May 21, 2022
By Dan Cole
Josh Corpe settled the crosshairs of his rifle on the shoulder of the giant buck standing 40 yards from him. After inhaling a deep breath, Josh began to slowly exhale, and he increased his finger pressure on the trigger. He wasn’t thinking of the past 11 days and the roller coaster ride of emotions the buck had caused. Nor was he thinking of how his family life had suddenly been flipped upside down by the appearance of the buck.
His only focus was his aiming point. He had waited a long time for this opportunity, and he was determined to make the very best of it. Now, the opportunity was right in front of him. It had been a long and interesting hunt for the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan resident. Although Josh had been hunting only a few days in 2020, his history with the giant buck began back in 2017.
While hunting along a stretch of Battle River bottoms on land owned by a relative, Josh built a mineral lick into his favorite hunting area. He believes that by fall he was seeing the positive results of the mineral lick.
“There was a young 6x5 that caught my attention. He seemed to have everything that I would like a big typical to grow into. He stayed around for the entire season, so I thought I had a future slam dunk,” says Josh.
On the Hunt
Josh decided to hunt for the buck in 2018, but as many trophy buck hunters have found out, mature whitetails don’t often come easy. “I took a vacation during the prime rut, and I hunted hard that week but never saw the buck. On Saturday I decided to attend a hockey game, and that decision cost me the deer. Once I had a chance to look at the trail camera pictures, I found the buck was in front of my camera at 11:02 a.m.,” says Josh.
The buck had blossomed into a great-looking non-typical with a drop tine growing from his right beam, and a long flyer growing from his left G2. With a decent spread and mass, the buck was certainly a looker.
Unfortunately for Josh, the buck provided only a couple of trail camera photos during the entire season and zero personal sightings. By now, Josh knew the drop-tined buck had a very good chance of growing into a true giant. With three consecutive years of mild winters, the Saskatchewan deer herd was once again strong. Going into the 2019 season, Josh decided he would hunt the drop-tine buck or nothing at all.
However, despite using all his vacation time, hunting dark to dark for too many days and using all the tricks in his bag, it wasn’t meant to be. The big buck had a few tricks of his own, and he pulled the worst one of them all: he disappeared for the entire year! No trail camera photos, no nighttime sightings, no road crossings. Nothing!
These disappearing acts that big bucks tend to pull off will leave hunters scratching their heads in bewilderment. It usually doesn’t take the buck being gone for very long before a hunter begins to believe the buck had been taken by another hunter. That starts a process of tapping into the local rumor mill, in hopes of either confirming or denying the buck’s death.
The other scenario is the possibility of the buck being a victim of winter kill or predation. Even during the mildest of winters, nature and predators still take their share of deer. For most hunters that are obsessed with a particular deer, these disappearing acts are a mental challenge. If the buck’s foray lasts too long, a hunter tends to move on to the next best thing: hunting a different buck that most often resides within a different area. If there isn’t any sign of the buck and no trail camera pictures being taken, there’s a good chance we’ll begin believing the deer is gone.
That’s what Josh was thinking during November of 2019. He thought the buck had disappeared without a trace, and it was time to move on. After an uneventful 2019 season, Josh was ready to make up for it during the 2020 season. But after countless hours of scouting and field watches, things didn’t look real promising. “I couldn’t find a mature buck for the life of me, so I decided on a whim that I would set up a camera in a different area about one and a half miles from where I had been hunting,” Josh recalls.
A couple of weeks later, while spotting and glassing mule deer with his dad, Josh had a chance to swap out the card from the trail camera. He stuck the card in his pocket and the two men continued searching for a decent mule deer. It wasn’t until late evening when Josh had a chance to examine the images on the trail camera card. He didn’t flip through too many photos on the card before an image made him catch his breath as it pulled him to the edge of his seat. It was the drop-tine buck!
Not only was the buck alive and well, but he was even bigger than Josh had ever imagined! Wide, tall and massive, the chocolate-colored antlers seemingly reached for the sky in a conglomeration of beauty, grace and symmetry. Add in a nine-plus-inch club drop tine, and the deer became the buck of dreams.
There was no mistaking that it was him! The picture was taken on November 4, which meant this was his first sighting since November 25, 2018. Josh still had a few concerns. His main dilemma was having to wait another week before he could hunt. Would the buck still be around? What if other hunters came across him? He would need to play it smart, not just with the deer, but also with friends and family. The fewer people that knew about the deer, the greater the chances he would stick around.
Although he couldn’t hunt until the opening day of firearms season on November 15, Josh still had things to do. He replaced the digital trail camera with a cellular camera, so he could keep tabs on the area without having to disturb it. Surprisingly, the first day the cell camera was out it captured a daylight photo of the buck.
Back in the Game
Two days before the season opened, Josh went in and placed his ground blind. The buck wasn’t seen that day, but he was photographed three different times that evening. The following day, which was the eve of the firearm season opener, the cattle in the area decided to spend a day milling around near the trail camera. The cattle rarely came to this part of the pasture. It was the last thing Josh wanted to see the day before his hunt!
Undeterred, Josh hunted dark to dark every day except for one when the wind was wrong. However, it wasn’t until 4:30 p.m. on November 20, when the buck walked in. “There was a lot of deer activity. I had a doe close to my blind, and about the time she walked away another doe walked in and replaced her. Finally, that doe walked away, and right after she left, I could hear antlers coming through the willows,” says Josh.
When the buck cleared the shooting lane 40 yards in front of the ground blind, Josh already had his gun shouldered and ready to shoot. Releasing the last bit of breath in his lungs and giving his finger one final, light curl, Josh simultaneously heard and felt the gun’s response. The buck took three leaps and expired.
The buck died before the echoes of the shot had faded over the Battle River cooleys. “I waited about five minutes before walking down to him,” says Josh. “I was excited! Boy, was I excited! Three years is a fair amount of history with a deer — especially when you consider all the 10-hour days you have invested, the discouragement when things don’t go right and that proverbial emotional roller-coaster that you have to ride. I shed a few tears in the blind, because the buck was gone. But I also shed some tears of elation. You get to feel it all in a very short time.
“I sat back for quite a while and just looked at him. I wanted to soak in as much as I could. I know this doesn’t happen twice very often, so I figured I would get all I could out of it. The first person I called was my wife, Amber. She had been through a lot of this with me and was my support through it all. I had only told four people about the deer, so they were the first ones I called after Amber,” says Josh. Scoresheets tell the size of a buck’s antlers, and the scoresheet on this buck is as stacked as any.
Although the antlers appear to have a 5x5 typical frame, the measurers pulling the tape considered whatappears as a right side G3 point to originate from the base of the G2, thus causing the long point to be tossed into the abnormal category. That also means the typical frame tapes out at 172 4/8 inches as a 4x4. Add in the 45 7/8 inches of abnormal points, and the total gross score climbs to 218 3/8 inches. There may be bigger-looking 218-inch deer out there, but there aren’t many prettier than this.
Mature whitetails rarely play by the book. They seemingly prefer to make up the rules as they go along in life. When these bruiser bucks pull their disappearing act, in most cases it pays to remain optimistic and believe they are still alive and huntable.
Just ask Josh Corpe about those disappearing whitetails. He has 218 inches of antler that prove those old bucks come back around.