By Jack Power
About six years ago, Greg Steen, an avid hunter from the eastern Shore of Maryland, invited me to fill in a cancellation for a four-day deer hunt at the end of September in Saskatchewan. I jumped at the opportunity. A flight from Baltimore through Toronto and onward to Edmonton in western Canada went fast with the help of a couple of movies. We rapidly went through customs and registered our rifles, and off we went for a couple of hours’ drive to Maidstone, Saskatchewan. We were met my Jan and Sarah Alsager of Elkhorn Outfitter.
Accommodations were in their beautiful log cabin on a 2,500-acre ranch. This trip was remarkably opposite of my Alberta hunt. This could be referred to as a Gentleman’s Trip. Hunt for five hours in the morning, come back for lunch and out again for the evening sit.
Jan’s dad Rick was the founder of the elk breeding industry in Canada in 1972. Jan consequently decided to expand this endeavor into hunting big Canadian whitetails. Over the years, celebrities such as Hank Williams, Jr. shot the Bocephus Buck, 217 inches. Tommy Wilcox of Wilcox Outdoors has regularly done a TV segments there since 2005. Over the years, he and his crew have downed many fantastic bucks on film.
On this trip, four of us went up the last week in September. Most of the leaves had fallen, down, but some yellow and red persisted. To our surprise, we were greeted with summer like temperatures in the 60s and 70s. There was excitement as we discussed which hunters were going to what stands. Names like the Prairie House, 4 Way, the Pond, ‘01 Western and, of course, Hank’s Stand made it easy for us to discuss our plans.
Shots in this part of Canada range from 85 yards out to 300 plus, depending upon the terrain. In the open hay fields, you could figure 200 to 300 yards as the average. Near the wooded sections, 100 yards is the norm.
Deer were still in their feeding and bedding pattern. Movement was early and late. Since we had a new addition to our group, I had to make one new rule: I would not let him have any ammunition the first day. It would be hard for him to resist shooting the very first buck he saw because “it’s bigger than anything I’ve ever seen in Delaware.”
On his evening return, he instantly hugged me and thanked me for my constant reminder about not shooting early and for taking away his ammo. A couple of days later, he succeeded in downing at 317 yards a 23-inch-wide 11 point, scoring 174 inches.
We had also heard conversations about a truly monster buck in the area, but no one had seen him that week. The next day, while driving to our stands, there he stood behind a tall 9 point. In an instant, they were gone. Everyone was momentarily mesmerized, and then it was over.
Continuing to my stand, I was now focused on one animal. While sitting in the stand, I was watching several smaller bucks and a dozen does, when suddenly the huge non-typical appeared out of nowhere. He was in the middle of a bunch of willows. I have no idea where he came from or how he got there.
Not believing what I was seeing, I began to talk softly to myself. Don’t move. He’s not running. Where are all the other deer? Can I move? He’s still feeding. Stop. Those deer are staring right at me. Don’t move the gun. Quit staring, he’s still feeding.
An eternity — or actually only 60 seconds — later, the does put their heads down. The Winchester .300 Mag slid silently out the opening when suddenly, a blow then another blow! A doe which I neglected to see was directly below my stand, and managed to clear the field within 4 seconds. Nothing but tails. LOST! The opportunity of a hundred lifetimes.
That evening was uneventful, but there were plenty of deer to keep me occupied. As darkness was rapidly falling, I was gathering up my belongings, but I kept scanning the woods with binoculars.
Maybe five minutes of shooting time remained. Suddenly, white movement. The rifle was out the window, my heart was pounding and heavy breathing was instantaneous, the binoculars still staring. I saw movement, the tall 9-pointer appeared, then nothing. Disappointment but excitement persisted.
The first deer glanced backward, and I was ready again. The big one stepped out at 85 yards, and within 10 seconds he was history. Usually ground shrinkage seems to occur especially when shooting just before dark, but not in this case. A massive non-typical, palmated Canadian monster weighing almost 300 pounds, he had 40 points and scored SCI 265.
Our week concluded with the other two hunters successful. They took a beautiful 14 point scoring 171, and a tall 9 point coming in at 168.
Looking back at my Canadian experiences over just the last three years, I realize how lucky I have been. Success by some is measured by the numbers — 155, 167, 168, 171, 205 and 265 — but in my case, success is being able to anticipate and look forward to these hunts.
The actual hunt may last only four days or a week, but that anticipation lasts all year. Observing these beautiful animals is obviously a plus. But to be able to experience the sounds and views of the sunrises, sunsets and various scenery make these utterly fantastic trips, bucks or not!