I have to admit, I am a numbers guy. Shortly after I started hunting, I became an official Pope and Young measurer and associate member. I just recently became a Regular member and have maintained my measurer’s status throughout the last 15 years or so. One of the benefits to being a measurer is getting your hands on all kinds of antlers and skulls. It’s awesome to score a hunter’s animal while he tells you all the details of the hunt. Being a measurer for the provincial record books has allowed me to score hundreds of animals; the most popular by far is whitetail deer.
Hunters always seem surprised when, during our conversation, I bring up the fact I have never shot a Pope and Young qualifying whitetail. I have been fortunate to take several other species that make ‘the book’, but whitetails have always been a bit of a bust for me. Not that I haven’t been close, I have two bucks on the wall that would have made it except for broken tines, and several that miss because of deductions including a beautiful 159” gross scoring buck I got a couple of years ago. It has become a bit of a joke in our hunting circle when someone shoots a buck just missing book, it’s a ‘Russ buck’.
Rod, one of my partners in Adrenaline Outfitters, decided enough was enough! How hard could it be to get me a book buck down? He’s been extremely successful, along with our other partner, Joel Penner, in tagging many bragging size whitetails. He told me it was time for the streak to end. And we were going to try and end it on video.
“How hard could it be?” he asked. Man, was he in for an education. We started early in the summer (immediately after bear season) with tweaking and hanging several stands in new and time tested locations. All were setup with a cameraman in mind. With all the preseason work completed, it was time to hurry up and wait.
We killed time in early fall guiding some fall bear hunters and an archery elk hunt that was more of a summer holiday than an elk hunt. Between temps in the 90’s and insatiable mosquitoes, very little meat was in the freezer when it was time to get serious about deer hunting. In early November, it was time to go. I took the week off work and Rod allocated time to film. The weather was above normal, but tolerable for hunter and quarry. Our first sit in the evening was incredible. Several deer were moving into the field to feed. Near dusk, a group of deer began moving through the trees about 60 yards off and closing. Through the trees, I could see a great buck, probably in the 140 class moving in, but to the west of our location. I told Rod and asked if I should grunt to get him to commit to our direction. He said give a couple of soft grunts to see what would happen.
I intended to grunt softly three times. The 1st grunt was fine, but the 2nd sounded distinctly different – more like a cross between an immature bull elk and a junior high marching band tuba player. The buck didn’t react too badly, but when his six girlfriends ran for the hills, he happily bounded away with them. Rod didn’t think it was near as funny as I did.
A couple of days later, we were sitting in a great funnel in an Ameristep two-man ladder stand. We decided to have the shooting rail down in case deer came from the back side and Rod needed to lean out to film. It was incredibly windy and we weren’t expecting deer to move until last light or the wind let up. After only an hour in the stand I saw deer approaching and one was a definite shooter in the high 130’s. Caught with our pants down (deal with that imagery), Rod hurried to get the camera ready and I scrambled to grab my bow. The deer were on top of us in seconds, but Rod got the camera going and I had my bow in hand. I had decided since the deer were moving right in on us, that I should stay seated to shoot.
When the buck went behind some trees only 17 yards in front of us, I drew my bow….well....I lifted my bow. That’s when I realized with the shooting rail down, I couldn’t extend my bow arm to draw my bow. The buck continued following his doe and when they went behind the next group of trees, I stood up, got behind Rod with my bow, and drew. We had a shooting lane cut to the field edge they were working towards. Just before stepping into the shooting lane 25 yards away, the deer hit our scent stream and busted out of there. Rod actually uttered the phrase, “This is going to be harder than I thought!” Hate to say “I told you so!”
With time running out before our rifle whitetail guests arrived, we needed to pull out all the stops. Bucks were beginning to aggressively respond to rattling and Rod had a great place we needed to be when that happened. We were setup before first light and had deer around us immediately. A great buck appeared, and then disappeared, before legal shooting light.
Once deer were no longer in sight, I began a rattling sequence. It wasn’t two minutes and I heard those magic words from my cameraman; “Shooter buck!” He was coming in on a string and if I messed this up, it would probably cost me a friendship. The buck read the script. He stopped to lick a branch, I drew, he walked to the shooting lane, and I released. The shot was perfect and I watched him run 60 yards, stop, and then tip over.
I looked back at Rod to celebrate. After the first reaction and congrats, he looked at me and said, “I think you just shot a Russ buck!” I said, “I know!” When the buck came in, I had noticed he was a good four, but what impressed me was his body size and attitude. We climbed down to recover my deer and he was huge – in body size. We both chuckled as we looked over the antlers. With the experience we both have in antler judging, we knew it was going to be close. We took photos, took care of the deer, and got ready to hunt that afternoon. It was Rod’s turn to have bow in hand and mine behind the camera.
The evening hunt was a great sit, but uneventful. Later that evening we scaled the buck at over 250 pounds. Once we had the antlers and cape off I grabbed the tape measure. All I needed was to squeeze 125” of antler out of him. Well, scoring him tight, we got a green score of 124 3/8”. The perfect “Russ buck”.
As mentioned, I have scored hundreds of animals for hunters over the years and as much as I enjoy it, I sometimes get discouraged with the importance some put on these numbers. I am glad it is the vast minority. And as for me, I can guarantee you, if I am sitting in a stand with a good friend next year and a mature buck walks in that looks like it will score about 124”, I will take that shot without a second thought.