Ian Harford

Date: April 26, 2012

Whitetail Deer Hunt in British Columbia

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Sometimes it just feels like your getting nowhere. No matter what you do, or how hard you work your efforts appear totally unrewarded. We’d been hunting whitetail deer for four days solid and we hadn’t even seen a track.

November was fast passing us by and the weather had turned significantly over the previous few days. Even the mule deer were on the move.

I was in south-east British Columbia hunting with Total Outdoor Adventures and I’d already been there for nearly two weeks. My hunt was originally scheduled for 8 days, but we’d decided to extend the period to allow for additional hunts.

It had taken me a full nine days to harvest my shiras moose and the whitetail was proving equally elusive. As my host Vince Cocciolo was fond of reminding me, “wilderness hunts are just that – there’s no scheduling your game here, you’ve just got to keep working at it.” And that’s exactly what we were doing.

While the moose and mule deer are pretty resilient to the winter snow, the whitetail soon move to lower elevations when the heavy snowfall begins. Overnight we’d taken over a foot of snow and our hunting area looked like a scene from the front of a Christmas card.

I was hunting with young guide Colton Logue and my good pal Ronnie Norcott, experienced hunter and one of TOA’s owners. These guys were used to this type of hunting and had developed what seemed like an endless supply of patience and enthusiasm.

The usual tactic for hunting whitetail deer at that time of year was to drive the forestry roads spotting the mountain slopes and canyons, paying particular attention to areas of clear fell for signs of the migrating deer.

One of the benefits of the fresh snowfall was you could tell fresh tracks from some distance – sometimes for miles when viewed through a good quality spotting scope. Once spotted, we’d track the animals on foot.

We set out in the truck as usual, just before dawn.  Less than a mile from the camp we were confronted by a good-sized mule deer buck in the middle of the road. He appeared completely calm, clearly safe in the knowledge that he couldn’t be shot.

Although I had a mule deer tag, an animal must have at least four tines on one antler before he can be harvested. Magnificent though he was, this one only had three on each side. We tipped our caps and moved on.

This morning was a little different from the previous ones. There appeared to be fresh tracks criss-crossing the entire area and more importantly they appeared to have been created by white tail deer.

These are easy to distinguish from the larger mule deer tracks and lifted my spirits significantly. “They must be on the move” said Ronnie “I’d be surprised if we didn’t at least see one today.”

We had cruised our usual route through creeks, canyons and slides and my previous elation had started to wane somewhat. Then we saw it. A brief flash of white disappeared into the edge of the forest around 200 yards ahead of us. “It’s a doe, I’m sure of it. Sit tight and I guarantee a buck will follow” Ronnie predicted. He was right.

After a few short moments a pair of antlers emerged from the trees. The buck raised his head to sniff the cold air, but we were perfectly positioned downwind of him.

Tentatively he moved into the clearing, scanning the clear fell and using his nose to clear the snow looking for vegetation beneath. One of the benefits of commercial logging is the promotion of new growth.

Roughly two years after an area has been cleared of mature trees, new shoots and grasses begin to emerge and the deer just love it. “Mid-November also marks the beginning of the whitetail rut and so food is not the only thing on his mind” Ronnie smiled.

Although not a monster, this buck was a handsome trophy for a ‘wilderness whitetail’. Life is hard up in the mountains and as with Scottish Highland Red Stags, antler growth is not usually as impressive as you’ll find in more sheltered lowland areas. That said, it was still a stunningly beautiful animal and I was keen to get on the trail.

We sat and waited patiently while he meandered around the clearfell. He was gradually feeding into the wind and would soon disappear from view. This would allow us the opportunity to begin our stalk.

Patience was key and we wanted to leave nothing to chance. As soon as he crested the ridge some 300 yards ahead, we left the truck and headed out into the snow-covered landscape.

It was surprising just how deep the snow was. It’d covered hidden stumps, fallen trees and the going was tough. However, it did a great job of muffling the sound of our approach.

My heart was beating fast now. A combination of altitude, the physical exertion of stalking in snow and the sheer excitement of taking my first whitetail deer was taking its toll.

We zig-zagged between the sparse cover, trying to keep low enough as not to skyline ourselves. We too must crest the ridge to get a shot and this could prove disastrous if we were spotted. Our fears were proved correct.

As I emerged over the ridge, our buck had turned and was looking directly at me. Luckily Ronnie and Colton had dropped back, so there was only one unfamiliar shape.

I think this was my saving grace. I slowly dropped to my knee and carefully un-slinged my Blaser R8, passed it around my back and positioned it ready to bring to my shoulder. Then I waited.

The deer’s head was raised high and his nose elevated, trying to get even the slightest hint of what I might be. He was more inquisitive than anxious, but I knew he wouldn’t stand there forever.

I kept the Blaser low as I moved it alongside my right leg, then slowly lifted the forend onto my left hand in a fluid movement, never breaking eye contact.

There was already a round in the chamber so all that was left to do was push the cocking slide forward and we were good to go. As I eased the butt into my shoulder he looked nervously over his.

It was not or never. My problem was that it was facing directly towards me. I’m not keen of frontal shots as there’s always a chance the bullet will exit without hitting any vital organs. However, My position was solid and I was holding a steady aim through the scope.

He lifted his right leg to flee, but my 180grain Norma Oryx was already on the way. The shot was inch perfect and the buck dropped on the spot. When we retrieved him the entry wound was perfectly marked by a small patch of frozen blood on its chest.

“See! Good things come to those who wait!” Ronnie finished with a grin and slapped me on the shoulder. I totally agree, but it’s easy to say that after the hunt is over!

As published in the June 2012 Issue of Sporting Rifle Magazine

Ian’s Whitetail Deer Hunting Gear

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