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The Hardcore Hunter

The Hardcore Hunter
After multiple trips to western Canada in pursuit of a great buck, Dave Sanders shot this dark-racked 10-pointer while hunting with Alberta Wilderness Guide Service. Photo courtesy of Dave Bzawy.

In more than 25 years of outfitting and guiding trophy whitetail hunts in our home province of Alberta, Canada, we've had many types of individuals hunt with our operation. Most you could characterize as your average deer hunter in search of an average Alberta buck. That average buck would probably sport the dark rack and good mass Alberta is known to produce. But some clients, we've found, are a little more dedicated and hardcore. Their interest lies in the career pursuit of the true "magnums" we have here.

The desire and dedication some of these hardcore hunters already possess or grow into has to be matched on our end with a program to consistently put them on large bucks year after year. Having a client harvest a huge trophy is of course a great thing — but the downside is that it can alter perceptions of what is realistic. You see, even after taking a great deer, many hunters continue to elevate their standards, demanding more and more out of their hunts.The basic component in our business that seems to have become one of the most valuable aspects to all of our modern lives is time. The time we put into preparation for deer season is staggering. The field work before hunters arrive in camp each fall has to be done to ensure mature bucks are located and stands are set, but almost more importantly, we have to have multiple options for our client group.

The surveillance cameras we use to assist in our scouting are great examples of modern technology we have adopted in recent years. This technology literally gives us a clearer picture of the bucks we're working with and when they're moving, but it also adds to a hunter's excitement. In our business of creating an overall quality experience for a client, the photos of a living, breathing 290-pound bruiser in a given area certainly helps achieve this goal.

In turn, we ask a hunter to arrive in camp with the dedication to wait for the chance to get a look at — and hopefully shoot — what he came for. One hunter found us and started hunting here six seasons ago, certainly could be called dedicated, but might also be considered one of the hardcore "whitetail nuts" we run into now and then. Dave Sanders has the patience to sit the required hours on stand through all types of the rigorous conditions, but he also arrives in camp each year with a positive attitude. This has allowed him to hunt through some very difficult conditions, and it has allowed him to pass up bucks many other hunters would be more than satisfied to take home.

In November 2009, the combination of a dedicated scouting program on our end and the "let 'em walk" attitude and patience on Dave's end paid off for him. It also included the rare opportunity to harvest a huge Alberta buck in big bush, a deer we had been able to capture multiple photos of. From initial scouting of multiple areas to narrowing down choices in area selection and then finally to actual stand placement, it all came together to produce not only a memorable hunt, but a quality opportunity on a great whitetail.


Dave had wanted to hunt Canada for many years. His formative deer- hunting years were spent reading many articles in this very magazine. But what really captured his attention was the body size of the bucks we have here in Alberta.

The same mystique a 300-pound buck had with me as a young hunter and guide also captured Sanders' interest enough to have him start researching a trip north to hunt the largest of North American bucks. Being from a hard-working family and certainly not one of privilege, Dave worked hard to save for his future hunts in Canada and satisfy the desire to hunt these big deer.

Dave started hunting Canada in 1995, when he ventured to Manitoba. His early hunts there yielded some excellent bucks. Even so, the hunter felt drawn to head farther west to my home province of Alberta, which is blessed with an abundance of quality whitetails and guided hunting opportunities. Alberta has hundreds of thousands of square miles of heavily forested land perfect for pushing whitetail bucks to the 5- to 7-year-old threshold.

While southeastern Alberta has a lot of open prairie land with numerous bottomlands and drainages, Dave decided he wanted to hunt the rich agriculture regions where rolling aspen parkland and mixed woods areas butt up to the heavy "bush" or "forest fringe" habitat.

He had long been drawn to Alberta, which is blessed with an abundance of quality whitetails and guided hunting opportunities. Dave knew Alberta is blessed with hundreds of thousands of square miles of heavily forested lands perfect for pushing bucks to the 5- to 7-year-old threshold.


He finally hunted Alberta in 2000 and 2001. Unfortunately, riding around for untold hours in a pickup truck, along with burning many daylight hours sitting in ground blinds overlooking empty fields, made him realize his trips north of the border were too often turning out to be a waste of hard-earned money.

Then, a chance meeting at the Edmonton airport with one of our long-time clients changed everything. Dave and this hunter didn't know each other, but as it turned out, they lived only about 40 miles apart in upstate New York. My client shared that he'd hunted with us for more than 10 years and had never failed to see a buck of at least 160 inches. Soon, my phone rang.


Immediately upon taking Dave's call, I knew it was not your average hunt inquiry. He was willing to put in the time for a great buck, and he was also willing to pass on those deer many other hunters would gladly shoot. Dave wanted to hunt all day in an area that could have deer movement throughout, not just a few minutes in the early morning or the last minutes of a long, gray November day. He also asked about accommodations and meals, to ensure he was comfortable after a long day spent in the field.

As the smaller camp the referring client had hunted was already booked for the following season, I suggested to Dave that he take an available 6-day hunt in the larger camp run by my partners, Tyler Shyry and Dean Bromberger. Dave decided to book that spot, but on one condition: the following year, regardless of what he saw or harvested on his first hunt with us, he wanted to book for 12 days with the hunter he had met at the airport in Edmonton the previous year.

On that first hunt in 2005, Dave showed his commitment, sitting all day and passing on some great bucks to get a chance at one even better. He rattled in a super 10-pointer he figured would go well into the 160s, but he decided to pass. Although he left without a deer, Dave was quite satisfied with his hunt and eager to return.

He really made a name for himself over the next few years in camp, showing his "stick to it" attitude through very tough conditions. He picked up the nickname "Ironman" after sitting through minus-40 degree wind chill temperatures day after day one season, waiting out the buck he'd come for. I had told Dave he would be sitting out in brutal conditions, and I gave him the option of a half-day sit or even to take a day off. He just turned to me while pouring a bowl of cereal and said, "Well, what can we do? We're in Canada, and I can't shoot a buck from the lodge!"

Year after year, the hunter continued to exhibit this commitment in his quest for the right Alberta buck. He saw and passed on many good ones, including another solid 10-pointer he rattled in in 2008. I knew his efforts in our province ultimately would be rewarded.


The 2009 rifle season came in with the same anticipation for us as for the hunters. Dave's hunt began with him sitting in a location with which he was familiar. He had sat a full six days in this spot the previous year, and even though he had not taken a buck, he knew it was a great location. He had caught glimpses of a huge buck and another possible shooter, but neither had offered a shot. Now he was back for another 12 days, and he knew how he wanted to spend them: sitting in wait, one on one with the deer.

This year though, Dave had a little extra incentive, in the form of some scouting camera photos of bucks in the area. One, in particular, was a mature 10-pointer with gargantuan mass, height and beams. The buck was also the heavy-bodied type Dave was waiting for. After the first few days of seeing multiple smaller bucks and does, the hunter went to his stand on Day 5 with the same confidence I'd seen from him over the years. While some hunters are burned out by Day 3, Dave seems to be just getting warmed up.

Our hunters often have heard us say to be on high alert during the midday hours. We have the data to prove mature buck activity can be high between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. To his credit, Dave has never doubted this, and on this day he would be rewarded for his faith.

At around 2 p.m., the hunter heard a grunting buck running a doe near his location. Although at this point Dave had no way of knowing if the buck was big, he immediately swung around on his tripod and got ready for a possible shot.

The doe had the buck trailing back and forth a couple of times before they swung past the stand again. Now Dave finally was able to get a better look. Upon spotting a huge frame, he gave out a loud shout to stop the buck; however, the rutting bruiser really had only one thing on his mind. Fortunately, Dave's second and louder shout stopped him right in a shooting lane we had cut the year before.

The hunter put the crosshairs where he needed to and squeezed the rifle's trigger. But at the sound of the shot, the buck bolted out of sight as if untouched.

Dave got on the radio to me to let me know what had just happened. I was well into a long scouting walk but told him I'd be there shortly.

After we'd found the mortally wounded animal, I turned to Dave and asked how it felt to have just harvested the buck we had named "Nathan." My client was almost speechless. As we talked and set up some video and still photos, I felt the true pride I have felt many times before when I know we've helped a hunter achieve his trophy goal. Dave had taken a great buck, and he'd done it while hunting in a quality way.

(Editor's Note: For details on hunting with Alberta Wilderness Guide Service, contact David Bzawy at 780/ 365-3730 or Or visit their Web site at )

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