Typical Deer - Crossbow Record

1. Josh Kalailieff 181-6/8 2003

Story by Don Sangster

Many people would say that 25-year-old Josh Kalailieff had a serious case of horseshoes on December 15, 2003. They might say that beginner’s luck was responsible for Josh bagging the pending new Ontario record typical crossbow whitetail that day, in just his second season of deer hunting. But these people have not met Josh, and they don’t know how dedicated and how serious he is about deer hunting.

Josh is very fortunate to live in the Niagara Region of southern Ontario. This area has some of the richest soil in the province, and is well known for its numerous vineyards and for producing award-winning wines. But it is also home to some of Ontario’s best deer and turkey hunting. And it is also home to a very serious and very determined deer hunter named Josh Kalailieff.

Although Josh has spent his entire life in this hunting-rich part of the province, he lacked a close friend or relative to introduce him to hunting. As a result, he and his brother Taylor were in their early 20s before they decided to take up hunting. A few memorable turkey hunts later, and hunting was in Josh’s blood.

When Josh decided to try his hand at deer hunting in 2002, he had a few places he could hunt, and did, but his favourite place soon became a small, family-owned plot of scrub brush near Fort Erie, not far from Josh’s home in Port Colborne. The spot is less than seven acres in size, and has no real crop fields nearby, but it is surrounded by scattered bush lots. Besides being an area that doesn’t receive a lot of pressure from other hunters, this spot is also very close to where Josh works, so he was able to put in a lot of time on stand there in 2002. In fact, every chance he had, whether it was before work, after work, or on weekends and holidays, Josh was out hunting.

This particular spot is in an archery-only zone, and the season opens on October 1 and runs until December 31. Josh figures he hunted the spot about 20 times in 2002, and, although he didn’t arrow a deer that year, he was about the only one that didn’t.

“I took a few friends there over the course of that season, and I think just about every one of them shot a deer there but me,” Josh says. “That’s mainly why I started going by myself to hunt there in 2003.”

In fact, the monster buck that Josh ended up bagging there in 2003 was almost shot by a buddy of his on the last day of the season in 2002.

“My friend was hunting out of a treestand, while I was in a ground blind not far away. Apparently he had a bit too much coffee to drink that morning, and when he stood up in the stand to answer the call of nature, the biggest deer he’d ever seen in his life stood up not 30 yards away from the stand and took off,” Josh told me. “My buddy managed to get off a shot with his crossbow, and he made a perfect double-lung shot on a nice tree about 40 yards away. Although I was close by, I never saw the deer, but I sure heard it as it went crashing through the brush. Except I could have bet that it was a whole herd of deer with all the noise it made,” Josh added.

Josh had hunted from this same ground blind for most of the 2002 season, but he decided to hunt mainly from a 15-foot ladderstand in 2003, as he felt he needed to try something different. He also did quite a bit of pre-season scouting. In fact, on one of these outings just before the season, with his fiancée along, Josh believes he first laid eyes on this monster buck. “I saw five bucks together off in the distance, and although it was a long way off, one of them stood out from all the rest. It was too far away for me to see him clearly, but even at that distance, he was obviously bigger than the others,” Josh told me.

This sighting fuelled Josh’s fires for the 2003 season, and he could hardly wait for opening day to arrive. With the combination of all of the time that he had spent hunting the spot in 2002, and the scouting he did prior to the 2003 season, it’s safe to say that by the time the opener rolled around, Josh had the deer on this property well patterned.

“I hunted there as often as I could, but I also rotated with other spots, just to give this spot a rest and to keep the amount of human scent to a minimum,” Josh says. “These deer get nocturnal once hunting season starts, so I try to give each spot a break for a few days whenever possible, just to give the deer a chance to settle down again,” Josh added.

It wasn’t long into the season before Josh started seeing a nice six-point buck on a fairly regular basis and, each time, although Josh had yet to shoot his first deer, Josh passed up easy shots at this buck.

“People couldn’t believe that I was passing up these shots, considering that I’d never shot a deer before. They thought I was crazy, but I just knew there were bigger bucks around, especially the one I’d seen before the season,” Josh says. “I wouldn’t exactly call myself a trophy hunter, but who wouldn’t want to shoot a big buck?” he asks. “Besides, I was pretty sure I was going to have venison in my freezer before the season was over,” he added.

In fact, Josh almost put his tag on another nice buck during the early part of the season, but his inexperience allowed him to take a low-percentage frontal shot, one that resulted in Josh’s arrow striking the buck’s shoulder but not penetrating into the vitals. The buck ran off and Josh never saw it again. Fortunately, another hunter reported seeing the same buck later in the season, very much alive.

Nonetheless, the experience left Josh so shaken that he considered giving up deer hunting. Between working, planning a wedding, looking for a house to buy, and other commitments, Josh wasn’t able to hunt much in the early part of November, but as the pace of life started to slow a bit with December and the holiday-season approaching, Josh was able to spend a bit more time in the field.

Much to his disappointment, Josh had yet to see the monster buck again since the long-distance encounter before the season.

Then Josh got a scare. Someone had found the skull of a very large buck not 50 yards from Josh’s treestand. Josh was sure that it was his buck, probably hit by a car. However, Josh was very relieved when he actually saw the skull, as it was obvious by the buck’s sun-bleached and rodent-gnawed rack that it had been dead for quite a while, at least a year or more. Josh knew that it could not be the same buck he had seen two months earlier. (Josh now believes that this dead buck was actually the father of his buck.)

When Josh arrived at his favourite spot before first light on Monday, December 15, it was the 20th time he’d hunted that spot so far in 2003, but it had been a week since he’d last hunted there.

Josh was particularly excited that morning, as a large buck had been seen crossing the road there just the day before. After making the 100-yard walk to his stand, it was just barely legal shooting time when Josh ascended his ladder stand. With the help of the snow cover, Josh was able to see in the pre-dawn halflight that there were some very large tracks around his stand, and that the pile of corn he had put out a week before was all gone (Josh puts out feed even in the winter, as the area is not near any major food source). Almost immediately he heard a buck rubbing brush approximately 200 yards away, in the northeast corner of the field bordering Josh’s stand. Josh contemplated using his grunt call, but some negative reactions to it in the past made Josh decide to just sit tight and see what happened.

Josh did not have to wait long, as not more than a few minutes later he spotted movement behind him from the right. Through the thick brush, Josh could tell it was a large deer, but he thought it was big doe, as no rack was visible through the thick cover. As Josh had a doe tag in his pocket, and with only two weeks left in the season, Josh decided he would take the doe if he got the chance.

As the deer approached, it stepped clear of the brush and stopped, and Josh finally laid eyes on his monster buck. Josh forced himself not to look at the buck’s giant rack.

Although the buck was only 25 or 30 yards away, and presented a quartering-away shot, it seemed very cautious and nervous, and Josh’s earlier bad experience with the wounded buck made him wisely elect to wait and allow the deer to come closer.

“Obviously, I took a chance, and I would have been kicking myself if he had turned and gone the other way,” Josh recalls, “but the wind was right and I figured he would come closer still. Besides, I still had my crossbow lying across my lap.”

The deer started slowly walking and then stopped again, scanned all around and looked right up at Josh.

“I thought I was busted for sure,” Josh told me, “but he must have heard something, because he looked away quickly.”

Josh took advantage of that opportunity to raise his Excalibur crossbow, just as the buck started moving again, with his nose to the ground.

“Although it was the middle of November, he was definitely still interested in the many does that were around the area,” Josh recalls.

Josh tracked the buck in his scope and fired at his exposed left shoulder as the buck’s left leg strode forward. Josh estimated the range to be 20 yards. It was actually 12 yards.

As a result, the arrow hit high. Fortunately, the arrow struck the buck right in the spine and it went down like it had been pole-axed.

Josh briefly took his eyes off the buck in order to quickly lower his crossbow in preparation for reloading another arrow. When he looked up again, Josh expected to see the buck getting up and running off, but it wasn’t going anywhere.

Josh let out the obligatory war whoop, then calmly collected his buck. After arriving at home, the first thing he did was call his brother at work, “just to rub it in a bit,” Josh smiles.

Josh knew he’d shot a big buck, but he didn’t know just how large until he’d showed it to a few veteran deer hunters who told him that they had never seen a bigger buck.

Following the mandatory 60-day drying period, Josh had the buck panel-scored by the Foundation for the Recognition of Ontario Wildlife. The buck officially scored 2015/8 typical inches gross B&C, but suffered some 18 points in deductions due to asymmetry and a split-tine right G2. The buck scores net 182-6/8 typical inches B&C, a pending new provincial record for crossbow in the typical category, topping the old record by some five inches. Not bad for your first deer!

Many people have told Josh that he should quit deer hunting now, as he’s never going to top this deer. But Josh has other ideas. He tells me that his buck field dressed at only 175 lbs. and had bare patches on his chest from breeding. Although the buck was not officially aged, Josh estimates it was 5-1/2 or 6-1/2 years old, so Josh is quite sure that the big boy’s genetics are well-established in the area, and that his offspring should keep Josh interested for years to come.

“Plus, people have been seeing a big deer on my aunt’s property not far from there, and it sounds like it could be even bigger than this one.”

Beginner’s luck? I don’t think so. Something tells me that this won’t be the last giant whitetail buck to go on Josh Kalailieff’s wall.

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