I really do love when a plan comes together, and that is exactly what happened this year hunting with Darnell from North Dakota. We spent a lot of hours through a lot of days using a lot of different hunting methods, but it seemed like the bucks we were after were always 2 steps ahead of us. One might even be tempted to get a touch discouraged if not for the contagious excitement of Darnell, who has long ago made the transition from simply a hunter to a very dear friend.
It was amidst such excitement one night going through some trail cam pics together in the living room that a new comer buck grabbed our attention. Darnell and I christened him with the name "Atlas" as he had shown himself on a piece of land we fondly refer to as Olympus. He was a gorgeous "rib cage" 5x5 with a broken brow. One might think that the following plan would be pretty cut and dried, however we had a couple small issues. The first being that we only had 3 days left of the season; we were on a time crunch and while I greatly enjoyed my time hunting with my friend, I really did want Darnell to go home with more than just a few more hunting stories of big bucks and fun times with me! The second issue was that Atlas was not the only solid and tempting buck in that specific area. This normally wouldn’t be much of an issue for others, but Darnell, much like me, really enjoys learning the animals themselves and seeing the potential behind the rack. Aside from Atlas, we had Titan, Split 2, and Baby Drop working the area, all very impressive bucks. But when Darnell and I studied the pics closely it was obvious all those bucks were power packed with potential to explode next year. Once again one would likely think this to be a good thing. Darnell, however, despite the desire to pass up those other striking bucks, isn't exactly known for passing up a good opportunity at a solid buck. And so we moved forward with the plan, knowing full well that there was a chance he would be presented with a very difficult choice to be made; to shoot one of the other dandy bucks should one of them wander in, or to sweat it out and wait for Atlas himself to show.
Day one came and went, as did day two with no sighting of Atlas. Darnell did fill us in through the day via radio as not one, not two, but all three of the other big bucks tested him again and again. Honestly I don’t know who was more shocked that none of those bucks went down in those two days, Darnell or myself, but I can say Darnell impressed the whole camp with his willpower!
Day three arrived and anticipation was high. With less and less daylight hours to make it happen, we had one final day to outsmart Atlas. As morning turned to afternoon and afternoon slowly crept towards evening we devised our "Final Phase" plan.
My dad was hunting with another good buddy from ND, Shawn, who also was still holding a tag. Now Shawn was a little different as he was specifically targeting an absolute monster named Ghost, and had made it clear that because of the ability to hunt at the 8 point special price until he caught up to old Ghost, he was not pulling the trigger on anything less. That is a whole different story though, with the bottom line being that Ghost is still roaming the north woods, causing us to drool and dream over what he could be next year.
This all worked out perfectly for our final hooraw, as after touching base with Darnell on the plan, Dad and Shawn headed to a field just south of where Darnell was posted to rattle and call. Meanwhile I headed to a field edge north of Darnell to glass for anything noteworthy. All three groups having radios turned on low volume, we kept each other updated on what we were seeing.
Darnell's crackled whisper came through the radio announcing that Split 2 was standing in front of him. I glanced at the time…less than an hour left…I stared in Darnell's direction and waited for the "boom". After waiting a few more minutes, Darnell's voice came through again, informing us that Titan had just shown up too! At this point I was thinking poor Darnell has got to be really struggling with this. Suddenly my eye caught some movement by the entrance trail the led into the bush edge just off the field to Darnell. That wide frame and drop tine stuck out starkly against the snow and I quickly whispered that I had eyes on Baby Drop. Darnell in turn informed me that yes, he had just been watching him too. I checked the time…about 30 minutes left, and found myself sitting in amazement at my friends will power right to the end!
Dad's voice whispered through the radio that they were going to try rattling again, just to see if anything might be hovering just out of sight. As they started their routine I watched Titan, Split 2, and Baby Drop all make their way northwards towards the middle of the field with a large group of does, shaking my head in amazement as to how all three of those deer were still alive.
All of a sudden my eyes caught some strange movement in behind the group of deer. Everything was slowly working its way north, but suddenly there was a single lone animal working its way against the flow, headed south. I threw my binos up and stared hard through the slowly fading light. No way….with about 25 minutes left in the season, I radioed Darnell, struggling to contain the excitement in my voice. I informed the group that there was a new buck in the field, who I was 85% sure was Atlas, but he was about 800 yards from me so it was tough to tell for sure. The craziest thing was that every other animal was headed away from Darnell, this one was working his was towards him! Making constant glances at the time ticking away, I started giving the update as Atlas closed the distance. All of a sudden my radio battery started to die, and Darnell couldn’t hear me anymore. I could still hear him asking Dad if he could hear me and what he should do. In perfect timing, Mom, who was stationed back at the home base radio and still able to hear me a little, jumped in and relayed my updates. I watched as Atlas broke into a run towards Darnell (though I found out after it was actually that Dad and Shawn had just started to rattle in an attempt to hurry Atlas along before we hit the end of legal shooting light). With between 15 and 20 minutes left in our 2021 season, I watched Atlas enter the treeline and held my breath, praying and waiting for a gunshot. Darnell did not disappoint as his shot echoed out along the field edge, reporting the "thwack" of a solid hit!
After a long hunt of seemingly always being a few steps behind, the culmination of the group effort ended in Atlas running a short 25 yards before piling up. It is hard to capture the incredible feeling in that moment. My friend and I had more than our share of excitement and challenges through his hunt, and while we all heartily acknowledge that is just what hunting is, this grand finale seemed to make it all extra special. Everybody's individual role played, the incredible display of will power in passing 3 beautiful bucks time and again, the nail biting count down in the final minutes had all led us to this point, with an absolutely gorgeous deer on the ground, but far more importantly, an incredible hunt what will be treasured in everyone's memories for a long time. That is what BEWA is all about, we are friends hunting with friends, experiencing the adventure of a lifetime together and making memories that are worth even more than just another trophy buck on the ground. Congratulations my friend on another gorgeous Saskatchewan buck, and a heartfelt thank you for allowing me to live that adventure with you!