Ryk, you've got to get down to the shop," Kevin Berge urged. "And don't forget your measuring tape!"
Kevin was telephoning from my Edmonton archery store, Visscher's Archery World. It was Saturday morning, September 21. Don McGarvey, one of our regular pro shop customers, had just stopped by with a huge buck he'd arrowed the previous evening. As Don rattled off his story to Kevin and another shop employee, Rob Littlemore, Kevin glanced out the window. One look was all it took. Although the buck was resting on its side in the back of a truck, one antler was clearly visible above the sideboards. This was no ordinary buck. Kevin decided he'd call me at home.
Don McGarvey was visibly excited. "Don was still shaking when he got out of the truck and ran into the store," Kevin told me later. "It's lucky his friend Dan Wiles was there to drive."
Seems after Don downed the monster whitetail on the evening of September 20, he tagged it and left it in the field overnight. He knew he'd need help retrieving the big buck. Enter Dan Wiles who returned with Don the following morning to take field photos and help load the deer. Instinctively, Don knew his buck was something special; however, this was his first trophy-class animal and he had no idea what to do next. Recalling that I'm an official Pope and Young Club measurer, Don decided to ask me for advice. He and Dan climbed in the truck and headed for my pro shop.
I must admit I reacted coolly to Kevin's call. Not having seen the deer but having scored hundreds of big game heads, I know that more often than not first impressions generally exaggerate - often wildly exaggerate - any trophy's size.
Meanwhile Rob had volunteered to cape the deer in the back of the store. He knew Don was too flustered to work on the trophy himself. And once the caping job was quickly and expertly completed, I received a second telephone call. Hearing details of the buck's number of points, beam length and inside spread, I suddenly realized I was wasting my time talking on the phone. I jumped in my car and headed over for a firsthand look.
I met Don at Clarence Kriaski's taxidermy studio. Clarence is an Edmonton taxidermist and noted sculptor who had always done a good job for me. He adds an artist's touch to any trophy he mounts and is just the man to preserve an outstanding buck like Don's.
As I green-scored the buck Don highlighted the events of his successful hunt. This particular deer, which Don had seen on a couple of previous occasions and nicknamed "The Thistle Buck," was living in Edmonton's bowhunting-only zone surrounding the city. Don had a stand set up in a treeline bordering a grain field. Deer frequented the area and with about 30 minutes of legal shooting time remaining the big buck appeared across the field and began working his way in Don's direction.
Ironically, just prior to the appearance of "The Thistle Buck," Don had passed up a smaller but definitely respectable buck at 15 yards. The ideal shot never presented itself and Don simply watched the lesser whitetail walk away. He admits he'd have shot that first buck if he could have. But as he watched the huge whitetail move closer, he was thankful things hadn't worked out.
A full 15 nerve-racking minutes passed before the big deer moved within easy bow range. Don did his best to calm himself, ignore the buck's giant antlers and pick a single spot where he wanted the arrow to hit. As the buck walked by, Don pulled his 69-pound High Country Sniper to full draw, held, aimed and released. The arrow took the deer at less than 10 yards. Its Thunderhead 125 broadhead dropped the buck within 60 yards. Soon "The Thistle Buck" lay motionless in the field. And although he didn't know it at the time, Don McGarvey had just made bowbunting history.
As I finished measuring the massive antlers and tallying the green score figures, I knew that not only had Don taken a new Alberta record, he very well may have shot the biggest whitetail taken by any bowhunter during the past quarter century.
Knowing how critical the accuracy of my measurements was, I rescored the buck the following Monday and then a third time a week later. Each time I came within a fraction of an inch of my first conservative score of 198, typical.
The McGarvey buck is a surprisingly even six-by-six whose gross score totals 204. There are some four inches of obvious deductions, not including two inches I subtracted for non-typical burr points. It is possible that once the 60-day drying period is complete, these may not qualify as points at all and raise the official Pope and Young score closer to 200.
To date only Mel Johnson's World Record whitetail, arrowed in Peoria County, Illinois in 1965, tops 200 with an official score of 204 4/8.
Whatever the official score, I'm convinced that this buck ranks no lower than the fourth largest how-killed buck of all time - and perhaps Number Two. At this writing only the Johnson buck and the two whitetails currently tied for second place with identical 197 6/8 scores are of similar quality.
Besides its six scoreable points on each main beam, "The Thistle Buck" has an incredible inside spread of 29 2/8 inches. Its main beam lengths exceed 28 and 30 inches, respectively. By comparison, Johnson's World Record buck has 27-inch beams and a 25-inch inside spread.
Alberta has long been touted as home to potential World Record whitetails. Many provincial hunters and outfitters feel bucks like McGarvey's - and even better ones - are out there and it's only a matter of time before a rifleman or bowhunter puts them down. Unlike many parts of North America where huge bucks simply don't exist, Alberta harbors a resident population of whopper whitetails. With a relatively small hunting population, the hunters and the big Alberta bucks just haven't been in the same place at the same time - yet.
Jim Hole, a good friend of Don McGarvey and the man who runs Classic Outfitters which caters to bowhunters in Edmonton's bow-only zone, states he was not surprised that someone finally connected on such a magnificent representative of Alberta's trophy whitetails. An avid howhunter himself, with numerous quality bucks taken personally apd by clients, Hole has long known whitetails like the McGarvey buck existed.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife biologists Bill Wishart and Bruce Treichel have preliminary aged the McGarvey buck at just over seven years of age. Was it in or past its prime? What would the rack have scored last year? Next year? And what of the buck's offspring? How many bucks sired over the years will live to the same age and how big will they be? What if the father of "The Thistle Buck" is still alive? How big was/is he? Makes for interesting speculation.
The biologists note that mild Alberta winters over the past three to four years surely helped with the antler growth of this buck and others living in the same area. Combine the factors of good genetics with good nutrition and relatively light hunting pressure and. well, who knows? Perhaps a new World Record might be downed during the November whitetail rut in Alberta.
Historically that's when the really big bucks are taken!