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 with Rob Miskosky

Lamenting the Missed Big Ones

Few people truly understand what it takes to become a trophy book white-tailed deer. We see it over and over again, hunters on messageboards or during discussions calling less-than-stellar deer 150s or 160s and so on, you choose the scale.

Thus, I have to wonder, how many really know what it takes to make a book deer?

Take the deer in the photo on this page as an example. Take a guess at what his net score is, not his gross score, the score after deductions.

At the end of this column is the answer. No cheating now, don’t look.

The author with a good Alberta whitetail.
I shot this deer near Smith, Alberta back in 2005. When he first appeared out of the thick willow on the slight ridge above me, I settled my crosshairs behind his left front shoulder while paying attention to his headset, and then I actually passed on him; he just didn’t have the mass I was looking for. Of course, I knew he was a good deer and would rank near the top on my wall, but not needing the meat, I was focused on looking for Mr. Big, that “booner” we all seek. In fact, I had told anybody who would listen that I wasn’t going to shoot a deer that year unless he was a book deer, period. Having killed an exceptional whitetail with incredible mass the year before, I knew this guy just didn’t have what it took to be a book deer; I knew it immediately, thus the reason I passed on him.

I watched him slowly move back into the willows and disappear. I lowered my gun and actually congratulated myself for not shooting. Then I sat down and leaned up against a tree with thoughts of eating an orange I carried in my pack. Then, suddenly, he stepped out from the willows again, perhaps another 20-yards distant. He was probably 50 yards away at best. Once again, I raised my rifle and began to examine him through my scope. It was much easier to get a good look at him while I was sitting down and I was starting to become impressed by the width and height of the deer. He was definitely a solid 5x5 but, as I noted earlier, the mass was lacking. Then he disappeared into the willows again. This time I smiled and thought for sure he was gone for good. Then, seconds later, he stepped out again; this time I shot him.

Looking back, I’m glad I did, because he was the best deer I came across that 2005 season and one can never have too much deer sausage. Plus he’s a heck of a deer.

I can honestly say that in 30 years of deer hunting, of which probably half of that could be considered “serious”, I have had just two opportunities where I was presented with a chance to harvest a guaranteed book whitetail.

The first chance came, if memory serves me correctly, in about November of 1997 or 1998, perhaps even earlier. I was hunting WMU 346 near Shiningbank Lake, an area that has produced several big deer over the years. I know this because since 1998, WMU 346 has produced two hunting regulations’ contest winners in the whitetail category—no other WMU can make this claim. As well, a past hunting partner and I were also lucky enough to come upon two hunters of similar age who had just rattled in and killed a better than 200-inch, non-typical whitetail in this same WMU. The deer was built like a moose and absolutely stunning. The two hunters were dragging it down the road when we came upon them. Unfortunately, they were dragging it down the road behind the back of their truck with a rope slung around its antlers. Several of the smaller points had been knocked off as the antlers dug into the gravel that lay beneath the built up snow on the road. When we pointed it out to them, the shooter of the book deer announced that he had killed several deer bigger than this one, so he didn’t care. In fact, he asked us if we wanted the antlers. Looking back, I should have said yes, just to see the look on his face and perhaps the backpedaling that would have followed.

Later that same year, I too rattled in a book whitetail in the exact same area, only to have him give me the slip. I just stood there and watched as the deer of my dreams disappeared through falling snow and thick willows. Sometimes they are just faster than you are...

I was also once, and perhaps wrote about it in this column, granted the whitetail opportunity of a lifetime on another trip near Smith. I was staking out an active scrape beneath a large spruce tree. I had built a blind and was a mere 30-yards distant; surroundings dictated my placement. I knew there was a big deer active in the area so I waited watching the scrape, hoping for him to show up. And show up he did, unfortunately for me, in the darkness of the early evening and the spruce tree, I couldn’t make out the deer’s antlers in the shadows. I knew he was a good deer, but I just couldn’t see what he sported on his head through my scope, just this massive body. Looking back, I had ample opportunity and should have shot. While trying to lower my rifle to rest my arms (I had been holding the gun up trying to determine what I had in front of me for quite some time), he detected my movement and I watched the biggest deer of my life vacate the premises. He stopped long enough to look back at me and then disappeared. I still cringe when I think of the chance I had to shoot that deer but never did. 

Oh, there have been many other big deer over the years and some of those may have been book deer too, but glimpses are generally fleeting and often of flagging tail with wide antlers and lined up tines.

We say Alberta is a Mecca for big whitetails and big whitetails are killed every year in this province. However, if we consider big whitetails to be only those who make book, then the number of big whitetails in Alberta drops dramatically, there just isn’t that many.

The not-so-big whitetail on this page grosses 158 5/8, but nets just better than 154 inches, a long way from making book. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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