Deer Hunting Grand Slam

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Most hunters are aware of a sheep grand slam – the fair chase pursuit and successful harvest of four different North American wild sheep rams. Specifically, the four must include a bighorn sheep, a Stone’s sheep, a desert bighorn sheep and a Dall’s sheep. A feat not easily attainable because of the physical demands involved and that the costs can simply be prohibitive. And while I would like to claim that I have successfully accomplished this challenge, I have not. I, along with many others with this dream, tend to find that the bank balance is wanting when it comes time to book these out-of-province hunts.

Fortunately for me, I moved to where I had access to hunting three out of the four sheep right here in western Canada. However, the fourth, a desert bighorn, remained beyond my reach, which no doubt led to my burgeoning desire to offset this challenge with another – the attainable deer slam. The goal in this case is to fair chase harvest at least one whitetail buck, a mule deer buck, a black-tail buck and a Coues deer buck. Once again, three out of the four are found right here in western Canada. In fact, both mule deer and whitetail deer abound in all three western Canadian provinces and two subspecies of black-tail deer are found in BC – the Columbian and the Sitka. This reduced the only out-of-country hunt to a Coues deer. From the outset I decided I not only wanted to accomplish this challenge, but also upped the ante to the harvest of trophy bucks, rather than simply a representative of the species.

 

Whitetail

I will begin with whitetail, unquestionably the most popular and widespread big game animal in North America. They are also one of the most adaptive big game species in world. They can be found in habitats as diverse as swampland to prairie grassland to forested mountains. They can live in your back yard and happily munch away in your garden or appear on a mountainside where you might expect to find elk. I have even hunted them in countries I least expected to find them, such as in Finland, but by far and away some of the best whitetail hunting is right here in western Canada, at least from the perspective of mega bucks. Both Saskatchewan and Alberta have garnered an international reputation for producing monster whitetail bucks. And rightfully so, as over the years many a buck from these two provinces has not only made the Boone and Crocket record book but also, as just about every whitetail hunter knows, the world record typical whitetail was taken in Saskatchewan. My best whitetail, an eight-and-a-half year old buck that gross scored a tad over 182, was also a Saskatchewan buck. We just grow ‘em big out here in the west and no doubt genetics, habitat and nutrient rich food sources all play a role.

As a western hunter on the trail of a deer slam, we are most fortunate to have them at our virtual doorstep. And while they can be found just about anywhere and are unquestionably harvested in numbers that exceed all other big game, finding a big buck remains a challenge. They don’t come easy, as despite the numbers and proximity to us, by the time a whitetail buck reaches maturity with those book-sized antlers he has become one smart critter.

However, I have harvested good whitetail bucks in all three western Canadian provinces, so with a committed effort and a bit of luck, the first step toward a successful slam should be no more than a stone’s throw away.

 

Mule deer

Once again, all three western Canadian provinces have good populations of mule deer, but finding a big, mature mule deer buck is another kettle of fish. The story for those of us who either live in areas where smaller bucks are protected or where hunts are restricted to limited entry, or where isolation offers the opportunity for young bucks to age, are better off than most because without these protective shields the younger bucks are often cropped off prior to maturity.

While I had harvested a number of mule deer bucks prior to setting out on this quest, none were of the trophy quality I was seeking as part of my slam. So I set about organizing a fly in/packhorse hunt into the mountains of central BC, west of Williams Lake. On that 10-day hunt, I took a super buck that gross scored just shy of 200 Boone and Crockett points. Isolation and the associated lack of hunting pressure had allowed this buck to mature and grow those super antlers. So my advice here is if you are after a wall hanger, do a bit of research/scouting and hunt off the beaten trail or in an area with limited access as I did, or apply for a draw license or locate an area with no hunting pressure on small bucks. Utilizing any one of these approaches is sure to increase your odds of finding a good buck.

But, one still needs to make the shot. I recall, as a young lad in Saskatchewan and Alberta, missing shots at two great bucks, one in each province respectively. Youth and weather conditions played a role in those missed shots. However, I still have visions of both as if it were yesterday. So if you have a hunt lined up for a mega buck, put in the practice time and if it happens to be an alpine hunt such as my BC hunt, get in shape as they can be as tough as a sheep hunt.

 

Black-tail deer

Finding a black-tail buck, let alone a good buck, can become a bit of a challenge, particularly if you don’t live in BC. As mentioned earlier, BC has two sub-species of black-tail deer – the Columbian and the Sitka. Both essentially live in the coastal regions of BC, including the offshore islands such as Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte islands. While either deer are classified as black-tail deer, the Columbian tends to have larger antlers than the Sitka. For example, the typical world record Columbian scores better than 182 Boone and Crockett points, whereas the typical world record Sitka sits at 133, a substantive difference. The BC population of both is estimated to fluctuate between 150,000 and 250,000, with the line of separation between the two as Smith Sound. While that appears to be a lot of deer, and it is, finding a big buck in those coastal forests can become a real challenge, as I discovered after a number of hunts that yielded nothing more than a couple of decent Columbian bucks, but unfortunately neither measured up to the trophy quality I was seeking. I set my sights on the potentially bigger bucks of Northern California, where a five-day hunt netted me a fine 5×3 with a 20-inch main beam and an inside spread of 17 inches. This black-tail left only one deer to complete my slam, the Coues.

 

Coues deer

The Coues deer, a beautiful and diminutive southern relative of our northern whitetail deer, lives in the deserts of central and southern Arizona, southwest New Mexico and the Sonora of Mexico. Being a must out-of-country hunt, my research confirmed that my best chance for success was to be had in the Sonora, so I booked a hunt with a Mexican outfitter and headed off to Mexico.

Going in I knew this was going to be a difficult hunt, as Coues deer are known to be very elusive, offering few easy shots in terrain that would test the conditioning and tenacity of any hunter. These sly little deer are often referred to as the Sonoran gray ghost for good reason. The hunt proved to be just that – I hiked untold kilometres per day in some of the driest, most cactus-covered and rock-strewn hills I have ever encountered for one 200-yard shot at a fast fleeing Coues buck. Then, as if the hunt didn’t push my limits to the wall, I draped this eight-point buck over my shoulders and packed it out five kilometers to the nearest road.

While this hunt may not be a hunt for everyone, it did complete my deer slam and it left me with memories of spectacular desert habitats and challenges met sufficient enough to last a lifetime.

The quest for my deer slam is collectively one of my most cherished memories and I did it all for less than half of the cost of what just one out-of-province sheep hunt would have set me back, a very attainable goal for any hunter seeking the ultimate deer challenge.

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