Iíve hunted with Ron at North River Outfitting twice and have
learned many things about the deer in his area. This short article is intended to pass some of this information along to those looking to hunt with him this fall.
Focus on mature bucks: One of the first things you will notice when you hunt with North River is the size of the bodies on these deer. This makes it hard to estimate antler size accurately and generally a person will tend to underestimate the score. Some hunters go to this area with a certain B & C score in mind and they request that their guide keep them from shooting anything less. Well, even the best guides tend to underestimate the scores on these deer more often than they over estimate them.
As a result, North River’s clients always let some great bucks go that they should be shooting. For example, just last season Ron was guiding a client who wanted me to guarantee that a certain buck they were watching would gross more than 170 gross B & C before he would shoot it. Ron couldn’t guarantee it would go over 165, so he
said as much. It was a great looking, fully mature buck, but the client wanted a specific score, and he passed the buck. The next week another client, who went into camp with the goal of simply shooting a mature buck (no antler score minimum in mind), happily shot that same deer. The gross score was a staggering 185 inches!
My point is this: you will enjoy your hunt more and will likely shoot a bigger buck if you simply focus on shooting a fully mature deer rather than one with a certain minimum score. Mature bucks are trophies no matter what they score because they have lived several years and have learned many lessons, making them the ultimate
challenge. Mature bucks have great character that younger deer, even those with higher scoring racks, fail to match.
However, in the areas that North River hunts, a mature buck usually has a good scoring rack to boot. By focusing on maturity (buck with big square foreheads, bull shoulders, thick necks, potbellies and sway backs), you take the pressure off. Field judging becomes less critical and you will likely shoot a buck that actually grows
when it hits the ground.
Don’t overlook the boreal forest: It seems every year that many of North River’s clients have it in their heads that the only place they can shoot a big buck in Alberta is in the farmland. Ron offers farmland hunts, but he also has hunts in the big bush (boreal forest) and each year the bush hunts produce more big deer and they also
tend to have higher scores on average than the farmland hunts.
There are a lot more deer in the bush than you might think. The density is just as high as it is in the farmland units that North River hunts, and the bush deer don’t have experience with people. That makes them easier to hunt. There is plenty of high quality native browse in the bush, like pea vine, for example, so these wilderness
bucks have the nutrition they need to grow big, massive antlers. In fact, I am planning a hunt to the boreal forest myself for the fall of 2006.
To be most effective on bucks in the big bush Ron and his guides have learned to understand the particular behavior of these deer. There are several differences between big bush bucks and farmland bucks. First, bush bucks are much more afraid of wolves than they are of humans. They will routinely ignore the sound of four-
wheeler dropping a hunter at his stand (and even disregard human scent at times), but they will turn inside out at the sound and scent of wolves.
Second, bucks in the big bush feed in different types of places. It is generally obvious where the farmland deer are feeding (in the agricultural fields) but the bush bucks also have their preferences. These deer head for the swamps as soon as they freeze up. This is not to get away from hunting pressure, there is none, nor is it the
result of a yarding instinct. The deer head to the swamps in early November and stay there for the entire month. They feed heavily on tamarack needles. Ron and his guides routinely open the stomachs of bucks they shoot in the bush to see what they are eating. Many times, they have found them stuffed with tamarack.
Lichen off the sides of trees and dead logs is another favorite of bush deer. The deer will feed heavily on lichen found in areas of old growth timber.
Stay on stand: Riding around in a truck hoping to see a big buck out in an open field may seem like a fun way to spend the day, but this method is never as productive as sitting in a stand overlooking a good funnel or feeding area. Yes, the guide can help relieve boredom, but if you are coming to Alberta to shoot a big buck you need to
stay the course on stand. That is the method of hunting that favors your success. The shots will be easier, the gun rest surer (you can’t shoot across the hood of a truck in Alberta) and the experience will be purer. Don’t be tempted by a few slow days to abandon stand hunting in favor of truck hunting. Play the odds and stay on stand.
Human scent: Bucks in many of the farmland areas of Alberta are just as sensitive to human scent as those you hunt back home. Therefore, go out of your way to reduce scent around your stands. In some cases, the guide can drop you off right at the base of the stand with a four-wheeler or truck. You don’t spread any scent on the
ground. To keep the area from fouling during the course of your hunt, don’t walk around.
If you have to relieve yourself while in the field, stay close to the stand. Human urine and feces are much less offensive to deer than human scent. In other words, urine and feces don’t contain human scent as deer have come to know it. However, if you walk through the underbrush you will leave plenty of the kind they do associate
with danger all around your stand. That can only reduce your chances of seeing a trophy.
Video cameras: Many good hunts are ruined by video cameras. Ron recommends simply leaving your camera in camp. When you take to the stand you will be tempted to film when you should be shooting. More bucks have escaped because the hunter tried to get a few seconds of footage of a big buck he wanted to shoot than any
other reason. While the hunter scrambles to set the camera down and grab the gun, the deer turns and disappears into the brush forever.
Also, Ron has a good relationship with Realtree and they have been producing at least one television show from his camps each of the past several years. Ron knows how tough it can be to get a good kill on video. When you pay for a hunt with North River, it is not the time to start your next career as a television hunting show host. It
is the time to shoot a big buck. That is North River’s goal. To help you shoot one. Video cameras and high success rates usually don’t mix.
Field judging from your stand: Similarly, don’t be so quick to look at a big buck through your binoculars if he is already in range. Inside 200 yards, if he is big you will know he is big without having to study him through binoculars. Get the gun up and confirm your hunch by looking at him through the scope. That way you are in
position to pull the trigger as soon as the buck offers the first good shot. Sometimes that one opportunity is all you will get. If you are holding your binoculars instead of your gun when the magic moment happens, you are out of luck.
Heeding these words of advice will definitely make your hunt at North River more successful. Have fun and good luck.