“If I even get to see a giant white tail, it will be well worth the drive”. I said, and then I did.
We are getting pretty good at booking hunts two years out and this was one of them. We won the bid on a white tail hunt with Homestead Outfitters at the Safari Club dinner and auction in 2012. We had a hunt planned for 2013 so we had to wait until this year to go. On 8/22 we headed out of the yard with the motor home headed for Grouard Mission, Alberta.
I have to tell you that we bought the little motor-home because we were unsure whether or not we were “motor-home people”. After the first trip which was to British Columbia, I was hooked. Now we travel until we are tired and then sleep, eat on the fly and all in the comforts of home. I LOVE it!
Having an extra day we decided to travel across Michigan, Wisconsin and then cut up into Canada somewhere in Montana. We had perfect weather and enjoyed the sites. On Saturday after 74 ½ hours and 2266 miles we pulled into Bob and Jocelyn’s driveway. We didn’t start our hunt until Monday but it gave us a day to shoot our bows and rest for the hunt.
Up Sunday morning, breakfast and then we were going to see our hunting stands. We headed out on the quads, our destination was the spot where I would hunt the mornings. My stand wasn’t far from the house and was overlooking a field of oats. The plan was to catch the deer coming off the fields and headed for their bedding areas. Made perfect sense to me and I was excited until I saw my stand.
Situated high up in a spruce tree, I would need to climb the branches to get to my seat. I took one step and said “I can’t do this”. Scott, always on my side said “Bob, this is a great site but we have to do a little extra for Judy”. So, they put screw in steps between the branches and waited patiently as I climbed the tree. I finally made it to the stand, gave a little whoot, whoot and sat looking over a field. It seemed like you could see forever. I made it up now but was concerned what morning would bring.
I thought about that dang tree most of the night. I had brought my Fall guy retractable harness with me and Scott had installed it on the tree. I knew I would be safe from the ground to the stand as I also had my Hunters Safety system on. It was the climb that had me worried, but I was willing to give it a try. So, we got up early and headed for the blind.
It was cracking daylight when we parked the quads and got to the tree. With Scott right behind me I started up the tree and could feel a wave of panic. I tried to find the pegs in between the branches and struggle all the way up. It was too much noise and too much scent for the area. I knew I would be lucky to see anything. But, I settle in as best I could and waited.
It was a perfect morning, a little cool and the sunrise was beautiful. At 8:00 a coyote came out of the bush headed for the field. He started under the fence and the minute he caught our scent where we walked in, he high tailed it back into the bush. There was a small portion of the field that I could not see and that was the part we came in on. If something was to come in from that direction, it would almost be on top of me before I saw it….and he did.
When I first saw the buck he was almost to the spot where we crossed the fence. He was walking quickly and continued along the fence line. I thought, man that is a pretty nice buck. But it was when he turned his head I thought, holy cow that is a really nice buck. I have no idea about scoring bucks, they all look the same here at home but I do know this one was one of the biggest bucks I had seen in my life, I saw a little giant! He continued along the fence, jumping it at 90 yards and walked off into the bush. At 10:00 they guys came to pick me up, Scott helped me out of the dang tree. I was told my blind for the evening hunts would be much better, I was excited to see.
This was the year of the grasshopper in Grourd Mission. They had no measurable rain in 8 weeks and everything was dried up. It seems the only thing thriving was the grasshoppers, the ground literally moves with them. Crops were being destroyed; hay fields non-existent as the grasshoppers were eating the alfalfa. As we walked thru an oat field, the grasshoppers were clinging to most every piece of grain. It was very sad to see as the farmers worked hard to plant their fields and they had no pasture and their feed crops were being eaten by grasshoppers.
Bob returned to work so while Scott napped, I decided to shoot my bow. I set up the target at 20 yards and was surprised when my first arrow went left of the target and into the woods. I struggled to pull my bow back sitting down, something I hadn’t practiced while shooting at home. I was frustrated and when Scott came out of the house, I broke down in tears.
“What is the matter with me” I asked him. I had lost several pounds before coming to Alberta but never in a million years did I think I would lose the strength to pull my bow. We had now turned it down about as far as we dared to turn it, I would just have to do the best I could pulling it back.
I was so upset over my bow, I just wanted to go for a ride and clear my head. We took the quad and rode the roads for a while. When we returned it was time for supper and then to go hunting. Bob took Scott to his stand first as it was further away and then returned to get me. I was going to hunt just a short distance from the house so we rode the quad to my stand.
I was relieved when we rode up and Bob said “this is it”. I looked up and there was a platform with a sturdy ladder leading up to it. Once up in the stand I saw a bench seat, I thought I was in hunter’s heaven. Six o’clock straight up when Bob left the field. I quietly got settled in and began taking yardage readings with my range finder. Judging by the trails in the peas and oats field I probably wasn’t going to have to wait long for the first deer to come to the field. I was super excited.
At 8:15 a doe, fawn and a small buck came in. Moment later behind them came a buck that made me catch my breath. A big deer with antlers that reminded me of a crown on his head. He was not very wide but very tall with lots of mass. I thought if that buck comes on my side of the field, I would surely take the shot but as it was now he was feeding at 70 yards.
Within minutes the king of the field took a few steps in my direction. I already had my bow in my hand and I was trying hard to not look at his antlers. I realized that he was even a different color than the other deer that stood close by him. When he raised his head I noticed that he had the features of an old buck. I couldn’t help but think of my big bear from Saskatchewan. He was old and probably wouldn’t have survived the winter up there the year I shot him. Made me wonder if this old man could survive another hard winter, though he looked healthy enough.
There had been some red squirrels chasing up and down one of the trees I was in. They chattered loudly as they played and one stopped eye level to investigate the trespasser in their playground. He ran up and down the tree and then would stop and chatter at me as if he was scolding me for being in his space. After several minutes he jumped into another tree and began playing with another squirrel.
Being very careful not to move or make any noise I cautiously checked the whereabouts of the buck. Though he was still on the other side of the field, his body was angled making me believe that he still may come to my side. A million scenarios go through your mind while hunting but I never expected what happened next.
The peas and oats field that this blind sits on the edge of is by far the best field on any of the properties that Bob and Jocelyn had to hunt on. With the lack of rain and the grasshoppers nothing is growing but for some reason this field grew thick and lush. Bob had warned me that “where there are oats, there are going to be bears” and even I knew that deer don’t like bears. Murphy’s Law.
When I climbed into the blind that night I looked behind me and thought how much the bush looked like the areas we hunt in Saskatchewan for bear. I had seen the big pile of scat on the road coming in so when I heard the “snap” and saw the bear it wasn’t a surprise. He came from behind me and cut off on a trail that would come out to the right of the blind; he stopped there and knew that I was in the stand. He continued under my stand and I could see his shiny black coat and a bright yellow muzzle through the slats in the floor.
No! My mind screamed, not now and with that thought he reached the field. Heads flew up on the opposite side of the field and the bear took one more step, the field exploded! The bear spooked the deer but the deer bolting spooked the bear it was total chaos as there were deer running that I didn’t even know were on the field. The deer ran to the south end of the field and the bear ran under my stand. For a moment my heart raced as I thought the bear was going to climb the tree I was in but he ran off crashing everything that was in his wake. I looked on the south end of the field and there stood the king, head held high on red alert. It was then that I could see the magnitude of that creature. He stood there for a moment, giving me one last look and then he wheeled around and headed west. My heart sank. At 9:15 I could hear the quad coming to pick me up. I saw a giant and I couldn’t wait to tell the story.
Back at the house we gathered in the garage for snacks and stories. Scott too had an exciting night seeing three shooters right off that bat but they went the opposite direction he needed them to go for a shot. He ended up seeing 20 deer that night and it was only the first night. Plans were made for the next day and I passed up the morning hunt as I didn’t want to climb that dang tree. After what I saw in the stand tonight, I could hardly wait to go back again the next night.
The next day Scott hunted the morning and didn’t see any deer. We ate lunch and then I shot my bow and was feeling a whole lot better about it. After dinner and a short quad ride, I was back in my blind at 6:30. It had rained about 10 drops but the clouds hung over head. I thought dark would come early so it might be a short sit. First to arrive were my squirrels, they chattered loudly making me feel like an intruder. Two ravens flew low over head and I could hear the wind under their wings. They circled the field and finally one of the perched high up in the tree my stand was in and began calling. I could hear the second one answer from nearby. I was sure that Dad and Harold were right there hunting the field with me.
As if a timer went off, 8:15 the first deer stepped onto the field. A very nice 8 point fed on the east side of my field, 85 yards away. Soon a yearling, a doe and a fawn came out of the bush and onto the field just to the south of where I sat. I watched as the ripped the peas off the vine and then you hear crunch, crunch as they chewed them. I now had 3 deer within 25 yards of my stand and 8 on the opposite side of the field. About the only thing I could move was my eyes as there were 22 eyes watching the field. I heard a noise; sure it was the bear I got ready to use the slingshot I had brought with me tonight.
Instead of a bear, 2 bucks stepped onto the field and began feeding by the doe, fawn and yearling. One was a small 8 point and the other appeared to be a 4 point. Another 8 point had come to join those to my right and just before 9 pm I looked up to see a bigger buck had come to the south side of the field. There was a branch blocking my view so I waited while he fed and once he cleared the obstruction and lifted his head, my heart skipped a beat. Though not the buck from the night before this buck would beat any expectation of what I would be happy taking home. A very large 8 point that I could only hope would cross the field and give me a shot. It was then I heard the quad coming to get me and all I could think was I’m not ready.
The guys were not at the house when we got back and if it was like the night before, they would be right behind us. It got to be 9:45 and I said to Jocelyn that I hoped Scott had gotten a deer. She said “I believe right now they are loading a deer”, and they were. They pulled in the driveway and I asked where the blood was. “Right here” Scott said, “Come see”. I went around the back of the truck and there lay a really nice 10 point buck. Scott had done exactly what he said he was going to do on the way to Alberta. He shot the first buck that was bigger than anything he had at home. I was as excited for him as he had filled his Alberta tag.
Again we gathered in the garage, ate chicken wings, told stories and skinned Scott’s deer out. We left the back straps partially cut and hanging out so they would cool. The northern lights were absolutely beautiful that night. I had seen them at home but they were always white, this night they were brilliant green and constantly moving. I was able to get some pictures but they certainly don’t do them justice. They were amazing. It was almost 1 am when we crawled into bed that night. I was still so excited I didn’t know if I was going to be able to fall asleep or not.
There was a big black dog that belonged to the neighbors but came to the house every day. We were warned the first day to not leave our boots or shoes outside as they would come up missing. When I went to get a cup of coffee, I happened to look out the window and I saw the black dog going behind a cabin that is used to house hunters and he had something in his mouth. My first thought was the garage door that was left open so that Scott’s deer would cool. Sure enough, only one back strap remained on the deer. The black dog took an entire back strap and made off with it. Then as if to confess Jaz, the black dog came to the deck where we were having a sandwich and threw up the entire hunk of meat on the ground at the bottom of the steps. Mystery solved.
Bob had arranged for us to tour the local museum. Sunny, our guide showed us the clothing, crafts, weapons and tools of the local Indian tribes. It was fascinating to hear the history of the area, the railroad that was supposed to come through and then didn’t and the ruination of the town. After our tour we had lunch with Bob at his school and then headed back to the house to get ready for the afternoon hunt. Scott was going to sit with me as the stand looked big enough for the both of us. Or so I though.
There wasn’t nearly as much room in the blind as I thought and Scott worried that by him coming he probably ruined my evening hunt. He ended up sitting on the floor of the blind as there wouldn’t be enough room for me to draw if he sat in the seat with me. He worried about double the scent in the area but before the night ended he realized that that was not the case. First to the field was a lone fawn and soon came a doe and her fawn. The lone fawn tried to get close to the other fawn and the doe instantly pinned the poor little thing to the ground. I gasped.
Next to the field was an 8 point, the 4 point from the first night and soon another doe. Stepping onto the field just to the south of us was another 8 point and though they were both nice, they just weren’t what we came to Alberta for. These deer walked from the south and directly in front of the stand, less than 10 feet from where we sat. Obviously the Scent Killer Gold that we had sprayed ourselves and our packs with was working as they had no fear what so ever and never even looked up into the trees. When the quad entered the field to come pick us up, the deer never even ran away. They just calmly moved off into the bush.
It was Thursday now and a neighbor Leonard was coming to pick us up and taking us on a tour of the area. He has lived here his entire life and is very knowledgeable of the area and the history of it. He picked us up at 9:30 and we visited some historical sites and then we visited a new development in the area. Bob was having some of his staff over for lunch so we headed back to the house to eat with all of them. After lunch Bob went back to work and we headed back out with Leonard for a tour of his farm.
Back in the blind at 6:15 and I am back to hunting alone. Scott decided to buy a bear tag so he went hunting bear. The weather had become really warm so it was going to be nice sitting but with the warm brought the bugs. I started to read my book but realized it was making me sleepy so I put it away. It was 7:50 when the first doe and fawn came to the field. Another doe and fawn came shortly after and then I heard walking and looked to my left to see the small buck that came every night had arrived at the field. Behind him was a buck that I had not seen in the past, a spindly 9 point that stopped to feed in front of my stand. He stood at 12 1/2yards and looked up into the stand. The buck stretched his neck, flattened his ears and seemed to be looking more at the bottom of the stand than at me. He shook his tail, dropped his head and slowly fed to what seemed like the deer’s favorite spot in the field, a patch of green peas, 32 yards from the stand.
It was 8:00 and deer had already come to the field. Both bucks angled across the field and exited on the south end heading east. Shortly the does and fawns left the field following the trail the bucks took. It was 8:30 and the field was empty. But, that didn’t last long as twenty minutes later a doe came to the field. She fed for a short time and then she too left the field. It was 9:00 and I could hear Jocelyn coming on the quad to pick me up. Another great night in the stand, just not the right buck.
I knew in my heart that I was in the best spot to take a nice buck. I had seen two very large bucks and many other bucks every night. I totally understood that once you decide to hunt with a bow, you cut your chances in about half. But I am a bow hunter at heart and it was my decision to use my bow. If I would have been rifle hunting that buck the first night would have been going back to Michigan with me. I remained very hopeful and decided that when the right buck came onto my field and it was within shooting range, I would know if it was a buck I wanted to put my tag on. I will not give up!
A really cool neighbor named Charles came by the next morning and stayed for breakfast. Scott had seen a bear last night while hunting on Charlie’s property. Charles offered to take us back to that spot and help Scott hang a climber stand. Once the stand was hung and the limbs cut so Scott had no obstructions, Charles asked if we wanted to go for a ride. He took us through the bush and it was the most awesome ride. Down narrow trails where we had to stop and trim low hanging limbs to get the truck through. It was like the rides that we take on the weekends at home. A very, very enjoyable day and now it was time to go back, eat and get out to the blind.
In the blind at 6:15 and believe it or not, it is raining. They desperately need the rain here and though it was only sprinkling they would take what they could get. It was 6:40 when the first doe arrived at the field and by 6:50 there were six deer on my field. The does and fawns fed and by 7:30 the field was empty. It wasn’t until shortly after 8 that three deer came from the south west. I was wondering where my little buck was that always came to the field. It wasn’t long and I heard walking in the peas and sure enough the here he came. I thought it odd that he was alone; he always came with another buck. With light fading, I waited; hoping maybe tonight was the night he would bring a bigger buck along.
It was just before 9pm when a new 9 point stepped onto the field. He was in their favorite spot to my right and I could see he had a bent, funky antler on one side. His antlers were covered with velvet, that always makes them appear much larger than they are. He was still a very nice buck and I needed him to move farther out into the field in order for me to take the shot; he continued to feed only moving his head to strip the pea pods off the vines. I ranged the buck and he stood at just over 30 yards facing me. I was torn whether to fill my tag with this buck or wait and see if one of the big bucks returned to the field tomorrow night, my last night. I stood up three times trying to decide but I still needed him to turn broadside and tick tock, light was fading. It was now 9:00 and legal shooting hours ended at 9:21. I made my decision and drew my bow.
I released my Beman Vibrake arrow with a 100 grain pink Muzzy broad head on the end. Though I heard it hit the deer, I heard it hit something before the deer. The buck did not jump, he did not run, he took a couple of steps and then stood with his head hung. The small buck stayed right with him as they cut diagonally across the field stopping once in a while, just standing with head hung. Eventually both bucks made it to the corner of the field where the peas and oats ended and the bush began. I strained to see through my binoculars but I could make out the two just standing on that corner and then I could hear my ride coming. Now it was 9:15 and too dark to see across the field. I was excited about the buck but concerned about the shot. More so I was confused and second guessing myself. Did I miss??
I lowered my bow and my pack down to Jocelyn who was standing at the base of the tree. I told her about the buck and the shot and the sound I heard before it hit what I hoped to be the buck. Jocelyn told me to climb back up in the stand and she would move to the area where the buck once stood. I watched her light as she shined the area of the green peas. I climbed down and we both tried to find my arrow and/or blood. We found nothing. I knew there was no sense in trying to find the trail they took diagonally across the field. It was dark and there were freeways of trails in the field. I knew our best bet was to go to the corner where the two bucks stood for a long time before entering the bush. If there was blood, it would be there.
Back on the quad we turned around the followed the road to the corner of the field. We parked and the moment a shined my light, my excitement grew as there right at my feet was a puddle of frothy blood. From there leading into the bush was an excellent blood trail, I was sure I would have my hands on my buck very, very soon. Finding a spot where the buck laid down I was thinking that perhaps we should just back out. When I heard a deer run away I was sure this boy was not going to give up without a fight. I went back to retrieve my bow from the quad, I wanted to be prepared should another shot be needed.
I was feeling pretty bad by now as nobody likes to make a bad shot, but it happens. I don’t like to see an animal suffer and I surely don’t like leaving one overnight. We pushed on and the blood trail continued. Jocelyn was almost to the edge of the bush when I caught up to her and within a few steps the blood trail just stopped. “No way” I said, there is just no way he healed up and walked away. We could hear the guys now coming to check on us and Scott immediately said “he went this way”. Jocelyn and I both disagreed with him as that was the way we just came from. But once we started following the blood again we realized that my buck had stopped and turned around.
My buck was found lying under a pine tree. When we moved him for pictures my worst shot ever was revealed. I felt bad about the shot but said a prayer of thanks that we were able to retrieve the animal. Pictures were taken and Jocelyn and I were both all smiles and I had filled my Alberta tag and she had guided me on a successful hunt.
In the garage my deer was skinned and the back straps left to cool. It was almost 1 am when we closed the garage door; we didn’t want a repeat of the back strap thief. We climbed into bed and my mind was racing, I was reliving the hunt, the shot and the search for my deer. I was almost asleep when I remember the dog door that led to the garage but I was too tired to even care.
With both Scott and I having our deer today we were going to have a fun, leisure day. Scott and Bob were going to hang stands for upcoming hunts and Jocelyn and I were going to take the quads and go find my arrow and then walk the blood trail to see where we got turned around. It was a beautiful day and I was excited to go.
Jocelyn had put a piece of electrical tape in the field the night before marking 30 yards from where I was in the stand. We found the tape and right under the tape we found blood on the peas and oats. Parting the thick plants we found my arrow not two yards from the tape. I was spot on the night before when I gave her my account of where the buck had stood and the shot I had taken. Looking up towards the stand it was easy to see what I had heard hit before my arrow hit the deer. A leafy branch right in my line of fire made me realize how lucky I was to have hit the deer and how blessed I was to be taking my trophy home. We found the blood trail from the night before and it was at the end of the bush and the start of another field that the deer had turned around. Taking only a few steps and veering left, he only went 20 yards to where he laid down and drew his last breath.
From there we rode the bikes through the neighbor’s property and I saw a big cow with a shiny bell hanging around her neck. There was the bell that I heard every night in the stand. I heard her up close some nights, others she was far away. I could hear her lazily walk through the bush and one night I heard her run like the devil was after her. I finally got to see that bell that rang at sunrise and was still tolling at sundown. We continued or ride through the bush checking fences and standing up fallen fence posts along the way. We arrived back at the house about the same time as Scott and Bob who had already decided Scott was going to bear hunt for a few hours before dinner. The plan was to drop him off and be back for supper at 5.
It was getting close to 5 and the guys had not returned. Jocelyn thought perhaps Scott had gotten a bear and it wasn’t long and they pulled in the drive. There in the back of the pickup was his Alberta bear. He had now filled his bear tag and our trip was complete. After a dinner of grilled salmon it was time for bed as tomorrow we would head back to Michigan. We wanted to be on the road by 7 am.
It was 7:02 am when we left Bob & Jocelyn’s home. I was sad to leave my new friends but excited to get back home to my family and my dog. Bob and Jocelyn are two of the kindest, caring people you could ever meet. Their desire is to make your hunt exactly what YOU want it to be. It isn’t about a big buck for bragging about, it is about the experience and YOU being satisfied at the end of the hunt.
I am a firm believer that if the success of your hunt is based solely on the harvest of the animal, you missed the best part. I enjoy my time in the woods; it awakens every sense in me. I love how my heart races when an animal comes into my site and the adrenaline rush I get when I release and arrow or fire my gun. The sounds and smells in my bow stand is better therapy than any doctor can charge me for, I am relaxed and calm in the outdoors. I have made many amazing friends on my travels to hunt and stay in touch with most of them. I enjoy being surrounded by others that “get it” and am thankful for their friendship.
With Alberta in the rear view mirror it was time to make the 2000+ mile trek back home. We tend to travel longer and harder on the way home as the “vacation” part is over and it is time to be home. It was 11:30 am on Tuesday when we pulled in the driveway. It was great to be home and our Newfoundland hunt was only a couple of months away. Another adventure, another story.