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#SKRESUCCESS: Saskatchewan Whitetail

#SKRESUCCESS: Saskatchewan Whitetail

Over the past decade I have developed a passion for chasing Whitetail. It has become an addiction of sorts, as I strive to improve upon my previous efforts, locate a new personal best whitetail, and achieve the goal of cracking the 170” mark and entering an all-time whitetail in the book of legends, Boone & Crocket. This is no small feat, as the odds of success are incredibly slim.

Whitetail hunting has always been a special time for me. As summer turns to autumn, I revel in watching the leaves yellowing, the final growth of the antlers and the shedding of velvet, and the crops starting to come down. But most of all, I love the rush of checking the cameras. Seeing the bucks from past seasons and discovering new ones fills me with excitement and anticipation each year. As time goes on, I find more and more joy in targeting these magnificent creatures with my friends and family. Looking at the mounts in my basement trophy room, I am reminded not only of the hunt but also of the company I was with.

Before the season started, I had three targets in mind: crossing the elusive 170” net, finding a mature buck with a drop tine, or locating a mature 4x4. None of these targets were going to be easy, especially considering the odds. Conservatively biologists estimate that there are approximately 375,000 whitetails in Saskatchewan, with approx. 40,000 tags sold, statistically less than a dozen will cross the magical 170 (net) number. The odds are incredibly tough to be so lucky to place a tag on a Boone & Crocket Whitetail deer.

At the start of the season, a mature buck appeared on one of my cameras that had seen for a few years. He was finally at maturity and has the potential to crack the 170” mark. He was a big, wide 5x5, looked mature, and was consistent, showing up twice a night. Unfortunately, due to an antelope draw, I was unable to put time in for archery. He was coming in like clockwork, but only at night. There inlies the problem, only at night. He was completely nocturnal. I reached out to three of the most knowledgeable hunters I know, Rob Dunham, Caleb Davidson, and Dana White for advice and a bit of confirmation of my plan.

Their advice was clear: keep the bait full and the does coming in, and do not sit until his pattern turns to daytime. I watched him throughout muzzleloader season, and his pattern was changing, with his timing getting closer and closer to legal light. However, from November 2nd to 5th, he did not show up, and our last sightings of him were on November 6th and 7th. To date, he has not shown back up on the cameras, likely having wandered off for peak rut. Only time will tell if he makes it back.

My good friend Caleb was aware of the three targets of the season for me. Knowing the status of the potential 170” being MIA, he called me on November 26th and said, “Bud, I think I just found a backup target for you - a big, mature 4x4 has moved into my area.” I had glassed from a distance, drove back roads, talked to locals, EVERYTHING I could think to do within a 10 mile radius to relocate the target deer everyday of the season with no luck. With only six days left in the season and no SIGNS of the 170”, we decided to put all our focus on this new target.

Caleb said, “I will check every camera in the area and see if I can figure this buck out.”

By the next morning, Caleb had him dialed in. He had made an old slough bottom his home for the last five days and had never been seen before. We both knew that these big, old mature bucks are smart and that it was going to take a lot of skill and a bit of luck to outsmart him.

The first few times we sat in the blind waiting for him were pretty uneventful. On November 27th, he was a no-show, and on November 28th, we did not sit due to the wind being in the wrong direction. Of course, he was on camera often that day. November 29th and 30th were the same as the first day - little to nothing. The weather was abnormally warm this year, and they were just not moving. They had no need to, as there was no snow, and it wasn’t cold. They could hunker down in the thick willows and never be seen.

On December 1st, Caleb and I had a good chat. The wind was absolutely perfect, the weather had cooled and was frosty, white, and cold. All indications that they should be moving. After two days with no action, we just felt like this was going to be “the night.” We decided to move in and sit early. This was really going to be our last chance at him, as the following day the wind was in the worst direction and that was the last day of the season. 

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For the first four hours, nothing came into the bait. Around 4 pm, we could start to hear what sounded like deer walking into the bush, but none were committing to coming into the bait. We were running out of daylight fast when the first small buck of the night made his way in. Through trail cams, we knew that this one always came in and had a quick snack, and like clockwork, the big 4x4 was two minutes behind him. The small one kept watching a spot in the trees - a tell-tale sign that another animal was coming out there. He was watching the large 4x4 move in, and we could hear it happening, but we had no visual. Then he stepped out under 40 yards, I took the shot, and the rest is history.

I began this article by expressing my growing excitement for the hunting season. There is something almost spiritual about harvesting an animal, and the time and effort put into homing in on a target deer is truly special. The friendships and memories built in the wilderness are lifelong, and I know that every hunter reading this can relate. The work, time, effort, and energy that come together for a successful hunt on a target animal is something that sticks with you for life.

I recently notched the tag on a 151 4/8” (gross) 4x4, knocking off one of my top 3WT goals for the season. It was a perfect way to end the season, and I am beyond excited to continue my quest for the 170” net whitetail. Caleb, thank you for your support, and I hope you will continue to join me on this journey.

Curtis Byford

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