Fall of 2011
We have hunted a farm in Peterborough County since the mid ’90s, and harvested a lot of great bucks in the 130 to low 150 range, but had never caught a glimpse or trail camera picture of anything bigger. We have practiced Quality Deer Management Association principles for many years. To those who may not be familiar with QDMA: a couple of their principles are to pass on bucks until they are 3.5 years or older, and to try to keep the ratio of bucks to does close to the same.
Finally, in the fall of 2011, we got a buck on camera that we were really excited about. We named him Ralphie, and he was a three-and-a-half-year-old that was close to 130 inches. We knew that if he lived a couple more years, he had the potential to be really big, and we were looking forward to seeing what he would do.
In the fall of 2011, we were able to get lots of trail camera pictures of him. He was the only decent buck on the property, and we decided to pass him and not hunt the property that year, allowing it to stay as a sanctuary.
Fall of 2012
In August 2012, we set up our trail cameras and couldn’t wait to see what this year’s antler growth would look like. It didn’t take us long to get him on camera, and we were shocked when we saw the pictures. His left side had a huge jump in growth. It was a great big five-point side, but the right side was all messed up and kind of looked like a hand.
We were disappointed to say the least. We finally had a buck that had the potential to be a true giant, and then this happened. After doing research, we concluded he had damaged his pedicle when shedding his 2011 antlers. There was a chance he could have damaged it permanently, or just for one year’s growth. With that knowledge, we decided that we would not target him this year and see what he would do the next year. As luck would have it, we saw him twice that fall while checking trail cameras.
Fall of 2013
It seemed like summer was never going to arrive, and finally when we put the cameras up there was nothing! There was no sign of him the first month and a half, but finally the start of August came, and there he was on one of our mineral sites and he came back as a PERFECT big, clean 10-point. We were ecstatic and couldn’t wait for the fall to get here.
Fall came and our filming schedule with Canada in the Rough picked up. For various reasons, we had a bunch of failed hunts that season, so we didn’t end up getting into the woods like we had hoped. We hunted him three times that year before December and had no sightings, even though he was consistently on our trail cameras.
With our Canada in the Rough trips complete, we decided we would hunt the month of December hard for him. Our experience taught us that when the cold snowy days came he left our property each year. We prayed that it would be a warm December, but, unfortunately Mother Nature didn’t see it that way. The cold snowy weather came early and our sits were unproductive, and he soon left our property.
Fall of 2014
2014 would be a lot like 2013 in many ways. Again, no pictures of Ralphie until early August, and he came back looking almost identical to the year before, other than his right side had the start of a G5 that would not go an inch. The fall would follow the same patterns as the year before, and we only hunted him a handful of times up until the end of November with no sightings.
When December came, we planned on hunting him every time the wind was good. Each time we would go we would not see him, but when the wind was bad it seemed he was quite often there in da light. This carried on until the middle of the month, when he again left the property.
Fall of 2015
In 2015, we got our cameras and mineral sites out right at the start of turkey season and were excited to see what Ralphie looked like in his (we think) seven-and-a-half-year-old rack. Spring came and went with no sign of him, but this wasn’t abnormal since we would usually start getting him in early August.
We had no pictures of him in August and the middle of September came, and still not a sign of him! Now we were sweating it! We began to wonder if he was harvested late last year when he left us. We reasoned that he couldn’t have been or we would have heard it, but… did he get hit by a car? We were now sick thinking that we had had a deer like this on one of our properties and had hundreds of pictures of him, and then he was gone.
We all lost a little bit of sleep over this, but then one day Kevin came back with SD cards from the cameras on that property, and Ralphie was back! It was September 25th and he still had velvet coming off his rack, and this year his rack was different from the previous two years. This year he had 13 points. Still a typical 5×5 frame, but he had some non-typical points as well.
We were so glad to see him show up because we had planned on (if our Canada in the Rough hunts went well) all of us being home for the two weeks of gun season in November, and we were going to put lots of time in the woods after him!
The start of November was now here, and our Benelli SBE II slug guns were sighted in and ready for the season to start. We had not been in the woods after him in October, but our CITR hunts had gone great, so the three of us would be around to go after him in November. Ralphie had continued to be on the cameras quite often, but never in daylight.
The way that we make it fair between us is to name an A guy for the season and then the others B abd C. The A guy gets to decide where to go first, and then the others choose in order. This year Kevin was the A guy, and so the first week of the season when the wind was right Kevin spent a lot of time after Ralphie.
The first few days were slow, with Kevin only seeing a couple does and fawns and a small buck, but on the fourth morning it all changed. It was a beautiful sunny morning with a light wind blowing from the west and, as we always do, Kevin waited for first light to go into his stand so that he could see the entire fields as he entered. As Kevin and his cameraman were on their way in, he spotted a buck a little over 100 yards in front of them. With a quick raise of the binoculars, Kevin knew it was Ralphie.
He and his camera man quickly dropped to the ground, and Kevin grabbed his grunt tube and bleat can and gave some calls. With it still being low light, Ralphie could not tell what the guys were, and just stared and looked at them for a while and then walked off to their left. Kevin knew that there was a hole in the fence down that way and hoped that he would come through and check out the calls. Kevin could just barely see the spot from their location because of a hill in the field, but with the standing beans the guys were in, they didn’t want to move with the noise it would make. So Kevin kneeled down and gave a few more calls, then waited to see if he would come.
Minutes later, Kevin spotted him in his field no more than 60 yards away, but because of the hill, they didn’t see him enter the field and now could only see his neck and head; he was trying to circle them to check the wind. Kevin slowly got up on his knees and was ready to take the shot. As the cameraman was slowly rising to get more of Ralphie in his frame, the deer (which had now got to the trail that the boys had walked in on) turned and in a split second bolted back to where he came from. This was absolutely devastating! After all these years with the history we had with him, to have him at 60 yards and not to get a shot made Kevin sick!
Kevin set up and sat the rest of the morning and for the next few days with no sightings. The boys had another property that was about a kilometre away, and the previous year he was caught once on trail camera over there by the land owner, so Kevin decided he would go and give it a try the next morning.
There were no treestands on this property, but it has a large hill with a good vantage point, and that is where Kevin decided to go to see as much of the property as possible.
Kevin and his cameraman got to the top of the hill just after daylight, but could not see any deer. Twenty minutes later, a couple hundred yards away, a doe stepped out of the woods and was soon followed by a big buck! Kevin quickly threw his binoculars up and was astonished to see that it was Ralphie!
Instantly his heart jumped into his throat and started to race! Everywhere the doe went, Ralphie was no more than 10 yards behind her. At this point, they were still over 200 yards away, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything. She just browsed around a spot that was 20×20 yards, and he just stayed locked on her. She probably did this for half an hour, and then finally went and laid down in the goldenrod, but he continued to stand and just watch her.
This continued for about another half hour and when Kevin realized that Ralphie was paying no attention to his direction, he decided this was the perfect opportunity to creep into shooting range. As Kevin crept his way to Ralphie, the buck looked his way a couple times, but Kevin just stopped and used the tall grass to his advantage. After what felt like an eternity Kevin was now inching to where he wanted to be, and with every movement his heart felt like it was beating out of his chest.
Now sitting 140 yards away, his gun was up and rested on his shooting sticks ready for the shot. As Kevin was getting set to make the shot, Ralphie raised his nose into the air to smell something, and Kevin knew that he had to take the shot. With the squeeze of the trigger, Kevin felt like he heard the impact and Ralphie turned and ran right into the woods where he came from. Instantly Kevin was filled with a few different emotions. Did he make a good shot? Did he just shoot the deer of his lifetime? With all his excitement, he wanted to share it with the family, so he called Keith who was hunting just down the road and he and his dad were soon joining him.
The tracking job did not take long, as Ralphie went no more than 100 yards, and then the celebration began!
The feeling for Kevin was surreal. After missing out on the chance the week before, he didn’t think it would happen again, and then for it to happen on a different property, how amazing it was! The excitement of harvesting Ralphie did not just come from the size of the antlers on his head, but it came from the history we had with him. Every year for four years, the boys looked forward to seeing what this deer would look like and the excitement of going out and getting trail camera pictures of him.
He did not know it, but we loved that deer and the time we were able to put into the woods to go after him! It was nice to be able to put the final chapter to rest, but his legacy still continues as Kevin’s kids ask every night if they are eating Ralphie.