I was on my way home from a long cold afternoon of shed hunting and the sun had just made its way out of sight over the horizon, gone for another day. On the back of my snowmobile were a stack of small whitetail sheds that I had collected on my journey, they were were wrapped and tangled in some baler twine that I had in my coat from doing chores earlier in the day. Causing me a bit of grief, I was patiently waiting for the twine to throw in the towel and send my sorry stack of treasures tumbling out the back door into the two feet of fluffy snow that I was leaving behind. Another predicament weighing slightly heavier on my mind was the fuel gauge bouncing off rock bottom, expecting my sled to start coughing and sputtering any second was making me a little sweaty to say the least! I had about ten miles to go, at this point chances of making it home without a little bit of a stroll in two feet of snow and darkness was looking pretty slim!
With a windchill of -35 Celsius, my face was not much longer to this world! Through a blur of tear filled eyes I spotted a small group of mulie bucks plowing a trench through the powder snow up the ridge in front me. I slid to a stop and checked them with my binoculars as they came to a halt on the crest of the hill. There were eight of them all silhouetted in the faded pink sky. As I scanned through them I noticed that they were all still packing their headgear except for one, he was off to the left standing on his own. His body was noticeably bigger then the rest and his ears layed perfectly flat off his head! He was definitely an old buck! Even with the quandary I was in with the fuel, I just had to cut a lap around the bluff that they ran out of in case anything of interest was left behind!
The ground was absolutely tore up with with paw outs all over the cedar hills that surrounded the bluff, just around the back side on the tree line I could see two very prominent points protruding out of the snow! It looked like a giant fork horn shed! I whipped over and bailed off my sled, and reached down to do the honors! I grabbed on to the the main beam and gave it a yank. The first tug, the shed barely budged so I leaned into it and gave it another heave! Up from the snow arose something from a dinosaur! It was an absolute sweat hog! a giant typical shed! After a brief five minute out of control freak out, I attentively studied every inch of the antler! It had it all, three inch brow tine, a ginormous main beam and mammoth forks!!! This beautiful shed put me in a state of awe! No question, it was the largest Mulie antler I had ever found! The ride home was a breeze, the minuscule worries of before were gone, my face never got cold and I never thought of the fuel situation once! And lucky for me, I made it home!
The instant I was home I grabbed a tape and measured my find, it was 92 and 7/8′s inches typical! Unfortunately I could never find the other side, its still out there somewhere! With the potential to be net Boone and Crockett and with it being my turn to get drawn for mule deer, the blueprints for that fall were in place!
In August I looked high and low for the buck, never being lucky enough to cross paths. Throughout the fall hunting season I spent countless days searching hoping to at least see this magnificent animal just once!… Didn’t happen! My thoughts of this buck slowly lessened and the blueprints of hunting this buck and only this buck were discarded and thrown in the trash. We were shooting for a television show and needed to capture a happy ending on camera. If it didn’t happen soon Mr. Shockey was going to give me an ending and I’m sure it wasn’t going to be a happy one! So in the last week of October we got our conclusion to the show with a beauty! He had a really nice typical frame with a couple extra stickers! Chaddy Laing, one of my best hunting buddies in the world, captured the whole hunt on camera and the show aired on Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures!
A little over a year had now passed since picking up that incredible antler that I had now spent countless hours admiring. I would stare at it and wonder if I would ever have the chance to see him alive again, or maybe even have the privilege of picking up another of his breathtaking sheds that he leaves behind each spring?… Maybe a lucky hunter took him home in the fall?… Maybe he winter killed? Or maybe he was doing perfectly fine and he was larger then ever, and I just wasn’t clever enough to find him!… could be. I did not know the answer but it was quite clear that the thought of this buck was consuming me!
Shed hunting time again! first on snowmobile, then with the melting of the snow, quad and horse back. It wasn’t long and May arrived with the countryside starting to green, the leaves out and it was time to quit looking for bones and head to Vancouver Island to guide for Black Bears in Jim Shockey’s territory. Throughout the spring my friends and I found allot of awesome sheds but never anything that resembled the buck that meant so much to me!
July 30th, time to start scouting. Another one of my hunting buddies, Ronny Colborn called me and asked if my girlfriend and I wanted to head out with him and his wife and check out the check out! Another words, find out what was in store for the up coming bow season. As usual Ron showed up late and we were just leaving town when the sun was setting! Now to be totally honest, Ron may have been on time and it might of been that I just couldn’t find my binos for the life of me, causing us to be so late! But I can’t remember for sure what was the case, all I knew was we were barely going to make to the hot spot by dark and it was allot easier to blame it on the old chicken rancher then a young dominant great white hunter like myself!
We were headed to an alfalfa field that is most often a heaven for big mulie bucks this time of year. About half a mile away from the hang out we were in stealth mode, running lights off, truck pretty much gliding on its own and no one was saying a peep!… Well at least Ron and I weren’t, the girls on the the other hand were definitely not in “STEALTH MODE!”… it was 20 questions time! “Why did you push the e-break half way down?… Why do the lights have to be off?… Why do we have to whisper when we are half a mile away in a truck?… Can we go home yet?” Ron and I didn’t let it phase us, we were focused! As we approached the the hot spot I could see a rack in the skyline at the far end of the field! I gave out a bit of a grunt for Ron to hit the breaks so I could put my scope on him. As I brought my scope to clarity, my body was struck with a cold shiver and I instantly started to breath like I had just ran a marathon! It was him, the buck that shed the antler two years ago and the buck of my dreams! A jumbo! He looked to have a pretty clean typical frame with a few stickers coming off of his back forks! The buck only stood and looked for twenty seconds or so before the whole field cleared. At this point I had lost all control, I was freakin’ out! He was like nothing I had ever seen before in my life! On the way home that evening we all discussed what we should call the buck, after some heavy controversy we agreed on “Papa.”
Now knowing that the buck was living there nothing could keep me away! Even though it was still a full month before the season, I was right back out there the next night but this time I made sure I was early! I got situated up on a hill about a mile from where i figured he would come out, and I was there well before sunset. Tonight I was in different company too, it was just me and my terrier beagle cross puppy named Wally. He was only about 15 weeks at the time and let me tell you, he was a cutie! The corner of the field was covered with does, fawns and little bucks all evening and just before sunset, there he stood in all his glory, Papa! He jumped the fence and trotted out in amongst the rest of the mulies! again my heart was pounding! I had my scope on 60 power to try and put a score on the feeding brute. Wally on the other hand was on a mission to bury his brand new pig ear in my brand new leather seat!!!… Not cool, not only was he posing the threat of ripping my seat, he also had my scope shaking enough that I was going to get seasick any second! So I did what any good parent would do, I took his pig ear away and chucked it out the window!… There, now I had piece and quiet! No rustling noises and no potential earthquakes happening in my scope. I was in a zone, totally locked into measuring every point and calculating what my new world record archery mule was going to score! Wally was now in the back seat with his paws up on the armrest staring out the window in search of his lost treasure. I guess at that point he realized that he had lost what he thought was the most important thing in his life… He let out a few little whimpers that were slowly becoming louder, I reached back and gave him a swat “Wally, shut up!” it was nice and quiet for about oh three or four seconds, the silence was broken with him letting out the shrillest, saddest war cry you could ever imagine, at this point all the deer were fixated on us staring across the field trying to decide if they should vacate or hang around? I reached back and yanked the little runt up into the seat with me, it was all I could do not to just pull his head off like a dolly and toss it out the window! I came up with a better idea, toss the whole dog out the window! That way he could be reunited with long lost pig ear and everybody would be happy! i quietly opened the door and set my heart broken side kick on the ground. Back to business, all the deer were back to feeding including Papa.
The light was starting to fade, I had finally come up with the estimation that Papa should score at least 205 typical points with a couple stickers to add on to that! It was now dead calm and I was going to try and slip away without disturbing all the deer. So I whispered as quietly as I could “Wally, come here!”… No response, I could hear some kind of commotion in the grass directly behind the truck so I very quietly slunk out of the door to find out what my partner in crime was up to. I tip toed around the back down into the ditch towards the ruckus. Only to find Wally staring up at me while making sweet love to a coyote that had since expired about a month ago!… The scene stunned me for a minute, and I guess reality set in about the time the smell hit my nose! My gag reflex did about 72 push ups faster then you could say “I’m going to kill my dog!” I knew spooking Papa was not an option so I dug deep, I blanked it out and tackled my maggot infensted pooch and made a dash for the truck! Quietly clicked the door shut and Idled away. Wally and I made it roughly 30 yards down the road when I felt my crotch get really warm! Before looking down I reassured myself that at this point nothing could phase me and I needed to be positive for my partners sake!… I looked down!… not a big deal really!… just some hair, some fermented coyote parts, some chewed up maggots all mixed in with a little bit of stomach fluid! And The cutest most lovable puppy you have ever seen staring up at me breathing in my face!
Throughout august, I maybe only missed a half a dozen days watching Papa from that hill. I had trouble with Wally and the coyote carcass every time we went! No matter how far I threw it into the grass Wally would find it! And if I kept Wally in the truck he would throw a hissy fit that he couldn’t hang with his rotting com-padre! To solve the problem I finally put our deceased friend in the back of the truck, took him home and tossed him into a hunting buddies pick up that was parked outside my house!… Boy did it stink!
With only a week left before opening day of archery, Jim called to inform me of my schedule! When the smoke cleared I was going to have a whopping two days days to hunt my infatuation! That week I studied Papa religiously every morning and every night. The mornings were a complete flop but the evenings he had narrowed his patterns down to two trails. And you could count on him being at one or the other! One at each end of the field, with a high ridge running between the two. I built a blind out of round bails and popular trees at the bass of each trail coming into the alfalfa field located about twenty five yards away from his path.
The final four nights before the season I witnessed him walk within bow range of one blind or the other in good camera light each time! Here were the odds, each night would be fifty-fifty that he walked by, considering that the wind would be good and no other deer spooked before he came! By noon on the opening day I had yet to make the decision as to which stand I was going to pick that night, it was eating me alive!…driving me crazy! I knew the best shot at scoring would be the first night and there is no way I wanted it go to night number two!… I would not survive the stress!
It was now 4:00pm, Ron Colborn was sitting in the truck beside me waiting for a decision from his stressed out mental case of a hunting partner! Ron was going to be the cameraman for the hunt. After twenty minutes of being in a daze. Ronny piped up, “If we sit at the closest blind to the road and he doesn’t show, we will not risk spooking him when we walk out tonight as apposed to vise verse?” What he said was perfect! It made complete sense!
We packed up our gear and headed out to blind number one. by 5:00 p.m we were settled in and by 5:20pm we had a doe with a couple fawns playing ten yards right out in front of us! You couldn’t paint a prettier picture, the sun was setting the wind was perfect and we had does and little bucks pouring by us in droves! Waiting for Papa to show up was a feeling of anticipation like I’ve never felt before. For two full hours, Ron and I were nothing more then mannequins! We were surrounded by deer all night long! For the last half hour I had completely forgotten my purpose for being there, we had deer nibble on our blind, we had three little button bucks chase each other around the blind in a full circle and never wind us! The whole evening was a gift! Right at sunset Papa entered my mind again, Where was he?… Was he on is way?… Or was he already out at the other end of the field?… At this point I did not know the answer to any of these questions, but I still had faith that he was on his way and would be here at any minute.
It was all I could do to focus my binoculars anymore, the light had depleted. “I think it’s time to go Code.” Ron whispered from behind the camera. We quietly packed our things and headed for home.
Ninth inning World Series, fourth quarter Super Bowl, third period Stanley Cup! It was show time!… DO OR DIE! This was the last night I would have to sign the papers before leaving the country for a month! I was overwhelmed with the pressure!
Ron called that morning to inform me that he was unable to make it but would send his son Jeff to capture the festivities on camera. Ron mentioned something about a chicken with a broken pecker that he needed to tend to?! Nice excuse! I just don’t think he wanted to hang with me in such a fragile emotional state!
Jeff and I were in the far blind ready to rock at 4:30 p.m. We decided there was no point in trying to analyze the situation to death and just to go ahead and sit in one blind or the other! If it was meant to be it was going to happen!
Ten minutes after arrival at blind number two, Jeffery was snoring like there was no tomorrow! I was sitting right up on top of the round bails that were part of our blind, scanning like a hawk! It was now one hour before sunset. With nothing in view I set my binoculars down for a minute and scrutinized my K O’d partner! I wondered to myself if the stories of chasing pretty girls and drinking a little more then needed until wee hours of the morning had anything to do with him drooling all over himself and possibly falling off his stool at any minute!… Then a more important thought crossed my mind “This Dude is my cameraman and the footage has to be perfect!” my stress level had now just reached its climax! The reason for this is because when the hunt is over I was going to have to present the footage to Mr. Shockey (better known as Spazzy)! This exercise can be more intimidating then a herd of charging elephants!!! Trust me, I’ve been in both situations!
Once I got the thought of being Charged by a herd of angry Jim’s out of my head, I got back to glassing……… PAPA! His horns were in the skyline not too far in the distance! I locked on to him in disbelief! His antlers lowered and I realized he was now walking straight at us! I jumped down and gave Jeffy a shake! “He’s coming straight for us bro!” in return I got the most glazed over glare, “No guff?” “Yeah, no guff! It’s show time!”
Jeffy rose to his feet looking for his own answer the the question! “Holy Buckets!” Jeffy had never seen Papa before, just herd stories from his father and I! “HE IS FRIGGING HUGE!” At this point we both realized that he was destined to arrive in front of our blind in roughly two minutes and neither one of us was even close to be being prepared! I got an arrow knocked and pulled my mask up over my face! Jeff got the camera positioned on the tripod so the shot would be directly over my shoulder. I peeked back over the bail to check up on the status of Papa, it now looked like he had taken a turn in his path and was meandering down the hill towards the other blind!… “You have got to be kidding me!” I thought to myself! We had to change plans in a big hurry! I decided we had to go after him and try to intercept him before he made it to the other blind! I grabbed my bow and my range finder, Jeff ripped the camera off the tripod and we were packin the mail! We needed to make it to a chokecherry bush 150 yards ahead of us, and from there would more then likely intercept him heading to the other blind! After running as hard and quiet as we could with our heads between our knees we made it to the chokecherries! I poked my head through the bush to see Papa facing us at seventy yards browsing on some silver willow. To say I was revved was an understatement! All he had to do was keep travelling in roughly the same direction for even thirty yards and I was going to unleash the fury!
I doe came into sight from the direction of the other blind, making her way up towards Papa. She approached him and they touched muzzles, she rubbed the scent glands under her eyes all over his nose then she proceeded up the hill towards the blind we just evacuated. Papa watched her for a minute or so then turned and started to follow! A negative rush hurtled through my body, I turned around and motioned Jeff to follow! We had to get back to our blind!!! There was a small four foot ditch that we had to sneak down, again running like greyhounds with our heads back down between our knees! We made it fifteen yards from our blind only to realize the ditch petered out to nothing, I quickly assessed the situation! I peeked over the bank but could not see papa but knew he had to be close! Right then I herd thrashing in the brush right at the base of the trail where he was originally supposed to cross! I ranged the brush, 45 yards… easy! I locked my release to my string! Jeff was recording ready for action! We sat motionless tucked in against the base of the ditch!… We waited!… Two or three minutes passed with nothing!… Then, thump!………thump, thump! The sound of hooves jumping the fence out of sight right beside us!!! At the same time the trashing in the trees where we thought he was started up again followed by complete silence!!! At this point my heart was pounding about twenty miles an hour faster then a rabbit can reproduce!!! I had swallowed eight times in the last minute and was still drowning in slobber!!! The silence was broken by Jeff’s faint whisper “Code, right here.” I slowly turned my head towards the bank of the ditch, only to see a set of 220 class antlers that I had been dreaming about for the last month only five yards away and walking towards me!!! I drew my bow and attempted to turn it in his direction!!! Papa was now barely three yards from the end of my arm!!! His rack paused then dropped two inches, he knew something was up!!! There I am two yards from the largest muledeer I have ever seen in my life at full draw and all I can see is his forehead and antlers!!! He finally bolted and ran back towards the pasture he came from! Jeff and I scurried up on top of the ditch and waited for him to stop! Bleating like a fawn I desperately tried to stop him!… He slowed to a trot then finally at eighty yards turned and looked back over his shoulder! The realization of failure took the strength from my knees, I stood and stared at the most awesome animal I’ve ever seen in my life, he turned and trotted away out of sight… The sound of silence, I did not have the strength to speak.
Jeff and I walked back to the blind where we had deserted all of our gear, we packed up and headed for the truck. It was time to except defeat. Not a word was spoken on the thousand mile walk back to the truck. All the events were replaying over and over in my mind, I was trying to think of anything that we could have done differently. The bottom line, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
We arrived back at the truck, I threw all my gear in the back and jumped in to start my rig. Jeff was glassing back in the pasture,”Code, which buck is that?” I grabbed my binos and glassed out the back window, silhouetted at the far end of the pasture were a set of large antlers traveling towards the hay field. The antlers stopped and looked in our direction, It was Papa again! It looked like he was on his way back to the hay field. I was a tad stunned at first, not really knowing how to react or if there was really anything we could do. It was now fifteen minutes before sunset, Papa was over half a mile away with deer everywhere in between us.
I grabbed my bow and and strapped my release back on my wrist. I locked on to Papa in the skyline and stretched it out. Jeff quickly caught up to me and asked what the plan was, I informed him we had no time to sneak. I motioned Jeff to follow tight behind me and hopefully we would be overlooked in the fading light. It was more then a long shot but at this point it was the only shot! At a brisk walk straight at our prey it was working. Not one deer had even glanced at us, we were now two hundred yards from Papa and closing the distance in a hurry. He went out of sight behind a large clump of willows, we kept the bush between us and Papa to enter within bow range.
Once inside the dense willow bush we got situated just in time for Papa to appear in the skyline. I ranged him… 66 yards and angling towards us! At this point the reality of getting another chance had yet to sink it in, the whole experience was surreal! In past encounters I had been overwhelmed with adrenaline, this time it was business. I was in a zone! Papa was at a steady walk towards the hay field and was now about fortyfive yards away. He was in allot of thick silver willow and a shot was not yet possible. He was approaching an opening in the brush, at full draw I grunted to stop him… instead of stopping to investigate the sound he bolted! At a hard run Papa was now heading straight back to the direction he just came, I bleated as loud as I possibly could preying for some type of positive reaction from my ginormous friend… To my surprise he slammed on the breaks standing perfectly broadside and looked in our direction! Still at full draw I was not able to range him but remembering that I had ranged the cow trail that he was just beyond, it was 66 yards. I only had a sixty yard pin on my bow so I decided to place the pin on his heart and slowly raise it. The instant I saw daylight come between Papas top line and the pin, I squeezed!… Again, the sound of silence… Broken with a SMACK! My bright orange knock flaunted its colors directly behind his shoulder! I smoked him! Papa ran over the hill out of sight, I dropped my bow and ran after him.
I watched as Papa made his was way into a patch of brush and and tip over! It was The most awesome feeling I have ever felt in my life, I got him!
As I walked up to him and reached down to pick him up, I realized that he was even bigger then I had imagined. He was stunning! As he had done time and again, this buck had put me in a state of awe. I wasn’t sure how to feel, the excitement of finally having it all come together was irreplaceable. But to say that I was 100% pumped would be a lie, in a way I was humbled that the whole chase was over. This buck had entertained me and consumed my thoughts for the past two years and now he was gone. Many times in the past I had herd Mr. Shockey say “I don’t hunt to kill, I kill to have hunted.” I guess this was the case.