By Lisa L. Price
Photos Courtesy of Tony Vanditto
New York deer hunter Tony Vanditto is into guns, especially deer rifles. But he couldn't have predicted that a gun purchase would lead him to whitetail hunting heaven.
It was word-of-mouth testimony that lured him westward and across the border. Tony was purchasing a custom-made 7mm Sisk rifle, made in Texas, when the gun's owner told him about an Alberta, Canada outfitter called Upper Edge.
"The guy said he'd hunted all over the world and that Upper Edge was the best outfitter he'd ever hunted with," Tony said. "It wasn't long before I was booking a hunt."
Tony bagged a big buck his first year hunting with Upper Edge. Then, during the next three hunting seasons in Alberta, he got three more bucks - each scoring more than 170!
Many hunters would have been satisfied with that first buck, not to mention the next three. But Tony knew he'd fallen into a honey hole so sweet that he couldn't stop going every year, especially when the outfitter told him about the trail-cam photographs he'd been getting of a big buck during the summer of 2007.
The buck sported a huge drop tine and 25 or 26 points.
"As the summer wore on, the buck was seen a couple times," Tony said.
"But the outfitter told me it was living in a huge area. 'You'd have to be really lucky to get that one,' he told me."
Tony realized that was true. Still, he couldn't shake the memory of those summertime photos.
He'd heard the tried-and-true saying, "You'll never shoot a big buck if you keep shooting little ones." Now he wanted to try a new version of that saying: "You'll never shoot a bigger buck if you shoot bucks as big as the ones you've already taken."
"When I got there, I told the outfitter I wanted to hunt that particular deer," Tony said. "But during the time I was there, a rumor started in the area that someone had poached it."
After hearing the rumor, Tony still elected to pass on two different bucks, both of which would have scored in the 170s. And just a few days remained in his hunt. As he sat in his stand, his .30-caliber Patriot McWorter custom rifle across his lap, a nugget of worry wedged in the folds of his brain.
"I was in the stand, kind of second-guessing myself, thinking that I'd blown it by passing up those bucks," Tony said. "And then, just as it was breaking light, I saw a doe and a buck - with a really big frame - slip into the slash about a quarter-mile from me.
"I waited and watched for hours, but I knew it wasn't coming out. It was just going to stay with that doe," he continued. "When the outfitter called to check on me at midday, we talked about doing a stalk and the best way to do it."
The temperature hovered at around zero degrees, and knee-deep snow blanketed the ground. The outfitter took a very roundabout approach, parking his truck miles away and sneaking in downwind and on foot to Tony's stand.
Together, they walked toward the huge area of slash and began working into it, close to the point where the buck and doe had disappeared.
"First we busted a doe, and she ran by us, then another doe busted and she got that buck up and out," Tony said. "I could see that big drop tine and I knew it was the big guy, but it was about 150 yards away and cranking pretty good.
"Nevertheless, I dropped down on one knee and took the shot," Tony added. "The buck was quartering when I fired, and it dropped on the spot."
Even with all the preview pictures, Tony was unprepared to see the actual buck.
"We couldn't believe it," he said. "It had 20 scoreable points and had broken off five others, including a crab claw it had in the pictures from summer.
"And its body size was really amazing," he added. "We called the other guides and hunters, and drove trucks as close as we could, but it was a hard job getting it out."
The buck's live weight was 366! The outfitter said it was the heaviest buck they'd ever recorded.
Hunter: Tony Vanditto
Official Score: 193 7/8"
-- Reprinted from the October 2009 issue of Buckmasters RACK Magazine.