Since being first introduced to whitetail hunting more than 20 years ago, it has become a yearly ritual. The first sign of antler growth come early summer helps the anticipation grow and like a kid in a candy store. Nothing but pure excitement begins to set in. Later in the summer months, trail cams are strategically placed to help gather knowledgeable intel, and then the waiting game begins. Like the old saying goes, “Only time will tell”.
Throughout the fall something had seemed off. What felt like was going to be an amazing year for deer activity quickly fell short. With the odd appearance of bucks here and there but nothing was patterning as I was hoping. With it being September however I was not too worried. While hunting the early season with the bow was now an option for me, my real true love of hunting comes in the blistering cold and snow of November, the “Whitetail Rut." These are the days and times where I believe the best chances of a big mature whitetail are in your greatest favor.
In Saskatchewan the rifle season is open from November 15th to December 2nd. With some added holidays taken this year from work, packing had begun as opening day inched closer and closer. With my work schedule my first day out in the field would be November 17th. The workday of the 16th seemed to drag on as the truck was ready and packed, waiting to head out to my hunting area and begin my search for a mature whitetail.
On the evening drive out I stopped to pull trail cams for the last bit of help in knowing what I may be anticipating to see. Once the fire was stoked in the wood burning stove and the cabins temperature was beginning to raise, the laptop was turned on and cams were checked. Low and behold, November 15th, a long beamed, high sitting typical buck had rolled by. Of course, I was not in the stand when this occurred.
Over the next few days above normal temperatures and very minimal snow had deer activity and movement at a standstill. I knew the search for a mature whitetail was not going to be an easy feat this year. This seemed to be an occurrence not only in my area but also all over the province. Morning drives and daily sits were proving to be successful in seeing deer here and there but just not “The One."
Heading back to work for a few days, there was the slight thought of how the game plan should be changed, but as my father and long time hunting partner would say “be patient and put in the time and that will lead you to the best chances of success."
Back out to base camp I would go on the evening of the 23rd for a timeframe to the end of season if I so needed. The night of the 24th a familiar face would show, the long beamed typical was back and in the area. I knew where I had to be the following day, especially with the perfect wind that was expected in the forecast.
On the Afternoon of the 25th there seemed to be increased doe and fawn movement, almost non-stop thru the afternoon with one specific pair bedding just to the left of my blind. With my eyes always keeping watch I knew some of my best knowledge would come from watching those two deer. Roughly around 3:45pm the two deer abruptly stood up and their glances moved to the west where I noticed antlers in the brush and with a single grunt the mature buck was in hot pursuit. This was the quick glimpse I needed as he chased them off into the distance not to be seen again. He was the mature whitetail I was after.
That evening, looking back on years prior trail cam pictures, I had more history with this deer than I first thought, three years as a solid 5x5 frame. I called up my old man and had a brief discussion, then decided that if given the right opportunity, I would fill my tag.
November 26th was a day where the winds were once again in my favor. This day proved to have the most movement for me to date. Three younger bucks mixed in with does and fawns throughout the afternoon, but no site of “the one." As the daylight hours started to become numbered, I received a text from my old man. “Any movement? Still sitting till dark?” With a quick reply I explained what I seen when I luckily looked up and very abruptly texted “He’s coming in!” It was now 5:01pm and with limited minutes of legal light I hoped all would fall into place. Directly from the west, hot on a doe’s trail, there he was. Slowly raising my rifle, taking the safety off, waiting for that perfect shot. At 35 yards he stopped in his tracks broadside, placing the crosshairs on the vitals, and with a slow squeeze of the trigger the shot went off. I knew immediately that the shot was good.
Phone calls were made and as a few minutes went by I stepped out of the blind to head out to put eyes on the mature whitetail. Just a mere 75 yards away, there he was.
The 2023 season had come to an end and my tag was filled. A quick half hour later, long time friend Adam and my dad had arrived. With a quick congratulations handshake the work was set to begin.
2023 was definitely a season filled with learning curves but a few things remained constants. Put in the work and you will be rewarded. Will this be through a filled tag? Maybe not every year. The people the time is spent with and the memories that are gained are the true reward. This year I was just lucky enough to fill a tag as well. As I sit looking back on how the hunting season unfolded the anticipation already begins on the next chapter of being a whitetail hunter. It is not just a hobby it’s truly a lifestyle. If you ever have that chance and haven’t before, get out and give it a shot. For those of you who have and continue to do so, good luck and have fun doing so! I know I sure will.