Although my dream of seeing this buck recognized as Pope & Young's world record didn't come true, my appreciation of the deer will last a lifetime.
Most bow trophies fall during the rut, but Wayne's was shot weeks earlier. Photo by Kevin G. Wilson.
I stared in wide-eyed amazement. Was this really happening? An incredibly massive whitetail buck with a high-tined rack was trotting my way. The large antlers with shreds of dried velvet dangling from the beams and tines looked out of proportion to the deer, despite his very large body.
Suddenly, reality struck home like a lightning bolt. I quickly grabbed my bow and nocked an arrow in anxious anticipation of the hunting opportunity of a lifetime.
It was Oct. 8, 2001, Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and I had just finished a fine dinner with my family. It was a splendid evening to be out, with the fall color a dazzling array. The sun would be setting in about an hour, and I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to check some prime rutting areas. The rut was still a month away, but I wanted to look for fresh buck sign in a few of the areas I hunt.
Although archery season had been open for over a month here in the bow-only zone near the city of Edmonton, I was not in a big hurry to start hunting hard. I had hunted from a few stands earlier in the season and had passed on several smaller bucks but had not had opportunities at any I wanted to shoot. The past two years I had arrowed bucks scoring in the mid-140s to upper 140s, and I was hoping for one bigger in 2001.
I always get excited about hunting the rut, which in my area usually peaks in middle to late November. This is when the bucks become much more active in daytime, especially when the peak coincides with the arrival of snow and colder weather; under such conditions, we get to see the big whitetails for which Alberta is famous.
Because I generally guide whitetail hunters for an outfitter friend during the last two weeks of November, I was planning to bowhunt hard the first half of the month. It was largely in preparation for my upcoming hunts that I was afield that afternoon.
A technique I have had really good success with in the past is using doe estrus urine in fake scrapes. Starting about Nov. 1, I select good travel corridors and make several fake scrapes by kicking the leaves, dirt and snow aside, just as a large buck would. I always select a site with a good overhanging branch, as this seems to intensify buck activity in my area. I try to work the bucks into a rutting frenzy. Soon the bucks start working my scrapes and add many of their own. Each time I return, I freshen up the scrapes with a few drops of estrous doe urine. I then put my stands in the most active locations and am set for action.
On Oct. 8, I had just parked my truck near a bush line that funnels between two good stands of timber I wanted to check out. As I was kneeling, inspecting what I thought might be a large buck track in the soft earth, I looked up and saw a monster buck trotting my way. He was about 150 yards out and coming along the bush line I was in.
In an instant, my bow was in my left hand, my arrow nocked and my release securely on the string. As the buck went behind some thick, leafy cover, I bounded about 15 yards forward and stopped, still standing, near a large broken-off poplar. I took several deep breaths, trying desperately to calm myself in the face of this shocking development.
The buck was closing the distance and hardly breaking stride. Surely he won't continue my way, I told myself, but he kept coming.
In front of me I had a good opening for a shooting lane, one about eight yards wide out where I thought the buck would enter it. I estimated the distance to this point at 34 yards, well within my comfortable shooting range as an experienced 3-D tournament shooter and bowhunter.
As the deer entered my shooting lane, I drew in one fluid motion and then grunted with my voice to stop him. He gave no reaction, so I grunted again, this time somewhat louder. The buck slowed to a walk as he looked my way; however, he wasn't stopping, and my shooting window was closing quickly. I had to take the shot now to have a good chance of a clean kill.
The author checks a buck rub near Edmonton, Alberta. This bowhunting-only zone holds some of the word's biggest whitetails. Photo by Kevin G. Wilson.
As I squeezed my release, everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I saw my arrow strike the deer a bit high and far back. The First Cut 125-grain broadhead passed cleanly through him, then embedded in the ground on the far side.
The giant buck bounded away, and as I watched him run through the trees for about 100 yards, I noticed no sign of a fatal hit. As I stood there, I was overwhelmed with anxiety as that sinking feeling of a "bad shot" flooded through me.
I thought of all the 3-D tournaments in which I had competed over the years, but the ones that really jumped out at me were two I had won by a single arrow: the Alberta provincial tournament and the Canadian national tournament. In each case, one shot had made the difference between winning it all and placing second. Now, as I stood there with all of my strength ebbing out of me, I kept repeating to myself, If only I could have that shot over again and win it all.
I paced off the distance as I went to retrieve my arrow. It turned out that the shot had been just under 30 yards, not 34. I chastised myself for misjudging the distance and hurrying the shot.
I sat down on a log to give the buck plenty of time to bed down. I waited for probably the longest 40 minutes of my life, all the while reliving the shot scenario and trying to convince myself that maybe the shot had been better than I had envisioned. Finally, with the sun setting and only about a half-hour of light left, I took up the trail.
I could easily see where the deer's cloven hooves had torn up the ground . . . but I could find no blood. Finally, I found a couple of small droplets on some leaves, but no more. After losing the trail, I started making small loops through the trees. Soon night swept over the land, and to me it felt like the darkness of defeat.
I went home and related the story to my wife, Michelle, and son, Matthew. (Misery indeed seeks company.) My night was sleepless, and long before first light I was parked back at the bush line, waiting to take up any trail I cou
I tried to anticipate where the buck might have traveled after the shot, and I felt confident that he had headed for thick, heavy timber. But two hours of searching turned up no sign of him, and by then I had to abandon my effort, as I had to go to work.
I am a foreman at a cabinet-making millworks shop, and I have to admit that my time at work that day was totally unproductive. After work I drove back out to the bush line and continued my search. Unfortunately, even though I checked all of the thick timbered area for several more hours, I found nothing. Dejected, I headed home once again.
The buck still had strips of dried velvet on his rack. What an awesome sight he must have presented as he approached the hunter! Photo by Kevin G. Wilson.
Unknown to me, the adjacent landowner had just found a very large buck lying dead in the middle of his grain field. When he told me that, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Could it be my deer? When I got there the landowner pointed out the deer's location to me, and I almost ran to the spot.
There was no mistaking this buck, especially with those distinctive tatters of dried velvet on his rack. Just as I'd thought when the deer had been coming my way, he was the largest whitetail I had ever seen. (Interestingly, though, the landowner couldn't understand what all the fuss was about; to him it was just another deer!)
By the time the dead buck had been found, coyotes and other scavengers had destroyed the cape and had torn the carcass apart. So severe was the damage that all I was able to recover was the head. I never had thought the wounded deer would try to cross this large grain field, rather than go into heavy cover. If only I had looked in that direction instead of where I had been searching, the dead deer would have been easy to see.
I am a staff shooter for Trophy Book Archery, which is owned by my good friend and frequent hunting partner Dan Hungle. When I got home with what was left of my deer, I called Dan and asked if he knew the score of the current archery world-record typical.
As Dan related that score — 204 4/8 net points, set by Illinois' Mel Johnson in 1965 — I casually told him that I had shot a good one myself.
Being in the archery business and having harvested a few "good ones" of his own, Dan suggested I bring the rack to his shop in Spruce Grove for a look. Upon getting his first glimpse of the rack, he exclaimed, "That's a 200-inch-plus frame!"
Dan then phoned Dave Paplawski, a longtime official measurer for the Pope and Young Club and the Boone and Crockett Club. Over the phone Dave was skeptical of the rack's rumored size, but he agreed to drive up from Calgary to give us a "green" score before the record books' required 60-day drying period ended.
Even though this October scoring session would be unofficial, a small crowd gathered at the archery shop to witness the event. As the tape was being stretched across the antlers and the measurements recorded, everyone bantered about whether or not they thought my deer would make it.
A silence fell over the crowd as the numbers were added up. And then came the announcement of Dave's "green" score: 225 5/8 gross typical, 208 6/8 net. Yes!
Although unofficial, the preliminary score suggested that my buck had the potential to be judged a world record by bow. And so, we waited again . . . this time for Dec. 7, the end of the compulsory 60-day drying period.
After the 60-day drying period had ended, the buck was entered into the P&Y record book at 206 7/8 net points, making him the world's potential No. 1 typical whitetail ever. P&Y accepted him at that score, pending confirmation by a panel of measurers in the spring of 2003.
Unfortunately, there was disappointment yet to come; the panel ruled that what Dave had called the right G-3 tine was instead non-typical. This not only hurt the gross typical score but greatly increased the deductions for asymmetry, dropping the final score all the way to 172 5/8.
Because I don't agree with this scoring interpretation, I've asked P&Y to remove the deer from its all-time record book. However, I'm leaving him in our provincial record book, which has accepted him as the Alberta record at his original score of 206 7/8.