Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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No buck during this year’s rut? Apply what you learned in 2023

The author, Eric Morken, with a buck he shot with his bow in North Dakota to get his 2022 archery season started. (Photo from Eric Morken)

It was Nov. 13, and I was nearing the end of a two-week “rut vacation” that had not gone to plan.

This was occurring on a South Dakota property where I’d obtained permission to hunt by knocking on doors this past summer. One day of scouting in August verified that an oxbow in a brushy creek bottom was being used as a deer bedding area.

The soybeans in an adjacent field were heavily eaten on by late summer, and I had 90 yards of tree cover to work with – the travel route between bed to food.

I’d scouted my way to the location that November afternoon and found enough sign to warrant setting up there.

An hour after settling into my hunting saddle, a doe appeared at the edge of the bedding area. I kept a close watch behind her, but no buck appeared for almost 15 minutes.

At that point, there was a decision to make.

I’d passed up multiple young bucks and does during the past 12 days while bowhunting in Minnesota and, after that, a big, public-land, hill-country tract in Missouri. I’d then headed to South Dakota, where I now found myself in deep contemplation. Did I really want to go 0-for-3 in terms of tags filled?

The doe browsed her way to within 10 yards with no idea that I was there. I
had one day left to hunt, and guilt had begun to set in for being away
from my wife and two young daughters all this time.

I grabbed my bow from its holder and turned around. The doe had moved to the edge of the beanfield and was about 25 yards away.

The doe entered an opening as it quartered away from me. I drew back my bow while going through my shot progression.

The arrow broke from my string and hit the deer perfectly. One thing that
has been consistent in using a 200-grain single-bevel broadhead is that
deer often don’t know what hit them.

The doe did what others have done after a well-placed shot, trotting about 50 yards before stopping and looking back. She took one step just out of sight and I
heard her crash.

Putting an out-of-state-tag on a doe on Nov. 13 is not exactly what we envision
as bowhunters during the rut, but I was grateful to end my trip with
more meat.

Hunting during the rut this year came with a dose of reality that nothing is guaranteed.

Here are a couple of my biggest takeaways that may help other bowhunters next November.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

This year’s archery season started off with the most memorable hunt I have ever experienced when I took a big buck Sept. 4.

That buck got to within 20 yards without presenting a shot opportunity
during my very first sit while hunting in North Dakota. I adjusted the
next afternoon to get about 40 yards closer to the oxbow I assumed he
was bedding in, based on prior scouting findings. With 30 minutes of
light left, I was 8 feet high in my saddle with the buck offering a
perfect 2-yard shot.

An early-season buck allows your mind to run wild as you envision the rest
of the season. This was going to be a four-buck year, I determined.

Hunt Minnesota the first four days of November before gun season, head to Missouri for a three-day hunt, and then out to South Dakota for another. No problem, right?

Minnesota came and went in the southwestern portion of the state, with multiple young
bucks chasing, but only one close encounter with a 3 1⁄2-year-old.

Missouri’s antler point-restriction law means there are more older bucks. This is
where I had my closest encounter with a good buck. He got to within 15
yards twice, but never gave me a shot I was comfortable in taking.

I got to South Dakota on Nov. 11 with temperatures well below freezing
and winds gusting to more than 30 miles per hour. Multiple bucks nudged
does around in the adjacent bedding cover I set up next to that
afternoon, but nothing came within bow range.

I adjusted 75 yards the next morning to a tree where all that activity
had taken place. A single fork buck was the only deer I saw during the
entire day.

So much of these short Missouri and South Dakota hunts were filled with feeling
the pressure. I’m running out of time, I kept thinking.

It’s easy to believe that all it takes is one day in November. That can happen, but the reality is: It’s hunting. There are pieces of the puzzle to put together. That
can take a while, especially on properties new to you.

I probably would have been better off devoting more time to fewer states. That will be my plan next November.

Embrace the long game

A hunt is a complete bust only if you don’t learn something from it. In
that sense, I had moments in each state that hugely were beneficial.

The close call I had with the Minnesota buck was on the morning of Nov. 2. I
was set up over a creek crossing in a tree from which I’d shot a buck
in September of the 2020 season. Now, during pre-rut, deer were using
this area differently.

All four bucks I saw that morning approached an adjacent bedding area the
same way, moving with the south wind in their faces to
check for does. I adjusted the following evening with the same wind and
had two more young bucks approach that bedding area within bow range.

My morning sit in South Dakota on Nov. 13 was overlooking an open creek
bottom with thick tree cover to the north and CRP grass to the south.

I had positioned myself in the timber so I could see a small slough
within the CRP, about 150 yards away. All the activity that day happened
within the slough with the most habitat diversity.

A 2 1⁄2-year-old buck appeared at about 9:30 a.m. from the tall grass to
check the edge of the willows and cattails. A doe group was next, and a
couple more young bucks worked their way through.

There are a handful of older trees on the southeast corner of this slough. I kept looking at one in particular that I knew I could get into with my saddle. If I’m welcomed back by the
landowner again next year, it’s the first place I’m going if there’s a
northwest wind in early November.

Think of what you saw during your rut sits this season. Did any patterns emerge?

If so, that’s a win. Embrace the fact that bowhunting success from year to
year is about piling hunts on top of one another and learning from
every hunt.

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