A DIY Quest for a 200-Class Whitetail
July 27, 2016
On a cold day in December 2014, I had the pleasure of viewing an incredibly special whitetail deer. I couldn't believe my eyes as I gazed through my spotting scope at what looked to be an absolute giant whitetail buck feeding out in an alfalfa field.
The deer had an immense frame — way over 200 inches in my estimation. I had the pleasure of seeing the huge buck one other time, and the landowners later let me hold the buck's massive sheds, an opportunity for which I'll forever be thankful.
My search for that buck started in early June 2015. I had done some shed hunting on several properties where I had permission to hunt, and one spot I wandered into really caught my eye. I had hiked off of a sparsely timbered ridge, down into a flat that funneled into some thick willows.
It was a great funnel moving the deer down the ridge from a feeding ground into a tangle of brushy growth. I put up a trail camera in that spot with hopes of catching some movement. The area was littered with last year's scrapes and rubs, boosting my confidence of a good buck frequenting the tangle of willow, alder, and poplars.
It was a bit farther than I had thought the buck would travel, but I still believed it would be an outstanding spot to ambush a big whitetail. I checked the camera a couple weeks later, only to find that the batteries had died shortly after I had placed it there. Rookie mistake.
My search for the big guy continued throughout June, with the odd evening and morning road trip spent at likely feeding areas and other spots. I was really hoping to get some video or photos of him, but by mid-June I still hadn't laid eyes on the monster deer, and I wasn't even sure if he was still alive.
On June 20, after a couple weeks of neglect, I checked the camera I'd placed along that funnel I found earlier in the year. The second photo on the card was an early morning flash of antler passing in front of my camera. My heart skipped a beat. I frantically shuffled through the rest of the photos. Just one night prior, there he stood in all his awesome glory, moving up from the deep tangle of timber. I zoomed in and couldn't believe what I was looking at.
His frame was incredible. The buck had gone almost completely typical, packing on a ton of mass and length. He appeared to be a mainframe four-point with an extra nontypical point off the back of his right G-2. Along with some trash points, it was obvious that I was looking at a world-class whitetail.
I didn't sleep much that night. The next day I would put together a plan. My strategy was simple: I would use trail cameras to lightly monitor the perimeter of what I believed was the buck's core area. To avoid being detected, I would employ strict scent-control measures, and I would only check the cameras once every 10 days or so.
The next camera-check day was in the beginning of August, and I could hardly wait to pull that card. There were a few pics of the buck on the funnel camera, with most of them taken in the morning. Also, on another camera leading up to the general area of my newfound funnel, I managed to catch another morning picture of him.
At least once every three to four days he would pass through this tight funnel. The next two camera-check days were duds. From early August until around August 20, the buck simply disappeared. I thought maybe he had moved on, and I didn't have any idea which direction he could have gone. Finally, in late August, he showed up again and this time with another really good buck as a travel partner.
By the end of August, after my last camera check, it appeared the buck had settled in, and I even captured a few evening pictures of him. It had been a borderline drought year in the area and water was scarce, which was another important factor in my newfound honey-hole.
The only water in the immediate area was along the travel route the buck and several other deer were using. I knew this because I could see the water on a satellite image on my computer. There was a really decent spruce tree with a natural shooting lane off to the side of the travel route, and that's where I'd put my stand.
On a hot, late-summer afternoon, I snuck in and quietly hung a stand, careful not to disturb the surroundings. The prevailing winds were normally out of the northwest, which would not be ideal for this stand, but I felt it was still my best option. All of my clothing was washed, and my bow was tuned and deadly. I was fully prepared for opening morning.
Alberta's bow season opened on September 1, and the morning darkness was comforting as I settled into my stand. My goal was to self-film the hunt, so I had my camera arm and gear all set for the morning daylight. Visions of the deer sneaking off the ridge and down into the tangle where I was set up danced through my mind. I constantly tried to keep myself grounded and mentally prepared for the appearance of the buck. Who knows? I might not see him at all, I thought to myself. A few does and a young bull moose moved through later in the morning, but there was no sign of the buck.
At high noon I headed out, but it felt good to finally sit in a stand after a long summer of preparation and anticipation. I didn't want to disturb the area, so I didn't hunt that evening.
I planned on getting back in the stand the next morning, but because of a work commitment I wasn't able to sit the morning of September 2. But the job was quick, and I was done by noon, so I was left to ponder what to do that evening.
The forecast was calling for a thunderstorm towards the end of the day. I hadn't planned on hunting the area in the evenings at all for fear of spooking the deer on my way to my stand. But something felt right about hunting there that particular evening, so I headed to my stand, taking extra precautions to avoid getting winded by any bedded deer on the walk in.
"A massive velvet antler frame slowly materialized out of the thick brush. It was him! He was 40 yards out, and walking steadily right into my shooting lane!"
I was in my stand by 4 p.m. The clouds were already starting to move in from the west. Storm fronts are an event I focus in on, because they get whitetails up and moving. Filtering along the swamp's edge, a couple of does headed towards the field to feed. But the action slowed around 7 p.m., and the thunder began to roll as the storm moved in. Feeling like a lightning rod in my tree, I packed up my camera, lowered my bow, and climbed down. I couldn't see much from where I had sought refuge in a patch of willows. Soaked and cold, I contemplated packing it in. The thought of getting up and possibly spooking an approaching deer didn't sit well though, so I toughed it out.
With 50 minutes of legal light left, and the worst of the storm now over, I climbed back into my stand. Without powering up anything, I put my camera back on its mount and nocked an arrow. I didn't feel confident that anything was going to happen. Besides, I was soaked to the bone and getting a chill.
It Was Him
With 10 minutes of daylight left, I packed up my camera and lowered my pack. But as I turned to pack up my bow, I heard a stick snap to my left. Instinctively, I slowly reached for my bow and turned to look in the direction where I'd heard the stick break. A massive velvet antler frame slowly materialized out of the thick brush. It was him! He was 40 yards out, and walking steadily right into my shooting lane!
The moment I had prepared for had arrived. In one fluid motion, I drew my Hoyt and found the familiar spot on the string. A bleat stopped the buck just before he escaped my shooting lane. I took a deep breath, found the mark, and let the arrow go — whack!
I watched as the buck disappeared into the brush, and then all was quiet. I sat down, gripping my bow tightly, and I tried to absorb the sequence of events that had just transpired. My pack was already on the ground, unfortunately along with my video camera, but that was the last thing on my mind. With shaky arms and legs, I carefully climbed down.
Arriving at the spot where the buck had been standing when I shot, I found my arrow sunk deep into a poplar tree and soaked in bubbly blood. That's when it all sank in for me. I was confident the shot was good, and the emotions really started to come on at this point.
I sat down at the base of my stand tree and tried to collect my thoughts. To have the opportunity at such a deer was special enough, but to actually take the buck like that, early in the year, was something I couldn't quite absorb. I honestly thought an opportunity at that buck would take months to transpire, if ever. But with careful planning, preparation, and a lot of luck, it all came together.
Due to the thunderstorm, blood was difficult to see. So after waiting a half-hour, I basically walked to where I'd last seen the buck, and that's where I found him dead. He had gone only 70 yards before tipping over in the deep grass and tangle of brush. I stood there and gazed upon the fallen giant at my feet. It was a surreal moment I'll never forget. I felt a rush of excitement, but also a deep sadness that his life had ended. Before I sent out the news, I took a moment to appreciate this magnificent animal.
Then, with a shaky voice, I called my wife and told her the news. Then I called my mom and dad, and some of my close friends who were aware of my pursuit of this buck. The recovery crew — Jordan, Dan, and Scotty — were on the scene in no time, and we all had a long moment of appreciation and awe. I owe them special thanks as they helped me carefully load the velvet monarch into my truck for the ride home to be processed.
The next day, we put a tape to his crown. The length measurements are off the charts and in a league of their own. His beams are both over 27 inches, with his longest point measuring 17 inches. This all added up to a gross nontypical score of 218 inches, which is absolutely incredible considering he's a mainframe four-point.
The buck is without a doubt world class, and I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to tag him. The velvet giant's official B&C Club nontypical score is 214 3â„8, and he is etched in this bowhunter's memory forever.