October 21, 2022
By Dan Cole
With a steady hand and a calm breath, Alberta hunter Austin Doan peered through his rifle scope as he readied himself for what likely would be a once-in-a- lifetime shot. According to his range-finder, the monster drop-tine buck he was hunting for was standing slightly over 300 yards away. So, he adjusted his aim to compensate for the distance and slowly pressured the rifl e’s trigger until the gun jumped in his hands and recoiled into his shoulder. It was a clean miss! Austin couldn’t believe he had missed. He thought he was solid and should have hit his target. Infinite questions of what caused the miss raced through his mind as he quickly reloaded a second shell. Within a second, he was locked and loaded with the standing buck once again in his crosshairs. For the second time, he adjusted for the distance and calmly pulled the trigger. Again, it was a clean miss!
Austin had found a great set of shed antlers near this area the previous May. He had acquired permission to hunt a new property, and while scouting last spring, he came across the sheds. According to the antlers, the deer was non-typical and would most likely have multiple drop-tines. “I wasn’t familiar with the deer, but being they were fresh and the size they were, I decided that would be the buck I would look for in the fall,” Austin explains. With a modest inside spread credit, the shed antlers will score in the mid-180s non-typical. Austin figured the deer was relatively young and still had some growing to do.
He next purchased several trail cameras and placed them throughout the square mile property. As the summer wore into fall, Austin still hadn’t gotten a trail camera picture of the buck. He was beginning to question whether the deer was even alive. The photo activity came from a particular quarter section where a handful of other mature bucks had taken up residence. On Oct. 27, things changed for the better when a trail camera finally snapped a picture of the drop-tine buck. It was not only a good feeling knowing that the deer was still there, but it was also a relief. For Austin, it was “target acquired.”
From that day forward, pictures of the drop-tine buck came regularly. All the photos came at night, but Austin noticed that each day was bringing the deer closer to making a daylight appearance. The buck had to cross a harvested canola field to reach the spruce grove he was currently calling home. Austin hoped to take advantage of this pattern. After taking an elk in late October, he could now focus on the drop-tine buck. He was looking forward to his upcoming 10-day vacation. Having Nov. 5-15 off from work, Austin didn’t waste any time hunting the buck. Instead, he pursued the buck morning and evening for the first five days. He had no sightings of the deer during his first 10 days of hunting. Then, on Nov. 11, Austin’s girlfriend asked him to help her get a deer. That afternoon, she took her first buck, a chunky 145-class 5x5. With that, Austin was back to hunting the drop-tine buck.
On the morning of Nov. 12, Austin headed back to his ground blind overlooking the canola field and spruce grove where he hoped to encounter the drop-tine buck. Instead, around 11:00 a.m., a massive-antlered buck entered the fi eld in front of Austin. Its enormous brow-tines made Austin click his rifle safety off three different times.
“That buck was very tempting. His brow points just about convinced me to shoot. After he finally walked out of sight, I went to town to run some errands and kicked myself in the butt the entire time,” Austin recounts. The hunter was back in his blind by 3:00 p.m., and it wasn’t long before deer started entering the field. There were several does and fawns in the overgrown canola fi eld. Austin spotted a couple of pestering yearling bucks chasing the does around.
While Austin was focused on a doe, a flash of movement caught his eye; he watched as a mature buck stepped out of the spruce grove some 500 yards away and began walking in the direction of the blind. His binoculars only confirmed what he thought he was looking at, the drop-tine buck! This moment was the first time Austin had seen the deer in person. The sight of the tremendous buck made Austin catch his breath. Its size demanded a second look to ensure the first look was correct. The buck looked enormous through the binoculars.
He watched as the big buck started walking towards the doe. Austin forced himself to look at the buck’s body, not its antlers, which he found hard to do. “It was a very intense few minutes. One, it was getting late, and I was running out of shooting light. The buck still had a long way to go before he was in range for a shot,” Austin says. As the buck worked his way closer to the does, he was also getting closer to the hunting blind. So, it wasn’t long before Austin took his chance on the buck. “I was perfectly confident at 300 yards, and I read my rangefinder a little over that, so I thought I had a dead deer. I about fell over when I saw that I had missed it. And then missing again with the second shot. At that point, it was hard to stay calm. I could literally hear and feel my heart beating,” Austin remembers.
Fighting the panic creeping in, he knew he had to stay as calm as possible. Deciding to range the deer before sending another round, he found the reason for the two previous missed shots; the distance was 220 yards, not 320 yards as he thought he had read previously on the rangefinder. Adjusting his aim for the correct distance, Austin forced himself through the paces he had practiced so many times: aim, breath, slow squeeze.
Then, again, he was surprised when the rifle went off. This time, before recovering from the recoil, he heard the tell-tale “thwomp” of a direct hit. Austin watched as the great buck flinched from the impact, then turned and ran directly away from the blind. The buck appeared to run over the top of a knoll and then disappeared.
“If I had been calm before the shot, I certainly wasn’t afterward,” Austin laughs. “I tried sitting but that lasted for about five minutes; my body was shaking so bad I couldn’t sit still. So, finally, I decided to walk out to my pickup and call my uncle in Saskatchewan.” Austin then called his girlfriend and told her the news. “I had a lot of mixed emotions at this point,” the hunter admits. “I wanted to tell everyone, but I didn’t have the deer yet. So, I drove over to my grandparent’s place to get my grandpa for help. He started me hunting, so I wanted him to be a part of this.”
Following his grandpa’s advice, Austin walked in from the field approach instead of driving. If the deer was still alive, this might keep him from spooking to parts unknown. Once they reached the blind, it took Austin only a minute or two to pick up the tracks of the big buck. Their headlamps made reading the running tracks relatively easy. After reaching the peak of the slight rise in the field, their headlamps reflected off something shiny at the end of the light rays. As they got closer, the colossal antlers of the drop-tine buck came into view.
“I started whooping and hollering, and then I grabbed Grandpa and gave him a big old hug,” Austin remembers. “I caught him a little off guard because he’s not into hugging. But I didn’t let go right away either; I made sure I got my time worth. It was a fun moment and pretty special as well.”
After taking field photos, the two loaded the buck into Austin’s pickup and drove to town. “I had called a few people, and the word was getting out. So, a few people stopped over that night. On Sunday, we went for a tour so everyone could see the deer. There’s a lot of appreciation around here for big deer, and I didn’t mind sharing,” says the hunter.
The great buck had grown considerably since its last set of antlers, adding more than 30 inches of antler over the rack he carried the year before. Preliminary scores put the antlers in the range of 216 gross inches with a 175-inch 4x4 frame. Enormous, by any standard. The four immense drop-tines are just icing on the antler cake. There are many similarities between the shed antlers and the antlers from the killed buck.
On the left antler, the G-2 flyer and the split at the end of the beam are the same. The drop-tine and inside point carried over into the next year on the right antler. The antlers are wide, tall and massive. They also have exceptional chocolate colors.
After taking a drop-tined dream buck last season, what would it take to get Austin Doan’s attention for the 2022 season? “That brow-tine buck was pretty special. I wouldn’t mind running into him again,” says Austin. Whatever the following seasons have in store for Austin is yet to be known, but I’ll bet whatever it is, he will have a fresh set of batteries in his rangefinder!