Big Bucks North of the Border

By Scott Bestul

It's no secret that the country surrounding Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, holds some of the biggest whitetails in the world. This hotspot is where guide Terry Birkholz has rattled in many a hunter's buck of a lifetime. "There's an understanding among outfitters here," Birkholz says. "We don't say we're seeing a 'nice' deer unless he'll score at least 150 Boone and Crockett. And you don't get those bucks to come to the horns until the rut kicks in hard. Up here, that's from the 10th of November on."

The majority of Terry's clients are rifle hunters, so his tactics vary. "First, I almost always rattle from the ground," Birkholz says. "I wait for a day when the conditions are perfect; clear and cold, with almost no wind. And the snow has to be quiet enough to get close to the cover. If things aren't right, I keep my hunters on stand. But when I wake up and conditions are good, I get really motivated to go after it."

Unconfined by tree stands, Birkholz will devote the day to rattling from several spots. "I give it the whole program and really work a system," the veteran guide says. "I rely on aerial photos to remind me of thick bedding areas that will be right for rattling setups that day. I look at those maps and formulate a specific game plan that allows me to go from place to place and cover some ground, always approaching the setup areas from downwind."

Terry's convinced that rattling works best next to heavy cover or known bedding areas. "I like to get right in where deer think there'll be a fight," he stresses. "It's tough to pull a big buck across an open field or into some little jog of brush. If I can be on a little ridge with a view, it's best. You have to be very alert when rattling. Some deer come right in, but always watch for the circle. If I have a good, alert hunter, I may put him 50 or 60 yards downwind. It's also good to have a signal system in case the rattler sees the buck first."

Birkholz feels that loud, repeated rattling sequences dupe the biggest bucks. 'Most of my success has come when I really get after it; I rattle progressively harder in four or more sequences that may take half an hour. When conditions are right, you can hear my horns at least a half-mile away. Up here, the odd little skirmish doesn't get a deer excited. A big buck might have a doe with him, or he's had a hard night of running and he's tired. You have to throw something at him that's going to get his attention."

Freelance outdoor writer Scott Bestul resides in Minnesota and hunts nationwide each year.