ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Jan. 1 every year means another bow season is behind us, and it always takes me a little while to get over that.
I build up each season in my mind so much. It gets here, and then it feels like it disappears in the blink of an eye. One thing that gets me through the month of January is thinking about all my hunts from the previous year and how I can use them, good or bad, to help me going into the next season.
I was happy with my season overall. I shot a nice 9-pointer with my bow in North Dakota and added a nice buck with my shotgun in Minnesota. Around those, I had some mishaps, but also some great encounters with more good bucks than in any other season.
There was a period from mid-October through Nov. 9 where I saw a good buck almost every day I hunted. I believe that’s due to being committed to being mobile and taking chances that I probably would not have in prior years.
My 2019 season was all about adjusting on the fly.
I was prepared to be as mobile as I ever have been by hunting almost entirely out of a saddle anyway. Then one of the wettest autumns I have seen in my lifetime happened.
I spent days scouting the property I hunt in North Dakota on river systems and felt great going into this season by what I had learned. Then all that scouting got thrown out the window.
Landowners I talked with out there told me they had never seen water levels in the fall like they saw this year. That made deer hunting a lot tougher. Almost every bedding area I had identified in the summer was under water and worthless even when the water finally did drop.
The deer shifted to the best cover they could find. That meant standing corn fields, small groves and any bit of high ground that had some tree cover on the rivers. I hunted them all.
One night standing in a corn field got me within 70 yards of a nice 8-pointer. The 9-pointer I shot out there at 25 yards came with me setting up in my saddle just outside of some thick brush within 75 yards of a driveway.
The biggest buck I saw in North Dakota, a beautiful high, wide 10-pointer, was in that same oxbow of tree cover on the river in mid-October. I was skeptical myself when I set up that night within a stone’s throw of the driveway at my back.
I had no clue exactly where deer were bedding with all the flooding pushing them off the river. I wasn’t 50 yards off the road before I started bumping does off their bed. I slipped into a tree and had does filtering through to feed in an adjacent field almost immediately.
That 10-pointer was the last one to come through. He staged in thicker cover about 35 yards away from me, never quite presenting a shot. That hunt gave me the confidence to go back in two weeks later, adjust about 50 yards to the west off of two fresh rubs, and shoot my buck.
Maybe the best example of how important being mobile is came on a hunt my buddy, Tyler Notch of Alexandria, had out there. The river bottoms we wanted to hunt in early November were ruined by the flooding. We gave it one sit in our traditional locations, didn’t see much and went back to the drawing board.
Tyler did an evening sit on Nov. 4 in a 15-acre grove on an abandoned farm site. He saw some deer, including at least one decent buck, but most of the movement was to his south. We talked things over that night and agreed his best chance was to get right into where we figured deer were bedding in that small piece well before first light.
Tyler went in with a stand on his back and got into a tree within thick cover off a decent trail. At 8:30, he was watching a huge buck slowly working through the trees. Another younger but decent buck came in grunting on the tail of a doe right near his location.
The big buck ran in to the commotion and was at 10 yards when Tyler felt he had his only chance. He drew, the buck saw him and ran out to 25 yards before stopping broadside. In a hectic moment, Tyler rushed the shot and clean missed him.
He was devastated at a lost opportunity on the biggest whitetail he has ever seen with a bow in his hands, but this was a hugely telling hunt in the grand scheme of things.
That area was nothing more than a small woodlot that you see all over farm country. It’s hard to get off a river bottom and hunt a spot like that, but it had everything that big bucks love. There was standing corn across a gravel road to the north, beans to the west, water in a ditch that paralleled the trees to the south and thick security cover in an area that is rarely pressured.
I believe this spot was made even better due to the flooding on the river, but this is an area that will get our attention now every season we hunt out there.
All my best encounters in Minnesota came on first-time sits in new trees based off of scouting or prior knowledge I had from previous year’s. One was a good buck on a scrape. Another was in my saddle after discovering a very subtle pinch-point during turkey season.
I know guys have stand locations that produce year after year. But for me this season, adjusting and being mobile were by far the biggest factors in consistently getting near bucks.