There doesn’t seem a more fitting way to start this story off than with a quote from a great story teller, Donnie Vincient. He essentially summed up how a lot of us feel about hunting.
“Hunting is not casual for me. It’s not a hobby. It’s something that was born in me… and something that I absolutely have to do.”
Some people have the drive to travel around the world, experiencing foreign soils, culture, and storied places. I share the sense of adventure with many of these people, but I often have a different agenda. This agenda usually includes a quiver full of arrows, bad gas station food, a truck packed to the brim with anything you could possibly need on a trip with no timeline.
The Dakotas have long been the source of innate curiosity, and the further west I would travel, whether it be on South Dakota’s I-90 or North Dakota’s I-94, the more intrigued I became. The large stands of deciduous oaks and maples faded into the open country dominated by grasslands, cedars and juniper trees.
It was this landscape and the deer which lived in its woodwork that had me enthralled.
Leaving the Twin Cities on Wednesday, my plan was to head to Platte South Dakota in search of my first Mule Deer. Within minutes of crossing the lodge’s threshold, I sank into a deep sleep. It’s always a good sign when your eye lids trump your alarm clock in the darkness of the morning. In a second, I was on my feet and again behind the windshield traveling to the cherished hunting grounds.
I somehow stumbled into accessing some of the most amazing deer ground, and met some fantastic people in this quest for a four legged animal. I called Kordell, a 16 year old who shares the same outdoor drive as myself, and he directed me to an area on the property he had been seeing some great bucks.
The deer during that first morning flooded the river hills along the Missouri River, but a buck worthy of notching my tag didn’t show himself. A 4×3 Muley was awful tempting as I snuck within bow range, as he was preoccupied with a couple lady friends but I elected to pass.
The wind picked up with some tenacity, exceeding 35mph, and shutting down deer movement. It endured well into my evening hunt, as Kordell instructed me to head to an area filled with deep draws where the deer could escape the driving wind.
Far in the distance, I spotted a buck who appeared to have his hands full as he tended to a group of does. The only thing that lied between us was a mile of draws packed with resting deer, ready to be startled, potentially ruining my stalk. I crested a hill, growing closer only to find 20+ deer in the draw below. There wouldn’t be a way I could get to the buck I had saw from my initial perch on top of the hill.
I conceded to simply watch the sun set, and the deer move up the hills to feed for the night. Tomorrow was a new day, one without a badgering wind!
A layer of ice coated my windshield as I watched the center strip flicker through the holes created from my defroster. I climbed the hills back into an area I knew well, one which was covered in deer.
As the light grew more evident in the eastern sky, the deer did not appear. It was eerily quiet in the draw I watched. The occasional hawk glided through the sky, and crows cawed in the distance. Sitting and waiting didn’t seem to be working, as I relied on my feet to put the slip on a Mule Deer. Slowly moving from cedar to cedar, I snuck around in the stillness of the dawn. I took a step around one tree when my eyes fell on a group of bedded deer. A head full of antlers caught my attention 70 yards in front of me as I sank towards to ground and back to the cover of the cedar tree.
After pulling up my binoculars for awhile, I knew this was I deer I’d be glad to wrap a tag around. The problem was I only could sneak another 15 yards closer before all there was left was 55 yards of short grass between my arrow and this deer. He remained in his bed staring in my direction, for what seemed like the longest hour of my life before he rose to his feet. He remained facing directly at me for another 15 minutes, not taking his eyes off the tree I partially sat behind. All he need was to take one step in either direction to offer me a shot. Finally, in what looked like the first step in a getaway plan, he moved into position. I drew, and settled my pin directly behind on my target, just as I had practiced hundreds of times in the last months. I squeezed off the shot as the arrow soared through the air, and connected with a smack. The buck responded with giant mule kick, as the arrow passed through his vitals.
I instantly knew he was mine, as he staggered away. I wanted to give him some time as it was a longer shot and I wasn’t sure what the effects of my arrow where. 30 minutes passed, and I came upon my bloodied arrow. I glanced in the direction of his exit to see a set of antlers towering in the short grass.
My first Mule Deer laid right in front of me, as a wave of joy washed over my face. I called my Dad, just as I had done in the past with every successful hunt.
The rest of the day was filled with the awesome chore of harvesting a deer. The even better part, was Kordell also harvested a Muley that more resembled a cow than a deer. It took all of our strength to hoist the old 4×3 beast into the back of my truck, as dragging it out of the hills was out of the question.
It was a perfect way to end a trip to South Dakota, but for some reason I yearned for more. The tag marked North Dakota Whitetail in the center counsel of my truck was pushing me to head to the Northern most Dakota.
The deer hunting landscape in North Dakota would change at noon that following day, with the an orange wave canvassing the state for the 2014 Firearm Opener. This essentially marks the end of bow hunting public land, and I had to make short work.
Again, behind the windshield of my truck with 4 hours to my destination, I felt a little nuts, maybe a little irresponsible as I would only have one morning to hunt a piece of ground I had been to once, 4 years ago. Another spot along the mighty Missouri River greeted me, bow in hand ready to get it done.
I had something I can’t quite describe in my corner. My mindset had changed. I felt as if it wasn’t a matter of, if I was going to shoot a deer, but when and how. It may come across as over confident, or arrogant, as I had spent countless hours chasing after deer to only come up empty handed. I know how it works, but it felt like some power was in my corner that morning.
The noon hour grew near, and I had only saw a group of does and some small bucks. Things weren’t looking good, especially because a group of orange clad hunters arrived on top of the hill waiting to kick off their season. I pretty much cursed their presence, when in reality, 15 minutes later, they would be the reason I would lay my hands on a mature whitetail.
They seemed to be quite excited to head out in the field as slamming doors, and their bantering echoed down to me. A dense thicket I was watching was holding a few deer and I decided to put it in between me and the hunters. I was hoping the deer would want to get out of dodge due to the racket on top of the hill. No sooner than I buried myself into a cedar tree, a mature buck trotted out out of the thicket, 30 yards from me. I was astonished, baffled, and shocked, my plan had worked! My opportunity had appeared, he looked back to the hunters, ready to flee as I drew and let an arrow fly. With minutes to spare before the hunters started their own season, I filled my NoDak tag. It was a buck who won’t get into any record books but was very mature and had some fantastic character.
No doubt a little luck had its hand in my hunt, but the mindset I had going definitely set me up for success. My orange clad friends didn’t necessarily share my excitement, but oh well, should have been a little more quiet!
It’s a great ending to my love affair with our neighbors to the west, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter has in store for me!