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As the end of the afternoon drew near, I reflected on the past few days, feeling a lot of enthusiasm with just a bit of frustration. The famed Alberta Giant had shown up only in my dreams – those bits of tortured sleep I attempted in between hunts. Still, most of what I experienced while contemplating this week was the thrill of hunting deep in the big woods amongst wild whitetails who’d probably never laid eyes on another human before we invaded their sanctuary.

Mark’s view from the tower blind.
Unlike Oklahoma whitetails that turn tail and run at the first sight or scent of a human, these deer seemed to regard us as a mere curiosity and went about their business as if we weren’t even there. During the week I’d yet to hear one deer blow an alarm, although I’d had many within 30 feet of my tower blind.

On the third day of the hunt – still my most memorable – I’d seen an estimated 40 whitetails, 15 of which were bucks. It seemed like everywhere I’d look in the woods there would be a deer! They were on all sides of me. As a twenty-year deer hunter, I’d never experienced anything like that. The rut was over, and the lack of success or even big deer sightings from our camp made me realize I probably wouldn’t be taking one of these legendary giants home with me, which was just fine. It was an adventure nonetheless.

During the course of the day, I had set my sights on perhaps harvesting a smaller antlered buck that still had a huge body. I’d seen numerous eight-points for several days but time was running out, and I’d already blown a great opportunity on two bucks that had shown up on the side of the blind I was only casually watching.

As the sun began to drop, I began the process I’d repeated on all the prior days of gathering my gear to prepare for the long snowmobile ride out, an 11-mile rollercoaster ride that was equal parts exhilaration and terror.

I was a bit sad, as I knew it was likely my last hunt in the woods. With the season ending, the most remote sites are gathered up first, as the guides are anxious to return home to their loved ones after a demanding month of hunting. For the rest of my stay, I’d probably end up on a farm in a heated box blind overlooking a field, a nice way to hunt but a far cry from being 11 miles back in the wilderness where only a solitary trapper dared to venture.

Mark with his big-body Alberta whitetail.
As the darkness began to fall, I took one last look into the woods, keeping one ear cocked for the sound of the snowmobile. Then I saw it. Back in the heavy stuff, amongst the birch trees and the pines. A flicker of white, then brown. Every whitetail hunter knows that exciting feeling. I had a deer angling toward a shooting lane – but was it a buck? My heart sank when I heard way off in the distance the whine of a snowmobile. I cranked the scope up and was reasonably sure I could see a bit of antler. The moan of the snowmobile got closer as the deer paused to nibble on some brush. COME ON! I screamed inside my head, glancing back to see if the snowmobile was in sight. My heart sank when I saw the black figure of my guide racing toward me. It was going to be close! Seconds later, the buck stepped out and immediately turned his head back toward the sound. I touched the big Browning off just as my guide skidded to a stop. He saw all of it! The whitetail bounded 30 feet and dropped.

Although this eight-point is not a giant in the antler’s department, his body size dwarfs my biggest 190-pound Oklahoma whitetail. The 300-yard drag out was brutal, having to do it the old-fashioned way due to numerous downed trees that prevented access with the snowmobile. My 57-year-old muscles and lungs will remember that last drag up a creek bank for quite some time!

On that last ride out, with the wind in our hair, snow in our faces, and MY Alberta whitetail on the sled behind us, everything seemed right with the world. I was two thousand miles from home, and a lifetime away from politics and other foolishness, as it should be.

No matter what happens in this world of ours, back here, deep in the woods, the deer will always run wild, unfettered by the trappings of our material world. The silence and the absence of human debris can be deafening. Give a man enough time alone and he begins to see faces in the snow. It’s a slice of time frozen in the Alberta wilderness, where the wolves howl, and animals fight to survive the brutal winters, just as they’ve done since the dawn of time. I feel privileged to have been a part of it. ■

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