THE BIG BOTTOM BUCK (edited version)
My brother Lebron and I were scheduled to leave on November 9th, 2006 for a deer hunt in Northern Missouri. Before we left though, we wanted to hunt here in Georgia. On Friday November 3rd I called Lebron and ask if he wanted to hunt the next morning. The season had been open about two weeks and the pre-rut activity is generally good this time of year, in this part of Georgia. Lebron said he would like to go. The question was where would we hunt? We could hunt on our lease property or try some new land that only Lebron had hunted a couple of times.
We decided to hunt the new property the next morning and Lebron said “Call me at 5:00am and we will leave around 5:30”. I got my hunting gear ready and set the clock for 4:15a.m. and went to bed. When the alarm went off the next morning, I did my usual one-cup of decaf coffee and a bowl of Cheerios. At 5:00 I tried to call Lebron, but got no answer. I waited until 5:30, but still had not heard from him. I had to make a decision... I could stay home or go hunting by myself. I decided to go and hunt alone.
I left the house at 5:30 a.m. and decided to go to a place that I have been fortunate enough to hunt since 1974. With the success that I have had on this property it has been named “The Honey Hole”. Keep this in mind (I later found out that Lebron tried to call my house at 5:30, I had been gone 3 minutes). If he had been able to contact me I would not have gone to the Honey Hole, instead he and I would have gone to his new hunting place.
I drove the 40 minutes to the property and arrived just about the break of day. I like easing into these farm bottoms at first light hoping to find a feeding or love sick buck walking around. If I crossed these fields in the dark with a flashlight, I possibly could spook the deer. My intention that morning was to hunt a metal double ladder stand on the pine ridge. After walking slowly and checking for deer in the fields as I went I finally reached the stand. The area had some high winds a few weeks earlier and it had damaged my stand. The bottom ladder section had been twisted and separated during the wind storm. Oh well, I would have to come back and repair the stand at a later date.
With my pine ridge stand damaged it was time to go to plan B which was to travel to the east about 600 yards and hunt my favorite Georgia stand, the ladder stand in the “Big Bottom”. While walking 600 yards to the Big Bottom stand, I almost shot a big doe, because November 4 was the first either sex day in the county. I put the safety back on and let her go.
By 7:30, I was settled in the Big Bottom stand. It was a nice morning where all of the conditions seemed perfects…cold temperatures, clear skies, and a full moon. My years of documenting and compiling deer movement during this period of the rut indicated that I would have a very high percentage of seeing a buck from a stand under these favorable conditions (see Chart #)
I had only been in the stand about 15 minutes when I heard antlers rattling together. The sound was coming from behind me and over my right shoulder. I thought it was another hunter on the adjoining property trying to rattle in a buck, but I was not sure. I made a few grunts on my call. Then about three minutes later I saw movement to my right. I turned and instantly knew that the buck headed my way was a shooter. As soon as I saw him he turned and faced directly away from me and started attacking a dogwood bush. As his antlers clashed back and forth, he looked like Sugar Ray Leonard on a speed bag. I then knew that what I had heard a few minutes ago up on the ridge was him clashing his antlers in a bush.
The buck was 55 yards from me and I was waiting for a shot. He was still facing away from me and rubbing the bush. Thoughts started going through my mind “He is going to get away!” “He’ll spook! Or a coyote or dog will come through and the game will be over”. Then I remembered what my Granddad taught me. He said “Your first shot is generally always your best shot”. I grunted on my call and the buck turned, quartering away from me and looked in my direction. I put the crosshair of the 7 mm Remington Mag at the back of his ribs on the right side, angling toward the left shoulder. When I squeezed the trigger, he went down on the spot.
As I got out of my stand and approached this deer, he actually got bigger as I got closer. I did not expect this, I didn't know he was that big! My first thought was “This is your Missouri buck”. Something told me that we were not going to get to go on the Missouri hunt. What lay before me was one of my best Georgia bucks. He was a mature 5 1/2 year old 8 pointer with heavy bases, long main beams and in inside spread of 18 inches. He weighed 204 pounds on his feet. I felt very proud of this deer, especially with the chain of events that unfolded to make it happen. As I looked the deer over, I remember having an opportunity to shoot him 2 years ago, but I let him walk instead. Now, I was really glad that I did.
After dragging the deer to the edge of the field, I then went to get my truck. The landowner came to help load the buck and he took some pictures, too. I then drove to Mom and Dad’s house and showed the buck to them. Tammy came to their house and brought a couple more cameras. We took pictures, pictures and more pictures. From there I took the buck to the processors, and while there the buck got a lot of looks and started some long conversations. My last stop before going home was at the taxidermist shop. That’s a nice feeling and a great ending to a wonderful morning.
As I had suspected, the next day November 5th things happened and we had to cancel our trip to the Show Me State, but I got my big Missouri buck anyway. He just happened to be from Georgia!
Here are some things to remember leading up to the harvest of this buck:
1. If Lebron had called three minutes earlier we would have gone to his place and hunted.
2. Had the double ladder stand on the pine ridge been in good shape I would have hunted it.
3. If I had shot the doe I never would have made it to the Big Bottom stand.
TRAILING WOUNDED DEER
“Here he is! I found him! He is laying right there!” For a hunter who is on the trail of a wounded deer, those are the most relieving words he or she could possibly hear. When you or one of your hunting partners locate an animal that you have been tracking, it is indeed a relief and a cause for celebration.
As a hunter and predator, we owe it to ourselves and to the animal to make a quick and humane kill. We should strive to make all of our shots true regardless of the choice of weapon used. We need to know our limitations as a shooter and never shoot at an animal unless it can be taken cleanly and quickly.
Even with our best efforts, if we spend enough time hunting we will probably hear the statement, “I’ve hit one but I can’t find him.” If it does not happen to you, it will probably happen to one of your hunting partners. The key here is to be prepared and have a plan that will help you trail the wounded deer and remember that not all tracking jobs are the same nor should they be handled the same.
During an ideal hunt, using either a gun or bow would result in the deer going down immediately or within 100 yards from where it was shot. However, that is not always the case and sometimes we have a wounded animal and a trailing job ahead of us. If a wounded deer can’t be found quickly, stop trailing the animal and mark the area where blood was last found and go get help. In my experience, the best way to find a wounded deer is with the help of one or two experienced hunting partners.
Trailing Deer – You and Your Partners
When trailing a deer, the person with the most experience in tracking should lead. If all of the hunters have equal experience, it is best to let someone other than the shooter lead the way. The hunter who shot the deer will most likely be excited or nervous and can very easily miss sign. One of the other hunters will probably be calmer and more likely to pick up the trail.
The first thing that you and your partner want to do is determine where the deer was hit. The shooter should remember the sight picture and replay the shot in his mind. Sometimes this will help determine where a deer was hit.
Find the exact spot the deer was standing when the shot was taken and also mark the last place the deer was seen before it disappeared out of sight.
Look for the deer, blood, bone and hair. Long white hair is an indication of a hit under the belly or under his white tail. Short white hair could come from the white throat patch where his head and neck connect. The color of hair on a deers body will vary from region to region and from season to season. Deer tend to have a red tint in late summer and then turn brown or gray in fall and winter.
As a general rule, during the fall season the higher up you travel on a deers body the darker the hair will be. From the belly up to the back, the color changes from tan to dark brown or from gray to black. Keep this in mind if hair is found at the spot where the deer was shot as it can indicate where the deer was hit.
When trailing a deer be quiet, go slow, be observant and always look ahead for the deer. Be sure to mark the blood trail and periodically turn around and look at the trail that you have marked. It can be an indication of the deers intended line of travel.
When traveling along the blood trail, it is helpful to identify the blood that is found. As a general rule, pink foaming blood with air bubbles comes from the lungs. Rich red blood comes from the heart and main arteries. The liver will produce dark blood. Blood that has a yellow, green or brown mixture and a foul odor comes from the stomach. Thin watered down blood can come from the stomach, leg or muscle. Being able to identify the blood found on the ground helps a hunter determine where the animal was hit.
Lung and Heart Area – The Boiler Room
A deer shot in the heart, lung area will seldom make it past 80 yards before expiring. A deer hit in this area with a modern day firearm will generally run straight ahead and run over anything in it’s path. I have heard it referred to as the “death run” because the deer are actually dead on their feet. This is
the ideal shot to take with a gun or bow. A deer hit in the heart, lung area with an arrow will most likely collapse within 100 yards. I have shot deer with a bow and the deer did not ever realize it was hit. The deer ran a few feet, stopped and looked around and then fell over.
Brain and Spinal Cord Area
A deer shot with a gun and the proper bullet in the brain and spinal cord area will drop instantly in his tracks. Even though these shots are deadly, they are also risky and I do not recommend them. I prefer the heart and lung shot because it is a larger target.
Once you have determined that a deer has been hit in the liver, back off and give him about two or three hours. More than likely the deer will be within 300 yards of your stand.
Trailing a wounded deer hit in the stomach area becomes more difficult. When trailing a deer hit in the stomach you should stop trailing, mark the spot and come back several hours later or possibly wait over night to resume a search. When trailing a deer that has been hit in the stomach go slow and pay attention to every detail.
One of the most detailed tracking jobs I know of took place in South Carolina by my pal Tommy Garner and Linda Thompson. Tommy and Linda were on a whitetail hunt in early November. It was a hot day. The temperature was 80 degrees and there was a full moon the night before. Eighty degrees is considered a hot day in early November even in South Carolina.
On that day Linda shot a deer but it was hit a little far back and in the stomach area. Tommy and Linda started to trail the deer but there was no
blood. Tommy continued tracking the deer. Linda asked, “I am used to tracking deer in the snow. How are you tracking this deer?” Tommy
pointed at the ground and said, “I am following the bugs.” The deer had left behind partially digested mushrooms and fluid from its stomach as it ran away. Woodspiders, granddaddy longlegs and ants were eating the mushrooms and fluid that the deer was losing. Tommy was going slow and paying attention to detail as he and Linda followed the bug trail to the dead deer. All of us should be like Tommy and Linda and be this motivated and determined to find the animal that we have shot. This is also a classic example of letting someone other than the shooter lead the way in trailing a wounded deer.
Deer that have been hit solidly in the heart, lung, brain and spinal area should be relatively easy to find. When trailing a deer that has been shot in the stomach or for other marginal hits, I first try to find the deer by following the signs left behind. If conditions are such that there is no blood to follow and no other sign, I ask myself, “If I were a deer, which way would I go?” Knowing that a deer will generally take the path of least resistance, I can sometimes walk the trail and find additional sign or the deer. Do not get this confused with the old saying, “wounded deer will always travel downhill” because that is not true. I have trailed fatally wounded deer up very steep mountain slopes.
I sometimes use the grid method to help find a wounded deer. I have found the grid method to be effective in finding deer that are hit but are not leaving a blood trail.
The Grid Method
three or more hunters line up side by side in a straight line. The distance between them will vary depending on how thick the vegetation is. The hunters need to be close enough together to where any sign of any kind will not go unnoticed. The hunters should then walk slowly and look for the deer, blood, or any sign that may help in recovering the wounded animal. After reaching a predetermined point, the hunters shift over and work their way back to a point even with that of the beginning. Then they shift over and start the process over again, continuing until they find the deer or until they have given it their best effort.
A few years ago my dad shot a deer and hit it in the lower brisket. The bullet just creased the hair and the brisket bone and the bullet never entered the deers body. However, the shock from the impact of the bullet was enough to kill the deer and with no blood to follow, we used the grid method in searching to find dad’s deer.
This is another grid method that can be used alone or with a partner.
Freom the last sign left by the deer:
Take 10 steps forward and turn 90 degrees to the right. Then take another 10 steps forward and turn 90 degrees to the right.
Take 20 steps forward and turn 90 degrees to the right. Then take another 20 steps forward and turn 90 degrees to the right.
Take 30 steps forward and so on.
By doing this you are continually looking at more territory. By using this grid method it may help you find your deer or signs that will lead to your deer.
Another way of trying to locate your deer is by walking in circles. From the last blood found, begin traveling in circles searching for additional sign. Each revolution should become larger until you find more sign or your deer.
If you and your partner have done everything possible to find your deer and still have not located him, I recommend some other ways to possibly help find the animal.
More than likely the meat will be spoiled or eaten by bobcats, coyotes or other animals. However, try going to the area where you were hunting and look for buzzards or crows circling overhead which could lead you to a partial trophy. I have observed crows on a deer within two hours of being shot. This is just part of the food chain and nature taking its course. We need to be observant and listen to our surroundings and take advantage of situations like this.
There is another way that may be helpful in finding the remains of a deer. About five days after shooting a deer, check where you lost the blood trail and begin walking into the wind and with any luck you may smell the deer.
Trailing Deer – Alone
If you hunt alone and do it long enough, sooner or later you will probably be on the trail of a wounded deer. Every deer that you shoot is not going to go down instantly or pile up within 100 yards. Eventually there will be a marginal hit on a whitetail and a tracking job will follow. As mentioned
earlier in this chapter I recommend trailing a wounded animal with a partner. If no one is available, consider the following suggestions.
Calm down, relax and take it slow and replay the sight picture in your mind as the shot was taken. This may help to determine where the deer was hit. When blood is first found, mark the spot and continue marking the trail as you follow along. Be quiet when on the trail of a deer, pay attention to detail and listen for and look ahead for the deer.
In December 2006 I was hunting alone at one of my favorite areas in Georgia. That morning I shot a nine point buck hitting him well forward in the chest area. As I followed the blood trail, I could hear the deer ahead stumbling and crashing into the brush and trees trying to escape. I slowly closed the distance and was able to recover the buck. This trailing job went well. I moved quietly, paid attention to detail and marked the blood trail and listened and looked for the deer. The hunt ended with a nice buck.
A couple of years ago while hunting in Southern Illinois I shot a big buck about 15 minutes before dark. The buck came out of a thick bedding area and into a food plot with does. This deer was broadside to me and I shot him high through both lungs with my 12 gauge slug gun.
The buck turned and ran back into the thick bedding area. I looked for blood but did not see any so I searched for any sign of a hit but found nothing. It was getting darker by the minute and I thought, “I will come back in the morning and look for the deer.” Suddenly a slight breeze blew from the Northwest towards my face and I thought, “I smell a rutting buck.” Then another puff of wind blew my way and I said to myself, “I know I smell a rutting buck.” I looked down and about three feet in front of me was my buck. He had run about 60 yards and had fallen into a thick sage brush and weeds. I could not see him but was able to smell him. The buck was in full rut and both of his back legs were black with urine stain. This is what I smelled which aided me in finding my deer. This is an example of using all of our senses in recovering a deer.
Also remember that when trailing a deer, if all blood and sign diminish and there is nothing else to follow, a lone hunter can still try and find a trophy by using the grid methods previously described in this chapter.
At the end of the trail a hunter may find the buck of a lifetime or the trail may simply dry up and disappear into the forest. Regardless of the outcome, we need to know that we gave our best effort to recover the animal.
1. When trailing a deer relax and stay calm.
2. If possible, get a partner to help trail your deer.
3. Replay the shot in your mind.
4. Mark the spot where the deer was standing when shot.
5. Check for hair and the color of the hair.
6. If possible, determine where on the body the deer was hit.
7. Try to identify the blood.
8. Pay attention to detail and go slow.
9. Watch and listen for buzzards and crows.
10. Mark your trail.
11. Listen, smell and look for your deer.
MY FIRST TRIP TO CANADA
Canada - November 2000
Until the late 1990’s, I hunted in the Southeast and Midwest. I had some luck hunting these areas but I wanted to broaden my hunting grounds. I wanted to hunt Canada. Along with probably every other deer hunter, I have seen the large bucks in magazines, on television shows, on video and dvd’s that Canada can reproduce. Remember, the current world record was taken in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1993 by Milo Hanson. So after thinking about all of this, the journey for a Canadian hunt began.
I knew the advice of a Canadian whitetail expert would be very valuable. The person that came to mind was Russell Thornberry. I knew of Russell’s whitetail experience in Canada and I knew he was very familiar with the area. I had met Russell at a hunting show in Atlanta, Georgia and had contact with him while writing articles for Buck Masters Magazine. I called Russell to get the information I needed about a deer hunt in Canada. He made recommendations on what outfitters to use, what clothing and boots I would need, how to dress, and what caliber gun and load to use.
I didn’t want to go on this hunt alone so I asked one of my cousins Brian Hickman to go with me. We were both excited about having the opportunity to hunt in Canada. We chose an outfitter and in January 2000 we booked a hunt that would take place later that year (Nov. 20-25, 2000) in Chitek Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada. Over the next few weeks and months, Brian and I spent time getting together the proper clothing, boots and the accessories we would need. We also made airline reservations. Our flight would leave Atlanta, Georgia on Nov. 18 and fly to Minneapolis, St. Paul and continue on to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We would return to Atlanta on Sunday, November 26.
After spending all of the spring and summer months preparing, the day to leave for Canada finally arrived. Early on November 18, Brian and I went to Atlanta to board the plane.
Now if you will remember, there were two big events going on at that time in 2000. One was the state of Florida was trying to determine who our new
president would be. Remember the person holding the ballot up to the light and asking himself, “Is this a dimple chad, a hanging chad, a pregnant chad, a vote, not a vote, or what is it?” All of us probably saw that on television at least a thousand times. Anyway, they finally figured it out and we all know who won the presidency.
The second event was the FBI looking for a man from one of the Southern states that had allegedly done some illegal things. The FBI had men, dogs, helicopters, airplanes and everything else you can imagine looking for this guy. The FBI was searching every hollow and ridge top in the region. In this story, we will refer to this wanted man as Billy John Doe.
I will be back to the Billy John Doe story in a moment. Right now, let’s go back to November 18 at the Atlanta airport as Brian and I boarded the plane. I was sitting more toward the front in a window seat and Brian was about six or eight rows behind me. People were trying to find their seats and the flight attendants were doing their normal duties. About this time the pilot came over the intercom and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if you will notice there is a technician aboard the aircraft. We have a small hydraulic leak and after the repair we will be on our way to Minneapolis, St. Paul.” The pucker factor on this North Georgia boy went to zero. I had not been on a plane in 23 years and I was nervous enough and for the pilot to say that just made everything that much worse. I was sitting there looking out the window at all of those other perfectly good airplanes and thinking why am I on the one leaking hydraulic fluid. Anyway they finally made the repairs, closed the doors and we took off headed for Minneapolis.
It was obvious that most of the passengers on the flight were hunters. Some were wearing camouflage shirts and others were carrying camouflage bags. The two guys that sat down next to me were no exception so I figured they were hunters too. I was dressed casually and didn’t have on camouflage. I probably looked more like an insurance salesman on a business trip or something similar. My camo was in the big bag on the bottom of the plane. Trying to be as scent free as possible when hunting, I do not wear my camo clothing out to eat, to work, to Walmart, to cut the grass or anywhere else. I only wear camo to hunt in which is a subject we can cover at a later time.
As we were flying to Minneapolis, I started a conversation with the two guys sitting next to me who both appeared to be a little younger than I was. I asked, “Are you going on a hunt?” They answered, “Yes we are, we are going to Saskatchewan, Canada.” I replied, “Me too, this will be my first
trip.” They said, “This will be our sixth trip and we have had a good time and been successful on every trip.” Even though we were going to different places and using different outfitters, they assured me that I would probably have an opportunity to take a deer.
We talked about hunting and things were going well but we never mentioned our names to one another. Finally during the conversation it came up that these guys were from the same small town as Billy John Doe. So, I had to know and asked, “Do you know Billy John Doe?” That was the wrong question to ask. They looked at me like they wanted to do something bad to someone. Their facial expressions changed completely. They were no longer friendly and said nothing. They just looked at me. I knew by asking that question I had struck a nerve.
You know, people from a given area stick together whether they are from the north, south, east or west. That is what these guys were doing, sticking together. I had asked the wrong question and they figured it was none of my business. By now, they are probably thinking I work for the FBI and I’m trying to get information on the Billy John Doe case. I am thinking what is going to happen next. This was before 9-11 so I figured one or both of these southern boys might have a gun or knife on them. I just sat there looking straight ahead. I thought about jumping out of the window if I could have opened it. We continued on toward Minneapolis and as we got closer the plane started to descend.
Remember the small hydraulic leak that the pilot talked about. Well, he was having trouble getting the landing gear down. I thought, now what? I am 36000 feet in the air, I have two southern boys upset and the pilot can’t get the landing gear down. I am starting to ask myself is this trip to Canada worth it? I am flying over all of those big bucks in the Midwest that I could have driven my truck to and hunted. Anyway, we finally landed and
changed planes and continued on to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Yes, the two guys that I had been talking to on the previous flight were also on board. We were not sitting together but we were on the same flight. On this flight I did not say a word to anyone as I didn’t want to get into anymore trouble. Finally we landed in Saskatoon.
Brian and I got our guns and gear and then went to this little cafeteria to have something to eat. I was telling Brian about the flight and talking to
those guys and what all was said. I then looked down at the far end of the cafeteria and hidden behind the soft drink machine with only his head sticking out was one of them looking at me. I said, “Brian there is one of those guys looking at us right now.” He would look around the machine and then pull his head back in. It reminded me of a ground hog sticking his head out of a hole and then pulling it back in. They finally disappeared and went on to their hunting destination. But I think they actually thought I was the FBI asking questions about Billy John Doe.
As Brian and I left the airport and were going to the motel, we could not help but notice the 40-50 mph winds and the sub zero degree temperature. I asked myself, “Have I made a mistake even attempting this hunt?” I talked to other hunters in the motel who had been hunting all week and they informed me that winds that high were abnormal and it would calm down in a day or two and we would probably have some good weather to hunt in. It was good hearing them say that.
The next morning, November 19, Brian and I drove 2.5 hours Northwest from Saskatoon to our hunting camp. We passed through huge amounts of farmland on our way to the dense forest of the North. It was a beautiful place. We arrived in camp and met our guides and they showed us around. We stored our gear and then went to purchase our deer hunting license. Later that day, we went to shoot our guns to make sure they were still sighted in. After air travel I would suggest a person always shoot their gun after arriving at camp since they take some very rough treatment during transportation.
That night after dinner the Outfitter held a pre-hunt briefing. He explained to us what to expect during the hunt, what time to get up and return to camp, safety rules, etc. Our hunt party consisted of seven hunters, three from
Michigan, two from Missouri and Brian and myself from Georgia. After the briefing, we were in bed by 10:00. I laid in bed thinking I’m actually going to hunt Canadian whitetails in the morning. Yes, I was nervous.
The next day, November 20, was day one of our hunt. We got up at 5:00 and ate breakfast and left camp at 6:30. There was eight inches of snow on the ground and I was looking forward to hunting in the snow because back in Georgia I don’t see snow very often.
Remembering how the plane was leaking hydraulic fluid and the two guys who were suspicious of me, I was wondering what else could go wrong? I was about to find out. My guide drove me several miles from camp to within a half mile of my tree stand. From there he took me the rest of the distance on a 4-wheeler. I got in my stand 26 feet up in an evergreen tree well before shooting light. The guide was on the ground and I was arranging my hunting gear and putting on my safety harness when I dropped my two D-cell flashlight out of the tree. It hit the guide on the top of his head. It literally about knocked him out. I thought, I am in the dark, in Canada, not knowing where I am and my guide is about to pass out. Well, he didn’t black out but he did have a headache for two or three days. I apologized over and over and by the end of the week, it brought on some good laughs.
Finally I was set and the guide left and it was still 30 minutes until shooting light. Ten minutes after daylight I saw my first Canadian deer. A large doe walked in from the south directly under my stand. Within the next 30 minutes there was another doe and five bucks under my tree. There was also a spike, a four point, a six point, an eight point, and a ten point. The four pointer was grunting with every step he took while chasing one of the doe. The ten point was extremely aggressive and was knocking the eight point all over the ridge. I watched the ten pointer and couldn’t make up my mind whether to shoot or not. He eventually wondered off. During the day, I saw six more bucks and five additional doe.
Recap of Day One - 11 bucks, 7 doe. Clear, cold, no wind, last quarter moon. Time in stand 10.5 hours. No one in camp shot on day one.
November 21, Day 2.
I was in the same stand as day one well before shooting light. Early morning brought out doe and young bucks. Mid morning a stout ten point appeared and played chase with a doe and young buck for 20 minutes. He was not what I was looking for. Anywhere else I would have taken him at the first available shot opportunity. Around lunch a smaller ten point came through. Mid afternoon a very large bodied nine point came sneaking in but all of his tines on the left side were broken off. Later in the day, I saw more doe and some smaller bucks.
Recap of Day 2 - 8 bucks, 10 doe. Clear, cold, no wind, last quarter moon. Time in stand 10.5 hours. No deer taken on day two.
November 22, Day 3.
Back to the same stand again. Today I was in my stand nearly one hour before daylight. I started questioning my sanity. I was 26 feet up in a tree 50 minutes until daylight and it was zero degrees F. About 15 minutes after daylight, a shooter buck slipped through a small opening about 90 yards out and to the North. I only saw him for three or four seconds when he disappeared into a thicket. I waited and was ready but never saw him again.
Deer activity was the slowest today than any of the other three but I was still seeing small bucks and doe throughout the day. About 4:30 an eight point came in and was feeding. At 4:55 I saw a huge bodied buck turn a corner and come around a thicket off to the North. I could see his rack coming through the timber and he was coming straight toward me. I thought this could be the shooter. He closed the distance to 40 yards, turned broadside and looked away. I put the cross hair of my 30-06 in the crease behind his left shoulder and pulled the trigger. After a 40 yard run, he collapsed and there laid my first Canadian whitetail. He was a big chocolate horned eight pointer that weighed 284 pounds.
Recap of Day 3 - 6 bucks, 6 doe. Clear, cold, no wind, last quarter moon. Time in stand 9.5 hours. From camp that day three other hunters got a deer. Four of the seven hunters tagged out.
November 23, Day 4, Thanksgiving Day.
My hunting was over so I slept late. About mid morning I rode around with some of the other hunters looking at different areas and all the deer sign that was there. We went back to camp and had lunch and watched football that afternoon. No one shot on day four although all of the hunters still saw plenty of deer. Brian told me he saw 15 bucks that day so we both felt confident that the next day would be his lucky one. That night we had a Thanksgiving dinner and I ate some of the best deer meat ever.
November 24, Day 5.
I slept late again, got up and ate breakfast and then packed some of my gear for the trip home on Saturday and Sunday. I spent the remainder of the day watching television. Remember at the beginning of this story I made mention of the 2000 presidential election. Well, I watched the count and recount of the Florida presidential ballots that was trying to determine the winner between George Bush and Al Gore.
After dark Brian returned to camp and was grinning from ear to ear. He had taken a 165 class 11 pointer. However, he was more excited about the 190 class buck he saw but could not get a shot at. Well, maybe we can return next year…
Recap of Day 5 - Clear, cold, light wind, new moon. The three remaining hunters in camp took deer that day. Now all seven hunters tagged out. One interesting point is that five of the seven hunters in camp that week actually saw bucks larger than the one they harvested. It is good to be patient especially in Canada.
November 25, 26. The return home.
After spending a week in Canada hunting and seeing the sights and making new friends, the time to leave was upon us. On Saturday, November 25 we left camp and drove to Saskatoon and spent the night. The next morning we flew to Minneapolis and then to Atlanta, Georgia. Our flights were smooth and uneventful and went very well. It was a great ending to a good week.
Remember the two guys I sat next to on the flight to Minneapolis the week before that I talked about earlier in this story? Well, I did see them again on our way home in the Saskatoon airport as we were checking our luggage. I don’t know if they saw me or not and I’m not sure what flight they were on but I did see them in the distance. Maybe they will read this story or someone will tell them about it and let them know that I am not the FBI.
I enjoyed my trip to Canada and had a good hunting experience. If your desire is to hunt some of the largest whitetails on the planet then I suggest Canada be put into your hunting plans. Yes, it is expensive and it takes planning but it can be rewarding. It is a must to be mentally and physically prepared for the North. Sitting in a tree stand ten hours a day for five or six consecutive days and enduring the cold can be brutal. With the proper clothing and equipment you will be able to handle those long cold days.
COLD WEATHER CLOTHING
On opening morning of my first Canadian deer hunt, I was walking down the hallway of the hunting cabin headed toward the back door when my guide stopped me. He was looking at my boots and coveralls and the layering system I had on underneath. After checking my clothes out he said, “You’ll be fine.”
My guide was aware that this was my first trip to Canada and the cold temperatures we would be hunting in that morning. I thanked him for being concerned for my comfort and safety as we walked out into the cold Canadian air.
The outfitter did not know that I had spent the previous four years preparing for this hunt. When I began thinking about hunting in Canada, I read every article that I could find on the subject of cold weather clothing. I was aware that during hunting season the temperatures in Saskatchewan, Canada could reach as low as -20 to -30 F or colder. Keeping this in mind, I got the advice from hunters who had hunted many times in Canada. I contacted several Canadian outfitters for their recommendations on what type of clothing I would need. I also talked to different clothing manufacturing companies and had them explain what their clothes were designed to do.
After reading this information and talking to these people, I knew I needed to buy a completely new hunting wardrobe. Even though I have hunted a few times in the Southeastern United States with the wind chill well below zero degrees F, the hunting gear that I wore on these Southern hunts would not be adequate for the cold temperatures of the North.
By doing research and getting advice from others, I managed to assemble my cold weather hunting gear. The following is a list of the clothing and accessories I recommend for a Canadian hunt.
1. One pair of polypropylene socks (or equivalent). Wearing polypropylene next to your skin will help wick moisture away from your feet. My outer socks are a heavy weight wool sock.
2. A quality pair of waterproof boots with a rating of -100 to -150 degrees F is a must. Usually these are the big pack boot type which are not very good for walking. However, most hunting in Canada is done from tree stands, ground blinds or shooting houses and there is very little walking involved.
3. Boot blankets. When buying boot blankets, make sure they are large enough to fit over your pack boots.
4. Polar weight polypropylene thermal bottom (or equivalent). Just like the socks, the polypropylene will wick moisture away from your body.
5. A pair of 30 ounce wool pants.
6. Polar weight polypropylene thermal top (or equivalent).
7. Turtleneck shirt. Wearing a turtleneck shirt will help keep the neck area warm and also help prevent body heat from escaping.
8. Flannel shirt.
9. Wool sweater (pull over type).
10. Fleece coveralls or parka and bibs that are waterproof and windproof with 200 grams of thinsulate. To allow for layering, I recommend buying this garment two sizes larger than you normally wear. Layering is key as multiple layers create dead air space which is good insulation.
11. Fleece thinsulate gloves. These gloves need to be waterproof and flexible enough to fit into the trigger guard of your gun, or buy the type that allow the trigger finger to be exposed.
12. Orange goretex insulated cap with a built in head and facemask. I use the insulated fleece type designed for very cold temperatures. Most body heat is lost through the head area so wearing good warm headgear will help retain this heat.
13. Polypropylene balaclava or facemask. I wear this under my insulated cap.
14. Neck gator. This is another way to help keep the neck area warm.
15. Medium weight solid white or orange suit. (The law in Saskatchewan requires that one of these colors be worn as an outer garment). I wear the solid white color because it blends in with the snow.
16. Bomber jacket. I keep this jacket in my backpack just in case I need an additional layer. The one I use has 100 grams of thinsulate.
17. Tube type hand warmers. These work great to put your hands in while sitting in a tree stand or ground blind.
18. Air activated chemical hand, body and foot warmers. Putting these in your boots and gloves will sometimes be the determining factor between continuing your hunt or returning to camp.
In addition to having hand warmers in my boots and gloves, I sewed four pockets into the back of a tee shirt, two at the shoulder blade and two in the kidney area. I then place chemical hand warmers in these pockets and the heat that they create feels very good on my back. I don’t wear this tee shirt next to my skin for fear of getting burned but generally wear it over at least one other shirt. Having warmers in my boots, gloves and on my back make a huge difference while hunting in very cold temperatures.
When I am hunting in Canada, I wear all of the clothing listed above with the exception of the bomber jacket and boot blankets. I carry those two items for extreme conditions and luckily have never needed them. It is nice to know they are available if conditions turn for the worse.
When planning a cold weather hunt, buy good quality clothing and boots and make sure the size is large enough to allow room for layering. With the proper gear, hunting the North can be a pleasurable and rewarding experience.
COLD WEATHER HUNTING
I caught my biggest largemouth bass on a miserably cold, windy winter’s day and killed my biggest whitetail on an equally miserable day in November. I have ripped across a lake in minus 3 degrees weather in a bass boat running sixty miles an hour (wind chill charts indicate -30 degrees f) without getting cold. There were few if any other folks hunting or fishing on these days because the conditions were not suitable for humans unless they were well prepared to deal with the elements
As a teenager still in school and who had just gotten a permit to drive, I tried to deer hunt on a cold November day when everything was covered in a heavy coat of frost. By sunup, I had headed to the truck with numb hands and feet. It was an effort to get the key in the door of the old truck but I finally got it done. I was dressed in a couple pairs of jeans, a light jacket, a cap, brown jersey gloves, two pairs of warm weather socks, and uninsulated boots. To say that I was cold would be an understatement. I promised myself that if I ever grew up and had the money to buy my own clothes I would never get that cold again.
I pretty much have stood behind that promise and I have to say that I can hunt in the most miserable conditions and not get cold. There have been times that I have been ridiculed by my fellow hunters when they see my pile of cold weather gear, but on the other hand I have witnessed these same hunters heading to the truck because they froze out. Through years of trial and error, I have fine-tuned what works for me in cold weather. The following is what I have settled on that works for me when it comes to staying warm.
One of the first things that I ditched were coveralls. I don't like my movement to be restricted and I felt very confined when wearing coveralls. Lynn's cold weather clothing includes coveralls and they work very good for him, but that comes down to what an individual is comfortable with. One thing I know is that Lynn isn't going to freeze out on a deer stand, either. I opt for the bib overalls to be able to layer my system to my liking, where I can add to or take off items as the conditions change. My under layer is polypropylene which wicks moisture away from the body and I don't want it very tight, either. I am pretty bad to wear a heavy pair of sweat pants over the polypropylene simply because they are designed to hold heat in. Or I may opt for a pair of wool pants. A wool shirt and a heavy wool sweater goes over the poly on top with either Thinsulate or other similar material good quality bibs over this. When it is extremely cold, I add a long Thinsulate parka with all the goodies like Goretex and Windguard to the outfit.
For my feet, I like the 16 inch boots which lace from the toe to the top because I can open them up to add some of the good quality socks that are available today. I used to wear wool socks, but now prefer to wear a synthetic sock designed for extreme weather. I always hunt with gloves on even when it is warm but I cannot function with fingers in my gloves. I either buy gloves without fingers or simply cut the fingers out of the gloves on my right hand. I have used many kinds of gloves over the years but the gloves I like the best for my initial pair are Army surplus wool gloves designed to be a liner for heavier leather gloves. They are readily available almost anywhere and they are only a few dollars a pair.
I use a heavy, long cuffed pair of gloves made of Thinsulate or other super insulating material for extreme cold, but most of the time I keep my shooting hand with only the light wool glove with fingers removed. This calls for a hand muff that goes around your waist and they are invaluable in cold weather. I have cases of chemical hand warmers in my hunting room and they work very well in keeping something warm to place cold fingers around.
For my headgear, I love the wool or knit toboggans, but also have one with a bill to assist when looking into the sun. I have several balaclavas that are wonderful in helping keep the neck and head warm, but I often use them without using the hood.
One other item that I got on to several years ago and will never feel that my extreme gear is complete without is a Heater Body Suit. These incredible cold weather over suits are so great that they will make it possible to stay in the extreme cold all day without getting cold. I have come to the place where I back off of my clothing, dressing lighter than I normally would when it is not terribly cold and then use the Heater Body Suit to do the rest. I have sat comfortably for many hours on end in very cold weather without ever getting the least bit cold. I have also slept in mine on cold nights in a deer camp, too on several occasions. The Heater Body Suit is guaranteed to keep you warm down to -30 degrees. My pal Brenda Valentine, who hunts all over the world has several and always takes an extra along in case her cameraman or guide does not have one. If you truly want to hunt in extreme conditions put the cost of a Heater Body Suit in your budget.
Learning how to prepare for cold weather is a great asset which will help you stay warm and alert on stand for longer periods of time and make your hunting trip a much more enjoyable experience.