The engine of the Super Cub sputtered a bit as the pilot leaned the fuel mixture in preparation for a smooth landing on Indian Head Lake in Northern Alberta. The leaves had started to blush with color, and a heavy frost was still visible in the shaded meadows surrounding the lake. The beavers had been working overtime, as numerous dams and ponds were present on the southern end of the lake.
Josh Williams, age 50, was hardly a newcomer to fly-in hunts, yet he braced his feet against the floor and tightened his jaw as his guide and pilot Pat Murphy touched the float plane down within 100 yards of the shore line. Revving the prop, Pat turned the plane 90 degrees, and eased the Cub into shallower water alongside the makeshift dock.
This would be Josh’s third trip to Alberta in search of a trophy mule deer. The 10 day hunt should allow enough time to locate, stalk and to harvest a trophy animal. Previous trips had been unsuccessful, good deer were spotted, but a shot was out of the question. Josh had hoped to end his streak of bad luck, and score on a nice buck. The two quickly unloaded the plane and prepared to settle in for the night.
If weather reports were accurate, they could look forward to cold temperatures and a possible snow flurry the following week. Pat knew the area quite well because he flew numerous fisherman into the lake during the spring. During these trips he had spotted what appeared to be several nice bucks in the next drainage to the east. He felt confident that he could get Josh within shooting distance, since the terrain offered great stalking opportunities. The rock outcroppings and quakie patches were ideal habitat for mule deer, especially big bucks.
The familiar incessant buzzing of the alarm brought both men out of a deep sleep. Josh shifted in his sleeping bag and started to reflect on the hunt. Doubts and regret crept into his mind. It had been a hard eight days of hiking, glassing and scouring thousands of acres in search of a trophy buck. Had he been foolish passing on a nice 28 inch buck the day before? The buck had a good spread, but the mass was not there. He had not come to Alberta a third time to shoot a second rate buck. Today would be the ninth day of hunting. Maybe today his luck would change. He pushed the tent flap aside and was greeted by 4 inches of new snow. For once the weather report had been accurate.
With lunches packed and a thermos of hot coffee between them, the two of them headed for a series of rocky outcroppings where they had seen deer earlier in the week. With the change in the weather, Pat had hoped the deer would be out feeding at first light. The extreme cold and powdery snow made for quiet walking. The two hunters removed their day packs and settled in for a few hours of glassing from the rim.
"They must be bedded down tight," Pat commented. "Must be," Josh replied. "Where could they be hiding?" he asked. Pat suggested they wait for the sun to break over the mountain and warm things up. "Maybe that will get the deer moving. If not, we’ll hunt that patch of dark timber to our left."
Suddenly, a slight reflection caught Josh’s attention. He had glassed that same patch of timber minutes earlier and did not remember seeing anything. He checked the focus on his binoculars and stared intently into the black timber. The sun’s rays were penetrating the deep shadows as he caught movement. The movement soon materialized into a huge buck with deep forks and tremendous mass. Josh was looking at the buck of a lifetime.
"Pat, I've got one and he's a dandy," whispered Josh. "Look just to the left of the big windfall in that dark patch of timber. He’s on the right hand side." "Don’t waste any time, Josh. Nail him before he gets away." The 10 and 1/2 pound rifle felt as light as a feather as Josh adjusted his pack for a rest. He’d been glassing for almost an hour, but his heart was pounding harder now than it had been after the steep climb to the rim. He was having a hard time keeping the reticle steady on the bedded buck. Snowflakes were landing on the eyepiece lens. Josh raised his head and tried blowing them away, but his hot breath fogged the lens. "Damn it," he whispered. Pat turned to see Josh trying to wipe away the fog with his glove. He knew from experience that he needed to calm his client. "Be cool," he whispered, "Take your time. Don’t blow it now..."
By now the buck had honed in on the hunters location, with ears forward and muscles tensed, a split second was all that was required to make his escape. Josh finally cleared a dime size area in the lens from which to see. Exhaling and steadying for the shot, he focused the cross hairs just behind the bucks shoulder. "Squeeze the trigger, squeeze the trigger," he said to himself. Josh had learned this lesson the hard way years ago when he flinched on a big bull in the Selway. He was determined not to make that mistake again.