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Do Not Shoot the First Buck You See?

By Lisa L. Price

Hunter: Sean Coary
Sean's buck is a mainframe 6x7 with an additional pair of irregular points. Since one of the pair is 14 3⁄8 inches long, the rack falls into the semi-irregular category.

Sean Coary slogged through the knee-deep snow in the dark, while the blizzard continued to dump an inch an hour. He walked with his head down, keeping his steps within the trample of tracks left by the guides alongside the trail of his buck, trying his best to keep up with them.

When the news had come in on the radio at twilight that Sean had arrowed a monstrous buck, every available guide left the comfort of the lodge. There was a flurry at the door as they put on their boots and shrugged into heavy jackets, while checking the power of flashlights and lanterns. They knew. You shoot a deer on a night like this, and every minute counts.

Getting started on the trail had been confusing. Sean's main guide, Don McClanaghan, had him return to his treestand and get reoriented in the driving snow. Now in the right place, Don found several spots of blood and then an encouraging spray.

They began to work it out, and soon the other guides joined them. They moved as fast as they could along the buck's tracks and blood trail, before the snow covered the sign.

"This is probably the moment I remember most: how it felt to come over a little knoll and see them all standing in a circle," Sean said. "But I couldn't see the deer because they were surrounding it. I just stood there for a few seconds in that incredible blizzard, looking ahead at the little circle of light, knowing I was soon to put my hands on that gorgeous buck.

"I'll never forget how that felt, but I don't think I'll ever be able to adequately describe it," he added.

Sean joined the group, setting off a wild celebration of whooping and hollering, shaking hands and back-slapping. Then the work began. The buck weighed 330 pounds, and they took turns dragging it for short distances in the snow, working their way back toward the lights of the trucks.

Hunter: Sean Coary
Pennsylvania bowhunter Sean Coary, unaccustomed to being the "lucky guy" in camp, poses with the buck that cut his Alberta hunt short.

They loaded the huge deer into the back of one of the vehicles, which sagged under the weight. When they hopped into trucks to leave, the one carrying the heavy buck was stuck.

Back at the lodge, the other hunters waited in the Quonset hut to see Sean's buck. Don had radioed in that they'd found it, saying only that it was "decent." When the truck backed in and the other hunters got their first glimpse of the snow-covered monarch, there was a stunned moment of silence.

I was there. I remember half-thinking that it wasn't real; that they'd attached some sort of fake antlers, even mule deer antlers, to a whitetail's head. The buck was incredibly rugged and beautiful, a representative of what the king of the woods looks like in the harshest of environments.

Then we all started to talk at once, congratulating Sean, before taking pictures. Later, he told me the story of his most memorable afternoon.

He'd tried Nebraska several times before booking a hunt with Northern Wilderness Outfitters in Alberta, Canada. He'd practiced shooting his bow all summer and fall. His family, caught up in his excitement, had bought cold-weather gear for him.

His in-laws, Jim and Maria Brown, bought him blizzard boots. His wife, Kristen, got him a Raven Wear sherpa-lined vest.

"I kind of thought it would be overkill; that it wouldn't be that cold in Alberta in late October," Sean said. "But the outfitter had told me to be ready for any weather condition."

It was already snowing when Don dropped him off, and while Sean screwed in his bow-holder, three does busted him. They snorted wildly.

"Well, there goes my afternoon," Sean thought. "Now every deer in the area knows I'm here!"

He'd just finished screwing in the hanger and had picked up his bow to hang it, when more does appeared. He stood still, not wanting to get caught again, holding his bow against his thigh. By the time the does left, he was completely covered with snow.

"The conditions were bad - 20 degrees and heavy snow - so bad that if I had been hunting close to home, I would have gotten down and gone home," Sean said. "But to the deer up there, that's nothing. They move no matter what the conditions."

Sean never did get to hang up his bow. Soon after the second group of does left, he got his first glimpse of the buck, which was browsing in some willows. When Sean started to move his bow into shooting position, he realized that it was frozen to his clothes.

As the buck continued moving and feeding, Sean freed the bow. When the deer came around some poplar trees, he drew - squinting against the snow to pick a spot -and fired. It was a 22-yard shot. The buck whirled and disappeared into the blizzard like a ghost.

"I used my binoculars to look for my arrow, but I use white fletching. And I couldn't find it," Sean said. "I sat down, said a prayer and slowly and quietly started packing up my stuff."

Later that night, after everyone had gone to bed, Sean could not resist going back for another glance at the buck.

"I just looked at it and felt its hide. It was almost like a whole different species of whitetail (than those back home in Pennsylvania)," Sean said. "I still couldn't get over it ... because I'm never the lucky guy in camp."

Read More Stories From RACK MagazineThe next day, Sean couldn't wait to call his coworkers. Prior to the hunt, as he talked excitedly about the trip, many of them had predicted that he'd shoot the first buck he saw.

"And that's what I did," he said. "I could not wait to tell them what it was."

Editor's Note: For more information about Northern Wilderness Outfitters, check out www.huntingalberta.com, or call United States booking agents at (215) 257-3233 or (215) 783-8653.

Hunter: Sean Coary
Compound Bow
Semi-Irregular
Official Score: 174 6/8"
Compound Score: 198 6/8"

-- Reprinted from the September 2006 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine

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