Pheromones and estrous doe scents might be akin to Cupid’s arrow, but whatever Pat Bates pours on bushes is more like Thor’s hammer.
One whiff of the concoction will turn bucks into white-eyed defoliators, or, if they’re big and stupid enough to do battle with flora in front of Pat, into wall art.
The retired firefighter from Alberta decided a long time ago that if he wanted to be as successful in the deer woods as his brother is, and if he wanted to put a tag on a record book buck, he’d better not rely on luck. That’s why he spends at least eight of every 10 days afield each season; why he began playing around with the potion he calls his “buckstuff;” and, finally, how he one-upped Mike Bates in 2010.
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The man who dons his Raven Wear and spends 100 marrow-freezing days a year looking for big bucks concedes that being in the right place at the right time is important, but so is being in the wrong places the other 99 times.
“My brother, Mike, always seems to be on the right side of a draw or brush pile where a big buck runs out, or he’ll harvest one on his way home from town,” Pat said. “Not that I don’t get my buck. I usually just have to work a little harder.”
Pat morphed from meat hunter to trophy hunter in 1975, after he shot a huge 6x6 that missed the record book minimum. When he retired in 2007, after 32 years as a Calgary fireman, he got serious about it.
“I was out there watching whenever I could,” he said of his new open calendar. “But often, when I saw a really interesting buck in the morning, it was just fading back into the brush. Or, in the evening, it would just materialize at the edge of a brush pile. Either way, by the time I’d get it in my scope, it was either gone or too dark for me to evaluate its rack.”
Missed opportunities like these led Pat into experimenting with a product that he hoped would lure or keep bucks in the open long enough for him to judge them.
“A couple of weeks prior to the rut one year, I placed it in a patch of diamond willow on a heavily traveled trail a few hundred yards upwind from where I’d seen an enormous buck,” he said. “About 5:00 on the third afternoon, the bull of the woods hit it. The deer didn’t look right or left as it exited the bush. It just headed to that willow and started raking it like there was no tomorrow.
“My buddy, Ken, and I saw that deer the next five nights. Every time, the first thing it did was to try and kill that little tree,” he added.
Pat shot the pugilistic whitetail a few days later. It had 26-inch beams, nearly 5-inch circumferences and long tines, but it still fell short of the book.
He should’ve known the 2010 season was going to be special when his portion of the province was blanketed by 8 inches of snow in early November. Not only that, but the mercury plummeted to minus-39 (C), and the wind made it even colder.
The onset of the rut aside, deer up there can’t stay off their feet for long in that kind of weather.
“That’s a good thing, because the bucks move all day long,” Pat said, “except there was also a full moon, which is not a good thing. It was so bright at night that you could almost read the newspaper.”
He went to his brother’s place on Nov. 25, their father’s 89th birthday. While the patriarch hunted with Mike that morning, Pat struck out on his own, hoping to connect with a huge buck his sibling had been hunting for a couple of years.
“The directions Mike gave me were very specific,” Pat said. “And while I didn’t see the big fella, I saw a lot of sign and some very well-used trails.
“I also put some buckstuff on a tree with a huge scrape nearby. That was a great spot because, with the amount of cover around, it would afford a big buck access without being too exposed. I then went back to Mike’s for lunch,” he added.
Upon his return, he saw his father’s birthday present.
“Dad has always been lucky on his birthday, and that day was no exception. Shortly after daylight, he slammed a long-tined 4x4,” Pat said. “After Mike and Dad described their morning hunt, we discussed viable options for the afternoon. Because they had already burned their tags, Mike decided to accompany me for the afternoon. We were reminded that we needed to be back for Dad’s birthday dinner by 6:30 in Stettler.
“With the wind in our favor, we slipped into our hide about 3:00. It was farther away than I liked, but it allowed for an unobstructed view of both the scrape and the tree where the buckstuff was distributed,” he continued. “Four o’clock came with no action, and it was starting to get a bit colder. And then, all of a sudden, this buck was just there ... It didn’t walk up, didn’t run up; it was just there, where seconds before there was nothing.
“Now let me tell you: There wasn’t any checking with the spotting scope on this deer. One quick look through the binoculars, and I was reaching for my rifle. The range was at least 250 yards, but with a convenient tree branch for a rest, I was confident I could make the shot.
“The deer was raking the tree with authority as I slipped the 150-grain slug behind its shoulder. Mike and I both heard the sound of a solid hit, but the buck didn’t flinch. It just lifted its head and left,” Pat said.
When the brothers walked to the spot, they were relieved to see evidence of a good hit. Pat’s long-anticipated book buck was lying a short distance away.