Last season when avid bowhunter Don Crocker booked a 10-day hunt in Calgary's Bow Zone, he got more than he bargained for when he spotted a huge drop-tine buck at 69 yards. However, the quest for this Alberta giant would prove to be a daunting challenge.
Thirty seconds! What a difference 30 seconds can make when you're hunting trophy whitetails. One minute I was disgusted with the lack of success I'd been having. The next minute I was more excited about deer hunting than I'd been in 40 years.
Don Crocker and his outfitter, Stuart Sinclair-Smith, worked hard at trying to outwit the buck that Don had dubbed "Double D." In the end, Don managed to get a well-placed arrow into the 193 1/8-inch trophy whitetail. "Double D" is one of the largest bucks ever taken on Viewfield Ranch, where Don was hunting.
It was Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007, about 20 minutes before legal shooting time would be over. I was 25 feet up a poplar tree in a small portable stand with the wind blowing 15 to 20 mph. It was the sixth day of a 10-day hunt in Calgary's Bow Zone, and I was asking myself, "How can I be in such a great spot in the middle of the rut and not even see a deer?"
It had been a slow week. Out of habit more than optimism, I looked to my right one more time. This time, I saw movement in the brush. Up came my binoculars for a closer look. The first thing I saw was a set of antlers -- big antlers! The second thing I saw was a drop tine, a large drop tine with a fork at the end. I dropped the binoculars and grabbed my rangefinder -- 69 yards. The largest buck I'd ever seen was passing through an opening 69 yards away, and he was not going to get any closer. I was in disbelief when he disappeared behind the brush.
Before disappointment could set in, though, another buck appeared in the opening. He was a big typical, a really big typical. He passed through the opening and went out of sight. In 30 seconds I'd gone from disgusted to disbelief. I couldn't believe what I'd just seen -- the biggest typical and non-typical bucks of my life, traveling together!
I grabbed my binoculars and started scanning the brush in the direction they were headed. I got a quick look at a patch of brown hair but could not tell which buck it was. Then I could see nothing but brush and shadows. I looked at every bush, back and forth -- nothing. I was about to give up hope of seeing them again when I looked in an opening to my left about 125 yards away, and there they were, walking out. The drop-tine buck that I would come to know as "Double D" went to a bush and started working a scrape under it. Now I could see his antlers clearly. He had two drop tines, one on the left and one on the right.
He looked to be 22 or 23 inches wide with lots of mass. I could see multiple points. Suddenly I remembered that I had a can call and a set of rattling antlers with me. I grabbed the can with one hand and held up my binoculars with the other. I started the calling sequence while watching the buck through my binoculars. As soon as I started calling, Double D raised his head and looked my way. After a moment he went back to work on the scrape.
Every time I called, he looked up for a moment and then went back to pawing the scrape. I could see the typical buck standing to the right about 20 yards away. I started watching him when I called with the can. He would look my way, but he never took a single step toward me. The typical was a clean 10-pointer. He looked to be 20 inches wide with tines 10 to 12 inches long.
Suddenly another buck stepped in front of the typical, a 130-class 8-pointer. I called again and here he came, straight to my tree. I kept calling. The 8-pointer circled my tree while the 10-pointer and the drop-tine buck just looked my way occasionally. Then, with no warning, the drop-tine buck walked straight away into the brush and the 10-pointer followed. They were gone. The 8-pointer gradually worked his way up the hill until he was out of sight as well.
I sat down in the stand and tried to rewind the events of the past few minutes. Two giant bucks like the ones seen on magazine covers had just come by me. The excitement over seeing them outweighed the disappointment of not getting a shot. I knew I had four more days to hunt, and I was anxious to get back in this poplar tree on Monday morning.
THE CALGARY BOW ZONE
I was hunting with Ruby and Stuart Sinclair-Smith on the Viewfield Ranch at Millerville, Alberta, Canada. They are the owners of Triple S Outfitters. This was my third bowhunt to Alberta in as many years. I'd hunted once in Grand Prairie in 2005, once in Edmonton's Bow Zone in '06, and now here I was in Calgary's Bow Zone in 2007. In 2006 I killed a beautiful main-frame 5x5 in the Edmonton Bow Zone that grossed about 170 inches.
Ruby and Stuart have been in the archery outfitting business for over 25 years. They have a cattle operation and farm some grain and hay within Calgary's Bow Zone. Ruby and Stuart have plenty of experience in both hunting and guiding.
Their accommodations are excellent. A trophy room filled with record-book mounts and a stone fireplace are the centerpiece of the lodge with bedrooms and baths leading off from the main room. It's a warm, comfortable place to recharge between hunts. Hunters get three home-cooked meals each day, and a cup of good hot chocolate is waiting after every morning hunt. Triple S Outfitters has tags for whitetails, mule deer, elk and moose. All four species live on their ranch. On top of all this, the owners are first-class people who are fun to hunt with.
When Stuart came to pick me up, I got into the Suburban talking so fast he knew that something had happened. When he heard about the two giant bucks, he smiled.
|THE DONALD CROCKER BUCK|
|Scorable Points:||19 (7R, 12L)||TOTAL LENGTH OF ABNORMAL POINTS: 36 4/8|
|Tip-To-Tip Spread:||19 1/8|
|Greatest Spread:||25 0/8|
|Inside Spread:||22 3/8|
|Main Beam||23 7/8||23 4/8||3/8|
|1st Point (G-1)||6 5/8||4 7/8||1 6/8|
|2nd Point (G-2)||8 6/8||8 0/8||6/8|
|3rd Point (G-3)||10 3/8||8 4/8||1 7/8|
|4th Point (G-4)||3 5/8||2 6/8||7/8|
|1st circ. (H-1)||5 2/8||5 2/8||--|
|2nd circ. (H-2)||4 5/8||4 5/8||--|
|3rd circ. (H-3)||4 7/8||5 2/8||3/8|
|4th circ. (H-4)||4 6/8||4 6/8||--|
|TOTALS:||72 6/8||67 4/8||6 0/8|
|Gross Typical Score:||162 5/8|
|Subtract side-to-side differences:||-6 0/8|
|Add abnormal points||+36 4/8|
|FINAL NET NON-TYPICAL SCORE:||193 1/8|
|TAKEN BY: Donald Crocker, DATE: November 13, 2007, LOCATION: Bow Zone, Calgary, Alberta|
"He's back," Stuart said.
"You've seen the drop-tine buck before?" I asked.
Stuart said he had first seen the buck while the deer was still in velvet in August feeding in a neighbor's field. The buck was seen next by a hunter in early September at a distance. Then in late September, a hunter took a long shot at him that went low. In early October, Stuart had a week with no hunters, so he picked up his bow for a few days. A couple of mornings later, Double D came by at first light. A hurried shot grazed the buck's back. Stuart recovered his arrow and tracked the buck far enough to confirm a non-lethal hit.
A SPECIAL BUCK INDEED
That night over dinner, we had a lot to talk about. I described the buck to my hunting partner, Derrill Edwards. Stuart confirmed my description of the buck. Then after dinner he showed a 60-second video clip of the drop-tine deer that had been taken through a spotting scope. I looked at the video over and over. He was even bigger than I thought. I had concerns about trying to kill a buck that my outfitter wanted to shoot. He was larger than any deer Stuart had ever seen or taken. I talked with Stuart about my concerns. I will always remember what he said.
"Don, somebody has to shoot him in order for all of us to enjoy him. Otherwise, he'll die in the bush and nobody will ever put their hands on those antlers."
Hunting is not allowed on Sundays in the Calgary Bow Zone, so at daylight we were out with spotting scopes and binoculars, looking for the big buck. Several deer were seen but not the one we were looking for. After a hot breakfast, we loaded up in the truck with our cameras and spotting scopes and headed to the mountains. We spent the rest of the day driving around looking at bighorn sheep and several big whitetail bucks. Mostly we talked about where to hunt the drop-tine buck and the odds of seeing him again. I couldn't wait to get back in the poplar tree the next morning.
BACK TO BUSINESS
Monday morning dawned less than perfect. The wind was blowing 20 mph and the temperature was warm. I was still full of enthusiasm as I went to the stand, but things were slow during the morning. Over lunch we discussed the limited deer movement. We were hopeful that the afternoon hunt would be better. Unfortunately, it was worse. The wind picked up to about 30 mph, and only two deer were seen.
Tuesday morning's dawn brought a better hunting day. The wind had died down and it was a little cooler. Stuart decided that I should hunt from a different stand. The deer activity picked up considerably. Shortly after first light, a doe and a yearling came by me. About 45 minutes later, I saw two deer moving below me. A look with my binoculars told me it was two bucks. They turned and came up the edge of the clearing 20 yards behind me. They both appeared to be 3-year-old 8-pointers.
About an hour later, three more bucks came across 40 yards in front of me. One was a big mature 150-class 9-pointer with lots of mass and tall bladed tines. I was not overly excited about this buck (like I might have been otherwise), because I was thinking about the drop-tine buck. However, years of experience told me not to pass up this buck and gamble on seeing the drop-tine buck again.
I ranged him at 43 yards walking slowly to my right. I hooked my release and drew my bow. When my sights lined up, I grunted to stop him. He stopped abruptly and looked straight at me. I released the arrow and watched it fly inches above his back as he ducked to run. I almost smiled at my miss. I still had my tag to hunt the drop-tine buck!
When Stuart picked me up, I showed him my arrow with the broadhead broken off. It had stuck in a log. I was surprised at not being upset over the miss. I was able to laugh about it. Our conversation soon went back to where the drop-tine buck might be.
A NEW STRATEGY
After lunch Stuart and Ruby went on a scouting trip to an area not far from the poplar tree. When they returned, we could sense some excitement in their voices. They had found some big tracks in t
he trace of snow left in the thick bottoms. Stuart had a plan. At 2 o'clock we left the ranch house and headed for the new area. We came to Derrill's stand first. Stuart directed Derrill to his stand back in the trees and came back to the Suburban.
We drove farther back and turned onto a logging trail. Stuart instructed me to quietly get out, not slam the door and climb the spruce tree to my stand 25 feet up. As I was climbing the tree, I heard the Suburban slowly pull away. I got into my stand, hooked up my safety belt and started to pull up my bow. About halfway up, my bow got tangled in a limb. This is no way to start my hunt, I thought to myself. I spent five minutes trying to free it. It was beginning to look as though I was going to have to climb down to untangle my bow when suddenly it came free. I pulled it the rest of the way up and inspected the string, sights and rest. I nocked an arrow and came to full draw. Everything seemed to be OK. I carefully let down my draw and hung my bow on a hanger. I looked at my watch. It was 3 o'clock. I was ready.
EARLY ACTION -- IT'S HIM!
I sat comfortably surveying the area around me. It was a great-looking spot, a hardwood bottom between a clearing and a ridge. My stand was on an edge where the thick brush opened up. As usual, I took my rangefinder and ranged a few trees around me. With my setup routine complete, I sat back and relaxed. As the minutes went by, I thought about what a nice afternoon this had turned out to be and what a good setup I had. Maybe the deer would move.
Suddenly I caught a movement to my left. I stared at the brush. Moving slowly above the top of a bush was a set of antlers. Instantly I knew I was looking at a giant buck. I could see heavy wide beams and sticker points. I was surprised to see a mature buck this early. Slowly and quietly I stood and picked up my bow with my left hand and grabbed my rangefinder with my right. I could now see the front shoulder of the buck. I ranged him at 25 yards. I slid my rangefinder into my pocket and hooked my release. The buck took a couple more steps and stopped in a small opening. It was Double D!
I never looked at his antlers again. I drew my Mathews Switchback and found my anchor point. The 20-yard pin settled just behind the buck's shoulder, and I touched the trigger. In an instant I saw the arrow bury into the buck. As he spun and ran, I could see a third of my arrow sticking out. He crashed across the logging trail behind me and was gone. I sat down and looked at my watch. It was 3:15 p.m. My hunt had lasted all of 15 minutes! I wondered if I had been daydreaming. No, my arrow was gone. I had just shot the drop-tine buck!
AN EASY RECOVERY
While sitting there replaying the last few minutes over and over in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me that I had a two-way radio in my pocket. I took out the radio and called Stuart. After a couple of tries, he answered. I told him to bring his packing trailer. You could hear the excitement in his voice when he told me he would be there as soon as he could. I knew I should sit still for at least 30 minutes, but after 15 I got down from the tree and gathered my gear. I slowly walked down the logging trail to where I had seen the buck cross. I saw what I was looking for -- an easy-to-follow blood trail. I walked back to my tree and waited for Stuart and Ruby.
About 10 minutes later, I heard something running through the woods toward me. I looked around the tree and a big bull elk coming my way. He passed within 15 yards of me. It was a 6x6 that looked to be a 340-class bull. It would have been an easy shot if I'd had an elk tag. I've heard of being in the right spot at the right time, and that afternoon I was definitely in the right spot.
A few minutes later, Stuart and Ruby arrived. In whispers we discussed what had happened. Stuart got on the blood trail and immediately found the fletching end of my arrow -- it had very good sign on it. About two-thirds of my arrow was in the deer. We slowly followed the blood trail through the trees for about 150 yards to a clearing. We had gone only a few steps into the clearing when I saw antlers sticking up out of some weeds. I ran to the spot, and there he was -- the drop-tine buck, the double-drop-tine buck, Double D! Stuart and Ruby came up with high fives, handshakes and hugs.
DOUBLE THANKS FOR "DOUBLE D"
The buck was huge! He was a main-frame 10 with a 7-inch drop on the left that split and a 6-inch drop on the right. His outside spread was 25 inches. He had a quadruple brow tine on the left and a double on the right. There were two stickers on the G-2 and one on the G-3 of the left beam. There were 20 points! His body weight was estimated at 300 pounds. The overused phrase "buck of a lifetime" didn't seem adequate to describe him. In 40 years of hunting whitetails, I have taken several nice bucks, including a 170-class in 2006. But never did I dream that I would even see such a magnificent animal, let alone put my tag on one!
After the 60-day drying period, Double D scored 201'‚1/8 SCI and 193'‚2/8 net non-typical P&Y. He officially had 19 scorable points (a 20th point was only 7/8'‚inch long and not scorable). His beams were 23'‚7/8 and 23'‚4/8 inches long. His inside spread was 22'‚3/8. He had 39'‚3/8 inches of mass and 36'‚4/8 inches in abnormal growth.
What a difference three days, 15 minutes and 30 seconds can make in a deer hunter's life. I owe my success to Ruby and Stuart. They have a great place to hunt and they're great people to hunt with. Double D is the largest whitetail buck Ruby and Stuart have ever seen in 25 years of living and outfitting in the Calgary Bow Zone, yet they unselfishly did their best to give me the opportunity to harvest him. When I shot him, they were truly happy that I had. Thanks, Ruby and Stuart -- double thanks!
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
To find out more about bowhunting with Ruby and Stuart Sinclair-Smith and Triple S Outfitters in Calgary's Bow Zone, call (403) 938-7766.