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August 2021
Story by Rye Johnson
State: Alberta
Species: Deer - Mule

2020 was a year that none of us will forget. From cancelled plans to lost jobs, it affected everyone one way or another. In March, the Canada/U.S. border was closed to non-essential traffic. For me and many other Canadian guides and outfitters, it was going to make it almost impossible to have a season with zero U.S. clients. Spring turned into summer, and nothing changed at the border. It was starting to look like I was going to be home instead of guiding Dall sheep in the Northwest Territories. With the NWT season eventually being cancelled, I was going to have some time on my hands. I decided my time was going to be best spent scouting one of my absolute favorite animals – mule deer. Boy did I hit the jackpot! August 1st was the first time I ever laid eyes on the deer we called “Ted,” and it’s a day I’ll never forget.

My girlfriend, Kayley, and I hopped in my truck and left the house for our evening scout around the block. There were a lot of deer out in the canola but nothing to really get excited about. She had mentioned that she had seen a big buck on her way to work one morning a few days prior, but not having binos and never having really hunted, Iwas a little skeptical. I may have rolled my eyes slightly and said, “Yeah, yeah. I’m sure it was huge.”

I turned right at the intersection and headed west. The sun was shining in my eyes, and I could see a group of mule deer coming up on my side a few hundred yards in the field. It was a bachelor group of bucks feeding in the canola. A couple of the bucks looked like they had decent frames, especially for the first day of August. I pulled over into an approach and scrambled to put my spotting scope on the window. Scanning over the bucks, I noticed one with a giant body feeding along the fence line. He picked his head out of the crop and turned to look my direction. My jaw dropped, and I was in utter disbelief of what I was witnessing. Mass like I’d never seen before, matching inlines, split brows, triple drop tines, and a giant typical frame. This had to be the biggest deer I had ever laid eyes on. I turned to Kayley and desperately started trying to get the words out as to what I was seeing. All I could say was, “He’s huge! Kayley, he’s a giant! He’s unbelievable!” The rest of the evening, we just sat there admiring him, taking photos and video through my spotting scope.

I made a couple phone calls to my closest friends and swore them to secrecy. A deer of this caliber had to stay under the radar, at least until a tag was folded. I told my brother, Cole, he should check his text messages because I had sent a couple pictures. After a long pause, he said, “Well, I’ve been looking for a reason to quit my job. I’ll see you in two weeks.” Cole told his boss that he had a family emergency and that was that.

For the next two weeks, I spent as much time with Ted as I possibly could. I would wake up at 4:30 and do a couple laps around the block to make sure he wasn’t visible from one of the many roads in the area. I usually ended up on one of the only glassing hills where most of the time I could see Ted feeding in the canola from 1,000 to 1,500 yards away. He seemed to like to stay close to a small patch of bushes in the center of the field or in a small cattail-filled creek which ran across the middle of field. Both places would be very bowhunter friendly if he stayed put. I’d watch him until he’d find a shady spot to bed down for the afternoon and then head back to the house to shoot my bow and call to talk strategies with Cole on his lunch break. After a mid-afternoon nap, I would head back out to my glassing spot and anxiously wait for Ted to get up for his evening routine.

August seemed to drag on and on as I crossed days off the calendar, praying that September 1st/opening day would arrive quickly. My anxiety was through the roof wondering if anyone else knew of him and might spill the beans. The last thing we needed was to have every hunter in the country circling like sharks and potentially spooking him out of the area.

Before I knew it, my brother arrived and we were both sitting on the glassing hill admiring every move Ted made. After watching him for most of August, his pattern didn’t change and I felt we knew exactly where he was going to be and what he was going to do for opening day. The day before opening day was a long one. We spent it watching Ted in the same canola field where he’d been living, replaying every possible scenario we could think of 100 times over until the sun finally faded over the horizon. That night, I don’t think I slept much more than a couple hours and was up well before my alarm.

Cole and I were pretty quiet that morning getting our gear together to head over to our hill for first light. We sat in the dark drinking coffee and watching the sky slowly light up. As the minutes ticked by, we could start to see a dark shape over 1,000 yards away moving slowly around the small bush in the center of the field. It was him! My heart started to pound. As luck would have it, he was only 300 yards from where we had left him the night before. Cole and I quickly discussed that we should swing around to get the wind right and snake our way down the creek. That should put us within a couple yards and give us a lot options. If he decided he was going to bed in the bush, we would have all day to inch our way in close. If he decided to come into the creek, we could intercept him and get a shot quick.

As we slowly slipped down the creek out of sight of the buck, I couldn’t believe that we were actually starting to stalk the biggest deer either of us had ever laid eyes on. We were now 150 yards from where we had last seen the buck feeding. I slowly crept up the bank, carefully glassing, hoping to pick him up. Bingo! I could barely see the tips of his tines sticking out of the canola. He must have bedded down as we were closing the distance.
I looked at Cole and asked, “What do you think?”

He replied, “I think we should use the deer trail in front of us and keep creeping in slowly.”

Away we went with me in the lead with an arrow nocked and Cole in my hip pocket with rangefinder in hand. As we closed in to 75 yards, the buck started to stir, so we hunkered down in the crop. Ted stood up and fed his way slowly towards us. Cole whispered yardages – 73, 72, 68, 67. He was now broadside with his head down. Cole gave me the nod, and I slowly came to full draw and stood up. Just as I was settling my bouncing pin, he turned directly towards me. Not having a shot, I had to let down and sink back into the crop and start processing all over again. It seemed like an eternity waiting for him to turn broadside. When he did, I was more excited than ever. I drew back, stood up slowly, and settled my pin. Just as I was putting weight on the release, he jerked his head to look at me and I let it fly. With a loud crack, Ted jumped and kicked, he took off and peeled around the little bush he was feeding beside. We took off in his direction, hoping to see where he ended up. With no sign of the arrow and no sign of him, I was starting to second guess what I had seen and heard.

We fought our way through the canola in the direction we last saw him. I noticed a flat spot in the crop about 30 yards away, and we slowly crept towards it. There he was lying flat on his side. We had really done it on the first two hours of the first day of archery season. His immense size was mind blowing. After some hooting and hollering, we got him quartered up and packed out of the field. Once we got back to the house, I called over as many friends as I could think of and that’s when the real celebration started. Thanks 2020! You’ll be a year I’ll never forget.