By Michael Deming
It’s not a secret that Saskatchewan, Canada grows some of the biggest bucks in the world. Saskatchewan was the home of the world famous Milo Hanson buck which was harvested in 1993 and holds the #1 spot in the Boone and Crockett record book for the largest net typical whitetail buck ever taken. We all know, if you want to harvest a big buck, you need to hunt where they live.
In 2014, I was on the hunt to find a top quality outfitter who could not only help me with harvesting a big buck, but one that also could help me overcome the extreme cold of this frigid north-country. My type-A personality, as well as aversion to severe cold for extended periods of time, have kept me from making the trek to this area of the world. A sit in a stand for a full ten hours in -20 degree temperatures wasn’t something I was willing to do for any size buck. So, I knew finding the right outfitter with a high level of customer service, was essential for me to make this trip.
So, the hunt for my Saskatchewan outfitter was on. I searched the internet and visited many shows during the year, but found no one which I felt could fulfill my vision of a good quality hunt.
In the spring of 2015, I ran into Doug and Rita Hayes who own North 49 Outfitting out of Kelvington, Saskatchewan. Doug and Rita had spent the majority of their lives in the oil industry and were tired of the rat race. Doug had been a hunter his entire life and had a great deal of passion for the sport and wanted to build an outfitting business which gave people the type of hunting experience they would savor for life. After doing the job of evaluating outfitters for nearly a dozen years, I knew Doug and Rita were saying and doing the right things to make sure they could deliver the kind of hunt I was looking for in a Saskatchewan experience. So, the trip was set for the rut in late November.
My cameraman, Eric Christensen and I hit the road for the long drive to Saskatchewan the week of Thanksgiving. I had read about how big the bodies were on these deer and the thought of tipping over a 300-pound plus whitetail made my mouth water. I love wild game fare and whitetail is probably one of my favorites, so I wanted to take every bit of meat home to feed my family, making driving about the only option. Twenty eight hours later, we pulled into the lodge.
First impressions mean a lot and Doug and Rita hit a home run in this department. The lodge was fully decorated in all of their Christmas décor and with a backdrop of eight inches of snow, I felt like we had made a great choice. It was like greeting old friends when we walked through the door and we were soon shown to our rooms. Rita has an eye for interior design and the lodge is meticulous because of it. Just enough mounts to show what Saskatchewan had to offer and what we might expect, yet not enough to make it offensive to a hunters’ wife.
There were appetizers set out for us all to enjoy as we discussed the plan for the upcoming days. The daily plan would be to get up at about five-thirty in the morning, with a full breakfast from “Mrs. H”on the table at six. Once we finished breakfast, we could organize our lunches. Everyone would be provided with a thermos full of steaming hot soup and a sandwich, which left you plenty of room in your lunch box to pack all the tasty homemade snacks you could handle. Doug would then drop us off at our stand nearly an hour before shooting light to get settled in and ready for our day of hunting. If we were fortunate enough to have success during the day, a phone call to the lodge would have someone headed out to pick us and our trophy up. If not, they would pick us up at dark.
With a solid plan in place, we settled down for a fantastic dinner. A full Thanksgiving feast with chicken instead of turkey was a welcome treat as we were likely to miss Thanksgiving dinner at home by being gone this week. After dinner, Doug wanted to show us some of the deer we were likely to see at our stands. He runs numerous trail cameras on the thousands of acres he hunts and has a good inventory of what is there. The stand he was putting Eric and I in had a massive, mature ten point hitting fairly regularly, as well as a big, mature eight point. Both of those bucks would be a great buck to shoot for nearly anyone. Doug told us about another buck, an eleven point, which had been seen at this stand and actually was passed by another hunter. This hunter videoed the buck for several minutes the week before, but decided not to harvest him. He wasn’t as consistent as the other bucks, but at least we knew he was in the area.
At 5:30am, the alarm went off and I sprung out of bed. We were greeted for breakfast with eggs Benedict, which is one of my favorite breakfasts, but not something I expected at a hunting camp. To top it off, it was one of the best I have ever had.
I had been so comfortable since I had gotten there, I hadn’t even thought about the misery of having to sit out in the cold for the day. I layered up with all my clothes and grabbed my gear and lunch. Doug had started the truck early in the morning and it was a short ride to our stand. Doug told us to open the valve on the propane tank at the back of the blind when we went in and then start the Mr. Heater as soon as we got in. We could use it to take the chill off or feel free to run it all day, as he had lots of propane. I knew I was grinning ear to ear at this time, because of my hatred for severe cold as I get older. The blind was an elevated box blind ,found much more in Texas than in Northern Saskatchewan. We had two office chairs, our heater and a full gourmet lunch, so I was now prepared to sit the entire day in comfort, if needed.
Being so far north, legal shooting light of thirty minutes before sunrise was 8:15am. Gray light happened much earlier than in the lower 48 and I could actually see to shoot nearly thirty minutes before legal shooting light. This gave me the ability to see our setup and start to prepare for a shot very early in the morning. We had driven into the forest nearly a mile when we were dropped off and our stand was on the edge of a big clearing. The clearing was several hundred yards long and about a hundred yards across. Since it is legal to bait in Saskatchewan, Doug uses feed to keep deer concentrated and it also helps them survive the harsh winters. There were several different baits in the clearing, giving our bucks a reason to come through and of course, the rut was still going on too.
The time seemed to be creeping along. I looked down at my watch to see we still had twenty minutes before it was legal shooting light. When I looked back up, I could see a deer with its nose down, working the edge of the timber. I knew it was a buck by his actions, but a quick look through the binos revealed that it was the big ‘8’ point Doug had told us about. He stood tall off of his head, with long main beams and extra long tines. It was definitely a deer I would shoot if he would hold out long enough. He smelled out the entire area, sniffing for fresh hot does and when he was confident there were none in the area, he changed his focus to food. Tick-tock, tick-tock, the clock was grinding to a halt. Fifteen minutes, ten minutes, five minutes, two minutes and then he was gone. It was like he knew how much time he had.
We had already slid the windows of the blind up and were ready for the shot. I had just slumped down in my seat to relax from the last twenty minutes of adrenaline pumping excitement, when I looked out the front window. To my surprise, here was a different buck twenty yards into the timber. I put my Vortex Razor HD’s on him as he started to walk towards the clearing. I saw enough to know he was way bigger than that 8-point and was a deer I was willing to shoot. I glanced at my watch as he made the clearing. It was 8:17am, two minutes past legal shooting time. He was quartering to me, providing a great shot. I asked Eric if he was on and rolling and he confirmed. I squeezed the trigger and the big bruiser dropped in his tracks. I was totally overwhelmed by what had just happened. This was the big 11-point the other hunter had passed on. I couldn’t believe someone could pass on such a deer, but I was sure glad that he did.
We climbed out of the stand and went to put our hands on this big buck. He was everything we thought he was. He had six points on his right and five on his left side, with 24” main beams and 18” of mass a side. His giant body was well over 300 pounds, just what I had come to Saskatchewan to harvest.
The cell service at this stand was nonexistent, so Doug provided us with a SPOT messaging device. I pushed the button to send them a message via satellite saying, “Big Buck Down” and sat back to savor the moment. I don’t often get an opportunity to harvest an animal of this caliber on the first day of the hunt, but when I do, I know it is because we picked the right outfitter and chose to hunt the right place.
Thirty minutes later, Doug and one of his young guides, Travis showed up to get us out of the stand and haul our buck back to the lodge. They were just as excited or maybe even more than we were. It verified to me that they are extremely passionate about getting big whitetails into their customer’s hands and they truly care about you, which is what makes for a great addition to our Platinum Approved Outfitter family.
This is North 49’s fourth year of operation and they run of tremendous success. In 2016, they will add spring bear hunts to their hunting opportunities, as well as waterfowl. They do everything first class and by the looks of some of the huge black bears they have on trail cameras, I would recommend them to anyone looking to harvest a monster black bear. For your own opportunity to hunt with North 49 Outfitting, give Doug and Rita a call at 306-327-9111 or visit their website at www.north49outfitting.com