Against All Odds

By Keith Eugene Bailey

Whether it’s South Texas, Iowa, Old Mexico, or the beautiful country north of Smoky Lake, Alberta, Canada, packing always sparks excitement for any of my big hunting trips. Everything from several layers of clothing worn for my 10 hours a day on stand, to my all important grunt tube, is very necessary.

It was deja vu. How many times in my years of guiding whitetail hunters in Alberta had I picked up and delivered hunters to the Nisku Inn near the Edmonton International Airport? But this time it was different. This time I was not the guide, but the hunter, also awaiting the arrival of my guide. I was actually going on my first ever guided whitetail hunt in my former home province of Alberta.

Throughout the year before my hunts with Alberta Wilderness Guide Service, I have regularly talked to my Alberta Outfitter, David Bzawy, and always anticipate my trip north for another year. Him, along with his partners – Dean Bromberger, and Tyler Shyry, run two camps, or hunting areas in Alberta. After taking a couple of bucks up there, including an “Old Warrior” in 2001 that scored 171”, I was excited to hear about how scouting had been going before my hunt in 2005. I always get excited when chatting before my hunt, mainly due to some of the ‘Cranker’ bucks I have tallied over the last couple of seasons, could very well be ones that they have been seeing. David had informed me that he had seen numerous good bucks in the 160” to 170” inch plus range already!

The flight up north is always filled with many hunters looking to bag that trophy buck of a lifetime, some even carry photos of bucks from previous hunts to prove they were successful. Arriving in camp is like a homecoming of sorts. Many repeat hunters that I have grown to know, along with David’s Wife and our cook for the hunts – Lisa, are there with the Guides I have spent time with in camp. David and his partner Dean are always excited to get the next hunt started, as they have been putting in untold hours of scouting and prep work into making certain that a season comes off without a hitch, along with ensuring that the hunters are seeing good bucks.

What really made this trip special, was that I would get to hunt with my good great friend and co-worker – Steve Deweese, who was able to get into an opening for this hunt. After arriving and settling in, it was out to the range to make certain that our rifles were up to snuff. Then we went through our customary Sunday briefing, to go over tactics and plans for the week. After going over where we were all hunting, and a great meal of Lisa’s, it was off to bed for a good night’s rest with the anticipation of the long ours on stand ahead.

As I had booked another 12 day hunt, I was ready for the long sits, but day one always seems to be my ‘getting accustomed’ day. I had to acclimatize to the cold Alberta weather, and get ready for what the week might throw at me. I have come to know that hunting can be ‘days, hours, and minutes of complete boredom, interrupted by seconds of pure adrenalin’, and my hunts up here are no exception. I geared up for a long hunt, but my first day only had a tally of a few Moose sightings.

Day two was low as well, but at around 4:00 pm, a four year old 150” class buck came running through the thick brush behind me, being chased by an absolute ‘Monster’ 170” class buck! The ‘Brute’ busted me as I turned to get a look at him through the Poplar trees, and in one sweeping flash he was gone. As I processed what had just happened, I thought “whew, what a monster”! Even seeing a buck like that, almost makes it hard to sleep at night.

In the following days, I had various sightings of smaller bucks and some more Moose, but no ‘Shooters’, which prompted discussion in the evening Guide meeting to discuss options. As Dean, David, and the Guides are pounding a lot of ground during the day while we are on stand, they always have the latest intel to make changes when they feel a need to. They had decided on a move for me, but were clear that they wanted me to ‘camp out’ there for the remaining days of my 12 day hunt. It was a great spot that they felt would produce. On my first sit in the new spot, activity was a little slow, and only saw does – also known as ‘buck bait” here. Day two proved more active, when a doe had a ‘Monster’ buck – that I guessed would go into the 200’s hold up behind me in the Poplars. I could only make out his rack, and then was busted by the doe, as I tried to position myself for a better look. She stared straight at me for what seemed like an eternity, and then sprinted to the right, taking the biggest buck I had seen all season with her.

The hunt was nearing it’s end, and combined with my location’s activity never really ramping up, along with the boys talking about a few other hot spots that were not being hunted, we decided to pull an uncustomary last minute move onto another spot. Combine with this move, came news that we would be getting a front pushing in the next day, that was supposed to bring with it terrible winds of up to 60 to 70 mph!

I awoke on the 11th day, to the clatter of rain on the roof and the wind howling. Rain! In November in Alberta! Unheard of! After heading out, with everyone grumbling about the conditions, I got to my stand to ready for a day of brutal conditions. Not long after being on stand, I began hearing trees snapping like twigs all around me in the high winds. This flushed me out of my pod, and I had to try and find a safe spot to sit for a bit. Within a couple of hours, the front seemed to push though, and the weather started to clear. At 2:00 o’clock, I looked at my watch and did the math on how long till another one of Lisa’s meals!

Just then, I looked down the cut I was watching, and saw the rack of a large buck just appearing as he stepped out at the 200 yard mark. I immediately knew that this was the one! The deer was now frontal and it looked I would not have much of a chance for a better shot, so as the deer looked away, I steadied the crosshairs on the white patch in the center of his neck and let the 300 Win Mag bark. The 180 grain bullet hit, and with that…I had another taxidermy bill. I got on the radio quickly, and my Guide Kuby responded. He informed me that two other hunters had also just shot and had bucks down, including Greg Walker, who I have come to know over the years in camp. It was almost unbelievable that three of us were successful in such bad conditions, but I guess that is a testimonial for how prepared this Outfit is. He also mentioned to hang tight for a bit, as he was heading into where I was, and would be there soon.

After we got the deer ready to go out on the sled, David arrived with the 4-wheeler. After shaking hands he took one look at the buck and said he knew this buck. But unfortunately in the year since he saw him last, my buck grew a larger rack, but had damaged the right antler when growing this summer, and had lost about a 10 or 11 inch G-4! Although he was a great buck, a potential 180’s class buck, I would have to settle again for buck in the 170’s…Oh too bad! I guess I could handle it!

Regardless, he’s still the best buck I have ever harvested. Whether in wind, rain, or snow, you just never know when the big one will step out, proving you just gotta be out there putting in your stand time…sometimes…against all odds!

I would like to thank David and Lisa, along with Dean and the rest of the team at Alberta Wilderness Guide Service, for all of their dedication and work throughout the year to make our hunts enjoyable. My buck ended up being the top buck of 2005 for AWGS.