September 22, 2010
By Nigel Read
Alex MacCulloch did what all good bowhunters are supposed to do after he saw antlers: He concentrated on the shot. Later, after the shot, he told his friends that he thought the buck had carried at least 10 points. In truth, Alex's new province record was a 23-point monster!
By Nigel Read
Booked solid with physiotherapy appointments on Nov. 20, 2008, Alex MacCulloch had not planned to hunt that day. Even after a couple of clients phoned to cancel in the late afternoon, he didn't think he had enough time to make a hunt worthwhile. He figured that if he left the office right away that he still wouldn't get to his tree stand of choice until well after 4 p.m., and sunset was at 4:46.
Alex knew his buck was big, but never in his wildest dreams did he think the wide rack would tally up 213 2/8 non-typical B&C points! This was good enough to make the main-frame 7x6 megabuck the largest non-typical whitetail ever taken by bow in Ontario!
Barb, his receptionist, encouraged him to go anyway. "You might as well go," she said.
"What's the point of sitting around the office for the next couple of hours?"
Alex relented. Instead of going to his stand of choice, however, he decided to go to a stand that was much closer. This stand was only a few miles from his home just east of Toronto and very close to a major road. Minutes later, as he walked across 300 yards of cut soybeans, he kept thinking about the stand that he'd rather be going to, and the fact that two close friends, John "Logie" Logeman and Brian Lavis, were hunting close to that area.
In his younger days, Alex had hunted whitetails with a rifle. But due to a variety of reasons, he had not hunted deer for about 25 years. Then, on a whim, he'd taken up archery three years earlier in 2006. Soon after that John and Brian successfully encouraged the fledgling archer to take up deer hunting again. They were excellent teachers!
ENJOY THE AFTERNOON, GET SOME VENISON
Now, with the 2008 season more than half over, Alex's main goal was to put some venison in the freezer. With this in mind, he planned to take the first adult deer -- either buck or doe -- that came his way. This plan hadn't kept him from showering with Dead Down Wind and taking all of his usual scent-control measures. As he approached his stand, he sprayed the area with Hot Stuff estrous scent.
To Alex, being in the woods was always better than being at the office. But as he settled into his stand a couple of minutes before 4 p.m., he didn't feel very optimistic about his chances for the evening. For one thing, he hadn't seen any fresh sign on his way to the stand. Although this had never been an area of heavy deer activity, the site had been baited regularly with apples since before the season opened, but it was bare today.
Baiting is legal in Ontario, and Alex and his two hunting partners always relied heavily on apples to get close to the game. In fact, Alex had taken a very respectable buck over bait in this same woodlot in 2006.
Today, however, there wasn't an apple to be seen. There were plenty of cars to be seen on the paved road just west of Alex's stand. To the south, a major subdivision sprawled across former farmland a mere 600 yards away. Despite these intrusions, this was still better than being at the office. Alex got out his Knight & Hale rattle bag and did a quick rattling sequence. This he followed with three tending grunts, then three estrous bleats.
A GIANT SET OF ANTLERS
Alex's stand was located 25 yards inside a small patch of irregularly shaped, mature hardwoods. The woods were bordered on all four sides by cut soybeans. The first part of the season had been unusually warm. By Nov. 20, though, the north wind had brought cool temperatures (26 degrees Fahrenheit), and two inches of fresh snow covered the ground. This created a lot of natural beauty, and Alex enjoyed being out immensely.
At 4:50, Alex caught movement through the trees about 75 yards north of his position. As he grabbed his bow, he saw a large buck slowly nosing his way toward the spot where apples frequently were put out. At first Alex thought there might be something wrong with the deer's antlers. Then he realized that the antlers seemed to be too large for the buck's head! Alex also realized that the wind had stopped, and every little sound was amplified by the cold, still air.
Alex fought to control his breathing and heart rate, fearing that the buck would surely be able to hear one or the other. He could hear every step the buck took. He could also hear the buck nosing around in the frozen leaf litter. The big buck was taking his sweet time, testing Alex's nerve.
I THINK HE'S A 10-POINTER
After determining that the buck was at least a 10-pointer, Alex deliberately avoided looking at the antlers again in an effort to maintain his composure. Finally, at 25 yards, the buck passed behind some mature maples, and Alex used the opportunity to bring his Diamond Archery Black Ice compound bow to full draw. The buck shuffled the last five yards to where the apples had been. He sniffed the ground, slightly quartering toward Alex. As he took aim, Alex noticed a few tiny saplings near the buck, but they were nothing of concern.
Alex held the green pin of his TruGlo sight behind the right shoulder and touched off the shot. It sounded like a good hit, and the buck bolted south, running past the stand and going 50 yards out into the cut bean field. Then the buck stopped and began to look around as if wondering what had happened. After a minute, the buck began to walk back toward the spot where the apples had been.
Alex nocked a second Carbon Express Terminator, praying for another chance. No such luck! The buck passed by at 40 yards, crossed in front of the stand, and disappeared over a low ridge 100 yards to the north. After the shot, the buck had appeared to move awkwardly at times, but Alex didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. Until disappearing over the ridge, the buck had constantly been in plain view, and Alex had not been able to see a protruding arrow or any other sign of an entry or exit wound.
However, the buck did stop every 20 to 30 yards to have a look around, and perhaps to have a bit of a rest. The elation that Alex had felt only moments earlier was quickly replaced by a feeling of dread and self-doubt. Had his shot execution been good? Should he have waited for the buck to be positioned better? Had the arrow been redirected by one of those saplings? The inside of Alex's head was like a washing machine, with thoughts tumbling in every direction. After 20 minutes, Alex climbed down to find out what had happened.
It was almost dark as Alex reached the impact site. His flashligh
t and the fresh snow revealed many clues. The arrow was nowhere to be found, but five yards from where the deer had been standing Alex could see six or seven drops of bright red blood. Although the blood was sporadic, it was easy to follow what was there, along with the hoof prints in the snow. Alex found a small patch of bloody snow on the right side of where the buck had stood in the bean field, but as the hunter continued on the trail, he was not optimistic.
After the buck had disappeared over the ridge 100 yards north of the stand, the deer had walked to the west edge of the woodlot, then north along the edge of the field for 30 yards or so, and then back into the hardwoods. Alex followed the trail and found the deer's first bed 50 yards inside the tree line. There was no trace of blood in the bed, but the arrow lay on the trail close by. It was bloody right to the vanes, and the Montec broadhead was missing.
Twenty yards farther along, Alex found another bed, and this one had a substantial amount of blood in it. Time to call John and Brian! They arrived within minutes, and the three decided to continue on the trail.
A LONG NIGHT
The deer had left the woodlot and crossed the cut bean field toward a cedar-choked stream bottom 450 yards away. Blood sign was still very minimal, but the buck seemed to be favoring his left front leg. Occasionally he seemed to be carrying it. On the far side of the field, just shy of the cedars, the trio found another bloody bed at the top of a hill.
They followed the trail down the far side of the hill toward the stream bottom, stopping where the deer had entered a stand of high grass. Here, good judgment prevailed over excitement and enthusiasm, as John and Brian felt they were pushing the deer. The decision was made to pull out.
Alex spent a restless night praying that it wouldn't snow. He checked the weather several times, and he was sorely tempted to get back on the trail at 3 a.m. But somehow he managed to contain himself, and morning came with a cold, sunny dawn. Alex, John and Brian soon were back in the woods where they'd left off the night before. After only 40 yards, they found the first of three bloody beds, all within 20 yards of each other. This discovery put their optimism through the roof! Tracking had become a little more difficult in the 6-foot-tall grass, but they followed the deer's hoof prints through the grass and out the other side.
A STARTLING SIGHT
Suddenly, standing in the open not 10 yards away was the most magnificent, majestic buck that any of them had ever seen! The buck looked Alex in the eye and then turned and stepped into the stream. The deer went up the far bank and then slowly and somewhat stiffly headed north along the floor of the stream bottom through the thick cedars.
With jaws hanging open, the three hunters blinked at each other in disbelief. . . . None of them had brought a bow! Bumping into each other and babbling like idiots, they scrambled back to the trucks, with John saying, "I thought you said he was a 10-pointer? I've never seen a buck like that in my life!"
There were no bows in the trucks either! They all headed for home to get their equipment, reassembling about an hour later to take up the trail afresh. The stream bottom that the buck had entered was a deep ravine with steep sides and a fairly level 50-yard-wide floor. The plan was for Brian to return to the point where the buck was last seen and wait for about 20 minutes.
This would allow Alex and John time to circle to the north, where they would enter the bottom about 500 yards away. As the three men began to move toward each other, Brian had gone only 40 yards before he jumped the buck yet again. He watched as it trotted north and crossed back to the west side of the stream before bedding once more. Brian made no attempt to get a shot or pursue the buck further. He wanted Alex to have the opportunity to finish what he'd started.
END OF THE TRAIL
Minutes later Alex and John came around a bend in the creek to see Brian crouched down and waving to get their attention. He kept pointing across the stream, but they couldn't see what he was pointing at. They crawled to Brian's position, and he described in an excited whisper what had happened, and pointed to where the buck was now bedded behind a log. Alex scanned the area and finally found the buck. The deer's head was in an upright position.
John and Brian pushed Alex into the lead. Slowly and quietly all three hunters began to close the distance toward a spot that would provide an unobstructed shot. When they reached the spot, Alex ranged the buck at 21 yards. He straightened and began to draw, permitting himself to smile as he heard John say, "Don't hit those antlers!"
The arrow flew true. Within moments the drama was over. All was quiet as snow and ice crystals dislodged by the old monarch sparkled in the dappled sunlight and drifted to the ground. Everything seemed to have paused to pay a silent tribute. The King was down for good and the celebration began in earnest! When Alex took his first shot, he had no idea that the buck was so big. Now, as the elated hunter stood beside his trophy, he could hardly believe his eyes!
A PROVINCE RECORD
I think he's a 10-pointer. . . . Famous last words for certain, but it's always better to be safe than sorry! Since his buck, in fact, had a total of 23 points, Alex was glad he had concentrated on the shot instead of the antlers.The main-frame 7x6 monarch had an inside spread of 25 4/8 inches and 31 inches in non-typical growth.
The huge rack was later panel scored by official FROW (Foundation for the Recognition of Ontario Wildlife) measurers Paul Martin, Paul Beasley and Kevin Beasley. With a gross score of 226 5/8 and a net non-typical score of 213 2/8 inches, Alex's buck became a new province record in Ontario in the archery division. The previous non-typical archery record for Ontario was taken in 2001 by Dave Glithero in Lanark County. Dave's big 16-pointer scored 197 3/8 inches.
Alex's buck was believed to have been 8 1/2 years old. The old monarch was mounted at Advanced Taxidermy in Caledon, Ontario. Alex, John and Brian have yet to encounter anyone who claims to have ever seen the old warrior. This is remarkable considering that the buck lived very close to a major population center just east of Toronto, Canada's largest city, where a large number of bowhunters make their home.
In truth, some unknown hunter had previously seen Alex's buck, and Alex's exciting story could well have been the story that never happened. While helping John butcher the deer, Brian found the rear eight inches of a crossbow bolt totally encapsulated within the buck's body, located just below the spine. It had been there at least a year, maybe two, maybe more.
Alex has been able to maintain some humility amid all the hype surrounding his buck.
Naturally, he gives a lot of the credit for his success to John and Brian. He also says, "I know it wasn't a textbook hunt, and I know we made some mistakes, but all we can do is learn from them, and give a true account of the story so that others can learn too