The Duck Mountains of western Manitoba is an amazing place with elk, moose, bears and whitetails among other things. I have been hunting bears with Tom Ainsworth at Grandview Outfitters for several years and if you have followed my writings and videos you have seen me shoot some real giants there. Tom owns 1600 acres which includes a lot of bush and pasture, but also some farm ground including a couple hundred acres of alfalfa. When bear hunting there in the fall, I have been impressed by the number of deer, including some nice bucks that I’ve seen feeding in those fields in the evenings.
One evening while sitting around dinner after a successful bear hunt, I was admiring some of the big bucks Tom’s clients had bagged during the rifle season. I asked him if he had ever considered offering early season bowhunts. He has great deer, the perfect place to hunt them in the early season, and with an early September opening day, the chance for hunters to shoot one in velvet. The conversation ended with me agreeing to be the guinea pig so to speak, I would come and hunt an early season deer with bow and see if there was the possibility for Tom to put together a quality bowhunt for a few hunters each year.
I arrived in August 2016 and shot a giant bear the first evening of my bear hunt which allowed me to spend the next few days hanging trail cameras and scouting for deer. I found several really nice shooter bucks including one which really turned my crank, a beautiful, symmetrical 10-point. After six days of hunting this buck, I named him Lucky because I saw him every day, but he was always just out of range, and one time he was about to step into range when some does blew my cover. Here’s a story about that and how he got the name Lucky. I ended up shooting a nice 130-class buck on a second trip there.
So when I arrived on September 8, 2017, I had the buck I named Lucky in the back of my mind. Tom had already been getting some Covert scouting camera photos of some nice bucks and showed me one photo of two bucks in velvet from a few days before. One was a 130 class deer and the other was a big 10, possibly Lucky. He told me, “don’t shoot that one, shoot this one” as he pointed at the bigger of the two. I had just arrived after an 11 hour drive but he wanted me in a stand so I headed out even though it was already 6:15. We spooked deer off the field as we went out there on the 4-wheeler.
Within an hour, there were 20 or more deer scattered around the field, including some does and fawns right in front of me. An hour before dark, two bucks appeared a couple hundred yards away and started working my way. One was an eight, one was a 10-pointer and both were in full velvet. I have always wanted to shoot a buck in velvet and suddenly I forgot all about Lucky. I wanted this buck; and if he would come my way I was going to take a shot.
And come my way he did. He walked within 25 yards and stood broadside. Problem is there were a half-dozen other deer right in front of me as well. When I drew my bow, I was busted by too many eyes and ears, every deer was on high alert and staring right at me. As I settled the pin on the velvet 10-point, I knew I would need to aim a little low because he was wound really tight and he was going to explode at the slightest movement or noise. And he did. He dropped and the arrow went through the fleshy part of his neck right where it meets the shoulders.
Disappointment washed over me as I watched him trot to the top of the hill 150 yards away and look back at me. Then he slowly walked out of sight. I was crushed because I knew it was a superficial wound. The following morning Tom and I did our diligence looking for him but never found a single drop of blood. He’ll be sore for a few days, but my hope of a velvet buck disappeared with him.
I hung six trail cameras that day and checked Tom’s cams with him. We found photos of another great 10-point buck that would go well over 160 I believe. Now I had some choices to make. This new buck would have to wait a day because I didn’t have a stand at this spot.
So I settled into the stand on the hayfield that evening an hour earlier and started seeing does, fawns and young bucks right away. I’ll bet I had two dozen deer within range during the next few hours. About an hour before dark, I was filming a cluster of deer right in front of me, when I saw two 8-points walk into the area so I put the camera on them. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I realized the big 10 had rolled right up on me. He was at 25 yards but there were a dozen other deer all within 20 yards of me and my bow was still on the hanger. I really had a problem.
Deer were chasing each other and feeding, so with great care I chose moments very carefully to move slowly and got the bow off the hanger. When I drew, several deer locked on me, but amazingly, the big 10 stuck his head down into the alfalfa so I put the sight pin on his ribs and touched off the shot. I had to shoot him quartering to me, but the arrow hit perfectly. He ran 100 yards then stopped and stood wobbly-legged. Soon his head sagged and he dropped into the alfalfa. I could see his head still up but I expected it to go down any second. But he stayed lying there looking around for ten minutes.
Then much to my shock he got up and walked into the bush. I could see the entry and exit wounds and it looked perfect. Totally baffling. Tom arrived and we followed the blood trail for a ways into the bush but we found a couple bloody beds where we had apparently bumped him so we backed out. Tom said, “The big ones die hard” and I had to agree. The following morning we took up the trail and found him dead.
After looking over last year’s photos and video of Lucky, I am convinced this is the same buck. He’s bigger of course and he green scored 161 gross. What a thrill to shoot a buck like that in the early bow season. There are several other big deer on Tom’s property, and he will be offering a small number of early season bowhunts. If you are interested, give him a ring at 204.546.2751. But please save a spot for me!