As a busy fall neared an end, we headed to Central Manitoba for a much-anticipated Whitetail Deer hunt. We look forward to any time we are fortunate enough to visit this great hunting province, but this trip had us as excited as any. The whitetail deer holds a special place in all of our hearts as it was the seed from which our love for hunting grew as young boys. Travelling to Manitoba to chase a giant buck from this region had been circled on our calendars all season long.
As much as we can learn hunting at home, traveling to a new area like this breeds new challenges. These are different deer with different tendencies than we might find in herds back home. In this largely unpopulated region, we were coming to hunt deer that very likely had never seen people before! Add on top of that the fact that we got to enjoy a father-son hunt and the stage was set for a special week!
This week, Paul and his father, Ken, were lucky enough to be hunting with Harvest Lodge on Waterhen River, A first rate outfit run by the incredible Warkentin family. Jon and Karissa run camp like a well-oiled machine, offering fishing, black bear, waterfowl and of course whitetail deer hunting; all top rate. Camp was as impressive as the hunting, boasting 12 comfortable cabins and a beautiful main lodge where Karissa kept us well fed throughout our stay.
Jon, and our guide Clayton, had been working hard scouting all fall to get on deer and put us in some prime hunting areas to start the week. Harvest Lodge commands access to thousands of square miles of land, from big woods to agricultural to marshes. Pop-up blinds along fingers of frozen marshland were our home to start the week. With trail camera pictures of some really nice bucks to get us excited, and plenty of game trails and rubs all around our spots, we settled in and were ready to do some hunting!
The first sign of life in the woods for Ken was not a deer. Well, not at first at least- behind the blind he was surprised to hear a strange screeching noise fill the woods! Whether it was a predator on a rabbit or something else we would never know, but the shrill sound alarmed more than just us. An alert doe, trailed closely behind by her fawn, rushed out of the brush and quickly crossed the marsh 30 yards from the blind. Ken stayed vigilant but a buck never followed.
Our week consisted of many unique encounters like – not once, but twice, Paul spotted a Great Grey Owl fly close by the blind and land in a nearby tree, on a hunt of it’s own. And for a while we thought the only glimpses of deer we would get would be the groups of does and fawns travelling the game trails we were watching. That is the hardship and the magic of these big woods. Monster bucks live in these vast areas, but they don’t pattern as easily as some will back home. The key was to stay watchful and keep patient.
As great things often do, the big moment caught Paul completely off guard. It was late morning and cold and Paul had just poured a cup of hot chocolate from his Thermos when movement caught his eye. At first, just small patches of hide could be seen slipping through the thick brush and then, a big rack! The buck was moving very purposefully along a game trail just far enough inside the tree line that there was no hope for a shot. The trail that this buck was travelling on was about to split…one way, the buck would come out into the marsh and present a wide-open broadside shot or if he chose the other path, he would stay in the woods and never present a shot. Paul set his drink aside, readied his rifle, and hoped that the buck would come his way.
Sometimes you just need a little luck, and in the big woods of Manitoba that day we got it! The buck stepped out into the marsh perfectly broadside. Paul called out and stopped it, then made a perfect shot. The buck only ran 30 yards before crashing and Paul was able to finish his hot chocolate.
Jon and Clayton arrived to congratulate Paul and help drag out the prize. A mature 9 point buck that had one tine broken clean off. The week of camaraderie at camp, getting to know Jon and Karissa and their wonderful family as well as Clayton, was a success long before Paul pulled the trigger. But the thrill of harvesting a big Manitoba buck and the fresh meat that comes from it made the trip unforgettable! Thank you Manitoba and thank you Harvest Lodge!