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Spruce woods whitetails. (Stickbow Hunting).

A MIX OF LIGHT SNOW and ice pellets fell as I eased my rattling antlers from their resting place and brought them together with all the force I could muster. Clashing the rack together, and then twisting and turning the heavy bone I held in each hand, I tried my best to simulate two trophy whitetails locked in a serious rutting battle. For over a minute I crashed and banged the rack together, and also against nearby limbs in the huge spruce that held my stand, all the while grunting and growling aggressively on the grunt tube hanging around my neck. Finally satisfied that any nearby buck would have heard the commotion and be on the way, I replaced the battered old rattling horns with my 60-pound Lightning longbow and peered into the surrounding gloom for any sign of movement -- which wasn't long in coming!

Turning slowly to scan a grassy I meadow to the north, I immediately picked up motion along the edge of a strip of poplars surrounding the clearing, and I almost dropped my bow as a giant Canadian whitetail stalked into view. He was already within 70 yards or so, and I could clearly make out the buck's thick chocolate coat and massive mahogany antlers, and as he cleared the last few trees blocking my view I could easily tell this was the buck I'd traveled to Manitoba to see. I figured the monster would easily tip the scales in the 300-pound range, and he carried 10 long points on unbelievable main beams. I spot-judged him in the mid-170s, but matching drop tines jutting down from each heavy beam really caught my attention.

As the giant whitetail closed to within 30 yards I could see the hair standing up along the back of his neck and the stiff-legged gait so typical of an angry buck. But as he reached a trail that led up the ridge and past my ambush site I could also tell he wasn't inclined to turn my way. So I grunted once to persuade him. Barely audible even to me, the grunt locked the monarch up, and he glared in my direction before continuing his circular approach that would eventually bring him downwind of my hiding spot.

Searching in vain for a clear avenue to slip a heavy cedar arrow through, I watched helplessly as the buck hit my scent stream at less than 25 yards and immediately rocketed out of the thicket before stopping at the far side of the clearing 100 yards away. Knowing that I would probably never see the monster again, at least from this treestand, I took one last admiring look at him through my 8X binoculars before he trotted away and was swallowed up by the heavy timber.

MANITOBA'S SPRUCE WOODS encompass tens of thousands of acres of heavy spruce forest, tamarack swamps, and vast poplar stands, all interspersed with fields of alfalfa and grain. The vast areas of cover provide protection for local whitetails, and the farmland offers all the food the deer need to grow large in both body and antler size. Besides whitetails the area is also home to moose, elk, wolves, coyotes, and a smattering of black bears; and since it is located less than a couple hours west of Winnipeg, it's more accessible than many of the more common deer hunting destinations that lie further north. Due to the availability of crops for food, spruce woods whitetails also have better feed than their northern cousins, which are forced to survive on browse alone.

Resident bowhunting pressure is nearly nonexistent, although muzzleloader season is in full swing during the prerut, and I did encounter a few deer hunters during my stay. Part of the allure of this area is the number of huge deer harvested here in recent years, including a couple of 180 and 190-class typicals and 240 and 260-class nontypicals. Several giant deer from this area have been featured in outdoor magazines recently, attracting more hunters, but I doubt that the increase in hunters had any adverse effect on my 2001 hunt. In fact, I think that the few hunters I did see kept deer moving throughout the day despite unseasonably warm temperatures, possibly even improving a bowhunter's chances of arrowing one of this area's trophy bucks.

Although several outfitters operate in this region, I chose to hunt with Rick Liske who owns and operates Agassiz Outfitters from his home base in Beausejour. I've hunted with Rick before and know that he runs a first-rate operation. When he told me about the huge bucks his hunters saw in this area the year before, which included several sightings of a typical monster thought to be in the 190 class, I signed on for a week's hunt.

A typical hunt with Rick includes a hearty breakfast well before dawn, and then it's off to the stands for the entire day. Guides place hunters in strategic treestand locations before first light and don't return until the end of the day. Thus, going prepared both mentally and physically to sit on stand for 10 or more hours is a necessity. As is typical throughout Canada, where whitetail densities normally don't compare with those in the U.S., seeing large numbers of deer isn't likely. But when you do see a deer it is often a buck -- and a big one! Last year during the first full week of November I saw deer every day but Tuesday, and three of those were good bucks, highlighted by the monster nontypical that I rattled in on Wednesday morning.

Because the overall deer population is low, and because the buck-to-doe ratio is high, calling and rattling work extremely well. All three of the bucks I saw on this trip were lured into bow range with aggressive rattling and grunting. In other areas I generally pull most bucks in with softer calling and rattling, but in Canada I've had my best success making all the noise and commotion I possibly can, including crashing my horns together with such force that my hands sting when I finish my rattling sequence. Along with that I make an aggressive, staccato series of grunts as well as long, drawn-out grunts that actually sound more like a growl! It was this type of calling that eventually helped fill my tag.

IT WAS NEARLY 2:00 in the afternoon and I hadn't seen much for several hours. Earlier in the day a deer moving downwind of me had caught my scent and stood off at a distance, blowing at me for nearly 5 minutes, which effectively shut down any activity for a while. But as angry clouds began to build overhead and the afternoon slowly faded into evening I brought my horns together violently again, mixing in several long, growling-type grunts for good measure. Trading my rattling antlers for my Lightning, I slowly scanned my surroundings and saw a good buck moving across the clearing in front of me.

The big deer stopped, seemingly watching something off to the north that I couldn't see. When he turned to head away from me in the direction he'd been staring, I growled loudly at him, and he immediately turned and headed my way, all the while matching my drawn-out growls with deep, throaty growls of his own! At 30 yards he stopped and tore up an unlucky poplar sapling before heading up the grassy clearing in my direction. On he came, nose to the ground and full of rutting tension. When he cleared the last of the brush that separated us I eased my longbow to full draw, concentrated on a tiny spot behind his left shoulder, and sent the Zwickey-tipped cedar arrow on its way.

Instantly the buck exploded through the heavy cover out of my sight, but I could still hear him clearly as he bulled through the heavy stand of spruce. Suddenly everything fell silent, and as I strained to hear any sign of the buck's departure one of the most amazing experiences I've had in nearly 30 years of bowhunting took place. First one, and then another long, drawn-out growl emanated from the exact spot where the buck's crashing flight had ended. In all, the mortally wounded buck growled back at me six times from the bed where he lay after his 70-yard dash, after taking my arrow through the bottom of his heart. I suppose the 8-pointer was so worked up by the buck sounds he'd heard that when the arrow struck home he thought one of the bucks had somehow hooked him. In any case, even in death this aggressive spruce woods buck was still spoiling for a fight!

So ended my November bowhunt in Manitoba, but you can bet I'll be back to chase deer in this beautiful area again. If huge, aggressive whitetails are on your wish list, I recommend you do the same!

Anthor's Notes

If thoughts of giant whitetail bucks fill your every waking moment, as well as your dreams at night, a trip to Manitoba's Spruce Woods just might be the cure you're looking for -- or at least the temporary fix that will get you through another season! Despite unseasonably warm weather in 2001, I still saw two record-class bucks and arrowed a good 8-pointer that dressed nearly 200 pounds and had antlers measuring about 115 P&Y-style inches. The other two bucks I rattled in were the huge drop-tine buck mentioned in the opening story; and a tall, massive 4x4 that stalked into bow range after hearing my rattling, but he likewise circled and winded me before I could get a shot. I estimated that this buck would have measured somewhere around 140.

Rick Liske and his lovely wife, Colleen, who own Agassiz Outfitters, offer a variety of hunts for deer as well as bears and waterfowl. You would be hard pressed to find a better operation anywhere. Call Rick toll free at 1-888-468-3394, or visit his website at

For more information on this or other hunting destinations in Manitoba I'd recommend contacting the folks at Travel Manitoba. They can answer any questions regarding hunting or fishing anywhere across the province, and they've been a great help to me over the years. Call (204) 945-2272.

On this trip I used a Lightning longbow, and, as always, it performed perfectly. Made by my good friend and expert bowyer Gordon Morey of Las Vegas, Nevada, Lightning longbows are as fine as any I have owned in nearly 30 years of shooting and hunting with stickbows. The bow I used to take my Manitoba whitetail was a 62-inch, 60-pound reflex/deflex design with a bubinga handle and yew limbs. I wouldn't hesitate to use this bow on any game in North America. You can reach Gordy at (702) 437-4196;;

A regular contributor to Bowhunter, Joe Blake has been hunting with stickbows for nearly 30 years.
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Author:Blake, Joe
Date:Aug 1, 2002
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