Bowhunter's Dilemma: Knowing When To Shoot

Every deer hunter must sometime ask, "When should I hold out, and when should I shoot?"

SOME PEOPLE SAY, "Never pass up a deer on the first day you would shoot on the last day," a concept I've always considered utter nonsense. However, as I sat in the Spruce Stand with a good-sized eight-point buck standing broadside, 15 yards away, doubts raced through my mind. I might shoot him on the last day, I conceded. So maybe I should shoot him now.

However, I hung my bow back on the hanger and watched the buck wander away. After all, this was my first day in Saskatchewan, home to monster bucks. Sure, if I passed up this deer now, I might go home empty-handed. But I'd come here to kill the biggest buck of my life. If I shot this one now, how would I ever do that? "Never pass up a deer on the first day'¦"? Nonsense! I concluded.

I WAS HUNTING with Rob Nye at Canadian Trophy Quest near Carrot River, Saskatchewan. I've hunted bears and deer with Rob several times and have always enjoyed quality hunts. Rob knows his territory and game, his hunts are well organized, he's fun to hunt with, and his wife, Rose, cooks tremendous meals.

Above all, Rob hunts a region that produces some of North America's biggest whitetails -- the fringe of the northern forest where farmlands meet endless miles of bush. Rob himself has shot many quality bucks with his longbow there, and every year his hunters take huge bucks. To egg me on, Rob had e-mailed me numerous pictures of his hunters' trophies, plus trail camera pictures of bucks he'd captured prior to my hunt. Like most outfitters in Saskatchewan, Rob baits deer, a legal practice there, and he has cameras on all of his baits, as well as on scrape lines and travel routes. His cameras had recorded some impressive bucks.

And the walls of Trophy Quest's lodge held some impressive heads, too. When I arrived on November 3, I could only gape at the antlers, all measuring 150-190 inches. With all of this evidence, how could I shoot a deer, even a respectable eight-pointer, on the first day?

FOR TWO MORE DAYS I hunted the Spruce Stand and passed up a couple of more nice bucks, one a good-sized 10-pointer. With bucks like that in front of me, I continued to ponder the concept of "Never pass up'¦" but I held fast. Far bigger bucks roamed these woods, and, man, did I want one of them!

On day four, Rob switched me to a stand in an aspen grove behind the lodge where he'd photographed a couple of giants. Two button bucks sparred for 15 minutes almost under my stand, and a couple of mature bucks tempted me. They were just the right size to make me ponder, "Never pass up'¦" But I did.

Okay, it was time to go deep. Some of the biggest bucks come from the wilderness forests that stretch north from the farmlands to the Arctic treeline. Guide Nathan Duff hauled me deep into the bush on his quad, and for two full days I hunkered in a Primos Double Bull blind, watching a bait where Rob had captured a couple of great bucks on camera. As for me, I saw only two small bucks and some does. Are giant Canadian bucks just a myth? I began to wonder.

Well, during those same days, two of Rob's rifle hunters dragged great bucks from the bush. And hunting near agriculture, Pat Lefemine, owner of the popular bowsite.com, killed a very nice buck, while Arkansas bowhunter Cole Law rattled-in and killed a heavy-beamed monster from a stand overlooking a scrape line. So much for the myth theory. Maybe I should not have passed up'¦

WITH ONLY ONE DAY left to hunt, I decided to return to the Spruce Stand, my opening-day stand. Settling in before daylight, I was prepared to stay all day. Throughout the morning deer came and went, providing entertainment but no shots.

Although I hadn't seen any serious rut activity, I knew bucks had to be cruising for does. So throughout the day I blew my grunt call and rattled antlers.

At 4 p.m., with an hour left in my hunt, I had just finished a rattling sequence when a stick snapped in the dense brush behind me. It was close. I sat motionless, listening. Ten minutes passed. Dead silence.

Then I saw movement out front. A buck was coming. Cautiously he approached, peering, examining the bait site. When he finally came close enough to give me a good look, I realized he was the same eight-pointer I had passed up opening day.

When he stopped broadside, 20 yards away, obviously perplexed that he could not see other deer, familiar thoughts raced through my mind. As I often say, "Never pass up a deer on the last day you could have shot on the first." And I didn't.

To hunt giant bucks or bears, contact: Rob Nye, (306) 277-4300, raeb@sasktel.net, www.canadiantrophyquest.com

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