To Hell and Back

PRAIRIE WHITETAILS The temperatures and wind chill in late November in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba can easily hit 20 or 30 below zero. Blink and your eyelashes might freeze. Take off your glove and you'll be frostbitten in minutes. But when it's bitter cold and the rut's on, some of the biggest whitetail bucks in the world start to move. Rifle hunters survive the brutal conditions by using box blinds with heaters. Archery hunters, however, have to tough it out, perching in tree stands where they'll face the elements for 60 hours during an average week afield. "It can be tough, real tough," admits Jim Hole Jr., who guides in the famous Edmonton bow zone, arguably the best place in the world to hunt giant whitetails. "If you don't have the right gear to survive the cold, the strength to climb trees and hang stands and the positive mental attitude necessary to succeed in the harsh conditions we can get up here, you're finished before you even begin." Indeed, if you move too fast and sweat on the way into your stand on a late November Canadian archery whitetail hunt, you'll soon be facing hypothermia, your teeth chattering so hard you won't be able to react when a big buck appears. Sound travels forever across the cold grainfields at this time of year. If you make any noise, you probably won't see a deer. And if you forget to coat your arrows in corn oil, they'll soon be covered in hoarfrost and you'll never be able to draw your bow quietly when a big buck finally does show up. "Even when the weather is cooperating, to kill one of the studs up here you've got to do a hundred things right every time," says Hole, who arrowed a 190-class giant on an icy day in late November 2003. "When the temperatures start to plummet, the top-end bucks do start to move, but the game gets infinitely more difficult for the hunter." Earl Olson, a Vermont dentist, has survived weeks of frigid conditions over the last seven years trying to kill a big Canadian prairie whitetail with his bow. He finally pulled it off last November. "In 2003, on the last evening of my hunt with Hole, I flesh-wounded a huge buck that we figured was pushing two hundred thirty non-typical," Olson recalls. "Not getting that deer after all that hard work and all that time on stand was crushing. It was all I thought about for months. But rather than quit I told myself to get better prepared physically and mentally and go back again, which I did. On the third cold morning of my next hunt, I arrowed the buck of my dreams: a fourteen-point typical that scored one-eighty." Not surprisingly, come late November this year, Olson will be back in a tree in Alberta, ready to face the cold, bow in hand. Contact: Jim Hole Jr., (780-797-2222; classic-outfitters.com)