At 5 feet, 8 inches tall with short legs, it was all I could do to keep up with my guide, Norm Bruce, owner of Stony Ridge Outfitters. Norm is in his early 60s, stands more than 6 feet tall and has long legs that really eat up the miles, and I was struggling to keep pace with him.
It was the opening day of Manitoba’s 2005 firearms deer season, and Norm was taking me to a ladder stand overlooking a frozen swamp. The stand was one of his favorites, and Norm had told me it hadn’t been hunted out of during the previous season because of unseasonably warm weather and too much water for access. That wasn’t going to be a problem on this day, because the temperature was a frosty 1 degree below zero.
November is magical time of year in Manitoba. We were hunting an area known as Swan River Valley, which isn’t far from the Saskatchewan border, and Norm said the bucks were rutting hard and doing a lot of chasing. And while I was sitting in a relatively protected area out of the wind, my two friends and fellow Pennsylvanians Bob and Bill, who’d joined me on this hunt, were in trees that were whipping back and forth in the bitter wind. Both hunters were in stands that overlooked a right-of-way approximately 200 yards wide and several miles long. We were hunting public land, yet we saw no other hunters.
The first morning out, Bill saw what he said would’ve been a true 150-class buck, except the big boy had been fighting and was missing some antler tines. Bob also saw a large buck, but was unable to get a clear shot.
The second day of our hunt was a repeat of the first weather-wise, yet Bob and Bill elected to hunt from the same stands. Both had hunted the stands the previous year and had scored on 130-class bucks. Bob and Bill had also seen bucks substantially bigger than the ones they killed, but couldn’t get shots at them. I’d been warned by everyone in camp that during the rut here the bucks are on a mission. They move in and out of cover very quickly and don’t always give you time to look them over or even get your rifle up for a shot. Norm had given everyone a briefing on what to look for when sizing up these Northern bucks, and I found one thing he said to be particularly true: When a shooter steps out, you’ll know it!
I spent the second morning of our hunt rattling and calling, and it was approximately 9:45 a.m. when a 10-point buck came in fast, looking for a fight. I watched the 120-class buck for 15 minutes as I debated whether to take a shot. While he would have been a super trophy back home in Pennsylvania, he wasn’t what I’d come to Manitoba for, so I spent those 15 minutes watching him and trying to get my frozen camera to work.
After that buck moved off I decided to start eating my enormous lunch. I had one sandwich down and was working on the second when I glanced at my watch. It was 11:45 a.m. I took another bite of the sandwich and looked to my left. Down the swamp, trotting across the frozen terrain was the biggest buck I’d ever seen in the wild! I dropped the sandwich and frantically grabbed for my rifle, but the buck was long gone by the time I’d gotten my hands on my gun and no amount of rattling was able to bring him back. I guessed him to be a 160s-class buck, but the encounter had happened so quickly that who knows for sure what he would have scored.
My nerves were thoroughly shaken when at 1 p.m. I tried another rattling sequence and a huge-bodied deer moved in from the really thick stuff on my right. I only saw glimpses of his rack, but what I saw was enough to realize he was a shooter. I picked a hole in the brush to shoot through and at 30 yards my .300 Win. Mag. took him through the shoulder. He weighed 280 pounds and scored 144 Boone and Crockett Club points, which was plenty big enough for me!