Return of the Little Delta Bow


Eighteen years ago, I wrote and published an article in Traditional Bowhunters Magazine. The piece was published in the Feb/Mar 2004 edition titled “Return of the Little Delta Bow.” It was driving me crazy that I could not remember the details of this extraordinary story, so I dug through my closet of keepsakes and finally discovered the original magazine with the article.


Here, I will post an abridged and edited version of the original story. I know back issues are still available from Traditional Bowhunters Magazine. Rereading this article has swept me back in time. Re-living the hunt and the special buck and bow has been a joy today. I hope you enjoy this new, old story.


 

An antique recurve bow leans against a black brick wall.
1957/58 Bear Kodiak.

The title of the thread on the Leatherwall read: “The Little Delta Bow Lives!”. As most readers know, the Leatherwall is a chat room on www.stickbow.com. So when I read the original post by Mike Huston, it intrigued me, and I replied. Mike had recently bought a 1957 Bear Kodiak from Jay St. Charles. This was no ordinary Kodiak, however. Its original owner was Bill Brown, a founding member of the Pope and Young Club, along with Jay’s father, Glenn St. Charles. Bill had been on the famous hunt in Alaska’s Little Delta Valley in 1958 when he killed a world record barren-ground caribou. Included with Mike’s purchase of the bow was a copy of the article Bill wrote describing that memorable experience. (where is that article now?)


In the Leatherwall post, Mike had proposed an interesting idea. He would loan the bow out to whoever wanted it. There was to be no security deposit and no responsibility for loss or damage. This type of trust and selflessness should not come as a surprise to anyone reading Traditional Bowhunter Magazine. I take pride that this sort of thing occurs regularly in this community. Several bowhunters from across the continent replied to Mike’s post. I was chosen as a recipient of the bow for two weeks in November, the peak of the Alberta whitetail rut. Once I was finished with the bow, I would ship it off to the next hunter in line. The hope was that someone would be successful with the ancient bow by the end of the season.

 

The Buck

To tell this story correctly, we need to travel back to three years ago (2000) on a cold Christmas Day. Carols played softly, the kids were running around, and I was in the middle of one of many trips back and forth from the kitchen to the front room, filled with family. I happened to glance out the front window and saw a nice eight-point buck at the hay pile in our front yard. I noticed that he looked unusual. As he turned, I saw that he was blind in his left eye, or at least I surmised that this was the case as it was vividly white. He had a dark, heavy rack, and I hoped to reencounter him during the following hunting season.


And I did! Working over a small bunch of willows, he was oblivious to the grunting sounds from my call. Living in the middle of the Edmonton Bow Zone, I had seen bucks that would dwarf this one, but he was special, recognizable. Unfortunately, the buck did not offer a shot on this evening. However, this evening would not be our last encounter.


The Stand

In November of 2000, while scouting, Don Thomas and I found ourselves standing in a small, thick grove of spruce trees. Deer tracks of all sizes and trails in every direction surrounded us. More importantly, right before us lay a scrape that was at least 6 feet in diameter. It was huge and was being visited regularly by rutting bucks. Don and I looked at each other and then, without a word, simultaneously started scanning the nearby trees for the perfect stand location. I think we were both a little surprised by this find as we were only 150 yards away from my front door on a property we had purchased and built a house on that spring.


Don was up hunting with our mutual friend Jeff Lander, who owns Primitive Outfitters. Everyone agreed that this might be an excellent property to take Don to as none of us had hunted it yet, and we could get him to do some free scouting. We didn’t hear Don complain.


Don spoke up first as we looked for THE SPOT. He pointed to a large evergreen, the most likely looking tree in the area. We went to work, and the stand was hung and ready to hunt before too long. Unfortunately, nobody had an opportunity from this tree that season, although Don did shoot a big buck on another property that Jeff had permission to hunt on.


The fall of 2001 saw Don up hunting my property again, although his aforementioned stand remained quiet as far as opportunities go. The 2002 season, however, had a lot of activity on that part of the property. The big scrape was back in action and a very heavy trail led from the nearby bedding area to adjacent hay fields a few hundred yards to the west. By now, we had come to know this tree as Don’s stand for identification purposes, and I found myself sitting there frequently that fall. One morning in early November, I rattled a nice 10 point buck there. He remained suspicious of the fake fight that he had heard and circled downwind of me and quickly disappeared when he hit the scent line downwind.


The Bow

On November 14th, 2003, a big white PVC tube leaning against the wall greeted me on my return to the office from a meeting. I quickly had the bow out of its protective case and was pleased to see it in one piece. It was beautiful, a 1957 Bear Kodiak Special with a rare hunting weight of 59 pounds. As far as I could tell, the bow was original, right down to the Bear Hair rest and leather grip. Once home, I found some heavy birch arrows that matched the bow, and the old recurve flung them downrange perfectly. Unfortunately, in the original shipment from Jay to Mike, the delivery service had somehow broken one of the tips of the bow. Mike had arranged sufficient repairs to render it functional, though we all wondered for how long. It wasn’t clear that the bow would hold together at the crucial moment when I needed to make a shot on an animal, so I kept practice to a minimum. It shot where I looked; that was all I needed to know.


The Day

November 24th, 2003, started as many other Saturday mornings had since the beginning of the hunting season in the bow zone. I was out of bed before anyone else in the house and had to assure my yellow Labrador, Brant, that he was not welcome to join me this time. Ducks would have to wait for another Saturday morning. I knew, sipping coffee alone in the dark, that as long as I had some sort of westerly wind direction outside, I would be carrying the Little Delta Bow to Don’s Stand this particular morning.


I had seen a lot of whitetail activity around the property this fall. Evenings, while out doing the chores around the farm, I would see the silhouettes of big-bodied deer slowly moving through the middle pasture, past the stand of spruce where a tree-stand was hung. Subsequent examination of the trail through the evergreens proved that big bucks were using the corridor past Don’s Stand. New activity in the scrapes and big prints in the newly fallen snow made the decision to hunt here easy.

"My eyes locked on a spot above the point of his elbow as he entered the little funnel."

The morning was startlingly cold. It was well below freezing, by tens of degrees. The stars blazed in the dark winter sky. A nearly full moon afforded me the chance to see a deer in the field ahead as I left the farmyard. It noticed me instantly and ran towards the bedding area. It didn’t matter, though, as that particular animal was already through the funnel. It would simply get to the thick willow swamp and bed for the daylight hours without alarming any bucks that might remain out in the hayfields to the west.

John sits in the winter woods. His beard is covered in icicles. Snow is crusted on his jacket.
Almost 20 years after this story occurred, John still sits shivering in November trees.

It wasn’t long before I settled into the stand and was hunting. I nocked an arrow and hung the rattling antlers across a nearby branch. I waited, shivering, for the eastern sky to amplify its glow and provide enough light to perform a rattling sequence. This morning, the air was terribly cold, and the sound traveled loudly from great distances away. I could hear deer running in the frozen alfalfa a few hundred yards away. Finally, enough light illuminated the terrain around me to reveal even more activity than my last visit here. The ground around this particular tree was torn up with deer hooves and rutting rituals.


No other method of hunting has provided me as much action as rattling whitetail bucks around my home in central Alberta. Every time I bang two shed antlers together at the right time of year, I expect a buck to come charging in. Imagine how it feels to know that there is a big buck within hearing distance, and you are about to make a bunch of noise that has a good chance of bringing him galloping toward you!


The two small antlers now clanked together loudly in my best imitation of two mediocre bucks fighting over the right to date the prettiest doe in the forest. The sound was like firecrackers in the still morning air despite my attempt to start low and slow. Distant coyotes stopped howling, and the neighbour’s dog stopped barking as the sounds I made echoed through the valley. After 30 seconds, I ended “the fight,” set the antlers on their branch, and picked up the old recurve. I listened intently, sure that pounding hooves would alert me to an approaching buck at any moment, but nothing. Not a sound. Even the distant dogs began barking again. I felt disappointed, and after a few minutes, I sat down to resume my freezing vigil and try again a bit later.


Suddenly, faintly, I heard what I thought might be the crunching of hooves in the cold snow. Barely audible at first, but now louder with every passing second. I couldn’t quite tell where the sound was coming from. My head swivelled around and around, trying to pinpoint the location of the approaching footsteps. My heart was beating heavily now, and my eyes strained in all directions. Finally, my head instinctively turned to the south, where I sensed the deer was approaching.


The steps were evident by now. An animal, walking steadily, heavily. Then suddenly he was visible! One hundred yards away and walking at a steady pace down the edge of another pasture, right toward me. I needed to get ready to shoot as, at this pace, he would be within range in seconds. He was a decent buck with dark, heavy antlers visible through the trees.


My eyes locked on a spot above the point of his elbow as he entered the little funnel. He hesitated and then deviated slightly from his course to inspect one of the new scrapes that caught his attention. After a quick sniff, he turned towards the original trail and the considerable scrape. I knew he would stop and offer a shot at that scrape. Right at that moment, I lost my focus. Something was different about this buck…the left eye was white! This was the buck I had seen on Christmas day three years ago! I struggled to regain my concentration before it was too late. By the time he was at the scrape and stopped, it was debatable whether I had achieved the level of focus necessary to execute the shot. The index finger of my right hand inched towards the corner of my mouth, and before my brain could relay what had happened, the arrow was away! I watched as it slipped cleanly into the deer. The arrow disappeared, and I knew it was over. Within moments, he was down, and I slumped to my seat, muscles quivering, limbs and teeth vibrating.


The sun was brilliant in the tops of the trees around me. I carefully climbed out of my stand and walked towards the buck. My muscles were weak with cold and adrenaline. I was glad I was alone at this moment. The solitude allowed me time to reflect. After some time, I grabbed at his rack and began to admire him. Now a 6 point, he had started his descent from one of the monarchs of that woodlot. He was old and grand, and I am glad that we finally met…in a special place while carrying a special bow.






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