lousy tree. This wasn’t going to be easy. My stand was placed at a height of 12 feet in a tree with a diameter of four to five inches where it attached. It was safe enough, but when I moved, it moved. There was no other option because the only other tree was slightly less in diameter and was holding my bow two feel to the southwest. To make matters worse, my feet stuck out at the highest point of the willows so I was sky-lined. No doubt, this was a tough one.
I began studying the trails and shooting lanes to determine what I could get away with if an opportunity presented itself. I had shooting lanes in three directions: in the field to the west, in a small shooting lane to the south, and into the slough bottom to the southeast and east. One thing I knew was that my feet were going to have to be planted and I couldn’t make any moves once I was committed.
As the afternoon did its transition into dusk, I gained a little more confidence in being effective as the sharp light faded and prime time approached. My efforts were concentrated to the south, the direction I was facing, as there was a major bedding area 300 yards south-southeast of me. The first deer I sighted was a doe entering the field 500 yards straight south of me from the west edge of the bedding area, working her way northwest. A few minutes later looked to the northeast and spotted another deer at 150 yards, which looked like a buck at a glance but turned out to be another doe. Then, looking to the northwest, I spotted I spotted two more deer which included an immature buck interested in nothing but feeding. We were obviously in the zone with deer in all directions. The good news was that the wind held steady east-southeast, taking my scent across the plowed field, which was perfect.
As often happens with whitetail hunting, another deer appeared which I should have clearly spotted earlier, but for some reason I missed it. I was a 130-class buck, which ranged 80 – 150 yards south and west o f me. This buck, on the other hand, had no interest but to look for foes and company. He was definitely susceptible to calling, but for some reason he was of no interest to me. Although certainly a respectable deer, he did not spark my interest probably because of the quality of the bucks that Dough had spoken of. Also, little did I know at the time, Doug had placed my stand within 10 yards of where he had seen the big typicals on Saturday evening.
Evening started to draw near, and although I had seen some deer, I was starting to get that desperate feeling of knowing that I was going to have to do something to make an opportunity present itself as I was running out of time. I glassed in every direction I could see to make sure nothing was coming, and also to ensure that the 130-class buck was clear of me so I wouldn’t spook him or call him in only to create problems for myself.
I gently used my grunt call to introduce myself in the event that there were deer close by, then waited a couple minutes. I then slipped my antlers from my pack and gently touched the tines. I waited a couple of seconds, touched them again with a little more aggression, waited, clashed them more loudly, waited, the cracked the beams. My plan was to introduce myself quietly, then make myself heard to any deer within about 500 yards. This was going to be it.
I hung the antlers on a hook in case I needed them again, but knew my time was running short. I waited a couple minutes, staying as alert as possible, then heard something. I couldn’t tell what or where, but I could hear something. As I strained to listen more closely, still no bow in hand, I could hear the distinct steps of a deer approaching from the southwest. I lifted my glasses up slowly and made out the deer as he quartered towards me. He was a big typical. At a glance I wasn’t’ sure how big, but I knew he was at least a 160-class buck. I knew he was coming to the antlers he had heard, and it was time to concentrate on executing.
When guiding, we always talk about two things: crating the opportunity and executing the opportunity. I knew it was my time to execute, and it wasn’t going to be easy. I slipped my bow from the hanger, clipped my release on, and planted my feet so I could shoot from west to south to east. I was committed because I knew in a few seconds there would be no moving. The problem was that the buck was approaching directly behind the other tree to the southwest, and I needed to commit to one side of the tree or the other. I held the bow tight to my chest and waited for him to commit, keeping the broadhead clear of the other tree. He headed for the south shooting lane at a distance I estimated to be about 28 yards. As he headed for the thin shooting lane directly south of me, I slowly extended my bow arm and was in the ready-to-draw position. I planned on using the noise of his steps to cover the noise of the drawing, but realized just as I started drawing that he was much quieter than he should be with the warm weather and the fact that some manure had been spread on the field. I decided to wait. My new plan was to let him enter the tall slough grass, then make the draw with the noise of the grass. As soon as he entered, I drew. Once I was at draw I was relieved, but my problems were far from over. As he walked away through the slough grass, taking the few steps to the lane, I realized that the grass was higher than I had expected and seeing the deer was easy, but seeing his vitals was the problem. My plan was to grunt using my voice when he hit the lane to stop him to produce the shot, but all I could do was let him walk across the lane since I had no ethical shot. This was the painful part.
As he crossed the shooting lane he continued eastward, and I immediately got that feeling that I think all whitetail bowhunters get when you don’t capitalize on an opportunity. I thought that was probably the end, but the game was still on. My immediate instinct was to come off draw and use my grunt call, but I knew that things were probably just too critical noise-wise, and with the lack of cover of this stand, I was clearly sky-lined. I held my draw and hoped. As luck or the determination of this buck would have it, he turned north and started heading for my southeast and east shooting lanes in search of the bucks he had heard. The wind held ease-southeast so he wasn’t going to get far before he scented me. As he walked north, I estimated the distance to be 30 to 35 yards based on the ranging I had done earlier. When he hit an open area in the slough grass where I could clearly see him, I grunted with my voice, but he didn’t hear me. Then he was back in the tall grass, continuing northward. This was getting painful. I had been at full draw for about 30 seconds and the end was nearing quickly. My strength was fin, but my scent would soon expose me. I glanced ahead of the buck a couple of steps and noticed a small opening in the slough grass, which I knew would have to suffice. Still following him, the second he hit that opening I grunted loudly, much more loudly than normal, but it worked. He locked up. I couldn’t tell if he was locked on my sno-camo skyline or on the base of the tree in the direction the grunt had come from, but either way he was locked up.
My full concentration was on executing the shot. I began to hold a little too high, then I settled lower behind his shoulder and started to squeeze. I clearly remember the wait, then the arrow release. I listened intensely, since I couldn’t see the arrow, and heard the sound of what I thought was a good hit. The thing I was concerned about was the sound of frozen slough grass, which can also sound like a good hit.
I immediately hung my bow, grabbed the glasses, and watched the back as he hesitated to accelerate, then increases hi pace to a run. He went north, curved to the east, hooked back west to the edge of the willows at 90 yards, then went down. At least I thought he went down. He was right at the edge of the willows and difficult to see. I instantly did a self-evaluation to decide if I was convincing myself or if in fact that was what I had seen. I was confident, although I couldn’t believe that I had gotten an opportunity at such a good buck with so little time in the field. I quietly packed my gear, removed my stand, and went to meet Doug after a short wait. No doubt he would have heard something because he was 125 yards north of me and the buck had gone 90.
When we met, I asked him if he had seen anything. By his response, he was obviously aware of the event, just not the outcome. Doug had heard the shot, then heard the deer approaching the very trail he had been waiting on, but the buck never made it to where he stood at full draw. Doug also thought he had heard the deer go down and take breath. Contrary to what we would normally do to be safe, we dropped our gear and went to where we figured the buck had gone down. Doug saw him first. Before I had a chance to see him, Doug took advantage of the situation and asked me if I was confident that he was down, implying that maybe we shouldn’t bee looking for him. After some additional grief and further self-evaluation, I told Doug I knew he had to be down, so without hesitation he pointed at the downed buck not 10 steps behind me. What are brothers for?
At a glance the buck was at least a 160, then at least a 170, then probably a 180. We were trying no to be too optimistic. We truly never knew that this buck was world-class until we had loaded and taken him back to camp, where Doug compared a set of antlers from a previous buck he had taken with his bow. Those antlers grossed 182 typical and fit inside this buck’s antlers. At this point we knew that buck was world-class. We were beside ourselves, what a great animal!
A couple of days later Ryk Visscher rough scored the buck at 199 gross and 193 net typical. Of course, Doug and I told Ryk we took the deer off his property where he had been bowhunting just to get the better side of him. On February 16, Ryk officially scored the buck at 197 7/8 gross and 102 0/8 net typical. On June 23, Dave Paplawski scored the buck using the Buckmaster’s system with a final score of 175 3/8 in the perfect category. The buck would have scored 12th in the world by the Pope and Young system except for the fact that it was taken with a bow with 80% let-off and it’s therefore not eligible. It would also have ranked second in Alberta behind Don McGarvey’s 199 5/8 typical and eclipsing Warren Witherspoon’s 177. As a result, Ryk is quite determined to have the Pope and Young restriction changed in the interest of bowhunting. The buck officially scores fifth in Alberta all-time by the Boone and Crockett system for firearm or pick-up, and fourth in the world for archery using the Buckmaster’s system.
Personally, what it makes and what it doesn’t make isn’t’ important. What is important is that bowhunters can enjoy such a fine animal, and I personally feel privileged to be the one to have taken such an exceptional specimen, especially with a bow and, of course, with Doug’s work in the field. I just hope he doesn’t expect me to return the favor! It never ceases to amaze me how many great animals are out there and how much opportunity we have to take the, whether we’re bowhunting or rifle hunting in Alberta or many of the other Canadian provinces. Since taking this buck, several people have asked if I think there are better buck out there. What I do know for sure is that there’s at least one, a 6x6m the lesser of the two bucks Doug had seen. Hopefully 2000 will be your year for a 7×7!