Note: Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt has just returned from a weeklong hunt near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This is the final installment of a five-part blog series on his adventure. Check back each day this week for updates.
My decision to change stands today could have been a major mistake. On North Woods hunts like this one to Garden River Outfitters near Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan, it’s usually best to stick it out the entire trip on one stand. I don’t know how many guys I’ve hunted with over the years who have reported killing monster bucks on the final day of a 5-day, dark-to-dark adventure. After sitting in the same blind for three days and seeing lots of younger bucks, I decided to move. The main reason why I chose to switch spots, however, was due to the fact that we saw a lot of wolf tracks near my blind on the third day. The deer that came to the bait on that day were ultra-alert. Heisler told me this is not a good sign, as deer often vacate a bait site for several days after wolves move in.
This morning’s stand is a dandy. It is a homemade ladder stand that sits about 20 feet in the air with an Ameristep Outhouse blind perched atop it. Don’t let the "homemade" part fool you. This baby is bombproof. Heisler welded it together out of scaffolding frames and plate steel. It would take a bulldozer to knock this thing over. But the beauty of it is that Heisler made it portable (an axle and wheel assembly is attached to the bottom). In Saskatchewan, it is illegal to leave stands in throughout the year. They must be removed after the hunting season.
Daylight broke and the sun appeared for the first time in four days. It’s still very cold. Minus 4 this morning, in fact, as we made the 19-mile drive on the ATV to get to this spot. That’s not a typo. From the time we left the truck, loaded all of my gear on the ATV, and landed at the base of this stand, an hour and 10 minutes had gone by. Never before have I hunted this deep into a woods. Again, it’s freaky, but downright cool, all at the same time.
A doe fawn appeared at the bait at first light. Soon after, a small 6-pointer approached and ran off the fawn. Promising. The morning unfolded with a lot of the same action — young deer and small bucks making appearances every half-hour or so. Then, as the sun started slightly warming the landscape, all heck broke loose.
A cow of a doe approached the bait. She was very cautious, and kept stopping and looking over her shoulder. I knew what that meant. She had to be close to estrus, and there had to be some bigger bucks around. I was correct.
As the doe settled in to eat a few bites of alfalfa and barely grain, I heard a deep, guttural "braaaap" to the east. Within moments, I caught movement. Buck!
With his head low to the ground, the buck bird-dogged his way toward the stationary doe. I instinctively shouldered my binoculars and focused on his head. His rack was dark and wide, but not beyond his ears. A quick tally counted eight medium-sized points. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t a shooter. I was going to be content to see what happened next.
The doe stood still while the buck approached, but then darted to the west just when he put his nose to her tarsal gland. For the next 15 minutes, the buck chased the doe in circles around my stand. At one point, he cuffed a small yearling buck that tried to get between him and his object of desire. Although this doe was close to estrus, she wasn’t quite there yet. She eventually ambled off, and the buck — knowing his efforts were in vain — stayed nearby to grab a quick bite to eat. When he was done, the buck walked within 5 yards of my stand, stood on his hind legs and snapped off a white spruce branch. The branch now hung about 4 feet off the ground. He proceeded to chew it and rub his preorbital glands on the tip of the limb. He then pawed the ground furiously, sending dirt flying atop the newfallen snow. With the bare ground showing, he hovered over the scrape and emptied his bladder.
My heart was hammering so hard that I had to look away to gain my composure. I have never been this close to a mature whitetail buck as it was making a scrape.
The afternoon flew by quickly. I kept looking at that scrape and scanning the woods. I guess I was just hoping this buck’s older brother, father or uncle would come calling. It didn’t happen. I saw 10 more deer, including six bucks, but nothing that would cause me to even lift my gun’s scope into position.
However, the day was certainly memorable. As was the trip. When we all returned to camp that night, we learned that another one of our campmates had scored on a chunky North Woods deer. We celebrated with high-fives, handshakes and bawdy laughter. These are the days and the moments that make deer camp a special annual affair.
So, I came home empty-handed in my quest for some Saskatchewan antlers. Was the trip worth it? Absolutely. I think we all-too-often get caught up in the "gotta kill something to make it worthwhile" mantra that we forget what free-ranging deer hunting is all about: Reconnecting with the wild and testing your mettle as a hunter, individual and human being. And that’s why we look back on such hunts with such fondness as the years tick by.
Earlier posts from this series:
Part 1: Big Bucks North of the Border
Part 2: Welcome to the Whitetail Jungle
Part 3: "That Has Got to Be the Biggest Buck I’ve Ever Seen!"
Part 4: All-Day Hunts Can Really Test Your Mettle