In North America there are 29 species of big game animals that sportsmen can pursue. Those fortunate to harvest all of them can rightfully claim they have taken the "Grand Slam" of big game, obviously, quite an achievement.
How realistic is it to attempt such a feat? Not very, especially if your hunting budget is like mine and you haven't hit the Powerball lottery. To give you an idea of how expensive the task can be, a guy I know has completed the Grand Slam, with a bow, and he spent over $400,000. And that doesn't include taxidermy costs to mount his trophies.
I've been fortunate to have done a lot of hunting in the U.S. and some other countries, but I knew the Grand Slam was out of my reach, so I came up with other goals that I thought I might be able to achieve my personal "Bucket List" of big game animals, in other words, animals I wanted to take before I'm incapable of rambling through the woods.
I wanted to see if I could take all animals in a specific species. My targeted species were elk, moose and deer. I completed the elk and moose mini-slams by taking the three subspecies of elk (Roosevelt, Rocky Mountain and Tule) and the three moose subspecies (Shiras, Yukon/Alaska and Canada).
There are five subspecies of deer Whitetail, Mule, Coues, Columbian Blacktail and Sitka Blacktail. This is one species that many of us can attempt to complete in what I refer to as a "Mini-Slam". The cost to complete this mini-slam is not excessive, however, it does require some travel.
Many of us hunt Missouri whitetails in the fall, so that part of the deer mini-slam is definitely attainable and within reach. Mule deer can also be taken within reasonable financial means. A lot of us journey to Colorado or Wyoming to chase the big eared mule deer, so that's two of the five.
Coues deer can be a little more daunting. For the best chance at a Coues, you have to go to Arizona or New Mexico, which have the biggest populations. Mexico has a lot of Coues, but that requires more travel and cost. I've hunted Coues mainly in Arizona and once ventured to Mexico.
The Coues is referred to as the "Grey Ghost" and for good reason. You see them and the next moment they're gone. Their color blends well with the habitat making them difficult to see. Coues are also hard to hunt due to their nervous mannerisms. They rank high on the food chain list for mountain lions and bobcats. Soon they learn to be alert or be dead. I've likened them to a tightly wound spring just waiting to be released.
There are two main ways to hunt Coues. You can either try to spot and stalk them or ambush them from ground blinds near water holes. Rifle hunting works best when spot and stalking Coues. Coues like the high country and are usually found above 5500 feet elevation. The secret is to go to a high spot and spend hours behind a good set of binoculars until you spot one, then the hunt is on. With a bow, it's tough to spot and stalk Coues, but it can be done, it's just a lot harder. I like to sit water holes when bow hunting and have been successful several times.
The fourth species, Columbian Blacktail, requires some travel and more expense. Columbians are found in California, Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Coast of Canada. I've hunted them in California and Oregon. You can use the same type of hunting them as described for the Coues. In California I sat in tree stands near trails and also did some stalking. For Oregon, I sat waterholes. The Columbian can be hunted on state and federal land if you want to go without a guide, which helps keep the cost down.
Columbian Blacktail Deer
I have to insert an oddity. I have taken two Columbian Blacktails with a bow. Although they had different gross scores, they both had the same net score - 108 1/8". What are the odds of that? The minimum score to be included in the Pope & Young Club record book is 95".
Last on the list - the Sitka Blacktail. And it is the most expensive for those of us in Missouri to pursue. Sitkas are found mainly in Alaska and its surrounding islands. To get there you have to travel over 3000 miles and airfare isn't cheap. Once you are in Alaska, you can choose how you want to hunt them. Now it begins to get expensive. Some people hire transporters who take you out on a boat, drop you off at a location, you spend the day hunting and they pick you up at the end of the day. You eat and sleep on the boat.
Sitka Blacktail Deer
Or you can fly in and live in a drop camp. Once you're done hunting, you fly out if weather permits. So now we should get into a couple of the draw backs of this hunt. The weather in Alaska can be brutal, usually wet and cold, and later in the year a lot of snow falls. November and December are the best months for Sitkas and the worst weather wise. It's not uncommon for hunters to stay in a camp beyond their scheduled departure dates due to bad weather hampering flying.
Oh, and did I mention the bears? Kodiak, one of the best Sitka deer locations, has quite a few brown bears. They can ruin a hunt real quick. My wife, Shelby, and I had one false charge us. He stopped at 15 feet. That will get your adrenalin going. I've been to Alaska three times and can tell you it's a beautiful place but it can be deadly. These warnings are not to discourage you but to make you aware. Don't go there unprepared. Go with the attitude of "plan for the worst and hope for the best".
The Sitka is only deer subspecies I haven't taken, so this fall my wife and I plan to go after them on Kodiak. The good Lord willing, I'll complete my deer mini-slam.
In summary, if you're motivated by goals, the idea of putting a deer mini-slam on your "Bucket List" is not unreasonable and can be done. I'll let you know if I complete mine.