By Tom Canavan
I’d seen ads in Buckmasters Magazine for Alberta Wilderness Guide Service and decided to give them a call. After a few conversations with Terry Birkholz and Dave Bzawy, I found myself booked for the last week of November 1990.
The long-awaited Sunday finally arrived and about 2:00 p.m. Dave picked us up at the hotel in Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city, and drove us to his camp.
I had intended to hunt with my .58 calibre muzzleloader but could not get it to group well in the sub-zero temperature. Art, a hunting buddy from Indiana, had insisted that I take along his .30-06 as a backup, so I decided to use it instead.
Monday morning, I hunted a couple of spots along a cut line where a few large bucks were seen. After lunch, Dave and I hit the bush to set up a rattling ambush that proved unsuccessful. The later afternoon hunt was spent back on the same cut line, with no sightings.
Tuesday morning was spent watching that same opening. By 11:30 a.m., I was at the pick-up point wanting a cup of hot coffee, a sandwich and the warmth of the truck cab. Maybe the fact that I had yet to see a deer while hunting made Tuesday seem even colder than Monday. When noon came around and Dave hadn’t shown, I figured his other hunter, Paul, must have scored. A few minutes later when the truck pulled up, my hunch was confirmed. One shot from Paul’s .300 Magnum had dropped a fine non-typical buck with 17 scoreable points that grossed in the 160s. After lunch, we decided I should spend the afternoon in a tree stand a few miles away.
The stand sat in the bush, mainly scrub willow, at the base of a ridge bordered by an alfalfa field. After 4 1/2 hours in this stand, closing light came without a single deer sighting. The country and habitat was too good for this lack of sightings. I knew if I persisted and could keep tuned in, and opportunity would present itself.
Tuesday night we studied aerial photographs of the area I had hunted that afternoon. A section along a lake looked like a really nice natural funnel. Dave figured the same thing and had already placed a stand in the woods between two alfalfa fields at the head of a long draw coming out along the lake.
I planned to hunt Wednesday morning in the same stand where I had spent the previous afternoon, and if nothing showed I would move to the stand along the lake.
Wednesday morning was again very cold. I hunted hard, putting together several of my best grunting and rattling sequences without catching so much as a glimpse of a deer.
At lunch we decided that I should change to the stand by the lake. As Dave and I started the half-mile walk to the stand, we immediately began seeing fresh signs from a very large buck, including several 8-10-inch diameter rubs and numerous scrapes. This heavy sign continued for the next 300 yards for the tree stand, a large alder tree had been rubbed from three feet off the ground up to almost five feet. I told Dave, “I want the Big Daddy that did that.”
He showed me the tree stand, wished me luck and left the way we had come. He wasn’t gone 20 minutes when a nice fat doe slipped in at 50 yards and quickly disappeared…my first Alberta deer in 3 1/2 days of hunting. Ten minutes later she reappeared, stretched and bedded down 40 yards from me. For more than three hours she laid there, keeping me on my toes. About 4:30 p.m., she got up, stretched and headed for the alfalfa. A half hour later I climbed out of the stand and headed for the road. While heading back to camp, just minutes after legal light, we spotted a monster buck with two does, not 45 yards off the road. He had at least a 24-inch spread and was almost surely a “Boonie” as Dave calls them. Things were looking better.
Thursday morning, I was on stand a half-hour earlier. When Dave dropped me off, I said, “Give me the antlers, I’m going to rattle this morning.” I told him I’d skip lunch today. I was going to spend the full day on the stand.
I laid the fresh deer hocks from Paul’s buck at the base of my tree. I hadn’t planned to rattle until 9:00 a.m., but by 8:15 everything looked so good I couldn’t take the pressure. I cut loose banging and grinding the antlers together and moments later, I spotted a buck coming through the clearing behind me. He wasn’t a shooter, but I used the opportunity to scope him and get the feel of the borrowed rifle.
He stood and studied the area for four to five minutes then eased back into the bush behind me. I waited ten minutes and rattled again, following up with a series of grunts. The same buck reappeared and ran to within 25 yards down-wind from me and then exited into the bush again.
After waiting about 20 minutes I turned toward the draw coming off the lake and slammed the antlers together hard, producing a loud bang, followed by grinding and ticking the tines together. I picked up the rifle and instantly spotted a large-bodied, heavy-racked buck coming out of the draw straight to me at 300 yards. He closed the gap to 250 yards and then I heard another deer coming in from my right. Trying to spot the second deer, I looked away from the draw. I couldn’t see the deer, so I looked back for the first one, but he was gone. Figuring he was in a low spot next to the woods, I picked up the antlers to coax him to move. He suddenly reappeared at 175 yards, walking broadside down the edge of the bush, looking toward me. When he was almost perfectly broadside to me, I raised the gun and he lowered his head to sniff the ground. I put the crosshairs on his left shoulder. When his nose touched the ground, I squeezed. He quickly disappeared in a thick blowdown. An easy 45-yard blood trail and the bull-shouldered Alberta buck was mine. I walked up, grabbed the heavy rack, dropped a knee and thanked the Lord for a perfect heart shot that ended another hunt of a lifetime.
This buck dressed at 235 pounds, sported eight points, and green-scored 163 7/8 inches gross. With 2 4/8 inches of deductions, he netted 161 3/8 inches.
Paul Morris of Minnesota, George Secor of New York and I, all Buckmasters members, harvested bucks that grossed in the 160s. That was a week I will not forget…….good friends, fantastic memories, and plans for next year’s hunt.