The pursuit of whitetail deer, for me, has always been a family affair, as I hail from a long line of accomplished Morrison deer hunters. My grandfather Alfred, I am told, was one of the best in the business. He would regularly guide hunters from Montreal and the United States on his homestead in the Quebec Laurentians, and at his hunt camp nestled at the foot of (appropriately named) “Buck Mountain.” Although I never got the opportunity to know granddad, my father has shared enough of his deer-hunting tales and prowess that I feel like I know him well, and probably take after the man in many ways.
My father Rathwell certainly took after his old man, I’m happy to say, and began sharing his “inherited” love of deer hunting with me at the tender age of 13. The year was 1980 when I was first immersed in the mountain deer hunt lifestyle — much like a Border collie pup surrounded by a camp full of experienced old dogs. It was intimidating, to say the least, but I paid close attention and observed how my father and uncles pursued these wily, old mountain deer. They were whitetails often described as too difficult to hunt. But I learned quickly and even managed to bag a buck in the very first season. It was a fine 8-pointer which I harvested with a single shot from granddad’s trusty old Winchester 30-30 Model 94. It was the same gun Dad had taken his very first buck with many years earlier! Perhaps it was destiny, but the mountain family magic was born.
Author Jeff Morrison (left) and his father Rathwell put their magic to work on this fine 12-point mountain buck taken during the 2008 deer season.
Trophy-sized Whitetails Abound
As years passed, I continued to study the inner-workings of Quebec’s trophy mountain deer, while hunting out of my grandfather’s buck mountain camp. In 1983, however, I faced my first beginner’s mistake, when an enormous 240-pound, 12-pointer strolled out to me at a scant 70 feet. The buck was so huge and dark in color I mistook it for a moose, and never even raised my rifle. Fortunately, my uncle Alfred, was there to show me how it’s done. I learned a good lesson from that missed opportunity, and came back the following year to capitalize on a wide 11-point buck that dressed 213 pounds. With my confidence building, my family continued to take trophy-sized whitetail bucks at granddad’s camp.
By 1996, 16 years of hunting with my father culminated in my ultimate moment of family mountain magic, when a one-of-a-kind 8.5 year-old whitetail made the mistake of getting too close, and it remains Quebec’s No. 1 in the Typical category. “Old toothless,” by the way, was not my father’s first brush with record book history; as the province’s All-time No. 1 whitetail — known as the “Hotel Buck,” was chased out by Dad and taken by his friend Arthur Dobie in 1959. My father actually owned the head and displayed it for many years at his hotel in Arundel, Quebec. That magnificent animal netted a whopping 207-5/8 inches Boone & Crockett — a record which still stands today — some 50 years later!
The family deer-hunting tradition continued for my Dad and I through the new millennium and who would have thought his personal best deer would come after nearly 60 years of climbing the hills! In 2003, he bagged a beautiful 218-pound, 11-pointer with an impressive 22-inch spread — a magnificent animal of which we are all extremely proud. After that year, my father and I fell into what one might describe as a big buck rut, a condition which lasted five years. Although we had the opportunity to take several smaller animals in that time, we choose to hold-out for something more noteworthy, something to properly rekindle the spark of that old mountain family tradition, and a run-of-the-mill deer just would not do.
After nearly 30 years of hunting together, and five long years of passing-up on lesser bucks, my Dad and I finally came together again in a big way. The mountain family magic had returned for one very special day we spent together in the fabled mountains of Quebec with our good friend Jim Bindon.
A Perfect Whitetail Setting
In 2008, we headed to the nearby woods of Fairmont Kenauk in Montebello; where the stands of mature hardwoods and mountain peaks beckon. While pursuing the elusive whitetail trophy, setting is often considered universal; but as my father and I have discovered over the years, there’s just something unique about the mountains and crisp, cool northern air to set the stage for the perfect family deer hunt.
While I sit on my boulder in quiet contemplation, a red squirrel tears back and forth in a torrent rustling of leaves, stopping to scold me each time for good measure. You’ve never felt utter rejection until being scorned by an angry squirrel. After the squirrel scurried away, a “thumpity thump” sound is heard from a rise to my left. The silhouette of a deer with its nose to the ground materializes at 75 yards. “Oh my God,” I thought. “It’s a buck and a big one, too!”
My heart rate jumps into turbo overdrive, as the big mature male sneaks towards me; oblivious to everything, but the fresh doe tracks he’s trailing. I find the buck in my scope and prepare for a shot. The big boy makes the perfect turn to expose his vitals, as the familiar bark of my old .30-06 Mauser echoes through the mountains.
Moments later, I kneel beside my fine 200-pound, 12-point mountain buck in admiration — an animal several years in the making. I estimate his age at 4.5 years with a large body, symmetrical crown and forked brow tines. He is not my biggest buck ever, but is a fine-looking trophy none-the-less. Dad shows up grinning from ear to ear, no doubt feeling the same excitement I was. After field dressing the buck and grabbing a bite, darkness closes-in over the Kenauk forest as we make our way back to camp. Between walking the slopes, the chattering squirrel, and harvesting a magnificent come-back buck; it had been one heck of fulfilling day in the mountains with my father.
This year, as my Dad and I enter our 30th year of chasing big mountain deer together, I am thankful he is still in good enough shape physically to do it. I look back on the memory of all our hunts with great fondness. Each year we try our best to recreate the mountain family tradition and magic of taking big animals together. Although we’re not always successful as far as a trophy bucks go, after three decades of climbing the majestic Laurentian Mountains side-by-side, I’d say we have the magic part already sewn up.
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