By Troy Seidel (As told by Lane Johnson)
Lane Johnson and his friends might have unwillingly donated their venison to the coyotes in Saskatchewan last fall, but the three amigos left the province with three sets of antlers. Lane took the largest back home to North Dakota. Photo Courtesy of Lane Johnson
October 2006 marked the second time I'd hunted with Jim Lake Outfitters in Saskatchewan. It was my friend Don's 15th journey across the border for a week of goose and deer hunting.
The plan was to join friends on the decoyed fields in the mornings, and then finish our days in deer stands - me and another buddy, Lynn, with muzzleloaders and Don with his bow.
My first stint was in a ground blind beside an alfalfa field. After seeing only a couple of does, I became restless and decided to stalk my way back to the drop-off point. En route, I took cover alongside some alfalfa bales and glassed for deer in the adjoining fields.
While looking over a nearby winter wheat field, I noticed a big-bodied deer in the far corner. A closer look told me that it probably wore between 160 and 165 inches of antler - a nice deer. But with darkness falling and quite a distance still between us, I chose to abandon the chase for another day.
The next afternoon, a ferocious wind was blowing at least 30 mph, sometimes gusting in excess of 45 mph. My guide, Corey, dropped me off at the same stand. I told him that if nothing came out during the first couple of hours, I was going to make my way to the end of the field where I had seen the big buck the previous night.
As I settled into the ground blind, the events played out like a carbon copy of the previous day. A few does passed by, but no bucks. With 45 minutes left until dark, I decided to leave the stand and head toward the end of the field. I was disappointed at first, but then I spotted three bucks in a patch of trees 500 yards distant.
Off I went.
While covering the first 200 yards, I temporarily lost sight of the trio. Upon reaching the next glassing point, I was disappointed to see that the bucks had given me the slip.
After continually glassing the area, I eventually spotted two large racks sticking out of some tall grass 300 yards from me. I secured my binoculars and continued the stalk until I came upon a bog that held about a foot of water. With only 20 to 25 minutes of shooting light left, I had a decision to make.
Should I wade across the bog and spend the next couple hours cold and wet, or should I abandon the hunt once again?
The sight of the two large racks made that an easy decision. I eased into the bog. Moving closer and glassing after every couple of steps, I finally could see the racks again. I grabbed my Nikon range-finder, which showed them a short 75 yards. From my position, I could see the deer, but they could not see me.
Not wanting to stalk any closer and spook them, I blew into my grunt call. With a 30-mph crosswind blowing, I wasn't sure if the sound would carry that far. But to my amazement, it worked. The two big bucks stood.
One was broadside, facing away; the other was broadside and facing me. Both deer wore about 170 inches or more of antler. One rack was wider, but the other carried more mass.
I attempted to set my sights on the deer with the widest rack. Even while using my shooting sticks, I couldn't get a steady shot in the gusting crosswind. While I timed the oscillations, the crosshairs momentarily settled on the buck and I squeezed the trigger.
As bad luck would have it, the bullet flew wide and the deer ran off into the darkening sky. Only my frustration kept me warm as I walked out of the woods with wet boots and no deer.
With three days left to hunt, Corey and I moved my ground blind to a stack of alfalfa bales overlooking the bog. Nothing eventful happened that night, for me at least. My hunting buddies, however, both shot 10-pointers, though collecting the animals would have to wait for the following day.
That night, coyotes found Lynn's buck. We weren't sure about Don's.
The next two days passed with little excitement. Each day before heading to my ground blind, we stopped and searched for Don's deer with no luck. I was seeing deer, but not much in the way of shooters. The last day of the hunt fell on Friday the 13th.
Feeling that I needed a change, I asked for a new place to hunt. This was by far the nicest day of our stay. The wind was calm, and the sun was shining.
Don, guide Perry and I set out shortly after noon. Don and I had planned to hunt the same field. He would sit in a treestand, and I would take up a position in a ground blind, which I prefer because it allows me to be mobile if the situation dictates.
Perry and Don were busy setting up the treestand while I searched for a suitable place to make a ground blind. But I couldn't find one that provided a view of the entire field. I wound up going to another field about 2 miles away that no one had hunted that year.
Upon reaching the end of the road, Perry and I set off on foot for a 3⁄4-mile walk through a rolling alfalfa field until we reached the top of a hill that overlooked the eastern half of the field. It was already occupied by 15 small bucks and five does.
Nobody can tell this guy that his time and money weren't well spent during his sojourn across the border this last fall. Photo Courtesy of Lane Johnson
Not wanting to alarm them, Perry and I eased back off of the hill and headed into the woods along the edge. The stalking was slow due to the dry leaves that littered the forest floor, but we eventually made it to within 200 yards of the feeding whitetails.
Before leaving, Perry removed his backpack and pulled out a small collapsible chair. I gladly accepted it. Six days of sitting on the cold earth had been enough for me.
I found a spot behind a large clump of brush, set up the chair and started assessing my shooting lanes. The chair sometimes squeaked while I practiced positioning my muzzleloader in different directions. So I abandoned it for the cold ground.
This place was amazing. The deer continued filtering out of the woods from all directions. There was a pesky 130-class 5x5 that insisted on feeding only 15 yards from me for most of the evening. This inhibited my ability to do any stalking; I was now locked into that position for the curtain call.
As I sat there and watched the field fill with bigger bucks and more does, I wondered when the first mature buck would arrive.
It took 30 minutes.
I didn't need binoculars to see that it was a shooter. Its rack was as visible as the one atop the buck that had been only 15 yards from me earlier. I quickly grabbed my range-finder and distanced it at 143 yards - close enough.
There was a small clump of brush between me and the monstrous buck. I would need to move about 5 yards to my left to get a clear shot.
Since there was no wind, every time I tried to move, the big buck stopped feeding, lifted its head and peered my way.
After about 15 minutes of inching my way around the clump, I was finally in position. As I set up my shooting sticks, I reminded myself not to look at the rack and to concentrate on making the shot. This was not easy.
I settled the crosshairs 6 inches above the vitals and squeezed the trigger. The muzzleloader barked, and the smoke hung all around me. With no wind to dissipate the smoke, I couldn't tell if I hit it.
Eventually, I saw the buck running out of the field and into the woods, showing no sign of being wounded. Thinking I'd missed, I gathered my equipment and set up the chair that Perry had left. I walked out into the field, ranging back to the chair, until I found the spot where the monster buck had been feeding.
I frantically searched for sign, but, to my dismay, there wasn't any hair or blood to be found. I continued to look, but all I saw was a 6-inch-long bullet track into the ground.
Did I miss completely, or had it been a pass-through?
I then walked over to where the buck had entered the trees and spent 20 more minutes looking for blood, hair or anything that would indicate a hit. When darkness fell, I headed back to the road to meet Perry.
During the long walk out of the woods, I replayed the scenario in my mind. Every time, my mental picture had me missing the biggest buck that I would probably ever see.
Perry wasn't there when I arrived. Feeling distraught, I kept on walking down the road to where we'd dropped off Don. While waiting for Don and Perry to exit the woods, I continued to replay the events, trying to figure out what happened.
I checked my scope mounts. They were still secure.
I had concentrated on the vitals, and I had squeezed the trigger. Without any wind, there should not have been any bullet drift. Yet it appeared that I had missed the buck.
When Don and Perry finally appeared from the darkness, I told them about the 190-class buck I had shot at, though I was not sure if I'd hit it. We decided to return the next morning to search.
During the ride back to camp, my confidence in my shooting skills quickly deteriorated. How could I have missed two big bucks in the same week? I had practiced all summer and had complete confidence in my smokepole inside 150 yards.
The night seemed unending as I continued to see the big buck run off into the woods. When morning finally arrived, the waiting continued.
Saskatchewan law requires a guide to be present while retrieving a downed deer. And all of the guides were out with goose hunters.
When they were done, Perry returned, and we took off to search for my deer.
I had left the collapsible chair on the edge of the field where I had been sitting.
That provided a point from which to start our search. Perry and I started looking for a blood trail. Don began recreating the shot by lining up the chair, the approximate position where the deer had been feeding and the bullet track in the ground. While doing this, he excitedly pointed to the ground and yelled, "What's that?"
I reached down and picked up a tuft of hair that I had not seen in the darkness the previous night. Then, to the west of us, a coyote ran out of the woods, and the ravens and magpies erupted from the trees. My heart began pounding as the coyote exited from where I had last seen the monster buck enter the trees.
The three of us raced for the edge of the woods. We took different deer trails and headed into the trees. I was about 150 yards into the woods when I spotted the first drop of blood. I yelled and Don and Perry came running. The blood trail continued to increase with each step until Don ecstatically called out, "Over there!"
The cheering started and the high-fives began flying. Twenty-five yards in front of us laid a monster 6x7 with very heavy mass. The rack was a basic 5x5 frame with split brow tines and a kicker off of its left P-2. There was no way to tell how large the body was because my deer had met the same fate as Lynn's buck earlier that week: Coyotes had eaten everything except the head and neck.
After loading my deer into the truck, we headed back to camp. As we drove down the trail, we passed the field where Don had shot his buck three days earlier and decided to stop and look for his deer one last time.
The trail appeared to be as cold as when we had left it. We continued to mill around with no luck. As I worked my way back around a beaver pond, I noticed what appeared to be the end of a small white plastic culvert sticking out of the water. This seemed odd. What would a plastic culvert be doing out here?
Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was part of a ribcage. I waded into the shallow pond and began pulling out Don's submerged buck. We concluded that as the deer attempted to cross the pond, the coyotes must have caught up with it and finished the job that Don had started.
Once again, the only thing left was the head and ribcage. Don had finally recovered his deer, a 5x5 that would score about 125. The deer hunt was complete, and all three of us were successful.
Hunter: Lane Johnson
Official Score: 179"
Composite Score: 202 1/8"
-- Reprinted from the November 2007 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine