Hunting Adventures: The Trophy Hunter?

I was asked the other day by a non-hunter if I was a “Trophy Hunter.”  My immediate, emphatic, unapologetic response was, “You bet I am.”

And I am.  I have several sets of trophy antlers at home.  None of them are anywhere close to getting me into the Boone and Crockett record books.  None of them are even big enough to justify a head mount.  Sometime, maybe, I’ll get around to mounting them on plaques.  In the meantime they are leaning against the wall above the cabinets in my garage, where I can see them every day.

(Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Western Sportsman Magazine Print Edition Today For Even More Hunting & Fishing Articles!)

One of the trophy racks is a narrow, high, slightly odd-shaped eight-point mule deer, harvested many years ago.  I came to deer hunting later in life than many, beginning in my late twenties.  A good friend and I  “discovered” some prime deer country on private land in the river coulees of Southern Alberta, obtained permission to hunt, and had a lot of fun hunting there successfully for several years.  We spotted this particular deer bedded down in a sheltered spot on the side of a steep coulee one cold November afternoon, with a couple of miles of deep prairie snow between us and the truck.  He was my first mule buck.

The trophy rack sitting next to it is another eight-point mule deer.  This one is wider but not as high as the first, and won’t win any beauty contests either.  I had been hunting alone for several days in my favourite patch of publicly-accessible sand hills.  The land is privately owned, but foot access is allowed.  This was several years ago, before the wildlife biologists decided that deer populations were too high in this particular Wildlife Management Unit and began the genocide.  Consistently encountering nice bucks and not willing to end my season too early, I began what I have referred to ever since as “catch and release deer hunting.”  The rules are simple.  In order to count, the deer has to be at least an eight-point buck, has to be no more than 100 yards away, and has to be presenting a high-percentage shot, preferably a standing broadside (which, by the way, you have to pass up).  I was averaging a half-dozen deer a day, and was looking for another “victim” when this particular buck ran past where I was standing.  Yes, you read correctly – I was standing in a small patch of knee-high brush on the wide open Southern Alberta prairie, and he ran past me following a doe.  I took him  at 17 yards with my newly stocked 1924 Mexican Mauser (I had spent the previous winter hand making a stock just to see if I could do it – but that’s another story).  It’s just wrong to reject a gift from the deer gods.

The next set of trophy antlers is yet another eight-point muley.  This one (I call it my Salvage Buck) is smaller than all the rest.  It is not as wide as the others, not quite as high as some, and is fairly light.  It is an evenly matched and well-proportioned set though, and he would have been a very nice buck in a few years.  My oldest son was with me, hunting publicly-accessible coulees.  We heard some shots from about a mile south of us, and we set up in a good spot overlooking a large coulee.  We had only been there a few minutes when my buck came around the bend, working his way slowly down the coulee bottom.  He was badly wounded, but had obviously been able to move well enough to slip away from the group of road warriors that had been throwing Hail Mary shots at him from further away than either their rifles or their shooting skills dictated.  It took us an hour to drag him out of the coulee bottom.  Every time I look at this rack I feel good about using my tag to clean up this mess.

The last trophy rack in the line doesn’t belong to me.  My youngest son was hunting with me, in the same sand hills my buck came from.  We had spent the day tiptoeing around small herds of mule does, looking for a buck to hang his tag on.  We came around a small hill and surprised two decent bucks bedded together in the sun.  My son was every bit as surprised as the deer, and after the shot went wide and the scope knocked his glasses off, the two bucks bounced away to the sounds of our laughter.  Neither one of us recovered quickly enough to fire another shot.  Later that afternoon we watched another, bigger buck walk from a mile away directly toward the blowout we were sitting in on the top of a sand hill.  My son took him at less than 100 yards, a classic broadside double-lung shot.  His first mule buck.  One of my favourite hunting memories to this day is the perfect sunset walk we had, going from the truck back half a mile into the sand hills to retrieve the binoculars he had left behind in his excitement.

Not all of my hunting trophies are still in my possession.  One year when good mule bucks were scarce, my oldest son was successfully drawn.  As he and his wife live two hours away, I spent some time alone, scouting ahead of rifle season.  About two weeks prior to opening day I sent him a picture and a one word email –  “Interested?”  Opening week I was able to watch while he harvested that same elderly, cautious eight-point mule buck from a quiet coulee in a busy, publicly-accessible grazing lease with a perfectly-placed single shot.  His first mule buck.  That rack resides in his garage, the first in his now growing trophy collection.  I’m quite content with the pictures as my trophy.

Another trophy in my collection was a whitetail buck.  He was a smallish six-point, but he was my first whitetail buck.  He was also the first deer I harvested with my scope-free ‘24 Mex, back when it was in a synthetic stock.  I took him after a successful spot and stalk, in another patch of prairie sandhills.   The antlers were a perfect size and shape for rattling, so I cut them apart and carried them strapped to the outside of my backpack for several years.  I never did bring anything in close enough to shoot using them, but I lost track of how many times I sat perfectly still, adrenaline pumping, listening to the rustling brush as something moved slowly and inexorably downwind.  There would be a crash, then silence as whatever it was picked up my scent and left.  It was great afternoon entertainment, and I never had to drag anything out of the bush.  I don’t have those antlers anymore.  They were built into a floral arrangement given to some friends who lost their adult son to a snowmobile accident, far too young.  I didn’t mind giving up the antlers, I still have the friends.

Am I a trophy hunter?  You bet I am.  My trophies aren’t measured in inches or Boone and Crockett points though, they’re measured in the experiences and memories they hold.  Maybe the non-hunters can understand why, just a little bit.  You hunters already know.

Like This Article? Join Us On Facebook!

This entry was posted in Articles, General, Hunting, Ungulate and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.