Third Week Of March-2019

Blog 15

I’ve always found it interesting how quickly the weather can change here in our part of the world. As I mentioned in my last blog, our local weather forecasters were predicting a substantial warmup (finally) for our part of the country beginning later this week. And it actually appears that we are indeed going to see consistently warmer daytime high temps here in our area. The call is for highs in the 40’s by the end of the week, and then highs in the 50’s next week. I say, “Bring it on!”

Of course, next week’s warmer weather is probably going to spell the end of our ice fishing season. On that subject, I took a trip to one of my favorite local panfish lakes earlier today to check out ice conditions and, hopefully, chat with some fishermen to see if the bite was “on”. As it turned out, there were only two people at the lake. One of them had walked out onto the ice sometime earlier and was fishing about 200 yards from shore. The other fella was just getting his gear organized, so I decided to ask him if he had any info on the status of the bluegill and crappie bite. He told me that a  person could expect the best action during the first hour of daylight in the morning and the last 30 to 45 minutes of daylight in the evening. “I usually manage to catch about a dozen fish during those bite windows,” he said. “And I’d guess that crappies make up about 75 percent of my catch.”

A local lake is producing some nice catches of crappies and bluegills, with the best bite action occurring during the early morning and late afternoon hours.

With this information in hand, I immediately began formulating a game plan for later in the week. That plan will see me heading out onto the ice a few minutes before daylight in hopes of getting in on the early morning bite. I’ll head home when the action comes to an end, and then return sometime late afternoon to hopefully get in on the evening bite. I’ll let you know in next week’s blog how my plan worked out.

Regarding the status of our deer herd as a result of the severe winter of 2018-19, I’d have to say that there is definitely cause for concern. After setting a new all-time record snowfall total for the month of February, we followed up with even more snow in early March, and then three days of off and on rain last week. And right on the heels of the rain we were hit with a stretch of brutally cold weather, which produced a thick crust on top of the 24 inches of snow we still have on the ground.

I saw this herd of deer a few miles north of our hometown a few days ago. Hopefully, the forecast for a stretch of much warmer weather turns out to be accurate.

Ironically, our current conditions are very similar to the conditions we had after the Halloween Day snowstorm of 1991, which I chronicled in last week’s blog. While the crusted snow does bear my weight (and the weight of wolves, coyotes and bobcats), the deer are breaking through with nearly every step, which is not a good situation. Thankfully, we’re looking at much warmer temps over the next 10 days.

A Hunt For A Giant Canadian Buck

As mentioned, in last week’s blog I recalled the 1991 Wisconsin gun-deer season. Most notably, I talked about how we had received 36 inches of snow on Halloween day from a freak early winter storm, and the horrid conditions we encountered as a result. I also talked about the fact that our northern Wisconsin deer herd was already starting to feel the effects of exhaustion and starvation by the time gun season opened the last week of November. It was without doubt one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had during my 50-plus years of hunting.

Ironically, just a year later I ended up having yet another eye-opening experience while deer hunting. This time, however, the experience was 100-percent positive. It involved a chance meeting with a young man at the Wisconsin Deer & Turkey Expo in early April of 1992. That man’s name was Terry Brikholz. As it happened, Terry was working at a booth with Alberta, Canada bowhunting outfitter Jim Hole. I’d actually hunted with Jim the previous year, so I was very familiar with the trophy whitetail potential to be found in Alberta.

Alberta, Canada had gained a much deserved reputation as a trophy whitetail hotspot back in the early 1990’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, as the three of us were talking Terry casually asked me if I’d ever consider doing a gun hunt in Alberta. When I told him that I’d absolutely consider it, he smiled and said, “Well, it just so happens that a friend and I operate two gun hunting camps in Alberta, and we’re looking to get some promotion here in the States. We’re very familiar with your articles in North American WHITETAIL and other hunting magazines and really believe you’d be able to help us out.” Thirty minutes later we’d worked out the general details concerning a November gun hunt with Alberta Wilderness Guide Service. All that was left now was the waiting!

A Great Start

I flew into Edmonton on the afternoon of November 13th, 1992. Sometime around noon the next day Terry and I were in a pickup headed north to his hunting camp. After getting my gear stowed and making sure my rifle was still dialed in we sat down and discussed the game plan for the next six days. “I’ll be guiding you,” Terry explained. “Now, normally, each guide takes two hunters. However, the guy who was supposed to be hunting with us had to cancel at the last minute, so it’s gonna be just you and I. The rut is going full bore, and if you don’t mind I’d really like to start out by trying to rattle in a big deer.” I told him I was totally on board with his game plan.

To cut straight to the chase here, on the very first day of my Alberta hunt I had two different bucks in the 170-inch class centered in my scope. But for reasons directly attributable to the amazing survival abilities of trophy whitetails, I wasn’t able to get off a shot at either deer. The first of those bucks simply caught Terry and I flat-footed. We were walking across a huge wheat field and trying to detour around a 1 1/2 year-old buck when this chocolate-horned monster suddenly came loping over a steep hill just 75 yards away. Both of us saw the buck at the same time. I knew immediately that he was a shooter and brought the .300 Win. Mag. to my shoulder. Before I could get any kind of a sight picture, however, the big deer whirled and sped back over the hill. I sprinted to the crest, but he was long gone. Too bad, as Terry and I agreed that the big 10-pointer would have gross scored close to 170.

I had the crosshairs centered on two giant bucks the first day of my Alberta hunt. But both of those deer managed to pull off successful escapes.

Less than an hour later, I again had a big buck in the scope. That deer crossed a cutline approximately 200 yards from me. He kept his head down in some low brush growing on the cutline, so although I got occasional glimpses of some long tines, I just couldn’t tell enough about the deer to warrant squeezing the trigger. Terry later told me that, just prior to my seeing the buck, it had run across a field in front of him. He was fairly confident the long-tined, wide-spreading buck also would have scored at least 170 typical. Holy crap, what a way to start a hunt!

I was skeptical that the second day of my Alberta hunt could be anywhere near as exciting as the first day, but I was in for a surprise. Terry had barely started his first rattling sequence early in the morning of the second day when I heard a loud, deep-pitched grunt. At first, I thought the sound had come from some thick brush directly in front of me. But a second grunt convinced me that the interested buck actually was slightly behind and to my left. As I strained to make out any piece of the buck I’d heard, a heavy, long-tined and dark colored rack suddenly floated into view. Unknown to me, there was a slight swale in a patch of tall foxtail grass in front of me. The rapidly approaching buck was in this swale and headed past me in an easy lope. I stared in amazement as the head and rack of the big animal coasted past at a mere 20 yards. The buck continued by me and stopped in the wide open about 60 yards away, listening and looking toward the rattling commotion–which gave me a great chance to look at his rack even more closely, for which I’m truly grateful.

Terry and I saw so many big whitetails during the first couple days of my hunt that it bordered on ridiculous.

His right antler was long-beamed and extremely heavy, with a 6-inch brow tine and extremely long G-2 and G-3 tines. His G-4 was only about 2-inches. It was the left side of his rack, however, that kept me from squeezing the trigger. There was a 6-inch brow tine and a 10-inch G-2, and that was it! I would guess the overall length of his stubbed out left main beam at no more than 18-inches. Thus, the buck was a typical 5×3, with an inside spread nearing 22-inches. A unique trophy indeed, but just not the type of deer for which I had traveled all the way to Alberta. (Had his left side matched his right, I’m sure he would have scored in the mid-160’s, and I would have shot him.)

The Hunt Continues

Day three found me positioned on a secluded cutline in a huge piece of cover. I tried rattling periodically throughout the morning, being successful in drawing in one small buck, a doe and fawn, and then a coyote. Terry showed up about 11 a.m. with a couple sandwiches and a thermos of coffee. While I ate, he discussed an alternate game plan. “This is really a huge piece of cover,” Terry stated. “I think we should spend a couple hours rattling in likely looking spots. The wind is blowing just hard enough to ensure that we can move from one area to another without creating too much of a disturbance.” I quickly agreed to this plan of attack.

As it turned out, we spent the remainder of the day walking and rattling. We jumped a tremendous buck that was lying with a doe, and also managed to rattle in a 140-class 4×4. The 8-pointer ended up so close that I’m sure I could have hit him in the face with a handful of sand. His rack was fairly heavy, with good tine length and an inside spread close to 20-inches. The base of his antlers and his skull cap were completely covered with fresh, green shredded bark. It was an unforgettable sight.

The big 8-pointer ended up walking to within just a few feet of us. It was a very cool experience!

The next morning Terry led me into a new area and set me up on long cutline. “There are some wheat fields off in the distance,” he told me. “The deer you see this morning will probably be making their way back from those fields.” Before walking off in the pre-dawn darkness, he added that his hunters had taken some tremendous deer from this area in past years.

To summarize the morning’s activities, I saw two does, three fawns and two huge bucks. One of the bucks was a wide-spreading brute that I spotted as he was walking down the cutline to my left, at a range of nearly 500 yards. The other buck, a big non-typical I’m sure would have surpassed 200 inches in total antler measurements, stepped out on the cutline to my right at a range of 200 yards and started walking straight away from me. I slid off the padded stool I was sitting on, rested the rifle on top and followed the buck along in the scope.

I’m normally a crack shot with my favorite deer rifle, but I blew a golden opportunity at a giant buck on the third morning of my Canadian deer hunt.

I’ve shot my custom stocked Ruger rifle a lot at that range and feel extremely confident with a solid rest. I waited for the buck to turn and give me a slight quartering angle. When he was about 250 yards out, he did just that. I put a whisper of pressure on the trigger, and the rifle roared in the early morning calm. Immediately, I knew it was a clean miss, and a close investigation of the scene proved it. I’m still trying to come up with a logical sounding excuse for the whiff.

As you might imagine, I really was depressed at this point. So far, I had seen five super bucks and had legitimate chances at three of them, yet I didn’t have a thing to show for my efforts. Still, it’s not in my nature to give up. So when Terry asked if I wanted to head back to camp early for a scheduled photo shoot or try some rattling, I opted for the latter. A half-hour later, our first rattling season ended without drawing in a deer. When we got back to the truck, Terry glanced at his watch. “We’ve still got about an hour before we’re supposed to be back at camp,” he said. “Should we head back now or try rattling one more spot?” Again, I suggested we give ourselves another chance.

Showdown At High Noon

It took us a full 15 minutes to sneak into our next spot, but almost immediately my confidence level soared once more. There was fresh buck sign everywhere. And we found where two bucks had engaged in a tremendous battle on top of a slight rise. Terry pointed to the sign and gave me a silent “thumbs up”. We continued on for another 75 yards and then split up. Terry made his way down into a wooded draw. I decided to take up a position 50 yards off to one side and slightly in front of him. This put me on top of a slight rise covered with forearm sized poplars. I knelt and peered into the thick cover in front of me. It just stood to reason that any buck responding to the rattling would sneak in from that direction.

We knew there were some big bucks in the area. Hopefully, Terry could work his magic with the rattling antlers one more time.

Just before Terry started in on his first rattling sequence, I heard a big deer off to my right suddenly bust out of its bed and go crashing away. Several times I heard the distinct sound of antlers hitting branches as the unseen buck continued on, circling around in front of me. I knew there was no way the deer could have winded me. Obviously, he had reacted to one slight noise he couldn’t identify.

I listened and watched as Terry went through his first rattling sequence. The only response came from a doe that snorted and blew steadily from somewhere behind my guide’s position. We spent 10 minutes waiting and watching before Terry started his second sequence. The smashing, raking and grunting went on for several minutes then all was quiet again. Nothing.

We had been at this present location for nearly 25 minutes when Terry started his third rattling sequence. No more than 15 seconds into it, I saw him suddenly drop his antlers onto the ground and dive behind a tree. He saw I was looking directly at him and quickly yet subtly pointed back over his right shoulder. I took it that a deer was approaching from that direction, but try as I might, I couldn’t see a thing.

This was extremely nerve wracking. It was entirely possible that the deer sneaking in was a good buck, yet for nearly a minute, my eyes detected no movement at all. Then, suddenly, my eyes caught a glimpse of a deer moving through a small opening. Before I could identify the sex of the animal, however, it stepped behind a large poplar. Well, at least now I knew exactly from which direction the deer was approaching. There was the flick of a tail, and then the deer drifted through another small opening and walked down into a slight draw. Just before he disappeared into the draw, I got a glimpse of antlers. But I still hadn’t seen enough to know just how big a buck he was.

Directly in front of the buck was a rise like the one on which I was sitting. The only cover on the rise was some tall yellow grass. After about a minute or so, the buck came walking onto the top of this open rise and turned broadside. This time I got a very good look at his rack. There was no doubt this was one of the largest typical whitetails I had ever seen in the wild. But even though the buck was in the open, I still was unable to get off a shot. The rise on which I was sitting was covered with thick brush. No matter how much I strained my eyes or moved my head, I couldn’t find even the smallest of openings through which to slip a bullet.

The buck had walked up to within 25 yards of where my guide sat and now stood on top of the rise, staring hard down into the draw. I knew it was just a matter of time before the big deer would catch on that he had been duped. Leaning back as far as I could, I finally found a small, foot square opening through the brush. The rifle came to my shoulder, and I laid the crosshairs on the buck’s left shoulder. Just before squeezing the trigger, I noticed that the buck turned his head and looked straight at me. Then the bullet was on its way.

At the hit, the buck kicked up his hind legs and then took off in a full speed, head down charge. Unfortunately, he had targeted the rise on which I was standing as his avenue of escape. Believe me, you don’t know what fear is until you’ve had a hog-bodied, huge racked Canadian whitetail bearing down on you. Not knowing what else to do, I stood up and quickly bolted a fresh round into the chamber of the .300. When he got to within 20 feet, the buck suddenly altered his course slightly and went crashing past, almost within arm’s reach.

Although I felt confident about the initial hit, I slammed two more point-blank shots at the buck as he motored by. Just that quickly, he was out of sight. I listened as he ran over dead branches and underbrush, and then everything went very quiet. For some reason, I glanced at my watch. It read exactly 12 noon.

Terry Birkholz poses with my Alberta trophy at the exact spot where the big deer went down. By far, one of my most memorable hunts.

It was quite a thrill walking up on the monster whitetail. The tremendous height of his antlers and huge body size made for an impressive sight. There was great deal of hand shaking and back slapping, and then Terry and I spent some relatively quiet time just looking at and admiring the majestic animal.

The rack is a basic 10-pointer with three stickers, including a four-inch “mulie” type point erupting off the long left G-2. Inside spread is 17 4/8 inches, and each main beam is over 27. The G-2’s are 14 1/8 and 11 3/8, with the G-3’s measuring 9 3/8 and 8 6/8. Base circumference measurements are 5 1/8 and 5; the smallest circumference is 4 2/8.  Amazingly, the big rack sports extremely short brow tines, measuring just 2 4/8 and 2 6/8. Still, the buck had enough “bone” to gross slightly better than 180 typical. The Canadian brute remains my best typical to date.

This truly was a great hunt. But as is usually the case, it’s impossible to describe the amount of effort expended merely by writing about it. Suffice to say that, like most of the mature deer I’ve killed, this one was taken only after a lot of hard work and dedication to the task. It’s the exact stuff great memories are made of!

With a gross score of 180 3/8 this Alberta brute remains my best typical whitetail to date.