- Lynn Burkhead
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For Canadian archer Wayne Zaft, there has been much to be thankful for since that fateful Canadian Thanksgiving Day last fall when his path crossed with what is apparently the largest typical whitetail buck to ever fall to a bowhunter's arrow.
Little did Zaft know when he left his family's home after the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal on Oct. 8, 2001 that his life was about to change forever. But by the end of the beautiful fall evening, Zaft would begin a journey that few others will ever know a journey to the top of the Pope & Young record book.
After enjoying a holiday meal with his family, Zaft grabbed his Matthews Q-2 bow and headed out the door, intent on doing some quick scouting in the waning sunlight on the ground that he regularly hunts in Alberta, Canada's famed Edmonton Bow Zone.
"The sun would set in about an hour and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to check some of my prime rutting areas," Zaft said. "It was still too early for the rut, which was a month away but I wanted to check the sign that was in some of the travel areas."
As Wayne headed for the woods, he already had some lofty standards in place for the fall of 2001.
"Although the archery season had been open for over a month in the bow zone, I was not in a big hurry to start hunting hard," Zaft said. "I had sat in a few stands already and passed on several smaller bucks. The past two years, I had shot two bucks both in the mid to upper 140s Pope & Young. I was hoping to get one bigger this year."
Little did Zaft know that before the evening was through, he would have not only gotten one bigger than his two previous Alberta bucks, but also bigger than any typical whitetail ever arrowed by a hunter.
A plan for the rut
Zaft knew that the time of the year was quickly approaching when the legendary bucks that call Alberta home would begin to work into a frenzy, partly due to the onset of the whitetail rut and partly due to his favored technique of planting fake scrapes in good travel corridors around the first of November.
By kicking a few leaves, some dirt, and snow aside under an overhanging branch and placing a few drops of Robinson Lab's "Still Steaming Doe Estrus Urine" in the mock scrape, Wayne is often able to get a few of the local big boys stirred up. With that plan in mind, Zaft went afield on that October evening to look for some prime rutting areas to employ his technique when the rut kicked into gear a few weeks later.
In fact, carrying his bow was almost an afterthought.
"I always get excited about hunting the rut which usually peaks about the mid to latter part of November," said Wayne. "This is the time that the bucks become much more active especially with the snow and colder weather. This is when we get to see the big whitetails that Alberta is famous for."
But big whitetails are where and when you find them. So Zaft dutifully took his bow and headed for the Canadian woods.
It wouldn't take long for the big buck action to begin.
"I had just parked my truck near a bush line that funneled between two good strands of timber that I wanted to check," he said. "I was kneeling down inspecting what I thought might be a buck track in the leaf duff, examining the deep dew claw marks in the soft earth when I looked up and saw the buck trotting my way. The buck was about 150 yards coming along the bush line."
Zaft, a veteran 3-D archer, instantly knocked an arrow and put his Scott release to the bow's string. He then made a quick move to get into position for the shot of a lifetime.
"As the buck went behind a thick leafy area, I quickly bounded about 15-yards and stood beside a large broken-off poplar tree. I took several deep breaths trying desperately to calm myself."
Wayne quickly found out that's easier said than done when a potential world-record buck is closing the gap on a hunter's position.
"The buck was closing the distance, hardly breaking stride," Zaft said. "Surely he would not continue my way, I told myself, but he kept coming. I had a good opening for a shooting lane of about eight yards wide at an estimated distance of 34-yards that the buck would travel through."
When the buck approached the shooting lane, the 29-year old archer quickly steadied his nerves for his historic shot opportunity.
"I drew in a fluid like motion as he entered my shooting lane," Wayne recalled. "I grunted with my voice to stop the buck. The buck gave no reaction so I grunted again somewhat louder. The buck slowed to a walk as he looked my way. I then realized he wasn't stopping and my shooting opportunity was narrowing quickly. I had to take the shot now if I was going to have any chance of a good clean kill."
And so, Zaft did just that.
"I squeezed my release and everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I saw my Carbon Express arrow strike a bit high and far back. The Gametracker First Cut 125-grain broadhead had passed cleanly through the deer and was embedded in the ground on the far side. The deer bounded away and as I watched it run through the trees for about a hundred yards, I could not notice any sign of a fatal hit."