Having never hunted in Canada because he hates cold weather, Tim Herald had an opportunity to hunt Saskatchewan during the October muzzleloader season last year before cold weather set in. He was not disappointed!
The author's October buck is a heavy main-frame 5x5 with split G-2s and a split brow on the right side. Sometimes, judging these big-bodied Canadian bruisers can be a challenge. With a 17-inch inside spread, Tim's buck had 5 tines over 10 inches in length. The deer grossed in the 170s.
I've been fortunate over the past 29 years to pursue whitetails in more than 20 states. During that time, I always wanted to take one of those heavy-racked northern whitetails of Saskatchewan fame. But to be honest, I despise cold weather. My line for not hunting Canada in November was always the same: "I don't want to hunt bad enough to sit all day long for six days in below zero temps."
Stories I'd heard about low deer densities -- seeing one or two deer a day, or sometimes none at all -- did not sound like much fun to me either under such brutal conditions. But last fall I found the answer to my problem.
After hearing stories from a few friends who had taken good bucks during the Saskatchewan muzzleloader season in mid-October, I began doing some research. Over years of videotaping hunts for television shows like "Outdoor America," "Whitetail Country" and "Game Trails," I've come to realize that the effort you put into finding the right place to hunt is often the most important factor in your success. You have to go to the right places with the right people if you want to consistently harvest quality animals.
My good friend Jon LaCorte of Nikon doesn't share my aversion to cold, and he loves to hunt the Far North during bitter cold conditions. Jon told me that he and a group of friends had hunted on numerous occasions with Barry Samson of Safari River Outdoors near Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. Jon said that they had always taken great deer.
I also spoke with my friend and fellow outdoor writer Mike Hungle, who is a Saskatchewan resident. He hooked me up with Jason Peterson, a Canadian outdoor TV host. Jason also recommended Safari River, and he introduced me to Barry. We hit it off immediately. I could tell right away that Barry was organized and detail-oriented. I confessed to him about hating the cold, and he told me that he felt sure he could put me on a good buck in October when temperatures were much more tolerable. I love to hunt with a muzzleloader, so planning my trip for the October blackpowder season was right up my alley!
I convinced my friend Larry Caan to go with me on the trip, and on Oct. 26, we made the three-legged flight to Saskatoon. We were the only passengers to have luggage problems.
My duffle of clothes was there, but no gun case. Larry got his gun, but no clothes. We filed claims forms with the airlines, but they couldn't tell us where our bags were or when to expect them. We left Barry's address behind and drove the three hours on to camp.
I had packed enough Under Armour hunting gear to outfit a platoon, so I told Larry he'd be fine. Fortunately, my gun case was delivered about 5 a.m. the next morning. We were good to go, except Larry still didn't have all of his gear. After daylight, we went out to check the scopes on our muzzleloaders.
That's when complication No. 2 arose. We'd both come from Kentucky, where the weather was mild. Larry and I were shooting new Thompson/Center Endeavors, and back home they'd been driving tacks out to 200 yards. However, it became clear that with temperatures in Saskatchewan in the mid-teens, both guns shot a lot differently. With a muzzleloader, you can expect that with drastic temperature, elevation or humidity changes. It took us a while to get our guns dialed back in. We got there eventually and quickly headed out to our stands.
We planned to hunt mainly in the big timber, utilizing alfalfa (baiting is legal in Saskatchewan) in our big-timber setting. I climbed into a big spruce tree around 11:30 a.m. and settled into my very large and comfortable tree stand for the remainder of the day. My worries about not seeing many deer were immediately dispelled.
Before I could even get my Easy Hanger screwed into the tree, a doe walked out in front of me and began feeding. It didn't take long before numerous does and young bucks were on the scene. Since the afternoon temperatures hit 40 degrees, it was an enjoyable sit.
There was never a time during the afternoon that I didn't see deer. I saw does standing on their hind legs fighting, small bucks sparing, and in general, a lot of deer activity. About 3 p.m., my cameraman, Aaron Word, whispered that he had just glimpsed what he thought was a good buck sneaking through the brush directly behind us. I turned around, but the deer had vanished. I waited a few minutes to see if he would reappear in another opening.
The buck didn't show, so I began grunting loudly on my Primos Buck Roar. Barry had told us that the pre-rut activity had been good, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to do some calling. Half a dozen does eating alfalfa were in front of me at 100 yards, and two small bucks were off to my right about 80 yards out.
The two small bucks suddenly took off, seemingly for no reason. Since the wind was right, I knew something was up. A minute later, a mature buck stepped out into the clearing where the young bucks had been sparring. I quickly reached for my muzzleloader.
Barry had told me that any deer with a rack as wide as his ears, with good mass, and with decent tine length would be a potential shooter. This buck's rack was out to the tips of his ears and he looked good all around. I focused my binoculars on his chocolate rack, and it didn't take long to make a decision. He definitely had mass. As he turned, I could see that his G-3s and G-4s on my side were as tall as his G-2, which was split. He looked like a good, solid mature buck.
I got turned in the stand and lined up the cross hairs of my Monarch scope on the big buck's shoulder. He was broadside at 85 yards, and I knew this should be an easy shot for the Endeavor. I asked Aaron if he was on the buck with the camera. He said yes and I squeezed the trigger. Through the white smoke, I saw the buck wheel 180 degrees. He was soon back in the brush and gone. I felt sure I had centered his shoulder, so Aaron and I congratulated each other on a quick, successful hunt.
We filmed a few last things in the tree and climbed down to recover the buck. I was so sure of a great hit that I didn't even reload the muzzleloader (big mista
ke!). When we walked up to the spot where the deer had last been seen, he stood up and ambled into the bush. He was gone before I could get reloaded. There was no blood. Although we looked for nearly an hour, we never saw him again.
The night before, Barry and his guides had told stories about wounded deer they had recovered later on by following the raucous calling of ravens that had found the deer and begun their scavenging. I sat the last 30 minutes of daylight in utter depression, listening for ravens. One single bird cawed off and on until dark. He sounded about 400 yards away in the general direction that the buck had headed.
When I reached camp, Larry told me he had shot a buck, but he said, "I think I shot too soon." We went out to see Larry's buck as I relayed my painful story to him. Larry's deer was beautiful, though the guides aged him at 3 1/2. Larry didn't have his binoculars since they were in his lost duffle bag, and when he saw this buck sneaking through the timber, he checked the deer's rack with his scope. Seeing good mass and three tines sticking up on one side, he decided to shoot.
Larry made a great shot on a very nice buck. His buck had 42 inches of mass and scored in the mid-140s. Larry told me that he knew he had rushed the shot and he wished that he had been more patient. He really is a true trophy hunter, but those big-bodied, massive deer are certainly hard to judge!
WITH A RAVEN'S HELP
That night, I learned that Barry had some trail camera photos of my deer. He affirmed that the big 5x5 with split G-2s was definitely a shooter. I asked Barry how big he thought the deer was. I guessed the buck to be in the middle to high 150s, but Barry told me he thought the deer was easily in the 160s. That conversation certainly didn't make things any easier for me.
The next morning, we ate breakfast and headed out into the bush as soon as we had good light. A lone raven was calling in almost the same spot as the one I had heard the evening before. We slowly made our way toward the bird, and to my utter surprise and relief, we found my buck!
He was the epitome of a Saskatchewan trophy whitetail. Barry estimated his body at over 280 pounds, and he had heavy chocolate antlers that stretched the tape to the mid-170s.
With a 5x5 typical frame, he had split G-2s and a split brow. He had 24-inch beams and 45 inches of total mass. I have experienced ground shrinkage a number of times in the past, but this deer had definitely had ground "growage!" I misjudged him by a good 20 inches, and I couldn't have been happier about my mistake!
Though Larry and I both shot good deer on the first afternoon of our hunt, we realized that this was not the norm. We rebooked for October 2009 knowing the Saskatchewan regulations had changed. In '09, the entire month of October will be included in the rifle season, while September will be open for archers and muzzleloader hunters.
Safari River Outdoors may still have a few high quality hunts in October and November this year. The rut occurs in November, and if you don't mind the cold, the action can be phenomenal. Many of Barry's hunters are repeat clients, so the remaining spots are in high demand. I can't imagine a better place to hunt northern whitetails, and I'm counting the days until Oct. 18, 2009, when I'll be embarking on my next Saskatchewan dream hunt!
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For more information, contact Barry Samson at Safari River Outdoors at (306) 244-1461, or go online to www.huntcanada.com.
EARLY SEASON RELIEF
Until the big freeze hits the North Country, mosquitoes and biting insects can turn any Canadian hunt into a torture session. I'm a mosquito magnet. Try as I might, I can't sit still when I'm being buzzed and bitten by these bloodsuckers. I began carrying a ThermaCell unit with me 10 years ago, and my insect woes ended once and for all.
This compact product creates a 15-foot by 15-foot zone of protection that is truly amazing. ThermaCell works by heating a mat saturated with mosquito repellent. As the mat is heated, the repellent is released into the surrounding area, providing a zone of protection. The ThermaCELL Mosquito Repellent utilizes an active ingredient known as allethrin. This is a synthetic analog of pyrethrin, which is a naturally occurring insecticide found in certain types of chrysanthemum flowers.
The amount of active ingredient that is released is small -- not enough to kill mosquitoes, but enough to repel them. I'm no chemist or entomologist, but I know that my ThermaCell unit is the only thing I've found that has kept me mosquito free from the swamps of south Florida to the damp, boreal forests of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Don't leave home without one!