Man on a Mission

Saskmuledeer The grainy photos came across my modem like some sort of espionage footage, but it was the screaming tag line “40 INCHER” that caught my attention.

The photo looked like either an elk or a deer caught out in a fuzz storm, but there was something stuck to its head. Was that the crossbar to a clothesline? Or maybe an old-fashioned television aerial?

The email was from my friend Bret Maffenbeier, a hardcore coyote hunter who lives just across the border from me in southern Saskatchewan. I met Bret through mutual friends who described him as the only amateur predator hunter—meaning he doesn’t get a dime from sponsors or any revenue besides what he can fetch for his furs—they know who kills more than 100 coyotes every winter.

Turns out, Bret hunts a lot more than just coyotes. The message that accompanied the photo revealed both the identity of the animal and the origin of the surveillance photo.

“Been hunting a 220-class muley, putting in every second I can to get him,” Bret wrote in his breathless style. “Had two close calls so far, hopefully I will connect!! Hope to talk to you soon…”

The photo, Bret explained, is a still from his video camera. He had seen this buck in a pea field while scouting some draws prior to Saskatchewan’s archery season, and returned with the camera. The only way he could transfer the image from his video camera to his computer was to take a digital snapshot of his TV screen while the video played. Sometimes you do what you need to do, in photojournalism as well as hunting.

“I estimate this buck goes 40 inches, maybe just a little wider, and he has some junk on his left side,” Bret told me in a follow-up email. “I’ve seen him every night for the last five nights and I’m going after him tomorrow.”

Then I didn’t hear from Bret for several weeks. When I did, it was this message:

“I did not get the big one I was after, I seen him go into a draw last night, came downwind stillhunted in and as I came around a bend this guy stood up. I saw the deep upper and OK fronts and saw what I thought was a sticker on his other antler. I was excited and sun in my eyes. I let the arrow fly. I saw him buck like a heart-shot deer always does and I was jumping until he turned and I saw it was not the big boy. What I thought was the sticker was a piece of velvet!

Bretdeer07

“This guy is about eight inches narrower and about 30 inches shy. Still an OK deer for a bow, my second biggest ever but not what I was expecting. Gets pretty bad when a bowhunter is passing up deer most would shoot with rifle, Well, it’s not the size of the buck that gets me, it’s that I am done muley hunting for another year, now the wife expects work!”

I just got back from visiting Bret and doing some coyote calling together. He says that big boy was seen a few more times during the season, but Bret lives in a small enough town that he’d hear if it had been shot, and he says he’s heard no reports. So he’s guessing it lived through this season. Any guesses where Bret will be hunting come next September when southern Saskatchewan’s archery season opens?

—Andrew McKean