Sunrise was to be at 7:36 a.m., and it was 6:50 when I slid into the pop-up ground blind on Nov. 19, 2012. The mixed coniferous bush near Kenora, Ontario, was still draped in darkness, and I soon had settled in for a dawn-to-dusk hunt.
My partner Chris Savage and I had spent the last five weeks archery hunting several spots near Kenora, trying to pattern a quality deer. Even though our eight trail cameras and on-the-ground scouting in several other spots had shown some respectable whitetails, we were concentrating most of our time in this particular location. And for good reason: It was home to a giant buck we’d named “Kong.”
Now, despite the number of trail cameras we had out, we’d not yet snagged a photo of the monster. But we knew he was here.
No matter where you are, locating a big whitetail usually involves a lot of work. Through all our scouting efforts, as of early last October we had located one really good whitetail. Chris and I were fine-tuning our setups around that 170-class deer when a friend and co-worker, Jason, stumbled across something of even more interest.
Jason stepped into the office one day in early October and told me he had just seen “a really big buck” while cruising a local back road. In my experience, a lot of people that see an average 8-pointer on the hoof sometimes refer to a deer like this as “a really big buck,” so when Jason dropped that comment, I honestly didn’t pay much attention.
However, I did respond with “Hey, you didn’t get a picture of that deer, did ya?”
Surprisingly, when I asked, he answered, “Yeah, I did get one in fact.”
Jason then showed me the photo on his iPhone. It was the best deer picture I had seen in years. The buck was a giant! I immediately called Chris and emailed him the photo. We were excited and agreed that this deer could be in the 180-class. And so began the quest for Kong.
The area in which he’d photographed the buck consisted of a lot of private property, with few houses and mostly solid bush. Access was limited. We got as close as we could by getting permission from a local landowner friend to hunt his parcel, but we were still a mile from where we believed Kong’s “bedroom” was.
Chris and I spent a couple days walking the property, which consisted of solid bush, mixed deciduous and coniferous growth with an old skidder trail through the middle. The trail ended at a large 25-acre swamp.
There was also a ridge that ran from the swamp back to the main road, which was about 3/4 of a mile away. The swamp was the key. These are great barriers, funneling animal travel around them. We decided to set up about 125 yards from the swamp, which would force most animals cruising around the swamp to pass close to our location. There was still 125 yards of solid bush between the swamp and us, but in my experience, you’re better off giving a bit of distance from these large obstacles.
We set up with the ridge to the south of us and the skidder trail to our north. With this being such a low area, we knew scent control would be an issue. It seemed ideal for a “doublewide” pop-up blind. We set the blind only 20 yards to the main trail, still within good bow range.
In front of our stand was also a thick area of balsams, which appeared to be a bedding area. We tried to position ourselves in a high-traffic area, but close to a bedding location, so that when the rut kicked in, hopefully cruising bucks could easily locate does nearby.
While our strategy was simple, we believed it had a good chance of proving effective. We weren’t sure where Kong’s bedroom was, but we felt he would breed all available does close to him first, then eventually begin drifting farther and farther through all phases of the rut, eventually passing through our spot. And at that moment, hopefully one of us would be there.
Chris and I do most of our hunting from climber-style tree stands. However, this location was ideal for a two-man pop-up. We hunted it consistently for 5-6 weeks, hour by hour trading turns with the bow or video camera. During that span we saw some nice bucks and a lot of other deer but never laid eyes on Kong.
The pre-rut came and went, then the peak. Finally, it was dipping into the post-rut, with still no sightings or even trail camera photos of Kong. But as each phase of the rut passed, Chris and I remained positive that at some point Kong finally would show himself, and that one of us would get an opportunity.
I hunted solo on Nov. 19, as Chris was coming off his first night shift. The forecast was for a nice late-fall day, with a slightly below freezing morning giving way to an afternoon high of around 5 C (41 F).
Near 11:30 a.m., I was thinking of food; then I heard an animal approaching from my left. As I slid forward and peeked to the left, I saw a big buck approaching on the trail that would bring him directly across in front of me at 20 meters. I positioned myself for a shot as the buck appeared directly in range. When I bleated, he stopped.
The buck was a beauty we had never seen, even on trail camera. He sported a wide, fairly heavy rack with 9 or 10 points. One brow tine looked to be 6-8 inches long, the other maybe 3 inches. He was a cool-looking deer, but not Kong. I put my bow back on my knees and let him pass. The buck’s arrival buoyed my confidence; he had left his home area and showed up here, looking for a doe in heat. Maybe Kong would as well.
I saw no more deer until 1:20 p.m., when a doe and her fawn drifted in and began feeding around me. I was unsure if I had seen this particular pair earlier that morning. I kept still so as not to alarm them.
Maybe five minutes later, the doe’s head shot up, and she seemed to stare right at me. Then I realized she was looking past me, toward a thick hill behind my blind. I turned around and slowly and quietly pulled the window covering over to peek out. I could hear an animal walking. Then I spotted a lot of long tines parting the trees about 45 yards away. It was Kong!
He turned and walked parallel to me, cruising the adjacent ridge. He never stopped and quickly drifted out of sight, traveling west as he cruised for does. Then, as quickly as he’d arrived he was gone from sight, the sound of his hooves in the crusted snow diminishing to silence.
Should I snort wheeze? Should I grunt? What should I do? So many thoughts were swirling through my mind. But rather than call, I turned back to look out front.
The doe and her fawn went back to feeding. At that point I was willing to wait to see if Kong would come back on his own. I knew he was cruising for does, and I had one directly in front of me.
Again the doe’s head snapped up, staring directly down the trail the other buck had walked in on that morning. I heard approaching footsteps in the snow…and then they stopped.
I grasped my PSE and peered out to the left. There Kong stood, about 35 meters away, staring directly at the doe and fawn. He was a giant, and my heart immediately began pounding even harder than before. His rack was taller than any I had ever seen in the bush. He was beautiful.
I slid back and focused straight ahead, waiting and trying to compose myself. I heard his steps again in the crusty snow to my left, and in a moment I could see Kong begin to fill the front window of my blind. The doe and her fawn bolted to my right. He stopped directly in front of my blind, broadside at 20 meters—then suddenly bolted toward the doe.
Fortunately, Kong quickly skidded to a stop again, quartering away from me. The range was still 20 meters. I’ll always remember the hard, adrenaline-charged draw of my bow; I was so shaken I could barely pull it back. But once at full draw, I put my 20-meter pin behind his shoulder and let fly.
As my Lumenok went out of sight, the deer bolted, crashing out of sight into some thick tag alders and birch trees to my left. I sat in disbelief, knowing I had just shot the giant we had been after for so long!
I sat in shock for a few minutes, trying to connect the scraps of what had just happened into a coherent thought. Then I began texting a few key people. First, of course, was Chris. “I just killed Kong!!!!!” my text to him read.
Next to get a text was my wonderful and ever-patient wife Beth. The third text went to my dad. The latter was the only one who responded immediately, calling my phone—but I wanted to remain quiet in the blind, I did not take his a call. We texted back and forth for a couple of minutes, as I tried to describe this amazing hunt.
Then my phone began to vibrate. It was Chris, so I decided to pick up.
“Are you serious?” he asked, followed by, “Why didn’t you call me?” and finally, “WOW!”
Chris was soon en route with another good friend and avid outdoorsman, Jeff Gustafson. I sat until 2 p.m., giving Kong a full 30 minutes to expire, even though I was totally confident in my shot. While I sat there, enjoying the moment, I decided to call and share the moment with my wife. I knew I had taken a buck of a lifetime, and it was an amazing time for me.
At 2 p.m., I climbed out of our blind and located my arrow, which was covered in beautiful, bright, lung blood. I placed it in my quiver and began to follow the heavy blood trail. It was a short one; Kong lay in the thick tags and birch trees where I had lost sight of him. He’d traveled about 50 meters before expiring: as clean a kill as one could hope for.
I sat beside the deer, admiring his 17 points. All of his G-2 and G-3 tines split, and there was some junk off his brows. He was heavy, high, dark and beautiful. I sat in disbelief that after hunting for 23 years, I was lucky enough to take the buck of a lifetime. A lot of great hunters never get the opportunity I was given, and for that I am truly grateful.
Following the 60-day drying period, I had Kong officially scored. He grossed 197 2/8 inches and had an incredibly low 2 inches of side-to-side deductions on the typical frame, yielding a net score of 195 2/8. This not only makes the 195-inch minimum for B&C’s all-time record books, it ranks him No. 5 with a bow all-time in Ontario.