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Saskatchewan Bush Bucks: A Welcome COVID Respite

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I pointed my truck east and started the day-long drive towards deer camp.

with-equipmentOpportunities to hunt Whitetailed deer in our neighboring province of Saskatchewan are available through a draw or with an outfitter. Many of the outfitters have licenses specific to Canadian residents, so there are plenty of options. I booked a hunt with Mark and Amber Belchamber and bigspruceoutfitting.com and couldn’t wait to spend a week with them. COVID had me locked down, and that meant there was no better time to explore Canadian adventures close to home.

In typical prairie fashion, a winter blizzard struck just two hours from home. Snow drifts formed on the highway and radio advisories told people farther south to stay home. Conditions were challenging, but I was glad I was driving on the edge of the storm and not into the epicenter of ‘Snowmageddon.’ My slow and steady drive meant a late arrival, but dinner was hot, and I knew I wouldn’t have trouble sleeping while dreaming of big bucks.

Two Days, Zero Scores

deer-snowMorning came quickly and showed plenty of fresh tracking snow. I hunted an hour before sunrise until a half-hour after sunset and saw lots of deer. A big buck had my attention but hunting with a crossbow meant waiting for the right shot angle. I had the big boy at 34 yards, but he was standing and facing me the entire time. When he did leave, it was done in a whirl, and he evaporated into the snowy woods.

The second morning, we unloaded the side-by-side and headed off into the vast boreal forest. Following trails through the snow for 20 minutes, we eventually turned a corner and edged up to my blind. There wasn’t a breath of wind, and it was so dark I could not even see my pack lying in the box of the machine. A cloak of darkness made it impossible to see and made the woods dead quiet. I gathered my gear, headed for the hideout, and bid Mark farewell for the day.

I was still organizing my gear when the sound of crunching snow made me freeze with my shooting sticks, arrows, and crossbow in hand. Just then, a deer walked past my blind at less than three yards, and a bigger one followed close behind. The black silhouettes were barely visible, and it was easier to follow the animals by sound than to see them by their movements. The deer were passing through. As soon as I could no longer hear them, I wasted no time getting gear organized before sitting comfortably and quietly.

driving-snowI was hoping and dreaming that the beautiful big 10-point from the previous day would make an appearance. It was late November, and the deer were rutting hard, meaning a new buck could show up at any time—or disappear. The deer I saw had not been captured on trail camera; he had only just shown up. It was a magical feeling knowing that the trophy of a lifetime could appear at any moment.

Is Silence Golden?

Equally as magical is sitting in a blind, hearing nothing. No vehicles off in the distance, no chainsaws running. No hint of any civilization anywhere nearby. Feeling a little disoriented from traveling in the dark, I heeded Mark’s warnings to wait if there was a need to track a deer. I believe his words were, “You could walk five days in some directions and never hit a road.” Instead of feeling eerie, the vast, remote country filled my head with dreams of big bucks.

night-vision-deerMark had shown me trail camera photos of several nice, mature bucks that had been at the site regularly. Interestingly, I did not see either of the big boys we thought would be there. I was pretty sure the deer walking past the blind an hour before legal light was a big buck from Day One, but I couldn’t quite tell. They were just black blobs moving in the dark.

With 20 minutes left of legal shooting light, deer started to show up that I could see. Two young bucks bristled and postured and started sparring. The clanking of antlers was welcome and could be the ticket for bringing the big boy out of hiding.

snowAn old doe showed up that looked like the grandma of the local herd. Pointy hips and a swayed belly indicated the old girl had lived a rich and productive life in the middle of nowhere. The doe was content to eat and was a perfect alarm system. The deer’s ears immediately told me when something else was approaching. Since this is wild country with little access, it’s not unusual to have moose and wolf tracks sharing the trails with the deer. The old girl kept glancing into a thick patch of alders. After staring into the jumble of limbs for several minutes, I finally caught the movement of tall tines. It was the big buck I had seen the day before. I tried to shake off the jitters to prepare mentally for a shot.

A Second Close Call, Then a Hit

The buck did not leave the confines of the heavy cover and would not step into the open. I opted to wait and hoped the long main beams led to an open trail, making the buck and its vitals visible. The doe was fidgety and knew the buck was watching her. The buck eventually charged after the old girl with his head and neck stretched out in front of him. The doe disappeared like a feather on the breeze, with the buck close behind.

I felt dejected. The encounter was the second time the buck had been within 50 yards and provided no opportunity for a shot.

bagNot 20 minutes after the rut chase, the doe showed up again. I knew the big boy would not be far away, and this time the doe walked down a well-worn trail with several visible scrapes. Seconds later, the buck appeared and followed the same track the doe had used. At 46 yards, the buck stopped to check an old scrape, and I leveled my Ten Point Vapor RS470 on its vitals. Slowly squeezing the trigger, my arrow launched and provided the audible “whack” of the SEVR broadhead stretching and cutting hide. The buck did a big donkey kick and was out of sight within seconds.

The woods fell silent, and the only thing I could hear was my heartbeat. My heart was racing with anticipation and the excitement of watching a deer for two days finally came together at this moment. I waited about 20 minutes before sneaking up to check for signs. There was a distinct blood trail through the snow, and I opted to walk back on the access trail to try to gain cell phone coverage. I had to walk about two miles before one bar lit up on my phone. I got a text message to send and went back to the blind to wait for Mark and to watch for more deer.

The Retrieval

gearsTwo hours later, Mark showed up, and it did not take us long to sort out the trails, find the buck, and plan a retrieval. It amazes me how versatile and rugged a side-by-side is in thick cover, especially with someone that knows how to drive with authority.

The buck was even better than I thought. Unfortunately, one of its brow tines had broken off since I saw him that first day. The new break did nothing to take away from the old boy, though. The main beams stretched out past his nose, and tall tines stacked like a picket fence. I still couldn’t help but wish I had a shot at the buck the day before.

I organized my gear for the last time in the blind and closed all the windows and doors. Visiting Saskatchewan for a deer hunt took some of the bite out of COVID-19 restrictions and the ensuing reduced travel. Now, I know I am planning a return visit, whether faced with a world pandemic or not. The deer are world-class, and Amber’s homemade dill pickles and perogies are worth the trip on their own.

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Tourism Saskatchewan has a wonderful website for planning hunting and fishing adventures. The PDF guide to Saskatchewan’s best fishing and hunting experiences is easily downloaded here. Additional information about the big game draw is available at this site.

By Brad Fenson

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