The advent of trail cams has really changed the hunting game, especially if you are a deer hunter. Once you had to rely on tracks, rubs, and scrapes to try and identify a mature buck. If you were super lucky, you might get a fleeting glance of a buck or hear of a land-owner sighting. However, the trail camera has pulled the shroud of secrecy aside.
These days we can get clear pictures of the big boys — day and night — often many different times. They become secret friends. And yes, they often get named. Here are short stories about three bucks that have eluded me the past few seasons.
The elk buck
In late October 2012, I had a very large buck nosing around the bush property I hunt near Thunder Bay. Initially, a trail-cam shot picked up an incredibly long tine and not much else. Then, as the rut got closer, the buck got more bold, stepping out into the open, but always under the cover of darkness.
He was huge bodied and his rack had long sweeping tines with major height, like an elk. The deer was a night walker, never out in the light of day, and always appeared deep in the wee hours. I sat and waited quite a lot in November of that year for this buck to make a mistake, but he never did. On November 10th of that year, I dropped the hammer on an eight-pointer.
A few days later, on November 16th, my wife and I were in Winnipeg to see Neil Young. Before the show started, I received a text from my oldest son, Devin, who was hunting the same blind. “I saw him at last light!” the text read. “He stuck his head out and all I could see was head and rack. But no shot!!” A couple of days later the trail cam pics revealed the story. The elk buck had been with two does, and minutes after last light, stepped fully out in the open. He never appeared in daylight again.
The biggest deer I’ve ever laid eyes on was hanging around an alfalfa field in the fall of 2014. He first showed up (at night) in velvet and was absolutely massive. I’d never seen a rack so wide. He had at least 13 easily countable points, but there were more. Lucky 13 just seemed like the perfect name for this deer.
When he came out of velvet, he was incredible and majestic, but not altogether pretty. This buck looked like he’d seen a few seasons. In November, he disappeared and I assumed he’d either been killed by a hunter or hit by a vehicle (quite a common occurrence on roads during the rut). There was a lot of sitting in tree stands waiting for him to show, but only does, fawns, and spindly bucks showed.
On November 20 of that year, I pulled into the field and saw three deer about 200 yards away. A buck and two does. I put up my binoculars for a better look. It was him. He saw me, but was more interested in the does. This is a shotgun only area, so I pulled out my gun, loaded up some slugs, and tried to make a stalk along the tree line. My heart was pounding like a bass drum. When I got within 150 yards, he stomped, blew, and trotted off to the far tree line. Never have I seen a buck so big. He gave one last look and melted into the sticks. Lucky 13 never returned.
This buck was around one of my hunting areas for a few years, but in the fall of 2015, he came into his own. He had one of the heaviest, highest 10-point racks I’ve ever seen on a buck. His tines carved forward like daggers. Early in the season, he had a crazy drop tine, but he knocked it off fighting.
This buck did not shy away from being out in the daylight, especially during the rut. Yet a lot of sitting in a lot of different blinds did not pay off. One cool, sunny late-November day my dad, Gord Sr., and I planted ourselves in two of three blinds on the property he frequented.
You guessed it, the one we weren’t at was visited by Hightower mid morning. That was his last sunlight appearance. I’ve not seen him this year (2016), and was told by someone on an adjacent property he had been hit by a vehicle. Here’s hoping that’s wrong.
Yet it’s almost certain there will be another, new buck, teasing me this fall. There almost always is.
Proper shot placement is key for a humane kill. We rank the best gun and bowshots here.