Our Best and Worst Outdoors Stories: Whitetail Roller Coaster Ride

In our ongoing series on our best and worst outdoors experiences, Product Editor Gordy Krahn shares a rollercoaster of a tale in the whitetail woods.

Our Best and Worst Outdoors Stories: Whitetail Roller Coaster Ride

The author with his memorable Saskatchewan buck.

Anyone who’s hunted North America’s most interesting big game animal for any length of time has no doubt experienced the highs and lows that come with pursuing this undisputed champion of clandestineness.

Whitetail hunting is an emotional roller coaster ride — generating the highest highs one moment and the lowest lows the next. For every successful encounter in the deer woods — most often measured in mere seconds — come those trials and tribulations that have us all walking back to the truck scratching our heads. But if I’ve learned anything from a lifetime of chasing whitetails it’s that it’s important to graciously accept the bad with the good — because the tales of woe will undoubtedly outnumber the tales of triumph.

I didn’t have to probe very deep in the memory banks to come up with examples of each from my past — stories I’ve shared innumerable times with hunting buddies and share now on this computer screen. Both occurred several years ago, but like most roller coaster rides left a lasting impression. This is my mini-tribute to these incredible animals that, like a magnet, draw us back to the whitetail woods each fall —perhaps to notch a new high while navigating the inevitable parade of lows. 

Lowest of Lows

The mercury had dipped to minus-20 by the time my brother and I left the warmth of his pickup and trudged down the power line toward our deer stands. I tugged the bill of my cap down tight to deflect the brisk north wind and tried to remain positive about the four-hour vigil that awaited us. Our traditional sit on the power line the second morning of the northern Minnesota whitetail opener invoked equal measures of dread and anticipation. It was a given we’d see deer. This expansive man-made swath provided a veritable whitetail throughway — with deer coming off agricultural croplands on their way to bedding areas deep in a sprawling swamp dotted with stunted tamarack and spruce islands. The bone-chilling cold provided an equalizer. Sitting stoic for hours in the brutal temperatures took all the mental optimism and physical gumption we could muster.

My trusty Model 70’s bolt felt gummy as I labored to chamber a round at legal shooting light, and a quick look through my weathered Brand X scope told me I was in trouble. Not only were both lenses severely fogged, the reticles appeared to be partially detached and loose. Resigned to the fact I’d have a tough time acquiring my target, much less hitting it, I snuggled deeper into my coveralls and tried to think warm thoughts. 

My fingers and toes were numb, and I was shivering uncontrollably when a buck and doe appeared on the far edge of the power line an hour later, the first deer I’d seen that morning. Predictably, the huge 10-pointer paused in the security of the brush while the doe meandered across the opening. Once she was half-way across, the buck broke cover and wasted little time crossing the expanse of the power line, eager to make the far side where he would disappear into the mystery of the dark timber. To say I missed one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever laid eyes on would be a gross understatement in two respects. This buck was a total toad, and the shot didn’t come remotely close

Highest of Highs

It was the witching hour—the final 60 minutes of my five-day Saskatchewan whitetail hunt. Temperatures had turned progressively warmer throughout the week, and while I was still seeing deer, buck sightings were becoming increasingly rare. Consequently, I had lowered my standards, and would shoot the next mature buck I saw. Chances were good, however, the opportunity to fill my tag had come and gone. 

After a quiet morning, by guide had moved me to a honey hole behind his farm for the evening sit. Deer began showing up almost immediately, pausing briefly on the trail in front of my stand, before wandering back into the brush — but the larger bucks remained elusive. 

I rattled every half-hour or so and called in a nice 130-class 8-pointer and a decent 9-pointer just as the sun cut the tree line. Both were young deer, however, and I watched as they sparred before melting back into the underbrush. With about half-hour of shooting light left, the bucks made an encore performance but suddenly became agitated and ran off. I reached for my rifle as a large 9-pointer with considerably more mass and width walked into my shooting lane. This was the best deer I’d seen all week, with tall G1s and G2s and wide, heavy main beams. I wasted no time in deciding this was “Mr. Right” and slowly shouldered my rifle. I scarcely recall tugging the trigger, but a bright white flash of light as the scope tickled the bridge of my nose got my attention. The 180-grain bullet quickly found its mark, dropping the buck in his tracks. 

I sat in the stand for several minutes, soaking up the ambiance and rubbing my injured nose. For several days, it would serve as a reminder of the hunt. As I gathered my gear, I could hear my guide’s ATV in the distance. I climbed out of the stand to have a closer look at my Saskatchewan trophy — to experience the highest of highs.

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