Crawling through waist-deep barley after the fresh rain only helped our efforts to close the distance on the huge, drop-tined mule deer buck bedded nearly 800 yards away. Wisconsin native Jana Waller — host of Skull Bound TV on the Sportsman Channel — has spent the better part of 20 years bowhunting whitetails from elevated stands, but stalking mule deer out on the wide-open prairie was a far cry from the solitude of a Midwestern treestand.
Not far from the bedded buck, several mule deer does popped their heads up amid the barley as they took a stretch from their mid-morning naps. We hoped to catch the drop-tine buck off guard among the sea of barley that stood before us. This was the first day of Alberta’s archery season, and Jana was about to take her first step into one of North America’s most scenic backdrops.
I met Tim Ewing the previous year while filming another television show. Over the course of five days, we killed a 180-class mule deer and another decent 4×4 buck on film. I kept in touch with Tim after that hunt, and one day he mentioned that Jana might be able to hunt with his co-worker Melissa Simpson. Luck was in our favor, and soon we found ourselves headed north of the border for some fast-paced, spot-and-stalk action.
With a full day to scout, Jana and I readied our binoculars, spotting scope and cameras. First thing in the morning we had two big boys spotted not three minutes from Tim’s house. Both bucks stood proudly showing off their velvety racks, which soaked up the early-morning light like a sponge. “These two are cut from the same cloth,” said Tim, amazed both bucks hadn’t bounded away yet. Excited at our luck so early on, Jana and I were blown away by how many big bucks were roaming the agricultural fields along the Rocky Mountain’s rugged Front Range. By nightfall, we had spotted well over 30 bucks, with several in the 180-inch class, a sign we were on the right track to making Jana’s Alberta archery hunt one for the books. “We’ve just scratched the surface today,” Tim said to Jana. “Tomorrow, we’ll bring our bows.”
Opening morning found us looking for the two big boys near Tim’s house, but both had disappeared like thieves in the night. By mid-morning, we were told of a nice drop-tine buck that was spotted by another bowhunter in our area. After an extreme glassing session by all, we finally spotted what we believed to be the drop-tine buck’s antler tips enticing us to enter his domain. “Jana, what do you say we give him a try?” I asked, looking back to her for an answer. Her face said it all, and with a quick nod we were on our way.
After a painful hour of crouching, peeking and crawling, I knew we might have a tiny window of opportunity. Closing the distance to 400 yards, we knelt down and continued on hands and knees for the remainder of the stalk. The earth below our hands was damp from the recent rain as we slowly moved single file on all fours. Finally, Jana was within 40 yards of the big buck. Slowly she moved in front of me while coming to full draw. Her Trophy Taker Shuttle T broadhead at the ready, she signaled me to make a loud noise, hoping the buck would stand up. After several attempts, the buck snapped to attention like a Marine during inspection.
Rising up from the barley was an enormous, 4×4 mule deer with a 10-inch drop tine. The buck turned to face us both as the arrow flew forward, slipping just under the buck’s vitals then vanishing forever. The buck bounced away, unsure of what had just transpired. “He’s gone Jana,” I said, watching him bounce away in familiar mule deer fashion. We watched him leave the field and climb a nearby butte, gaining elevation with every stride. Jana closed her eyes, then looked to me, knowing she had just missed her first mule deer buck.
“It’s OK,” I said. “That was just a warm-up.”
“I blew it!” she replied. “That was the hardest stalk I’ve ever done!”
I already knew hunting mule deer in the wide open is tough, and adding a bow to the equation only makes it tougher. Jana had just learned for herself that spot-and-stalk mule deer never come easy to bowhunters. It’s a trophy you have to earn.