Bow Hunting Whitetail on Public Lands of South Dakota

Bow Hunting Whitetail on Public Lands of South Dakota

“10% of the hunters kill 90% of the game.” Goes the saying. A year of training, scouting and flinging carbon was put forth to eek my way into that ten percent.

This was my year to make it happen. Invest the time, become so obsessed with getting the result I wanted that failure would not be an option.

Let me tell you a little about the last part of the previous sentence. Failure is an option, it’s  always been an option. Whether you like it or not, it’s the truth. Quoting some superhero from an action movie doesn’t make it a reality.

Failure is an option for us because the consequences aren’t dire. If we don’t kill an animal, we can stop by the supermarket on the way home and pretend we did.

Now the creatures on the other side of this equation… For them failure is not an option.

For them failure means death. From what I can tell they have a little more incentive to be on the winning end.

Overthinking it a bit you say? I agree.

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As you can see, I was down in the dumps from my 2017 season so far. I got my butt handed to me by elk, deer and a wide assed bear I had been chasing for the last 20 days in the backcountry. I was having a bit of the “whoa is me’s”.

It was time to switch up my game. Switch up the animals I would be chasing and hopefully change up my luck.

It was time to hang up my worn out treaded hiking boots. Time to air out the tent, give my backpack a rest and recover my lungs with some lower elevation hunting.

It was time to chase whitetail.

My buddy Joe had reintroduced me to chasing whitetail the year previous. It had been some twenty-five years since I sat in a stand, waiting for the always skittish, air sniffing whitetails to walk on by.

At first I thought I’d be bored out of my mind. I was used to chasing velvet clad mule deer in the high country, creeping in on them, forcing the situation. I was more into the proactive side of hunting.

I didn’t think that I was prepared for all day sits in a small little piece of real estate waiting for the action to come to me.

Just like the “Lefties” thinking welfare is a good idea, I was wrong.

That first year back in the stand taught me that this style of hunting was just as hard as any high-country hunt, perhaps not as physically hard, but certainly it was just as much a battle of wits.

This year I went into the whitetail season with the anticipation of any man in desperate need of redemption. I had to prove to myself that I was still a hunter, not just an outdoor enthusiast taking my bow for a walk.

I wanted to kill and I wanted to do it on my own accord.

The plan was that Joe and I would head up to South Dakota the weekend before our nine day hunt and hang some stands, do some scouting and see how the animals were recovering from EHD.

The truck was packed as we sped out of the frigid temps that had sneak attacked Denver from the north. Our bodies were fueled by anticipation and the rocket fuel of whatever energy drinks that was being absorbed in our stomachs and shortening our lifespan.

We had some areas in mind that we had hunted the year previous. We’d hang some stands in those areas as a backup plan, but our ever adventurous minds had pushed us away from the familiar and into some unexplored areas.

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We pulled up deep in the night and rolled out the sleeping bags in the bed of the truck. Lights out.

Waking up to frost on my pillow and snot frozen to my face had me wondering why I was so damn cheap and didn’t just get a hotel room.

“Whatever, suck it up buttercup.” I thought to myself as I started dressing inside my fart sack.

Time to get glassing and see what this state has to offer.

The deer had obviously made a comeback. We saw more deer that morning than we did in all of the nine day hunt the year previous.

Plans were made. Stands were hung in the regular haunts and we sat and ate some lunch as we prepped ourselves for the evening sit.

The area we were about to walk into probably hasn’t seen a hunter in years. It was only a mile or so off the road, but more importantly it was denser than a tropical forest during monsoon season. No man belonged in there. Hell, no deer belonged in there either, but we knew they would be with all the pressure they’d been receiving over the previous month and a half.

Bags were packed. Gear, piss bottle and books. All the necessities for a whitetail hunter.

We crossed the river and peeled the waders off. I looked at the patches and yet again questioned my cheapness.

“Well I ain’t buying new ones” I said to Joe as he looked at the wet spots on my pants from the leaking neoprene. “Looks like Hefty garbage bags will be getting my business from here on out.”

We made a plan to meet at this spot at the river at dark. Like two explorers at odds, we headed off in opposite directions looking for our lost city of gold.

I take the river bank as far as it will let before I am forced into the jungle. As I stepped in I saw tunnels in the brush that the deer were using as arteries to maneuver the complex webbing of tangled mess.

I crouch down with stand, pack and bow in hand and crawl along like I’m taking fire from a hostile force.

“How the hell am I going to get a clear shot even if I see one in here?” I quizzed myself.

Well it’s either sit in the river or advance into unchartered territory.

I pressed on, seeing fresh sign and knowing that this is a haven from the madness.

I spotted a few trees that had the potential of holding my 150 pound frame.

Gear was thrown to the ground as I stared the tree up and down looking for the best spot to attach myself to it.

“I think this is how they did it in the Youtube video…” I reassured myself as I checked my wallet to make sure I had my health insurance card with me.

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Hey, I’m used to crawling up 13,000 foot mountains to creep up on elk, not lashing myself fifteen feet up to a twig waving in the wind.

I hauled the last bit of gear up to my stand as I looked for the nearest bush to launch myself into in case all went wrong.

I settled in and exhaled.

Silence.

This is why I’m was here, to get a bird's eye view of the deer sanctuary from my reconnaissance stand and to breathe it out from the ever increasing pressures of life.

My mind started to wander when I’m suddenly snapped out of it from the consistent crunch of leaves. Not the quick scamper then sudden stop of a squirrel, but the methodical crunching of a four legged animal with the plan of going from point A to point B.

I peeked over my right shoulder. Thirty five yards away and closing comes a rack with brown fur carrying it.

“Christ, I spent nine days in this deer-barren state last year and saw a few does for the effort. Now comes a respectable deer no more than thirty minutes into my sit.” I whispered to myself in disbelief.

Luck doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to. But you seize it when it shows itself.

“Stay calm, don’t move and see what he does.” I chanted to myself over and over.

He did what any smart deer would do. He walked away.

I reached down for my buck grunt and try to remember what those guys in all those terrible whitetail shows would do.

A few grunts came out of the call and through the wall of brush I could see him pull a U-turn.

“This might actually happen.” I said to myself as he crept himself closer.

He wearily came within fifteen feet of my stand, in one of two spots that I could get a shot off. Luck struck again.

He locked up and just stared that million mile stare as if contemplating some deep quantum physics calculation.

Ten minutes went by. Then fifteen. He just stared off into space and in doing so not offering me a shot.

“Stay calm, don’t move.” I reiterated to myself.

He comes back to.

He turned to walk the direction he came from and offered me the perfect opportunity.

I raised out of my seat and spun. My bow came up and I drew at the same time.

He had no idea that death was standing fifteen feet away from him.

As the arrow slid through him he still didn’t know.

He walked off twenty yards and fell over like a title boxer taking a unprotected shot to the jaw.

Was dumbfounded. This happens to guys on TV shows, to first time hunters and people who pay insane money to hunt in high fence operations.

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This doesn’t happen to me. I’ve come to expect my kills on the last hour of the last day of the hunt, not the first day of the scouting trip for a hunt that’s supposed to take place a week later. Hell, I almost didn’t bring my bow into the woods on this little foray.

I’m happy and sad all at the same time. On one hand I’ve just taken the only whitetail buck of in my life, on the other hand I know I’ll be missing hunting camp with my buddies the following week.

I contemplate this as I walk back to the predetermined meeting spot with Joe. I break the news to him when he asks if I saw anything.

I answer by holding up my phone with a picture of me and the buck I took no longer than thirty minutes ago.

“Holy hell, congrats man!” He breaks the silence of the woods. “Now you’re going to need to find another tag for next week.”

As we walk back to start the process of turning my deer into meat I reply, “Nah, maybe I’ll stay home and put in some more work. It’s my busy season after all.”

He looks at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Right…” Comes his reply, not hiding that he doesn’t believe a word I’m saying.

By the time we’re out of the woods I’m already looking up other archery OTC tags in neighboring states.

“Time to join the 10%’ers.” I say to myself as we point the truck west.

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// Fred