Returning To Alberta
In an ideal world I never would have quit hunting Canada for whitetails, especially with my long-time friend Ron Nemetchek and his North River Outfitting. Simply to quit hunting Alberta had been a matter of economics, not the cost of the hunt, but the cost of time. As a producer of outdoor television shows I could go to Canada, hunt for a week, and, hopefully produce one really interesting episode. Or, I could during those same nine days hunt two different destinations in the States, produce two shows complete with numerous encounters and likely show the taking of two mature bucks. Still… I really missed hunting Canadian whitetails.
Even though I was no longer regularly hunting with Ron, he and his wife Maria and I visited every opportunity we had, especially during the Dallas Safari Club’s annual outdoor expositions. We talked about whitetails he had seen, bucks his hunters had taken, and the fun we used to have hunting together. While in deep conversation at the 2018 DSC gathering, the urge to return to hunt with Ron and Maria became overwhelming. I dearly missed spending hunting camp time with my old friends and the mystique and thrill of knowing quite likely the whitetail buck of all whitetail bucks could any moment step out of the snow and ice of the “Canadian Bush.” Before leaving their booth I signed an agreement with North River Outfitting (www. northriveroutfitting.com) to hunt the last week of the 2018 season which ends thirty minutes after official sundown on November 30th.
During the spring and early summer, I emailed regularly back and forth with Maria making certain she had all my license information.
My return to the North River Outfitting camp near Athabasca, Alberta was great fun. The cameraman for my “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” and I arrived in camp just in time to make certain my Ruger M77 FTW/SAAM 6.5 Creedmoor topped with a Trijicon Accupoint scope was still shooting Hornady 142-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter ammo exactly where it had before I left Texas. It was! There could be no blaming my rifle/ammo/scope combination if I failed to connect.
That night Ron suggested I hunt near camp, an area where he and his daughter Manuela, who was to be my guide, had been seeing a lot of bucks and some extremely big antlered bucks for which Alberta is famous.
Manuela dropped me off at blind I had hunted years ago, a comfortable, enclosed shooting house complete with propane heater, well before first light. That first morning was fantastic in terms of seeing bucks. I quit counting at twelve! I commented to my cameraman as we prepared to eat our noon-time sandwiches, “I’ve gone entire Canadian hunts and have not see as many bucks as we have already seen this morning!” All but one of the bucks was a yearling. The exception was a two-year old, very tall long-tined ten-point, although a bit narrow.
By the time Manuela picked us up that evening after dark we had seen twenty-two bucks. Too, we had seen numerous does and fawn. Interestingly, most of the fawns we saw were bucks!
The same held true the following three days, lots of bucks, but all young. Truth be known I loved seeing and watching those young bucks. But, I felt myself dreaming my life away, wishing to see what several of them would look like in three and possibly four years.
“Want you to hunt a bit farther north tomorrow.” Said Ron. “It’s a field where we have taken some really good bucks in the past, near the Provincial Forest. We have also shot quite a few wolves from that stand. So you’ll want to be vigil for them as well.” Sounded like a great idea to me, possibly big whitetails and perhaps a chance at a wolf. I have long wanted a chance at a wolf!
The weather turned truly cold that predawn morning and brought with it intermittent snowfall. Once again I watched numerous bucks that day, mostly yearlings, but then right after sun down, a monstrous bodied eight-point strode across the field I watched. Anywhere other than Alberta I would have shot that buck, well that and when I raised my rifle the cameraman quickly said, “We’re out of filming light!”
In the waning moments of legal shooting time another monster bodied buck stepped out, about three hundred yards away. This one had the rack to match his body! I looked at the time on my phone, legal shooting time remained. I glanced at the cameraman, he negatively shook his head. Then the buck was gone….
“Never hunting whitetails from Mexico to northern Canada have I seen so many yearling and two-year-old bucks!”
The same basic scenario occurred again and again. Many, many young bucks from first light till near end of legal shooting time, but no filming light. It was then the big bucks would step out. I relayed my sightings to Ron each evening. I told him several times, “Never hunting whitetails from Mexico to northern Canada have I seen so many yearling and two-year-old bucks! The next three or four years for certain will be some of the best years in recent history to hunt Alberta for big whitetails!” Ron and fellow hunters in camp all smiled and nodded in agreement.
“Tomorrow is the last day of the season. While you’ve hunted farther north, I’ve been scouting and have seen at least three mature bucks where you first hunted, at near high noon. How about we put you back in that stand again tomorrow morning?” Stated Manuela. Sounded like an excellent idea to me.
First light we had three young bucks downwind within less than a hundred yards of the stand. Both cameraman and I had religiously been spraying down with Texas Raised Hunting Products’ (TRHP — www.texasraisedhuntingproducts.com) “Scent Guardian”, and too, each day I had placed TRHP’s “Hunter’s Creed Buck Lure” and “Inflamed Doe Estrous” canisters upwind of where I sat. I strongly suspect those were responsible in part for my seeing the many bucks we did.
At nearly straight up noon, a big-bodied buck stepped out of the brush 300 yards distant. He was mature, there was no doubt, a dark antlered eightpoint. I immediately put down my binocular and pointed the Ruger in the deer’s direction. He strode into the field. I instructed the cameraman to get on the deer. “Got ‘em!” said he. I followed the buck through the Trijicon. He was coming in our direction. Then suddenly he stopped, turned and started walking away. I waited for him to quarter, so I could drive the Hornady bullet through his vitals, angled toward the opposite shoulder. At the shot the buck ran into the bush.
A few minutes later I picked up a broad blood trail, followed it down into a ravine and up the other side, slipping and falling. Then there he was; a handsome mature Canadian whitetail. I was thrilled!
After taking care of business the cameraman called Manuela. A short time later she was there to help to drag the buck to where we could load it on a quad for the trip back to camp.
That night there was a mild celebration. Toward night’s end, “Next year you’re coming to hunt with us again! But NO CAMERA! Time for you to shoot one of those last moment bucks, you saw this year, that will be ever bigger next year! Next year… remember no camera! If you show up with a cameraman, I’m sending you right back to Texas!” I did not argue!
Fast forward to last week of November 2019. I arrived in camp just in time to shoot my .300 Win Mag Ruger M77 African topped with an Trijicon Accupoint scope, shooting Hornady’s 200-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter ammo. The bullet hit exactly where I aimed at 100-yards. Before leaving Texas I had shot regularly out to 500 yards. I knew what scope adjustments I had to make if I could not get closer.
Ron and I spent some time driving back roads checking on deer movement. We saw numerous young and “almost bucks”, meaning two-year-olds in the 150’s B&C point range. We drove, sat and watched, and occasionally I sat in blinds, especially during mid-day. I hunted every possible moment of the day.
We did find two bucks that were really interesting and big! One was an extremely massive, tall-tined and wide nine point that would have likely grossed in the high 170’s. The other was a big ten point that probably would have gone 180 B&C, gross. That was the one I raised my Ruger on, only to have Ron warn, “If you shoot that one, your hunt will be finished. Remember we’re looking for one that will go 200 or better! It’s time you shot a big Canadian whitetail.” I could scarcely believe his words, but then that is exactly what I had agreed to my first night in camp. Go extremely big or go home without a buck.”
It came down to the last day. The temperature had finally started turning “cooler” according to Canadian standards. Ron and I went for a short drive but saw only a small herd of mule deer. “How about my going back to one of the stands behind camp. Got a feeling!” I suggested to Ron. He agreed. A few moments later he dropped me off, with the possibility of picking me up for one last drive late that afternoon in hopes of spotting a buck at long distance and then stalking to within shooting range. The vehicle was merely a way to cover large areas, no hunting actually occurred from it.
No sooner had I crawled into the blind, I saw a really good ten-point with a long flyer on one of this back tines. Had I been hunting with a cameraman, I would likely have shot that buck. But thankfully this time I was not responsible for making certain we got a show, and I loved it! An hour later another ten-point buck walked to exactly where I had placed a couple of TRHP’s “Inflamed Doe Estrous” canisters.
During a slow deer period, using my Burnham Brothers Game Calls hand blown Jack Rabbit in Distress call I enticed a red fox to within less than fifteen steps, then, also called in three coyotes. I never go hunting without taking one of these calls with me!
About thirty minutes after I called in predators, I started again seeing deer; young bucks, does and fawns. They approached directly downwind. Having sprayed down with TRHP “Scent Guardian”, they had no idea I was anywhere in the country!
As the sun was about to set a really nice ten-point, likely a two-year old walked to where I had put out the “Inflamed Doe Estrous”. Seven young bucks stood around that area. I glanced at my phone. Fifteen minutes of the 2019 hunting season remained.
I reflected upon my hunt, truly successful in every way other than shooting a deer. I had had opportunities, but had chosen not to shoot, hoping I would be able to encounter those bucks once again in 2020.
I spotted movement coming out of the brush to my right. A huge bodied buck with what looked like a solid, tall wall of tines! I glanced at the time. Ten minutes of legal shooting time remained. From the moment I saw the buck, years of hunting and wildlife biologist experience told me the buck’s antlers should surpass 200 B&C points.
Up came the rifle as the buck walked into the field. My intentions were to wait until he was at least 150 yards from any brush line before shooting. That way if I did not put him down on the first shot, there would be space for a follow-up shot before he got into the bush.
After that first look, I no longer looked at antlers. I tracked him through the scope, crosshairs and small green Tridium point of light on the buck’s shoulder. He stopped just shy and downwind of the “Inflamed Doe Estrus” canister. Safety off, crosshairs on the buck’s shoulder, I gently pulled the trigger. I saw the big buck react and start to run the way he was faced. Without taking my eyes off of the buck, I bolted in a fresh round. Just as I was about to pull the trigger, the buck went down in less than twenty steps. I kept crosshairs on him, just in case there was any movement.
Three minutes later I crawled out of my stand and walked the 150 yards to where he lay. The closer I got the larger he grew in body and antlers. Kneeling at his side, I could not believe the mass and length of his typical points, including three over well over 10-inches long approaching thirteen, plus five non-typical points, which looked like would total 30 inches. Inside spread was a bit over 15-inches. The buck at my feet reminded me of the narrow, massive 10-point two-year old I had passed the year before. I looked at his jaw teeth to age him. His teeth were classic of a three-year old!
I was thrilled, and, humbled beyond belief. At my feet lay undoubtedly the largest, real, wild whitetail I had ever taken. I felt pretty certain he should net well over 200 B&C points easily making the Boone & Crockett record book as a non-typical!
Normally, I’m not much on score but this one was different. I was determined if this buck’s antlers exceeded the minimum score, to honor the deer I would make certain to enter him “in the book”!
Back at camp, I spent most of night admiring my buck and telling and re-telling the story of my hunt. I got up several times during the night, braved the cold, to make certain what had happened was not a dream! First light we dragged my buck out of the hanging shed and started again taking photos to augment those we had taken the night before. Even then I could scarcely believe how big my buck was of antler and body.
My flight out of Edmonton was not out until the 2nd of December. We had ample time for photography and then take proper care of the meat, which I donated to a local family, and then too, take care of the cape as well as boiling and totally cleaning the skull for the trip home to Texas and then on to Double Nickle Taxidermy (www. doublenickletaxidermy.com) near New Braunfels. It was not until it was nearly time for me to leave that Ron and I gross-scored my buck’s antlers. The tally came to a bit over 217 points. We estimated he would likely net 207 non-typical. Ninety days later I had Jerry M. Baker officially score the antlers. He gross scored 217 and “change” and netted 207 2/8, easily making the all-time Boone & Crockett Record Book.
I had truly hoped to return to Alberta with North River Outfitting in late November 2020. Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic had the Canadian border closed. So, I am looking to 2021. Earlier I mentioned Dallas Safari Club (www.biggame.org). At their 2021 Annual Expo, North River Outfitting has donated a one-on-one guided hunt for the last week of the whitetail season. Based on the number of young bucks I saw during 2018 and 2019, there should be many outstandingly antlered bucks. The hunt should also be available to be bid upon, on-line. Good Lord willing I will be in camp when the buyer arrives. I can hardly wait to return to Alberta!
By Larry Weishuhn
© All Photos: Larry Weishuhn Outdoors Photo