If you watch a lot of televised whitetail hunts, you might think that most big-buck stories begin and end either in a tree stand or in a Texas-style elevated blind. I wish it were that easy.
by Mark Kayser
I've had my share of big-buck encounters in tree stands and if I hunted Texas more, I'd likely be able to recall big-buck encounters from a blind as well. Because I tend to roam around, my hunting style changes and is as unpredictable as the Wyoming winds in my backyard. Hunting a variety of terrain keeps you sharp and ready to try any strategy. That's generally a good thing, but it can also get you in trouble. Instead of just facing the facts and accepting defeat, I'll try anything to put myself within striking distance of a big buck.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Oftentimes the adventures become horror stories to file away in the "I ain't never gonna do that again" category.
The Sleeping Bag And The Angry Guide
The hunt got off to a horrible start, with a delayed plane causing my late arrival into Saskatchewan. Fortunately a friend of mine also experienced delays, and we rented a car to wind our way into the depths of the frozen province. Neither of us had gotten much sleep, so we were a little punchy on our journey, cracking bad jokes along the way. Arriving at the hunting camp, we were ignored by a less-than-enthusiastic young guide who sat and played video games instead of showing us to our bunks and hustling to get us out hunting. Jokingly, I made a comment to the effect that "guides don't play video games," and left to prepare for the afternoon hunt. Unbeknownst to me, I had offended the chap beyond repair and I was going to pay for it for the rest of the hunt. Still not realizing the young guide was upset with me, I was baffled as to why he wouldn't let us take the time to shoot our guns after having flown with them. My friend and I nearly had to jump out of the truck to check the zero of our muzzleloaders. Next, the guide took me to my hunting site, which was nothing more than a hanging-style stand in the open air of Saskatchewan. I'd checked the forecast and there wasn't going to be a day without subzero temperatures. This didn't look fun.
My first half-day in the stand wasn't so bad, but on the ride back to camp I had finally sensed that the lad didn't like me. He never talked to me, he sneered at me and when we returned to camp, his father told me in no uncertain terms that I had offended his son. I apologized, thinking it was over. It wasn't.
The next morning we left early. Real early. It was 20 below zero and the guide dropped me off an hour before shooting light and didn't pick me up until an hour after shooting light was gone. I was frozen, to say the least, and realized the hunt was going to be impossible unless I improvised. That evening I inventoried my gear and brainstormed on how to keep from becoming hypothermic. The only answer was my mummy-style sleeping bag. For the rest of the trip I spent every waking and sleeping hour in my mummy bag except when I was eating dinner or breakfast. It accounted for 18 hours every day.
Despite the young man's effort to keep me from experiencing success, I triumphed. On the last afternoon, six days into the hunt, a 150-class buck swung past my stand. The shot was true and I never left a hunting camp faster than that Saskatchewan outpost.
How Thick Is That Ice?
In 2008 I joined with a group of young hunters in managing a parcel of river-bottom whitetail country. The property had it all, including thick stands of timber, bottomland agriculture and more farmland on the adjoining uplands. What it didn't have was accessibility. Clay-packed soil, poor roads and a major river running smack dab through the property without a bridge made hunting the land challenging, to say the least.
My first hunting trip to the property was an eye-opener. The hired man explained to me that the river was too high to ford and emphasized that fact by saying he wouldn't drive his truck across the river until it dropped in depth. After looking at his 1970s Ford truck, I decided to pass on taking my newer-model truck for a "Poseidon Adventure."
I had to drive nearly 40 miles for the opportunity to hunt, most of it on dirt trails, to get to the other side of the raging river. Once there I parked and hunted where I wished, but resorted to Plan B to get back to camp. Instead of driving all the way back, the hired man informed me that there was a hand cart on a cable strung across the river. The cart could hold two grown men, and you simply pulled on the cable to slide the cart across.
This worked for the first hunt, but when I returned to hunt a second time ,worse weather had not only kept the river high, but the drive around was almost impossible due to washed-out roads. Plus, I hoped to hunt the far side of the ranch, nearly six miles away across the rugged river breaks. I had to get my truck across to expedite my limited hunting time.
The hired man and I once again walked down to the river's edge to evaluate the crossing. This time his appraisal was a bit more reassuring.
"I'd take my truck across, but in the morning you're going to have to break ice and you'd better have some speed when you go up the far bank. It's going to be slick," he quipped with a grin. I took the advice as a "go-ahead, but don't blame me if your truck sinks" suggestion.
The next morning my lights shined through the foggy darkness to reveal a crust of ice on the river's edge and small icebergs floating down the main channel. The night before, the hired man had shown me a limb to use in gauging the river's depth. Using the limb for depth assessment, I optimistically gassed the truck and rocketed into the river. Ice flew and water splashed over the hood, but my truck kept its forward motion. On the far bank my tires began to spin, but another goose of the gas and the truck shot up the far bank to freedom and on to the hunt. The following mornings offered similar ice-breaking adventures, but it was worth it. On the last day a mature 5x5 fell prey to my ambush location and it ended my ice-breaking adventure.
Renegade, Revolting Youth
Youth are rebellious. They don't like the same clothes as adults, they don't like the same music as adults and they don't like to act in an adult manner. I was once like that, but I never remember screwing up anyone's hunt like the motorheads I ran into one fall.
Locating hunting ground is difficult at best, and having it to oneself is almost unheard of these days. This particular property found me sharing the hunting privileges with two young hunters that would rather drive around and jump deer than park their truck and stalk.
During bow season I rarely saw the duo. Bowhunting required too much work and a stealthy approach. But when rifle season arrived, Katy bar the door. They were driving the perimeter of the property at least twice a day in hopes of running into a rutting buck. If their NASCAR-style approach to hunting wasn't annoying and reckless enough, the pair had also modified their truck not to make it stealthier, but to make it louder. I guess they didn't want the deer to miss their approach, or they saved money by skipping the benefit of mufflers. Had the property been larger I wouldn't have minded, but enough trails bisected the property that they had access to nearly every corner. Whenever I happened to be in the middle of a stalk, I could count on a General Lee entrance from the wanna-be Duke brothers.
One evening was particularly horrifying. It was near the end of shooting light and I was on my way back to my truck when the obnoxiously loud truck roared by me. Just as it passed me, a trophy whitetail jumped from its feet right in front of me and dashed straight away. At the same moment as I raised my rifle in reaction, I saw brake lights and a gun barrel poke out the window right at me and the buck. My rifle never made it to my shoulder as I ducked behind a fallen tree. Fortunately, the buck raced through a herd of cattle and the motorhead had second thoughts about possibly wounding a cow with a flurry of gunshots.
After that harrowing experience, I kept to the thickest cover possible and hunted in the most extreme conditions, hoping Bo and Luke wouldn't run across me. The following weekend that same buck made a tactical error during a blizzard. I had made my way into a dense thicket with a slight opening in the middle. Once inside, I waited for the wind to die down and once it did, deer began to move. First a doe stood up to stretch and then a buck. It was the same buck that nearly got me shot, but this time there wouldn't be any traffic to ruin my day as he walked into the opening for an easy shot.
One particularly wet autumn, I was hunting a prairie pasture that could only be accessed by hiking in. I usually drove part way in, but on this day the muddy conditions were ideal for swallowing a truck. Luckily, I was able to tag a mature 5x5 whitetail, but I was young and inexperienced and forgot my frame pack. I gutted the buck and hiked back out.
I checked the forecast, and sometime around 2 a.m. it looked like the ground would freeze enough to drive in and retrieve the buck on the firm ground. The forecast was right, except they forgot to forecast invisible gullies hiding in the prairie. While driving out to get the buck at 4 a.m., my truck's rear tire disappeared in a two-foot rut and I was stranded.
Scratching my head, I tried to envision an escape from the predicament before sunrise and warm temperatures turned the frost back into mud, stranding me until dark again. On the back of my truck was a Hitch-Haul Carrier protruding from my receiver hitch. Seeing that, I had an idea and removed the carrier. Pulling my "suicide" high-lift jack from my truck, I lifted the rear of the truck until the wheel was free and above the gully. Laying the carrier across the gap of the gully, I created a bridge and dropped the rear tire onto the carrier to neatly drive out of the predicament.
It worked. I was able to retrieve my buck and get out of the pasture before the sun heated up the frosty landscape. Unfortunately, the weight of my truck warped the carrier, but its twisted frame is always a great way to start a whitetail horror story.