During fall 2017, a young 7x7 whitetail buck caught my attention along the Battle River here in west-central Saskatchewan. I knew then that if he survived, he could become something special.
From spring through most of fall ’18 I found no further sign of this buck, which I’d nicknamed “The Seven.” Assuming the worst but still hoping for the best, I added several scouting cameras to his area.
Finally, in late November he showed up for a few pictures. The photos weren’t great for judging his rack, but it was apparent he’d exploded from the previous year, while still having a 7x7 typical frame. I reviewed the photos with a few friends and decided the buck would get a pass that year. I already had my eye on a larger, more mature buck that had been in the same spot a few weeks prior.
I set out to hunt a pop-up blind, only to find it had been destroyed by the wind. I phoned my friend Adam to see if I could borrow his blind, and he agreed to let me take it when he returned home. So while awaiting my chance to borrow that blind, over the next few days I hunted in search of the other buck.
In the process, I came across yet another one. As I pulled over in my vehicle to look at what I at first thought was a massive mule deer, my binoculars revealed it to be a whitetail. The buck was on public land I could legally hunt, so I frantically passed the video camera to my girlfriend, Sarah, and said, “I’m taking this deer.” I got settled on a nearby fencepost while he looked back over his rump at me. Sarah gave me the go-ahead to shoot, but I had to wait for him to square up.
As the buck turned, I thought he might be The Seven. This was a few miles from where I’d photographed him at my bait, but our bucks often range widely. I hesitated as the buck stood there for a moment, then stepped into the willows and was gone.
I was almost positive that deer had been The Seven, but in person he was a lot more impressive than the trail photos had suggested. Faced with that quick call, I’d decided to trust the photos over my field judgment, fearful of the dreaded “ground shrinkage.”
Did I just make a huge mistake? I asked myself as I tried to watch the video playback. It wasn’t zoomed in, so the adrenaline-fueled image of my crosshairs holding steady on his shoulder is all I could dwell on. All night I thought about where I might find him the next day, and I continued to ask myself if I’d take the shot if given another one.
The following morning, after a sleepless night of regretting maybe the worst hunting decision I’ve ever made, I set out to where I thought he might be — and there was a buck, only two miles from where we’d seen him. I raised the binoculars and immediately knew it was him. I also knew that I was going to shoot him if I could. But I couldn’t get on him before he bolted into the heavy cover of the river willows.
That evening Adam had the blind ready for me to borrow, and I turned my attention back to the mature non-typical. Knowing either buck could potentially make an appearance. I sat for six days from dark to dark . . . and saw not a single deer.
Finally, with just one hour of light left on the seventh day, I decided to go for a drive. As I entered a nearby public pasture, there were several trucks parked at the gate. That told me one of my target deer must have been spotted. I later came to find out that the non-typical had been shot, and the trucks belonged to hunters who were trailing him. So I turned my attention back to The Seven, which had moved a few miles away from my bait.
On the last day of the season, I saw him shortly after first light. Unfortunately, he was standing too close to a yard. Unable to shoot, I watched him run into trees near the yard. The last day of hunting ended early, as I had to head home to pick up my daughter, Brooklynn.
Finding The Seven’s sheds became a priority that winter. Finally, in late February he dropped. After logging over 130 miles on foot, I finally matched up the giant set, thanks to the help of my friend Nick.
In 2019 I scouted, set up cameras and scouted some more from June to October. In that span I saw him only one time; that was in early June, and he was already carrying a full-framed rack.
In early October the cattle finally were removed from the public pasture, and I was able to set up five cameras and two baits, hoping to locate and pattern The Seven. I also set up a stand where I believed I had the best chance.
After two days I couldn’t wait any more and went to check the cameras. As I flipped through dozens of videos, the anticipation of seeing what the buck could possibly have become grew ever greater.
Then, finally, there he was on camera both nights. I could tell The Seven lived up to his name and more. Daytime activity was scarce, and even then only on the edge of his bedding bush (woods) the first couple days. Although my bow blind was only a few hundred yards from it, he wouldn’t come near.
I then sat for him 18 days in a row, six hours or more per day. In the process, I compacted three new seat cushions down to pancakes. Some days I’d sit in the blind, others on the field edge, and if the wind was just right, near the bush in which I knew he often bedded. Yet the cagey buck still busted me twice during the first couple weeks, using what had to be his sixth sense. Although I’d carefully covered all my bases, he somehow knew I was there.
I was determined to get The Seven with my bow — but then, a shoulder injury with only a week of primitive-weapons season remaining left me unable to draw it, so I switched to my muzzleloader.
As the weather started to warm again after a perfectly timed cold snap began fading away, I realized my best chance of seeing The Seven had passed. He’d vanished for six days, and as I was starting to catch a cold, my desire to keep sitting for him was dropping each day. By the final morning of the season, all my energy and hopes were gone.
I decided to change the plan. Checking the camera the morning of Oct. 31, I found The Seven had been back the previous two nights.
I phoned my dad to ask him what his plans were for the day. He said he had to go to town to pick up tractor parts.
“Perfect,” I said. “Grab your orange and come help me get this deer. I think I know where he’s sleeping.”
Dad arrived at my house around noon, and we set out to execute my less-than-perfect plan.
“We’ll follow the edge of the ridge to a small clump of trees, where we’ll split up,” I explained. “You follow the river bend and get in behind the backside of the bed bush.”
Dad and I approached the small bush, then split up. Both of us had nasty coughs, so I divided the pack of extra-strength cough lozenges in an attempt to help us stay quiet for at least the next few minutes.
As I started to walk up the hill, the wind that previously had been steady suddenly seemed marginal. If I wanted to stay hidden from the big deer’s nose, I could no longer stay out of sight from where I felt he was bedded.
Dad by now was too far away for me to hail down to change the plan, so I decided to head up the ridge as far as the wind would allow me to remain undetected. I stayed on the backside of the hill near the top, keeping just out of sight of the bed bush but able to see Dad’s glowing suit. I knew the only chance I had was to be patient and hope The Seven would stay bedded until he felt he absolutely had to leave.
Dad made his way between the embankment and the backside of the bush. Figuring The Seven by that point must have his focus directed on my partner, I crouched and quickly eased over the crest of the hill, got to the first small patch of willows below it and sat down. I immediately realized that I wasn’t as close to the action as I wanted to be, but it would have to do.
Before Dad even could step into the bush, there the buck was, coming on a dead run straight toward me. Buck fever took over. I raised the binoculars but dropped them in an attempt to confirm it was The Seven. I tried again but couldn’t hold them steady enough to be certain which deer it was — but it had to be him.
By now the buck was running parallel to me, so I raised the gun and waited for him to clear the bush for a broadside shot. I placed the crosshairs in front of him, but then he disappeared behind the willows. I stood up and placed the crosshairs in front of his shoulder, but before I could shoot he disappeared again behind the willows.
I quickly gained higher ground and locked onto The Seven again. He was still on the run — and if he made it around the corner, he’d be gone. I raised the gun once more, placed the crosshairs a deer length ahead of him and squeezed the trigger just as he passed behind more willows.
I heard a pop, and the deer slowed slightly before running out of sight. My body was shaky; at that moment, I thought I’d soon be walking up to possibly the biggest whitetail I’d ever kill. But when I found his tracks and followed them back toward where he’d been when I’d shot, there was no blood. Not a drop.
Dad made his way over to me, and I explained the pop and the slowdown. But Dad told me he thought it had sounded like a miss.
I walked 200 yards back and forth on The Seven’s trail but could find nothing. I went from vibrating with excitement to complete disappointment. But before heading back to the truck, I took one final look farther back on the trail than where I’d remembered him being when I took the shot . . . and found a tiny piece of bloody bone. He was hit!
Dad and I followed the tracks farther this time before finally finding blood. After nearly a mile of trailing, we got to the last bush before the deer would have to cross another small opening. I asked Dad to keep following the trail while I headed around the bush to a small hill and waited.
As the minutes passed, I expected to see Dad step out of the bush at any second, proving I’d reached the opening too late. But then The Seven emerged from the dark bush that camouflaged his chocolate rack and started running straight at me again. I stepped into a shooting position and squeezed off the final shot that brought him down.
The relief I felt at that moment was unexplainable. The buck had fallen only a few yards short of a willow thicket; with the tall grass, minimal snow and rainy conditions, he’d have easily disappeared.
I started walking toward him . . . only to see him get up and start going again. He wasn’t moving too quickly, but he was running. I grabbed a quick reload pack from my gun case but spilled most of the powder on the ground. I dropped the tube and reached for another, this one with pellets instead of loose powder. I shook out the powder from my barrel and dropped in the pellets. In that moment reloading seemed impossible, due to the combination of my heart beating faster than ever and my mind racing.
Then, before I could finish, I glanced over and saw The Seven lying on the edge of the bush. He was down for good.
As I approached this once-in-a-million-lifetimes deer, my voice was cracking, my hands were shaking, and my legs felt numb. I had happy tears in my eyes, and my blood was pumping so hard I could feel it in my face.
After my regret at passing The Seven the year before, the miles of walking for his sheds, the countless hours of scouting, 140 hours in the stand and then the rollercoaster of emotions I’d just felt, I was blessed to finally put my hands on a world-class giant. I’ve been lucky to hunt some other incredible animals in my life, but none means more to me than The Seven. It was great to finally write the ending to a story I’d only hoped was destined to go this way.
I must offer special thanks to Dad for all his help, to Adam for encouraging me not to throw in the towel, to Sarah for putting up with my absence, to Brooklynn for always cheering for me to get the “world record,” and to my boss, Tim, for giving me so much time off work to hunt the deer. Thanks also go to TNA Tannery and Knapton Studios for the materials I used to mount the great buck at my business, Battle River Taxidermy.