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The first big game animal I hunted was the whitetail. The deer season in Minnesota generally started in early November and ran for nine days, which was the usual period of the rut.
I was a shotgun hunter at the age of ten, but didn’t start hunting deer until I was 25. There were no deer in southwestern Minnesota when I was a youngster, and it wasn’t until I moved to the Twin Cities that I lived near forest areas that held a population.
I purchased an army surplus .30-‘06 rifle and made my first hunt in the Carlos Avery Game Preserve, 30 miles north of the Twin Cities. I knew nothing about the sport. I had scouted the area and found a little meadow in the middle of the forest that I thought would be a good place to start. Opening morning, I succeeded in finding my position. Daylight came, the sun rose, but the woods were quiet except for an occasional shot in the distance. I was full of anticipation and at about 9:30 a.m., a deer appeared at the edge of the meadow, about 50 yards away. I almost exploded, but managed to get into action and fired. It dropped! I walked over to my trophy, and there lay a little doe.
I studied, visited with experienced deer hunters, and read everything that I could find about the sport. I purchased a new Winchester Model 70 rifle in .30-‘06 at a cost of $100. At that time, the model 70 had the reputation of being the best factory rifle and that reputation continues today. I mounted a 4X Weaver scope, and had a combination that would handle any big game animal in North America.
The cost of factory rifle ammunition is expensive. The ammunition cost in actual hunting is minor, but in order to be a good shot, you must practice. You can burn up a lot of ammo on the rifle range. I learned to handload ammunition, cutting cost significantly.
The learning curve lasted several years. In the meantime, I hunted every fall and was able to bring home a doe. I never took a buck, because I considered any deer fair game and didn’t wait for a buck to appear.
In the past sixty years, I have learned much regarding successful whitetail hunting and am still learning. After a few years, my deer hunting territory widened to cover most of northern Minnesota and I became more particular of the quality of deer I would take. Fawns were off limit after that first hunt and I slowly became a buck hunter.
The Superior National Forest in extreme northeastern Minnesota was logged in the early 20th Century and the second growth timber was cut in the 1950s. Once the canopy of large trees was removed, the small trees and brush cover prospered, producing excellent browse for deer, and the deer population exploded. I found an area about 35 miles north of Lake Superior off the Sawbill Trail that appeared ideal. The region had been logged a few years earlier and there were a number of logging roads leading back into the forest. One particular trail caught my attention. There was an open stretch of road about a half mile long where I counted six well-used game trails.
On opening morning, I set up a small metal folding chair at the midpoint and sat down with my lunch and thermos to watch for activity. A storm was brewing. It was a dull, dark, overcast day with a moderate south wind, temperature was near freezing, and a light rain was forecast to change to snow — typical northern Minnesota weather. I made up my mind to wait for a decent, mature buck. It wasn’t long before I saw a doe cross the road about 300 yards to my right. A little while later, another crossed, going in the opposite direction. Several more showed, crossing the road — more deer than I had ever seen in such a short time.
At 10:30 a.m., I was looking to my left when a buck appeared at the edge of the forest, no more than fifty yards away. He stopped just inside the trees and looked to his right, away from me. His antlers were magnificent, larger than anything that I had ever seen. I raised my rifle and fired. He took one great leap and crashed across the trail into the forest behind me. I wasn’t sure where I had hit him, but I thought that it was a lung shot — my favorite. I waited a few minutes and then followed his track. He piled up a hundred yards from the road.
He was the largest deer I had ever taken to that time, and the largest that I would ever take in Minnesota. He was a heavy, eight-point buck with long, symmetrical tines.Nothing stays the same, however, in the hunting and fishing world. The brush grew up and the hunting in that area declined.
After I left the Arrowhead country near Lake Superior, I began to lose confidence in my ability to find a Minnesota deer that I was really looking for. I often visited taxidermy shops after the Minnesota season and saw bucks that would knock your eyes out, but they were usually taken by weekend hunters who were just plain lucky. To shoot a record book quality deer in Minnesota you had to have luck. Several hundred thousand hunters were in the woods during the short season.
In the ensuing years, I would hunt for a few days during the Minnesota season, but also make short trips to either Wyoming or Montana where the country is more open. I saw more deer out west and never failed to bring home a quality buck. My favorite area was the Black Hills of Wyoming on the eastern border, adjacent to South Dakota. The hills are heavily timbered, but there isn’t as much underbrush, so visibility is good. There is a large population of whitetails, and hunting pressure is quite light, especially in Wyoming.
An anecdote that I remember in minute detail occurred there on a four-day hunt over the Thanksgiving holiday in 1969. I had been hunting this particular area for several years and knew the terrain very well. One of my favorite stands was located on a ridge where I had a view of a broad area of excellent country. In the past, I had seen many deer there, so was quite optimistic. There was snow on the ground but it was old and no new snow had been added for several days. The ground was covered with old tracks.
I arrived just before sunrise and made myself comfortable, intending to spend the morning. I saw an occasional doe early on, but not the usual activity. About 10 o’clock a whole herd of deer moved into a small patch of grass about 150 yards below me. The rut was on. I didn’t take time to count all the deer, but I would guess that there were 20 to 25 does and two small bucks. They moved to the grass and then stopped to look around. Just as they began to feed, I saw a mammoth buck come in behind them. He was the one that I was looking for. I had my Winchester Model 70 in .270 caliber. I raised my gun to my shoulder, took careful aim and fired. The country erupted with deer running in every direction — and my buck with them. I had plenty of time, as the deer hadn’t spotted me and the wind was OK. I had a perfect hold. There was some small brush in the line of sight, but I aimed to shoot through it.
I first looked for blood on the snow, but found none. I tried to follow the tracks but there were too many to recognize a buck track. I spent the rest of the day working the entire country, as I knew that he was dead; but not where he had gone. I stayed all day, but failed to find any evidence of a dead deer. The bullet must have a hit a small twig or branch and was deflected. I didn’t take the time to truly analyze the quality of the antler, but he had at least ten points with heavy mass.
I was so enamored with deer that I set a challenge for myself to collect all the whitetail subspecies in North America that could be legally hunted and also continue my search for a record book trophy. I began to travel to the places that were producing big antlers. I concentrated on Texas, eastern Colorado, Kansas, Alberta and Saskatchewan. In looking for subspecies, I hunted South Dakota, Iowa, Montana, Alabama, Missouri and Mexico. I was busy traveling from one place to another, and seldom returned from a trip without an animal (all bucks) and took some with nice racks. All were eight points or better in the mid-trophy class of 140 to 155 inches, with a few over 160. It was not uncommon to see more than 50 bucks a day in Texas.
The prairie provinces of Canada (Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba) are noted for the largest body size. Deer weighing more than 200 pounds to nearly 300 are not uncommon. The population density is not high, but the chance for a real trophy antler is best there. I made a number of excursions to Alberta and Saskatchewan, but hunting there was often frustrating.
Jim Shockey, an outdoor journalist and outfitter friend, contacted me in the summer of 1998 and told me that he had just purchased a hunting camp north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He expected that it would produce some outstanding trophies, as it had not been hunted for a number of years. He had some openings the last week of the season, which was early December. It can be bitter cold at that time, but I decided to book a hunt.
I flew to Saskatoon where I was met by Jim’s father and was driven to the camp.
We headed to my stand well before sunrise. The blind was at the edge of a small clearing in the forest. I saw a few does, but nothing else. Just at noon, a buck appeared at the edge of the forest. I could only see his left antler but it looked impressive. He was looking away from me, so I waited to see what the other antler looked like. The full view was all I needed to decide to shoot. At the shot he bolted forward and fell within fifty yards.
I knew that I had a trophy, but when I walked to him I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the largest whitetail that I had ever seen on the hoof. The score as a non-typical was 197 4/8 inches. It also made the list as a typical with a score of 164 ½. It had 22 countable points and was the culmination of fifty years of whitetail hunting.
I went back to the Shockey camp the next year. I saw several nice bucks, but nothing to excite me. I turned my attention to some of the better Midwest farm county areas such as Iowa, Missouri and Kansas the following years, but my standards were so high that I never saw anything that tempted me.
In my travels to whitetail country I achieved my goal of collecting all the whitetail subspecies in North America.– Erwin Brown