Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Alberta on my mind

I’ve had an Alberta whitetail hunt on my mind for the past 15
years. But I never went because I kept hearing horror stories about
outlaw outfitters who did nothing but road hunt and were not real
particular about trespassing. I wanted no part of those
shenanigans.

Then last summer my buddy Jim Riley, who books hunts for
Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures called and asked if I would be
interested in joining him on an Alberta whitetail hunt. I’ve booked
hunts with several outfitters using Cabela’s services and I have
never been disappointed, so I quickly said yes.

Bruce and Linda McKenzie, owner/operators of McKenzie Brothers
Outfitters, met us at the Nisku Inn in Edmonton on Nov. 12. We
drove a couple hundred miles north, seeing a few deer along the way
and arrived late that afternoon at the ranch of Ed and Dorothy
Gallatin, who each fall turn their comfortable home into a hunting
camp.

Guides are required for non-resident aliens (that’s us) to hunt
any big game in Alberta, and that evening, I met my guide, a young,
local rancher and oil field worker with a passion for hunting. As
soon as we met I knew that Todd Marsh and I were going to hit it
off. Todd picked me up the next morning, well before first light,
and we drove to the unit where I would be hunting. All of Alberta
is divided up into hunting units and a tag is good only for a
selected unit. There are basically two types of units: agricultural
units, where there are fields and pastures carved out of the bush,
and “bush units,” which as the name implies are solid bush. “Bush”
is the Canadian term for the millions of acres of forest, swamp,
rivers, lakes, and streams that blanket much of northern
Canada.

Hunting the bush is an experience. Because there is no
agriculture to help carry the deer through a tough winter or to
supplement their diet even during good times, the carrying capacity
of the bush is low. When you throw in the fact that timber wolves
and coyotes, both of which are plentiful, are as fond of venison as
am I, you can see how densities of four or five deer per square
mile are common.

So why would anyone want to hunt the bush? Because the bush is
where the very biggest bucks in Canada are born, live, and die,
most of them without a shot ever being fired at them. Now don’t get
me wrong, there are some dandy bucks calling the agricultural
units, too, but the real giants, those bucks with bases as big
around as your wrists and points as thick as sausages, are found
back in the bush. In neighboring Saskatchewan, where baiting is
allowed and commonly practiced, it is possible to see a dozen or
more deer per day on stand while hunting the bush.

Alberta does not allow baiting. You must rely on natural deer
movement or your ability to coax a buck within sight with calling
and rattling. Hunters who get antsy when they don’t see a deer for
an hour or two will go crazy hunting the bush. There, it is not
uncommon to hunt all day without seeing a deer. But for me and for
others who dream of an encounter with a real giant of a whitetail,
the bush beckons. God willing, I will return again.

Most of the hunting in the bush is confined to cut lines. These
are straight swaths cut through the bush by oil companies searching
for black gold Alberta’s major export. Sometimes you catch deer
crossing the cut lines

and at other times they will feed on the grass growing on the
cut lines. I like to set up and rattle along cut lines.

The first day I saw only a single doe and found very few tracks
in the week old snow. The next day we tried a different cut line
with only slightly better success. Then we moved to another unit
where I hunted a 50-yard swath carved through the bush for a gas
pipeline. The pipeline right-of-way had been seeded down to grass
and from the looks of the tracks, the deer were finding the grass
to their liking.

Deer also have certain places where they cross the cut lines and
these are good places to sit and wait for a buck. When the rut is
on, as it was when I was in Alberta, bucks will cruise across the
cut line searching for does. Because shots of several hundred yards
are not uncommon, a flat shooting caliber, which you can sight in
for dead on at 100 yards and still hold on the top of the back out
to 300 yards is the best option. A .270, .280, 7mm, or any of the
.30 magnums would be excellent calibers. I was hunting with my
well-traveled .50 muzzleloader.

With the rut in progress, I spent a lot of time rattling and of
the 12 bucks I saw during my hunt, 10 came to the horns. If you
make a trip to Alberta, pack a set of rattling antlers, or ask your
outfitter if he has a set in camp that you can use. Bucks in
Alberta are very susceptible to rattling because competition for
does is high.

Ironically, there were two times on my trip when two bucks
responded to the rattling on the same set and in each case the
smaller buck managed to goof up my chance for a good shot at the
big buck. What are the odds of rattling in two bucks at once in an
area with a buck density as low as that found in the bush? Then
what are the odds of having one of the bucks be a real bruiser in
both instances? And then how astronomical are the odds of having
the smaller buck blow your chances for a good crack at Mr. Big?
Sometimes the stars are just out of alignment, I guess.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat! In fact, I plan to return next
fall. Why would I want to return to a place where I saw relatively
few numbers of deer for the hours hunted? Because, when you travel
to the far northern reaches of the whitetail’s range in search of
what for most of us would be the buck of a lifetime, you had better
be able to come home without an unpunched tag or don’t even bother
going.

Bruce McKenzie runs a good outfit in every way. There are only
20 whitetail tags available each year, so if you are interested,
contact Jim Riley at (877) 346-8747. For more information on
hunting opportunities in Alberta contact the Alberta Wildlife
Management Division at (403) 427-5185.

The Alberta Professional Outfitters Society at (780) 414-0249,
e-mail: info@apos.ab.ca or Web site: www.apos.ab.ca is another
excellent source for anyone checking out an Alberta hunt. This
association does an excellent job of policing its ranks, and I
would encourage you to check out your outfitter with the
association before booking a hunt.

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