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When I met my Husband-to-be in 2002, he had been a life-long hunter. It didn’t take long, for me, to get involved in this tradition as well. At first, I only helped with the recovery and butchering of his successful hunts. But in 2013, I wanted more. After completing my hunter safety course and getting my own gun licence, I was honoured in receiving my very own riffle, a satin black Tikka 308 with a Leupold scope.

Fortunately, we live on prime whitetail and mule deer grounds. For the first few years, a simple trek across our 100 acres got me to several sitting spots, depending on the wind direction. Soon I expanded my territory into some Ducks Unlimited and Nature Conservancy of Canada land. Learning where the deer were, tracking their movements and patterns was fascinating.

Andrea’s sitting spot.
I really enjoy just sitting out in the open, maybe with a tree to lean up against, and letting the world go by. It is amazing to see nature when you are still and not interfering. I’ve had some great encounters with honeybees landing on my knee for a spell, mice and weasels running under my legs, and owls dive-bombing me. And I have remained motionless, avoiding direct eye contact with mule deer 15 yards away—a cow moose with a yearling calf by her side needed a bit of talking to so she didn’t accidently step on me. Well, you get the picture, I was hooked.

Over the past eight years, I was also successful in bringing home meat to fill the freezer. Mostly some nice tender doe but also a sweet little whitetail buck. The year I drew my mule buck tag, I was stumped by a smart old-timer. I had seen him several times that November, but never had a clear or safe shooting opportunity. That one buck got me enamored with the chase of antlers. This brings us to 2021.

Sunday morning, November 21, I got up early to do a bit of whitetail hunting. On my dark walk in, I spooked up a roost of prairie hens; they surprised me as much as I did them. The trek was accompanied by a steady southwestern wind. Perfect for my sitting spot on a south-facing hill overlooking 200 yards of fine central Alberta slough bottom.

Legal light brought a fanfare of shooting from other hunters in the area. I sat tight. This spot had been good to me this hunting season, as I could have taken several deer already, but I was holding out for a big one. Fifteen minutes in, a small whitetail buck entered the meadow from the north. As I watched him browse his way across, I heard branches breaking in the bush to the southwest. To my surprise and delight, a massive multi-point patriarch stepped out, ready to defend his turf. Up came the binocular to confirm the eligibility of species and head endowment. Slowly replacing the field glasses with the scope of my 308, trying to control my breathing, I placed the crosshairs behind the scapula just below midline, a solid lung/heart shot. On my half breath out, I gingerly pulled the trigger back.

A trail cam photo of Andrea’s buck.
I blinked, recovering from the recoil. There stood my quarry. Buck fever had gotten the better of me! My bullet missed its mark, but not all was over! Due to the surrounding hills, the echo of the shot confused the buck. He whirled around to face the visible intruder and gave me a chance to reload my rifle. Standing at 100 yards out, he presented me with another perfect broadside view. Again, the crosshairs found their target and another shot rang across the frozen slough bottom. My buck dropped where he stood. A few feeble kicks attracted the attention of the small two-point buck still lingering on the edge of the trees. He circled back around to inquire what might have befallen his foe. Investigating ever closer, the young buck stalked around the downed lord.

I then caught my breath and started digging for my phone with shaking hands to let my recovery support team (husband and daughter) know of my success.

I could see my quarry lying still, so after a few minutes I quietly started gathering my gear. The young buck decided that nothing was gained by lingering around any longer and moved off into the trees. I reloaded my three-shot clip, proceeded to get my tag ready, and started the decent of my hill. For a bit, trees and buckbrush were hiding my target from sight. As I made my way closer, I could see movement. What was going on? To my sheer horror, I realized that the very buck I had shot and downed 10 minutes ago was getting up and getting away! I brought my rifle back up, but my line of fire was blocked by heavy vegetation. All I could do was hope that a sudden rush of adrenaline had made the King of the Woods try one last attempt of escaping. Staying quiet to let him bed down again, I slowly made my way to the original place he had fallen.
To my utter surprise, there was hardly any blood, just two small drops. How was this possible? A thorough shot placed in the location I had aimed should have left a crimson pool.

In my despair, I called my husband and told him of the development. He promised me to be there soon to help me track the cloven-hoofed escapee. The half-hour wait was tense. I thought I could hear thrashing in the next patch of dense bush but I didn’t want to spook him again.

Finally, my support team arrived. I told them of what had happened and showed them the evidence I had. With my husband in the lead, we started to follow the fresh tracks in the wind-drifted snow. It was easy for the first little bit, as the buck showed signs of dragging one leg. A few broken branches and a couple of belly rubs over fallen logs were the signs we were following. But after several hundred yards, the tracks appeared to normalize and other tracks started to mingle. With no blood to distinguish the right trail, we lost track. We spread out to search the surrounding area. No luck, no buck.

I admit that I shed a few tears on the trip back to the trucks. Did I miss? Did I injure him? Will he die an agonizing death? My husband tried to console me with a story of a similar event that took place 20 years earlier to him. It helped a little bit, but not enough. What were the chances of this noble creature showing himself again; slim to none, they don’t get big by being foolish. But I couldn’t just mope; I needed to act.

I sat in the same spot four more times before the season ended. A week after my encounter, another walk-in brought me to my hill. The snow had melted, and it was even darker. Eerie silence filled the early morning. Not 10 minutes into my sit, a sound that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up was heard from across the slough. Now, I have heard my share of grunts, snorts and wheezes from moose, elk, and deer (like most of us, I also watch the hunting channel regularly), but this was new to me.

Andrea with her hunting partner and husband Larry.
Sitting there in the dark, the sun couldn’t rise fast enough. I had brought a pair of antlers along to maybe do a bit of rattling. I got them ready and when legal light drew close, I sounded my challenge to anything within earshot. To my delight, I received a response almost immediately. More of the unusual sound and branches breaking made my whole body quiver in anticipation. The only way I can describe the sound would be to compare it to an old man belching. It lasted for several seconds, was very low, and vibrated the still air. It moved back and forth in the trees and was usually accompanied by the scraping sound of antler on branches. I sat there spellbound, shaking, ready, but unsure of what to expect. Several more attempts to draw the creature out in the open were unsuccessful. The sun was high before my rumbling stomach made me abandon my hunt.

Back home, a quick search on the good ol’ Interweb revealed that whitetail bucks are known to roar like a red stag in some circumstances. The deeper the sound, the more mature the animal. I have no doubt that what I heard that second morning was my buck. Did he come back to let me know he was okay? Or was he looking for the little devil of a two-point that “knocked” him down? I don’t know. What I do know is this, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and catch-and-release should be reserved for fishing only. ■

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