I carefully unloaded the hunting essentials from my ALPS backpack and strategically placed the items in my blind where they could be easily accessed. My guide had dropped me off, and I could still hear the whine of the ATV engine as it twisted through the boreal trails, leaving me alone for the day. A new moon was a few days earlier, and the waxing conditions provided little illumination. I used a small light to organize my gear, but I could hear something walking in the frost-covered leaves and litter on the forest floor before I finished. I froze and listened carefully. It was a big animal and so close that I could hear it breathing. I strained my eyes to see out the window, but it was so dark that the inky blackness was the same with my eyes opened or closed.
I wondered if it was a black bear putting off hibernation for one more meal. Perhaps a moose decided to dissect the chunk of forest, and I was sitting in its path. Whatever it was, it made lots of noise and seemed to be on a collision course with my blind. I sat motionless, holding my breath to ensure I wasn’t detected. A dark figure appeared a few feet in front of the window and stood still. I still couldn’t tell what it was or even what direction it was looking. After a long minute, the critter walked down the trail and slowly disappeared from earshot.
The close encounter was a way to start a hunt and get the blood pumping. The surge of adrenaline made me forget about the cold conditions and dream of a huge buck that may have been an arm’s length away. It was a balmy 0°F when I crawled onto the back rack of the ATV for the 15-minute ride to my hunting blind. The cold weather was normal for early November, but the lack of snow made it feel even colder. Snow is a great insulator that helps conceal, muffle, or absorb sound. I took note and used my boot to clear dry leaves around my chair to ensure I could move without making noise.
There was still over half an hour to wait until legal shooting light, and the roaring silence was soon broken with the sounds of hooves shuffling and crunching dry leaves. The faint outline of deer could be seen, and with every passing minute, more detail could be distinguished. A couple of does and fawns ate breakfast while staying on a constant vigil. As the sky slowly brightened, it wasn’t hard to figure out why the ladies were on high alert.
A small white-tailed buck had its nose to the ground and broke up the party by chasing the does. Deer crashed and ran in and out of sight as the young buck grunted and chased excitedly. The commotion attracted other deer, and soon, several bucks chased does in a flurry of activity. It was easy to tell which of the old does had played the breeding game before, as one old nanny snuck back for something to eat while the others were chasing. It had been an exciting start to the hunt with plenty of activity and action.
I was hunting with Safari River Outfitters in northwestern Saskatchewan. I had hunted waterfowl with the outfit and manager, Lance Robinson, a few years earlier and was thrilled to be back for deer. Lance is a hunting nut completely immersed in the operation to keep clients on big bucks. He sits for hours every evening going through trail camera photos and talking to the guides about strategy and location. It is a first- class operation with outstanding accommodations, meals, and staff.
I would return with my guide, Chad, in the morning. Chad grew up in the area we were hunting, and his knowledge of the country and deer was impressive. He helped to generate confidence and showed me a few photos of big bucks that had been frequenting the area.
There was action most of the day, and when a nice 5×5 showed up early in the afternoon, I bristled with excitement. With plenty of time to look the deer over, I could tell it was young and not one of the target bucks I had discussed with Chad. It was fun to watch it, and I hoped one of the big boys would show up next.
I heard a faint shot to the south as the sun set in the western sky. My buddy Eddie Stevenson had been taken to a blind several miles away after Chad had dropped me off in the morning. I was pretty sure Eddie had connected, and when Chad showed up at dark, he said we had to detour on the way out to pick up Eddie and his deer.
A dark-antlered Saskatchewan bush buck with a mature body and stature is always a pleasant sight. Eddie explained how the deer tried to cut through his area without stopping. Staying alert and being quick on the trigger alleviated concerns of dropping temperatures in the coming days. There is always some angst about sitting in the cold all day when you live in temperate climates and aren’t used to it. I had gone over some tips for staying warm with several hunters in camp before we embarked on our adventure. However, the best way to stay warm is to shoot a big buck, as Eddie proved.
The next morning, we were back on the trail to the same blind I sat on day one. The rut was heating up, and several hunters in camp harvested good deer on the first day. I remembered my close encounter with the noisy critter the previous day. I wondered if it was one of the big bucks running a circuit in a big territory.
Deer were on the move as the sun started to rise. Several does and fawns wandered in, and the same small buck again showed up to break up the party. The sun was finally brightening up the woods when the small buck got nervous and headed out without looking back. Loud and decisive footsteps drew my attention, and when I saw antlers coming through the aspens, I steadied my rifle on the shooting sticks. Long main beams stretched out past the buck’s nose, and five long even points on both beams let me know it was a shooter. If I had to guess, the buck visited day one in the dark.
The buck had a massive body compared to the other deer I had seen, and his dominance showed. He marched without fear, just as the ghost critter had the morning before. I tracked the deer in my Trijicon riflescope, holding the green tritium illumined dot steady on the vitals. The buck was cavalier and stopped to eat. I engaged the trigger, held steady on target, and at the rifle’s report, the buck lurched forward, jumped over a dead tree, and crashed to the ground. Everything had happened so fast that it seemed like a blur.
I checked to ensure the buck was down for good and walked up the access trail to try to text Chad. The buck was not previously seen on camera but was definitely a shooter. It would take Chad an hour to get in to pick me up, and I enjoyed my time in the forest. Deer were on the move, and I sat and watched, not wanting to educate them or let them know I was present.
It was strange to look back at my blind in the daylight; I had only seen it in the dark. It was well camouflaged and concealed. It had been a great Saskatchewan adventure that I didn’t want to end. I was prepared to sit for the entire week but was thrilled to put my tag on a mature Saskatchewan whitetail. Winter did arrive with plenty of snow, and the hunters waiting to fill tags found it challenging to face the cold for a whole day sit in the blind.
TRIJICON ACCUPOINT 4-16X
With the dark skies and limited daylight in the far north, the Trijicon AccuPoint riflescope used on the hunt proved extremely valuable. The scope is exceptionally clear and provides edge-to-edge clarity, improving what could be seen with the naked eye. The illuminated reticle draws your eye to the target and allows for pinpoint accuracy. The illumination requires no batteries and uses tritium and fiber optics that adjust naturally to the ambient light conditions. The scope features allow the user to shoot with both eyes open and focus on the target.
The scope was used on low power for the deer hunt. However, increased magnification was ideal for the time at the range and fine-tuning accuracy. The cold did not impact the optic, and there were no fog issues. The rifle was cased daily for an ATV ride to the hunt site, and the scope held zero and proved durable. The AccuPoint is a benchmark riflescope that makes you appreciate the features without compromise. https://www.trijicon.com/products/ subcategory/trijicon-accupoint-riflescope
I used a Strasser RS 14 Evolution rifle in .270 caliber for the hunt. It was the first time I hunted with a straight-pull rifle, and its quality made me look deeper into the line. The rifle weighed under seven pounds and sported a 22-inch barrel with a boxlock action. The rifle features a grade one walnut stock, integrated Picatinny rail, black side plates with laser engraving, a straight stock shape with an ergonomic pistol grip, and an optional 45° bolt handle. It is available in 20 calibers and a left-hand version. The rifle was intuitive to use and shot extremely accurately. The Austria-made firearm comes with a 12- year warranty.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Dressing for the cold is critical to success. Being prepared lets you stay comfortable, alert, and ready to shoot all day. I dressed in layers, starting with wool undergarments. TrueTimber down-filled pants and vest made the perfect mid-layer. Insulated bibs and a jacket rounded out the equation, with a neck gator, wool cap, and gauntlet gloves. Bibs help trap your body heat and warm the kidney area, radiating heat to the rest of your body. Lighter gloves were packed for dexterity when needed. Dryshod Steadyeti boots , hand warmers, neck gator, and a thermos of hot tea rounded things out.
Hand-warmer tips—if you place hand warmers in your mitts or gloves, consider moving them up your sleeve to cover your wrists. Heating the inside of your wrist provides warmth to areas of blood flow, keeping your hands and fingers warm. Place the warmer under a wrist cuff before heading outdoors. Activate the warmers at least 30 minutes before heading outside to ensure maximum heat before you need it.
EMBER HAND WARMER
ALPS OutoorZ makes an Ember Hand Warmer – worn around the waist, making it easy and natural to slip your hands into when they get cold. The Ember uses several layers of fabric, fleece, waterproof material, and a suede interior to generate and hold heat. The unit is ideal for hunters, designed to be quiet and allow undetectable movement. Hidden cuffs keep the cold out and the warmth trapped inside. Use an extra hand warmer in the Ember for all-day warmth when needed.
SCENT KILLER GOLD —COLD STRATEGY
Having a deer at arm’s length from my blind did not compromise my hunt, as I remained undetected. Using Scent Killer Gold laundry and personal hygiene products means my clothes do not smell. A regular spray with Scent Killer Gold helps to prevent the transmission of human odors from things you touch or encounter. When hunting in cold conditions, spray your clothing indoors well ahead of time to head afield, allowing the product to dry and create an odorless barrier. The planning and execution will ensure you stay undetected, even in the cold.
Tourism Saskatchewan has an excellent online resource for planning a trip, finding an outfitter, knowing the rules and regulations, and providing maps for travel.
Go to huntfishsask.com to get started.