Our quest for our first deer hunt together started in the summer of 2020. In June Kalli was helping me pick up rye bales in the field. As the sun began to set deer started to make their way into the field. As we drove around in the skid loader picking up bales, she was amazed to see the does and their babies walking so close to us. Since it wasn't too long ago we got our first turkey, she started asking about hunting deer.
I explained to her that deer season was not open just yet but we could surely go in the fall. Early August the millet was cut and baled. Again she wanted to work with me and help to pick up and load the trailer with the bales. As in June, the deer began to feed into the field as the sun began to set. After we were finished, we just sat and observed the deer for a few moments. Her and grandpa even had a few walk right past them in the truck!
The next week I got the new Banks Outdoors blind assembled and loaded onto the trailer. Kalli wanted to hunt so she wanted to go help get everything ready. We took the blind to the field and used the skid loader to get it set into place. The perfect corner of the field where deer often preferred to enter the field. Fifteen yards from the blind we also set up the Banks water tank.
With the dry weather we were experiencing, we knew the deer would like the water. Aside from a nice close shot, I figured it would be a good way for her to observe the deer in close proximity. We were all set to go for fall and season was just a few weeks away. Although season opened in September, we never got out to hunt until October.
For one reason or another, Kalli loves to go hunting "in the night" as she calls it, or waking up early before the sun and getting to the blind for a morning hunt. This area never has served well for morning hunting so I did not expect much. My expectations proved to be on point that first morning. We did not see a deer day one.
Given the dry weather and fact that the field had dried up, I expected this years hunting to be a little slower. Our trail camera was telling us that we needed to make an evening sit for our best chances. The deer were coming to the water trough shortly before dark.
October 16th, 2020 was the day we decided we were headed to the blind. I picked Kalli and Rylee up from day care and we hustled home. I told Kalli we had to get dressed pretty quick and to be sure to pack the snack bag. She did both as soon as we got home while I grabbed the bow and binoculars.
Shortly after arriving in the blind, she was digging into that snack bag! Wrappers were crinkling, water bottles being dropped laughing, giggling, talking and a 3 year old head kept popping out of the blind window. With less than an hour until shooting light was gone, I thought there was no way we were getting a shot off on a deer that night, even if we did see one.
As the sun set she was starting to lose interest a bit. The snacks were gone and the water bottle wasn't entertaining anymore. So what was a little girl to do? Skip around the blind in circles around my chair! I told myself there is no way we will see a deer now. Shortly after that thought, Kalli stopped tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Dad there is a deer!"
This caught me way off guard and of course as I looked where she was pointing, sure enough there was a deer standing about 30 yards away heading for the water tank. I whispered that she now had to be quiet and could not jump or talk anymore, just watch out the window. Of course that meant go pop my head out the window so I can see better! I still thought there is no way!
The deer cautiously walked toward the water, continually glancing over at us. Kalli would look out and then turn back in to me and say, "Dad a deer is coming are you going to shoot it?!" Finally the deer gets into my window at 7 yards! I could not believe this was happening. Kalli turns and says "Shoot it!" I told her I couldn't for she was standing in the corner of the window I had a shot out of.
The deer finally sensed something was not right and turned to walk away. I grabbed Kalli, moved her to the side window, asked if she could see and I opened the other side window for a shot. The deer stopped as I drew back. I settled the 20 yard pin on her shoulder and squeezed it off. The arrow hit its mark and made a complete pass through. I could not believe that just happened.
Of course she acted as if it were no big deal, tried to open the door and said lets go get her! After explaining we needed to give her some time just to be sure, we decided to call Uncle Geoff to come help us retrieve her. That was the longest 30 minutes of her life waiting for him to come with a flashlight!
Upon arriving we took up the blood trail. Kalli helped find flood the whole way. A short 30 yards later we found her laying in the grass between some cedar trees. She was pretty excited, looked up and said "Now we can eat her!" Kalli enjoyed watching me gut her and asked many questions about her organs. That was the best evening of hunting I have ever had.
This was a hunt that she may never really remember, but one that I will never forget.
November 7th, 2019, I headed down to the boat ramp for the third time this season. The first two times I never even left the dock. Once, it was windier than forecasted and the lake was too rough for boat travel, along with the wind being the wrong direction. The second time, I realized when unloading the boat, that I had no power to start the motor. After some investigating, I found that my battery cable had corroded and broke off. I had the perfect light NW wind for the stand I wanted to hunt. This stand produced for my buddy Antoine in 2018 on November 8th. In 2016 this stand produced a lot of bucks chasing a hot doe on November 7th.
This would be the first time the stand would be sat this season and I was planning an all-day sit. I hit the water about an hour and a half before shooting light. Rounding the corner of the bluff into the wide-open water, all you can see is the stars in the night sky and the glow of the chalk bluffs. This is one of my favorite parts of taking the boat to this hunting location.
Upon landing the boat, I gathered my gear and headed up the path to my tree. After a 20-minute boat ride, I have about another 30-minute hike to get to this tree. As I got all my gear up and I settled into the tree, I had about 30 minutes until shooting light. This is the time of the day, you can’t help but feel the anticipation build as shooting light approaches. This stand sits on a bench with a saddle in the ridge nearby, creating a great location to catch rutting bucks. It took my 3 seasons, moving the stand maybe 20 yards at a time, to find the right tree that would give the highest percentage chance of a shot.
This stand usually doesn’t have action first thing in the morning, it is a long way from a food source and is just some doe bedding around, making it ideal for an all-day sit to catch cruising bucks. In fact, it is usually an hour to hour and a half after sunrise, before the does and fawns work through themselves.
Shortly after 8am I could hear some leaves rustling up on the hillside. Soon that rustling turned into chasing. I could never get a good look through the timber, but I knew there was at least one doe, a fawn and a buck. I could not tell how big that buck was. They chased back and forth for 10-15 minutes, never having a good look, before they worked their way off. All was quiet again. About 930 I could hear a deer walking my way from the west, when suddenly the timber exploded!
A flash of a buck weaving through some cedars right on that does tail. They again worked their way back where they had come from, after a short chase. It was obvious this doe was in heat. After they worked their way off and everything settled down, I reached into the pack, grabbed a drink, snack and my book. I figured I would do a little reading to pass the time before the next round of action. The sun was now in a position that it was shining on me from around the tree. This was a welcome feeling for we had a good cold front and the temperatures were in the low 20’s that morning.
As I was sitting there reading a chapter in my book, I again heard the sound of a deer making its way through the timber. I scanned and found a doe and fawn coming again from the west. I was sure a buck would be in tow, so I grabbed my bow to be sure I was ready! They both passed by at less than 20 yards. Although a cool experience, there was no buck that followed suit, unfortunately. After they passed, I looked at the time and it was just after 11am. I settled back in, grabbed my sandwich for a quick lunch.
As I sat there I was answering a few emails and texting a few buddies and my brother Geoff, who wanted to know how the hunt was going. In the middle of texting a friend, about where to dump a load of rock on a client’s farm, I heard “crunch, crunch” in the leaves! As I turned to look over my left shoulder, all I saw was tines standing 25 yards right in my shooting lane! Sure, enough I had been caught with my phone in my hand.
As I kept an eye on the buck, I scrambled with trying to put my phone away. It was incredibly difficult to find my pocket in that instance. I let the buck walk off to the north, and once he got behind some brush and began to head away, I reached for my bow. Once the Hoyt was in hand, I reached for my grunt tube.
I grunted once with no response, a second time stopped him and I had his attention. One more grunt and he turned on a dime and headed right for the tree. As he was behind the brush, I clipped on my release and as he cleared the brush I prepared myself for a shot. This buck had my tree pegged, he knew exactly where that grunt came from and he was looking for a buck. He held up right behind a tree with no shot. As curiosity got him he took a step and again his vitals were blocked. One more step was all I needed and I could feel my heart pumping through my throat!
As he took that step I was already settled in for the shot. Before his foot ever hit the ground, the Spitfire tipped Maxima Red was already on its way! As the arrow disappeared and buried into the ground on his off side. I could tell the shot was back slightly yet it should get the job done. My heart was again racing sending adrenaline through my body. The buck ran about 15 yards stopped and stood there looking around. I grabbed the binoculars and could see the entry hole, I expected to watch the buck fall over quickly. However, he started walking toward the fence, stopped and then jumped it.
It was at the moment, excitement went away and a slight worry set in. Was the shot where I thought it was? How is this deer still on his feet after an arrow passed through both lungs? As the deer walked I tried to keep tabs on him with my ears. By this time, he had walked out of sight and soon I couldn’t hear him walking anymore. I thought to myself, had he walked far enough that I can’t hear him anymore or did he just stop? Shortly thereafter, I heard him fall. The way he fell I could now see him lying in some brush.
I watched through the Nikons, waiting for him to lay his head down. As he finally did I sat back in relief, and just decided to give him 30 minutes and keep an eye on him. Shortly into the wait some turkeys began to walk through, right past the buck, no movement from him told me he was likely done for. I began to gather my gear and started lowering it all to the ground. Feeling pretty confident, it was at this time I let a few people know that I had just punched my East River tag!
Once on the ground I walked over to the arrow to examine it. I quickly found out why the buck didn’t go down like a double lunged buck should. There was trace of gut matter on the arrow and what appeared to be liver blood. Although I didn’t need to track him, I did, just to stay fresh on tracking a blood trail. It was a great feeling reaching down and grabbing him by the antlers to pull him from the brush to get a better look. This is always a bitter sweet moment.
It was sweet because this was the first buck I harvested with my bow since 2008! I had been hunting hard that whole time trying for that right buck. Although during that time I had many chances at bucks, I just never had the right buck come by, this one got my adrenaline going like no other in recent past.
The bitter part was for a few reasons. First, it hit me that the hunt was now over. It was November 7th and my tag was filled. Having not harvested a buck since 2008, I have been used to hunting right down to the last day. Second, I had just taken the life of this buck. I always feel a slight bit of remorse when taking down an animal. It is something most will not ever understand, but I think about these animals nearly every day of the year. My job involves me making the best habitat possible to give them the best life possible. I greatly respect these animals.
Sitting alongside the buck, I thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to take the animal, and the buck for providing some great meat for my family and his head gear that will always be cherished by me and stories be told to my kids from that day.
I pulled out my tag, notched it and wrapped it around his back leg. I then proceeded to field dress the deer. It was here that I found I had hit liver and only one lobe of both lungs. Once completed, I gathered a few items and started the drag back to the boat. I had my camera and tri-pod on the boat, and knew right where I wanted to take some photos with him. Overlooking the lake, a grass meadow meets the cliffs of the lake. It was here I had dreamed of taking pics of a buck since the day I started hunting here back in 2016.
Once I had my photos taken, I got the buck down and loaded on the boat, this was one of the best feelings I have had! This was the third deer taking a ride home with me on that boat. The first was a doe. The second was my friend Antoine’s buck in 2018. Finally, it was my buck taking a ride back home on the boat. I don’t know why, but this was one of the most rewarding experiences for me. Maybe it was because of the process, it often is with hunting. It is the process and the adventure that tell the story, that shot is just a split second. The extra early mornings to take the boat ride, driving the boat in the complete darkness, and getting to the stand all adds to that experience.
That boat ride back, I couldn’t help but smile and thank God for giving me the ability to hunt this style. Although I have a few pieces of private ground I also hunt, this public land boat hunt will always be a special one for me.
For many parts of the plains and midwest, this winter has been a winter we have not seen in a long time. Many of you reading this maybe haven't see a winter like this in your lifetime. It is cold weather and one snow storm after another. With that said spring is right around the corner. While you are waiting for the snow to melt, now is the perfect time to make sure you are prepared for this springs turkey season!
Farmers are nearby the farmsteads feeding cattle and working on equipment, getting ready for spring. Therefore they are easy to track down and gain permission to hunt their ground. Even if you have been hunting the same piece of land for years, it is good to go in and visit with the landowner. Show that you appreciate them letting you hunt their ground. Don't just assume that because you have hunted it for years, means that you can still hunt it without asking permission.
I often offer some labor or trade of work in return for hunting permission. Give up a weekend to help fix fence, help with chores or whatever the landowner may accept help on. In a time when gaining permission is getting harder and harder, offering some labor in return can go a long. The landowner may not even accept your offer, but I am sure they will certainly appreciate the offer.
Now is also a great time to be sure your equipment is ready for the season. Shoot your bow to be sure it is dialed in and tuned well to have the most accurate set up possible this spring. Shoot from inside a blind, sitting on a chair. Imitate the situations you will be presented this spring. Try to even shoot 3D targets if possible.
Many people don't think about it, but pattern your shotgun. Grab the shells you plan to use and set up targets at 20, 30, 40 yards or farther if you feel you will take farther shots. With today's ammunition and available choke tubes, harvesting a turkey at 60 yards is a very real possibility. Maybe even further. Experiment with different loads and different chokes, until you are satisfied with how the gun is patterning.
Many people, including myself, often overlook other turkey hunting gear. Decoys, calls, blinds, chairs etc. Be sure everything is in tip top shape or not lost since last season. Paint may wear on decoys. Call can need maintenance or get lost. Blinds may have holes, broken hubs and the chairs may also have issues. You hate to discover these issues the night before your first hunt, or even worse, setting up in the morning.
Take some time and make a quick checklist. Make sure you are prepared for a smooth going turkey season. It will be here before you know it. This also gives you a reason to get out of the house for a few hours.
Good luck this spring and happy scouting! Remember to Hunt Hard, Hunt Smart and Hunt Safe!
As the deadline for the South Dakota elk drawing drew nearer, I had a decision to make. Apply again for a bull tag that was very unlikely to draw or burn my points to draw a cow tag? The second option was only a thought because my wife and I were looking at purchasing a Nebraska farm that we would move to. If we did I could no longer use my points anyway. Well the purchase looked promising, so I decided to use the points up and be sure I would be hunting elk during the 2017 season.
Upon receiving confirmation of a successful draw, I started doing my homework for the hunt to take place the last two weeks of December. I began talking to others who have hunted that season and unit. I also talked with the local biologist and my good friend Dane who ranches in the middle of the unit. I collected a few forest service maps to learn the roads and look for potential hotspots. Finally, In November after a mule deer hunt on Dane's Montana land, he and I did a quick trip through the area he runs cattle. He showed me the areas the elk typically where so I would know for the December hunt.
It was planned Jordan and Matthew Miller of Run2Gun would join for the hunt, to film for their show. My cousin James and friend Lee would also join for the trip. Lee and I hunted multiple times together in Montana. We were hoping this would be the tag to finally harvest an elk. My brother Tyler would also join to help as a scout, while he also hunted deer.
Jordan had a muzzleloader deer tag he was trying to fill, so we planned to meet them out there after the conclusion of his hunt. Saturday morning of the opening weekend, we hit the road heading west. There had been snow falling in the hills and fresh snow was in the forecast for that day. This would be perfect for any sign we would come across would then be fresh. Shortly after meeting up in Rapid City, we made a quick game plan for the last few hours of the day.
We hit up a couple of nearby spots that I had marked on the map. We came across many deer but no fresh sign of elk was anywhere to be seen. At dark we headed back to town, got a room for the night and a hot meal. There wasn't much planning for that night. I knew right where I wanted to go and felt very confident about it. I thought for sure it would be where we would find the elk and likely get an opportunity.
In the morning we headed south to the area Dane runs his cattle. Working in from the North side, we made our way to the corrals in the center of the area, looking for fresh tracks the entire way in. Arriving at the corrals, we set out on foot through the timber, making our way to a few of the spots Dane had showed me where the elk would likely be.
After hunting most of the morning in this area, we came across not one fresh track nor heard or seen an elk in the area. This was crushing to me for I felt so confident in this spot. That is hunting though and it doesn't alway go as planned or as we think it will. Especially elk hunting and during the late season when they are all herded up for the winter. Elk will move many miles in a day. Being here one day and 20 miles away the next. So we decided to head to the next place on the map, which Jordan had actually hunted in October, and see what we could come across.
I couldn't help but think there had to be elk in the area as we got nearer. We were consistently running into more and more vehicles either going to or from the spot. As we started through the area we began to see a few tracks here and there. Coming upon a small group or tracks, looking like a few cows and calves, we decided to pursue them through the timber.
As we made our way through the stand of pines, 4 sets of tracks turned into more and more as the herd grew. We felt confident that we would eventually run into the. the wind was in our face and we figured they would be bedded down by now. Suddenly the the tracks were scattering going every which direction. Then we came across boot tracks. Did we circle back around enough to come across our own tracks again? Then I saw it. Drops of blood and not far away was a gut pile. Only hours old, someone else had beaten us to the herd.
With all the traffic in the area, and sign we were seeing, we knew the elk were in the area. So we decided to try to hunt the area but get to areas other had not hunted yet. This led us to a fun adventure on forest service roads that had not been traveled since the snow had begun to fall. Although a fun afternoon with amazing views, we never came across any other tracks in the area. With a few hours of daylight left. We decided to run back to the corrals to see if elk had moved in or through since the morning. Tyler also headed to the area we saw lots of deer and the first place we took a look at. Hopefully one of us would find elk.
Although Tyler found deer, no elk tracks were found in either area. Jordan and Matthew had to head home that night. Tyler had decided he'd stay the night but head for home in the morning. After grabbing a hot meal at a local restaurant we devised a game plan. The next day was Monday, we hoped that would mean most of the hunters had gone home for the work week. So we planned to head to the last area we hunted, where we found elk sign and the gut pile.
Heading out early we began to make our way to the area we had found the tracks. As we got nearer we started seeing elk tracks. Lots of elk tracks. There was one problem. They were all heading south across the road. This road was the southern boundary of the unit, which meant we could not head after them. To Lee and I this hunt was starting to look like many of the other elk hunts we had been on. We started to feel as if we wouldn't harvest one on this trip either.
With the thought in mind, it came to me that I just need to enjoy this trip with good company. We had fresh snow, a beautiful sunrise behind us making the snow covered pines glow and heavy fog in the distance. We took the time to appreciate these amazing views. We came across some whitetail deer and got to watch and admire two mature bucks browsing through the timber. I realized, as I have in the past, that filling a tag is not the only reason we do this. It is the adventure and the opportunity to witness God's creation that we at times take for granted.
It felt as if the pressure was off the kill an elk. It was not long after this that things took a turn for the better during the hunt. Coming around the point of a ridge, I caught movement up in the pines. I quick look and I realized there was about 10 head up there. They either saw us or where on their way out anyway but they moved deeper into the timber. At this point we were going to pursue until I heard cows mewing on our side of the meadow just down the ridge from us. I got up just inside the tree line and headed towards them. I could see two cows on the edge of the trees about 500 yards away. All I wanted to do was cut the distance in half.
As I slowly made my way to them my heart began to race. Was this really going to happen? I began to hear more cows mewing and bulls bugling up inside the timber on the top of the ridge. I had no idea how many elk were in there but I was about to find out. I got to 250 yards on the two cows and they looked as if they were going to start heading across the valley. I set my shooting sticks, layed the rifle in and began to settle for the shot.
I could feel my heart racing as I pulled the trigger. I thought for sure I was right on her but I never heard a bullet hit and she didn't act hit but I had no idea. Right after the shot the valley became alive. About 200 head of elk trotted through the valley. I couldn't believe it, I had never seen anything like that. Unsure of the shot I elected to let them go through and work their way off. They all settle down once they got into the timber and had no idea what had just happened. We let them slowly work their way off before heading to investigate.
Our investigation proved to be no shot was made. We never found an blood, hair or a dead elk anywhere. So after the search we decided we would pursue the herd. By now they worked over the ridge and we could barely hear them. The sun was out and behind us, snow was soft, and the wind was in our favor. The perfect conditions for s stalk.
As we made our way through the timber, the cow and calf calls got louder and and louder. We almost blew our cover as 4 bulls were off to the side of us that we were unaware of. After a few minutes they worked way off not affecting the rest of the herd.
Once we go to where we started see glimpses of elk, we knew we had to slow ourselves way down. If we blew this stalk the hunt was likely over. We took considerable care in the placement of each step, stopping with every step or two to glass our surroundings. Some were bedded others loafing and browsing around. We finally got ourselves into a position that we thought we would be able to get a shot. The elk we could see were bedded just over 100 yards away. It was now a waiting game.
I had one cow picked out I just needed her to stand. There were small pines all over so a small shooting windows would be the option. Soon two calves stood and walked past they cow, she then stood up and started following. I picked a shooting that the calves had walked through. She soon stepped into view as well.
I flicked the safety off and slowly squeezed the trigger. I felt good and we all were fairly confident it had hit its mark yet we were unsure. Lee stayed behind to be sure we went to the right spot where she stood, while James and myself headed to scene. Approaching I saw drops of blood in the fresh snow! A few more steps and there she was laying next to a ponderosa pine! If you were a bystander you would have thought I just shot a boone and crocket bull!
That wave and yell at Lee, stating we had found her never felt so good! I had put many hours and miles in trying to harvest an elk over the past 4 years that this was certainly an exciting and well earned moment! We took a lot of pictures, notched the tag and started the process of getting her back to the truck. We had come out and made it happen! We accomplished our goal.
This trip taught us a lot. First off we learned more about elk especially at a time of the year we had never hunted them. As I realize on most hunts, I just need to remember to enjoy the moment and it will all play out the way it should. Take in the scenery, sounds, and smells in God's creation. Take a moment to even listen to him. Enjoy the time with the company in your presence and never give up or lose faith. This can be said for all aspects of life. Keep a positive attitude, your head down and strive to meet your goals and great things can be accomplished.
Remember to Hunt Hard, Hunt Smart and Hunt Safe!
The last few weeks we have had severe cold, wind and snow impacting much of the midwest. If you are a upland bird hunter, this may have you wondering how those birds are doing. How can they survive in this weather? This is a question I have been asked a few times in the past few weeks.
Two main factors are going to get them through these winter months. Thermal cover and food. In many instances these are two in the same. The best bet for thermal cover in native warm season grasses, and where they'll grow, cattails serve as good winter cover. In many of these native grass stands, the seeds produced by the grass and forbs provide food for the pheasants. However, supplemental food can be beneficial. I'll get to that next but first lets look how these grasses provide thermal cover.
If you look in the photo at the bottom of the page, you will see a clump of big blue stem and some switch grass. Nestled down a the bottom is a pheasant bed. The grass caught the snow, while remaining rigid providing vertical cover. This allows the bird to get nestled in, protected from the wind. This photo was taken on the Southeast side of the grass, right after a bird was flushed, on a day with a Northwest wind.
The positioning was in such a place the bird could still escape a ground predator if needed, was protected from the wind, while also being protected from aerial predators with the vertical structure the grass provided. This particular grassland has very few trees around it. Now shelter belts besides a few trees around the farm place. However, it has been managed well. It was burned about 4 years ago. Two years ago it was grazed. This has been great for managing a good grassland to produce birds. We saw about 150 birds on the last hunt of the season on this farm.
Although trees aren't necessary, they are another good option for food, thermal cover and even nesting cover. In particular, shelter belts consisting of evergreens and shrubs. Shrub thickets and occasional evergreens in a grassland, can provide great cover for birds. They can get on the south side, settle in and soak up the sun on a cold afternoon. The vertical structure again protects them from aerial predators.
The next option for consideration is food plots. My favorite plots for pheasants have milo in them. Either a straight milo plot or something like the Brood2Rooster mix, consisting of milo, sunflowers, sorghum and buckwheat, to name a few. The stalks are tough enough to with stand snow and wind, allowing a place for birds to get under and out of the wind. They will provide more than enough food to get your local flock through the tough months of winter.
Remember to manage today for a better tomorrow!
Mid September, my friend Tom and I headed west to Montana. I had a mule deer tag in my pocket and bow in hand. Tom, was supposed to have a tag as well, unfortunately he did not draw his tag. The entire drive out we had rain and the forecast was showing rain for the 2 of the 4 days we had plan to hunt.
As we were pulling in to hunt a familiar area to me, we spotted a mature 3x4 mule deer buck in a stalk-able position. After running out of real estate at 50 yards, I had a perfect broadside shot presented to me. I drew back, settled the pin, and feeling more confident than ever, I released the arrow.
Much to my surprise, the arrow flew right over his back. After a quick look, we noticed that my sight had come loose during the drive west. The rest of the hunt was as good as we could ask for. We pursued a giant 5x5 whitetail, while we had bugling elk, coyotes and rutting antelope running between us and the buck. We were never able to get close enough for a shot. We saw tons of deer on the trip, just not another mature buck.
Immediately after leaving and heading home, I knew I wanted to go back in November with the rifle in hand. I would hunt a ranch very familiar to me, that I have antelope hunted many times. I had always wanted to hunt mule deer there and figured this was my chance to go explore a new part of the ranch during the mule deer rut.
November 14th, 2017. The truck was packed the night before for the trip west to Montana. By far the hardest part of the trip was upon me. Leaving my wife and daughter at home, even though for a few days, is always the worst part of every trip. I got up well before daylight to hit the road west.
I had plans to hunt the eastern part of Montana, not far off the South Dakota state line. A quick 7 hour drive would get me there around noon the same day. I would have 3 full days and a half day to hunt. Once I arrived, the first thing I did was set up a target and be sure the rifle was still dialed in.
I then set out to explore the part of the ranch I had never been on. This area had not been grazed yet for the year, had big sage flats with a creek running through the middle. With high winds and rain moving in I hiked a few miles getting a quick grasp at the lay of the land, property boundaries and to determine what kind of deer I could lay my eyes on.
I saw a few small bucks and does, but with the weather conditions they were not moving all that much. With the rain moving in, I headed back to the truck to get to town, grab some food and a room to get rested for the next days hunt.
As shooting light approached, I headed towards the NW corner of the ranch. This was the area that from a distance looked like the best area to hunt, and was the area I hadn't gotten a chance to look at yet. As the sun was rising I was seeing the sights that you dream about.
The flat between the creeks was full of deer. Mostly does, but from a mile away two bucks immediately stood out from the crowd. They were pushing does around, and running each other off from one side to the other. I instantly knew I would have to move quick. Being concealed by the taller vegetation and eroded ground along the creek, I was able to cover a lot of ground rather quickly.
Along the way I came across, a few small bucks heading out to find their own does. Soon I was in the area the bucks were in. As I crept to the edge of the flat I noticed ears. There was a doe standing a hundred yards out. Right behind her antlers began to rise above the horizon, while my heart rate also began to rise.
Was this the buck I came out here for? As I got a full look he was a big heavy, wide and tall 3x3 with daggers for G2's. Only front forks, a type of mule deer I have often dreamed of harvesting. He was chasing does in and out of the sage brush. Back to the creek on the other side and back out. Never presenting a great shot or a great look besides his antlers. Finally, I made a move to the other side, he came out and presented an excellent opportunity at 100 yards.
After a careful look, I flipped the safety back on. He was only a 3 year old deer. Not a deer I wanted to take, despite the nice set of antlers he carried. Soon that buck and his does worked their way off to a bedding area. I just couldn't think of what had happened to the other buck I saw at first light. I didn't see any sign of him. It was late in the morning so I decided to head back to the truck grab some lunch, study the maps and make a game plan to find him during the afternoon hunt.
For the afternoon I decided to walk another part of the ranch, with the wind in my favor, heading towards where I had saw the bucks in the morning. This area was full of deep draws and cuts with sage brush. I figured somewhere between where I was starting and where I saw them would be a good place to find that other buck or another buck.
As I made my way through I glassed diligently through each valley. Finding does and young bucks bedded throughout. As I crested the last big ridge, I stopped to glass the flat, over half mile away, where I saw the deer that morning. It didn't take long before I could see some chasing going on. It looked to be a mature buck and two does. I slowly worked my way down the draw until the deer were over the horizon from me. At this point I quickly walked to cover ground as fast as I could. I only had about an hour of daylight left. As I was about to cross the fence in the bottom and start working up the other side, one of the does ran up over the hill.
I knew he would soon be there too. As I loaded a round and set up on my shooting sticks, he came over the hill. Instantly I knew this was my shot and that he was the mature deer I was hoping to find on this trip. I calmed my breathing the best I could, flipped the safety off, settle the crosshairs and squeezed the trigger. Whack!
He bolted back over the hill, after what looked and sounded like a great shot! The does came out from around the hill, but I did not see him. I quickly worked up the hill to see if I could find evidence of a fatal hit. As I crested the hill, I could see antlers laying on the ground! It was a perfect heart shot and he hadn't gone 30 yards!
I couldn't believe that it had happened so fast and on the first full day of hunting! What a great feeling accomplishing a goal that you have. It had always wanted to mule deer hunt this ranch, and missing the buck in September gave me the perfect reason to come back out and have a little adventure of the unknown. Some of my favorite hunts have come from those first hunts on a place you know little about or have only looked at one a map. They don't always pan out but when they do it is one of the greatest feelings an outdoorsman can have.
The opportunity to harvest an animal on a hunt is great. My family and I got to enjoy the meat throughout the year and the mount will be in my office for years to come as a reminder of an great adventure and to tell the story over and over when my kids or anyone else asks. But often we get too caught up in the harvest. Myself included.
Get out there and just go have an adventure. Harvest your target animal, great. If not have fun, enjoy the process and you will still have memories to share. Don't be afraid to go try new places, hunt new species, or just experience a new adventure of any kind. Live with no regrets. Finally, when it comes to hunting and well life in general, follow your gut. Often times it is more right than you would think.
Remember to hunt hard, hunt smart and hunt safe!
Watch the full hunt unfold by clicking HERE!
September 1, 2018 at 5am, my cousin Nick and I hit the road heading west. Although I have made the trek west every year for the last 10 years, this was Nick's first time heading out after antelope. Heading out I knew things may be a little different from years past hunting antelope. Record amounts of rain had fallen throughout the summer. While Nick was excited and was looking forward to an opportunity to harvest his first antelope, I had hopes of arrowing a antelope I have had dreamed of, to have a shoulder mount of.
Our anticipation was high on the trip out and the weather was cooler than normal but still looked to be good for our stay. Nick had heard all of my stories on how many antelope were in this area. As we were nearing the ranch he was certainly not disappointed in the numbers of antelope roaming the prairie. As we arrived during the late morning hours, we quickly decided to scout a few of the ponds I knew generally had antelope sign. Due to the amount of water we not only had to look for antelope tracks, but we had to find a piece of water that was small enough to hunt well. Some of the ponds were close to 5 acres in size, that traditionally one could shoot every corner of the pond.
The first water hole we pulled up to, was about the perfect size. With the proper blind positioning one could should the entire pond. A quick walk around the pond quickly revealed many tracks, indicating the antelope were using this pond. We decided to get Nick's blind set and for him to start hunting. From here I continued to scouting for a place to set me own blind.
As I scouted the next few hours, I found little antelope sign on specific ponds, though there were antelope everywhere. One thing In common with these ponds was that the cattle had access to them. I knew I had to find a pond where the cattle were not at. There was one pond I needed to go at yet, it was in the same pasture Nick was set up in but about a half mile apart. So I headed that direction.
On the way there I spotted two bucks just off the road on the neighbors. As I got closer I quickly realized one of the bucks fit the criteria of the type of buck I was after on this trip. The pond I was headed to would only be about a quarter mile, as the crow flies, from these two bucks. However they were near another pond on the neighbors also. I could only hope there were tracks on the pond I was headed to and that maybe sometime in the next 3 days they would visit.
The pond was larger than I wanted, but there were a lot of tracks on the waters edge. The majority of the tracks were on the west ends where the water runs into the pond. The water in this area is longer and narrow. So I set my blind between these two tails, and hunkered in for the rest of the afternoon hunt.
I had no visitors to the water that afternoon. Nick and I had decided we would stop hunting about an hour before dark so we could go get the tent and camp set up in the daylight. After I picked him up I told him about these two bucks and I again wanted to go scout them to see what was going on. They were still in the same place I had seen them. My gut told me they were not going to leave this area on the neighbors.
As we headed towards setting up camp, We decided to stop into the neighbors and ask permission. After a little visiting, we learned those two bucks have been there all summer. He granted us permission to hunt those two bucks. As we left to set the tent up, we both decided we would continue hunting were we were due to all the sign, especially considering these two bucks were not too far from either pond. With the rut approaching you never know where they could go. After all Nick had antelope walk by him they just never came in to water.
The next morning we both had high hopes for the day. I dropped Nick off at his blind as I headed to my blind. We had both planned to sit all day. However by 1pm neither of us had any action at all. This was a big surprise to me. The sun was hot, it was windy and there were a lot of antelope in the area. But there was also a lot of water in the area. I still could not stop thinking about the bucks on the neighbors. I decided to make a quick scout trip to see what they were doing. They were still in the same spot as the day before.
I returned to my blind thinking about what my next move was. I was going to sit the rest of the day to see what happened at this water hole. The hours creeped by and all I observed were the blue winged teal that had been dabbling in the pond all day. My gut was telling me we had to make a move.
We both decided to pull our blind about 45 minutes before dark and move both of them to the neighbors pond. Why both blinds? This pond was big, and with both blinds we could then cover the entire pond. This way, hopefully, at least one of us could get a shot at the bucks if they watered. We went in and set the blinds close to dark. As we finished setting them we had a group of does want to come water. With one and a half days left to hunt, and temps in the low 90's, we were both excited and anxious for the next day's hunt.
We headed out early and got settled into the blinds in the dark. We both were hoping today was the day. As the morning went on I found myself observing the teal, mallards and gadwalls on the pond again. There were no antelope in site but I still had high hopes. I continued to read my magazines to help pass the time. About 9:30 I was going to take a quick nap, so I took a quick look around to be sure nothing was nearby. There they were on the backside of the blind and heading towards me!
I got the camera tuned on, arrow knocked and range finder ready. They were both slightly hesitant to come to the water and kept a close eye on the blind. As they approached I didn't know if it would happen. They were hanging up about 70 yards out with full attention on my blind. Finally, the target buck came forward and approached the water. As he bent down to drink I ranged him at 56 yards. I clipped the release and drew back. As he was still drinking I split the 50 and 60 yard pins, settled it behind the shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
As the arrow impacted he he wheeled to the right, I saw the arrow stick into the ground in front of him and immediately nothing the white and yellow fletchings were now crimson colored! I couldn't be more excited! The buck ran about 15 yards and stood there. I could see the wound and the blood flowing from it. I didn't think it would be long. He walked another 15 yards and laid down. It was all over and the plan had come together! This is my biggest antelope to date and to top it off I got him with my bow!
After we gutted and hauled him out of there, Nick settled back into his blind to finish out the day in hopes another would come by him. Although he had antelope come near him, nothing ever did present a shot. There are a few tips I want to share with you that will hopefully help you on your next hunt.
First with the water holes. In an instance like we had, with lots of water and the ponds were big, find the smallest pond possible. If they are still too big focus on the narrow tails of the pond. That is where these bucks came to water. Most of the tracks on other ponds were also near these tails. The second tip is to always follow your gut. This hunt and last years mule deer hunt, on the same ranch, I had gut feelings on what to do. Both time's I went with the feeling and the plan worked out. The last tip is to not be shy to ask for permission. On this hunt I watched a truck from Minnesota drive by these antelope many times. I assume he was hoping they would cross the fence onto some BLM ground. Luckily for me he didn't, but if he had just went and knocked on the door, it may have been him not me wrapping a tag around that antelope buck.
Good luck out there this fall! Remember to Hunt Hard, Hunt Smart and to Hunt Safe!
You can watch the entire hunt right HERE!
If you want to take your fishery to the next level of fish production, I am a firm believer in doing supplemental forage stockings. That forage can be anything from more bluegill, fathead minnows, shiners, shad or even trout. We typically use fathead minnows, unless the natural forage production, typically bluegills, in lacking in recruitment.
At this time we will stock more bluegill, with fathead minnows, to help try and boost the bluegill population. A healthier bluegill population means more forage that produced naturally through spawning. If I am trying to better the population in a pond we will stock larger sized bluegill. The fathead minnows are used for immediate forage.
When the forage populations are fairing well we will still stock a forage such as fathead minnows each spring. How many? Well as many as one wants to pay for. Constant attention to the fishery is necessary to know what, how and when to act. If there is still minnows left after ice off, you can cut back on the spring stocking. If you see no sign of them in the shallows, then it is time to stock as many as you feel comfortable.
The time of the stocking can be critical depending on desired results and species you are wanting the forage to benefit. When we are trying to grow large bass for example, we stock around the time the bluegill are spawning. This helps to take the pressure off of newly hatched bluegill fry for a little while. At least giving them a little better chance of making it. Most, likely won't make it, but if they can live longer and grow bigger this means more calories in that meal for the bass or other predatory fish.
This strategy should hopefully get more of your natural forage species, to make it into late summer and early fall. This is when we will typically do another stocking of minnows, just before the ice comes on.
Remember to manage today for a better tomorrow!
Why establish mineral sites on your hunting grounds? I get this question often. No it is not a magic bean that, over night will give you bigger antlered bucks for the coming fall. In fact mineral supplementation alone, is not going to result in larger antlered bucks on your hunting ground.
Think of mineral sites just like our multi-vitamins we take. They alone will not get you into the best shape you can be. Instead you have to eat and exercise correctly. Those multi-vitamins simply help you be as healthy as possible, reducing the risks of illness. Well the same goes for wildlife.
These mineral sites are their vitamins. They help that deer be as healthy as possible putting their bodies in the best condition possible. With the proper use of mineral sites, while properly managing your herd, native habitat, food sources, predators and stress on the herd, all combine to help maintain the healthiest herd possible. Healthy animals means those animals can and will express their greatest potential!
With antlers beginning to grow and does are in the last stages of gestation, now is a great time to get those site either started or refreshed for the upcoming growing season. The next 4 months are vital for your deer herd. Does will be lactating and bucks growing antlers, both requiring large amounts of nutrition and mineral supplementation.
I always recommend keeping mineral out year round. Fall and winter months they don't use or need it as much but again aids in making those deer as healthy and is as good of condition as possible. In some states you cannot hunt over mineral sites. This worries many hunters about keeping them out all year.
In this situation just read your states regulations. Often times you just have to place the mineral so many days before the season or cannot have a stand position within so many yards of the site. Simply place the mineral sites in areas you don't hunt. Whether that be in sanctuaries or just hard to hunt place where wind swirls or there aren't good stand sites.
There are many minerals out there to choose from. Just be sure to do your homework to be sure you are getting the best bang for your bucks. If you have questions on choosing the right mineral feel free to email.
Remember to manage today for a better tomorrow!
Owner of Antelope Creek Wildlife and Ponds.