Whitetail deer hunting often unfolds without reward. Sometimes, perhaps even often, no matter how many hours you put in, it just doesn’t happen.
However, that’s what we love about it. We love that only sometimes, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, it does. When it happens, it’s a rollercoaster of emotion that you’ll never forget. My 2018 whitetail deer tag is notched, and it’s a story of the rare occurrence of when everything happens the way you want it to.
Back to my Roots
It’s been 4 years since I harvested a whitetail deer in Manitoba. I’ve hunted all 4 years, but I was hunting a specific deer at a specific spot and refused to harvest anything but that exact deer. This year, I decided to go back to the area of the Sandilands Provincial Forest in the Eastern Region of Manitoba where I first learned the basics of hunting from my father and grandfather, to hopefully fill my tag with the first buck I saw. I missed having deer meat to enjoy with friends and family and needed to remember what it felt like to share a big game harvest.
On November 22, about halfway through the general rifle season for whitetail in Manitoba, I headed out to the area I learned to hunt for the first time in several years. For the morning hunt, I sat in a homemade ground blind out of natural brush and downfall that my grandfather made about a decade or more ago. I saw nothing, heard nothing, but that’s deer hunting. For the late morning and early afternoon, I walked and drove all the areas I had hunted in the past to look for good, fresh, deer activity. At this time of the year, the rut in this area is probably almost done.
Finding the Perfect Whitetail Setup
Around the time of the rut, many people look for buck tracks and think wherever the most buck activity is, must be the best place to hunt. Often, this isn’t the case. During the rut, bucks move a lot. Bucks are looking for one thing and one thing only, which is a doe to mate with. So, if you find a buck track, if it’s on the trail of a doe, even hours later, that buck could be miles away with no consideration of coming back to wherever you found his track. Therefore, wherever you find doe activity, there will be buck activity. Maybe not right away, but during the rut, where there are does, there will be bucks. For the evening hunt, meaning the last couple hours before legal shooting time ends, I decided to hunt the area that during my scouting had the most fresh doe activity. I sat most of the late afternoon without seeing or hearing anything. I rattled antlers, used a basic grunt call, and still, nothing. It was looking like it a typical day of deer hunting. But, it wasn’t.
Evening Whitetail Hunt
For the evening hunt, I sat against a tree in a natural ground blind I made that afternoon that overlooked a tree line of short evergreen trees. My primary shooting angle was to the front and left of me. To the right of me, my visibility was cut off by taller, thicker trees except for a very small window of only a few meters into an opening that I could see. Due to this, I only peaked the right every once in a while.
With about 20 minutes remaining in legal shooting time, I turned my neck and peaked over my right shoulder to check the narrow window through the trees and sure enough, 180 metres away, a deer standing perfectly in that window. Immediately, I saw antler and knew if I could get a shot, I would take it. It was almost behind me over my right shoulder, so I had to completely pivot on my seat, moving my .243 and shooting sticks in the process. As I pivot, my grunt call around my neck strikes the stock of my rifle. The buck alerts and looks straight at me. I pause, not moving a muscle even though my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I wait a few seconds, considering my options, and decide that due to how small the window is, I need to move to get into a shooting position. If he takes 1 step forward or 1 step back, I’ll never see him again.
I manage to slowly get my body, rifle, and shooting sticks in to a shooting position and luckily, the buck looked back down and continued to feed. I felt lucky to have gotten to this point. I closed my eyes for just a second, exhaled, lead my eye to my scope, and gently clicked the safety off. Looking through the scope, I found the back shoulder, moved just a tad back, took a deep breath, and slowly squeezed.
Whitetail Success and Reflection
I knew I hit him good, but it’s important to give it time regardless. Once I had my things packed and felt I waited long enough, I made the 180 metre walk. It’s hard to describe if the walk feels short or long. It’s both, which I feel like only a hunter would be able to understand. The blood was good, very good. I took a few steps from where he was standing and there he lay, not more than 10 metres away.
This hunt reminded me why I hunt for the iconic Manitoba whitetail. The experience you get from hunting one of the most desirable species in the province, in the prime habitat of the untamed rolling hills of the boreal forest, and the exhilarating peak of emotion you get when you finally get to pull that trigger, truly defines why whitetail deer hunting is such a signature hunting experience.
Manitoba Master Hunter Program
With a quick photo of my license and harvest, I can submit this whitetail to the Manitoba Master Hunter Program for a successful whitetail deer harvest in Manitoba. With that checked off, a badge and certificate coming in the mail, I’m halfway to completing my bronze badge in the Master Hunter Program, as the only other requirement is a waterfowl harvest.
Full Freezers and Full Memories
The table fare is the definitive reason of why I deer hunt. This is not the biggest deer I’ve ever harvested, but it is the most excited I have ever been about a harvest because I now have what I have missed, deer meat. From pepperoni sticks and jerky to tenderloin steak, my 2018 whitetail deer tag is notched, my freezer is full, and I’ve got one more surreal Manitoba hunting experience for the memory books.
For more information on hunting whitetail deer in Manitoba, visit our Big Game page.