By Keith Bailey
It took 11 tough, cold, long days of hunting to connect with this thick-necked Alberta Bruiser.
Whether I’m heading to South Texas, Iowa, Mexico or, in this case, the beautiful North Country of Smokey Lake, Alberta, packing always starts the excitement for any of my hunting trips. The flight up North is filled with hunters looking to bag a trophy of a lifetime. Some have pictures to prove previous successes. Arriving at good friend and outfitter David Bzawy’s North Camp is like a homecoming. Faces include repeat hunters from all over the U.S., David’s wife and chef extraordinaire, Lisa, and their cat, Felix.
What really made my 2005 trip special was that I would be hunting with my great friend and coworker, Steve Dewesse, who had been granted a coveted spot in the North Camp. After making sure our rifles were up to snuff, it was time to talk stand location with our guides.
Following a great meal by Lisa and a good pep talk from David, who had seen numerous bucks in the 160- to 170-class while scouting, we were off to bed, anticipating a long day ahead.
The first day of a 12-day Alberta hunt involves getting acclimated to the cold wilderness and preparing for what the week might throw at you. Hunting can be minutes, hours or even days of complete boredom, interrupted by seconds of pure adrenaline! After a day of moose sightings, it was time to head in for a home-cooked meal.
Buckmasters Life Member Keith Bailey’s South Texas trophy from 2004.
Day two was slow until about 4 o’clock. A young 3-year-old, 150-class buck ran in, charged by an absolute monster, from behind me. The brute busted me as I turned to get a better look through the poplar trees, and in one sweeping flash was gone. Whew, what a monster! Seeing a buck like that makes it hard to sleep at night.
In the following days, I had various sightings of smaller bucks and moose, but no shooters. This prompted a meeting of the minds with David to determine a new stand location. We decided a new location with recent deer sign deserved a good sit. My first outing was a little slow. I saw only does — also known in Canada as “buck bait.” The second try proved more promising. A monster, easily scoring 200, came in on a doe. But again, it was holding up behind some poplar. I could only see his rack, making a clear shot impossible. This time I was busted by the doe while trying to get in position. She stared straight at me for what seemed an eternity and then sprinted to the right, taking the biggest buck I’d seen all season with her.
The next couple of days yielded more sightings of younger bucks and more moose. Radio reports talked of an approaching front with winds gusting to 60 mph. After another stand move, I would be in the home stretch trying to make the best of it.
I awoke the 11th day to the clatter of rain pelting the roof and the wind howling. After being in the stand for a while, I began to hear poplars snapping like twigs in the high wind. This flushed me out of the tree; I headed for cover along with four does. Within a couple of hours, the weather cleared and I was able to return to the stand for what I hoped would be a promising day. I had only one more day to hunt for my Canada bruiser.
At 2 o’clock, as I looked at my watch wondering how much longer it would be before another one of Lisa’s meals, I saw the rack of a huge buck at 200 yards. I immediately knew this was the one! As soon as he looked away, I readied the crosshairs on the white patch in the center of his neck and let the .300 Win Mag bark. Just like that, I earned a taxidermy bill.
I called David and guide Kubi on the radio and told them to bring the quad because I’d just shot a monster. After loading the buck, David recalled seeing it in velvet in spring and thinking he would score in the 180s. As luck would have it, he bumped his P4, knocking him back down to the 170s. Regardless, he’s still the biggest buck I’ve ever harvested.
Whether it’s wind, rain or snow, you never know when the big one will step out. You’ve just got to put in your time on the stand — sometimes against all odds.
Click here for more information about Alberta Wilderness Guide Service.