Late season muzzle loader doe hunt in North Dakota
Well, so far it had been a pretty boring season for me here in ND. The archery season has been pretty slow and I only had a mule deer doe tag for the rifle season, but a friend of mine drew a coveted muzzle loader buck tag. The unit that he was planning on hunting happened to have a few "Any Antlerless" concurrent season tags left so I thought I would apply and go along. I drew a tag, which meant I could hunt with any legal weapon during it's applicable season.
As the summer,fall and eventually rifle seasons progressed, we received continued reports of extrememly low deer numbers. We have had two pretty tough winters in a row up here and this has taken its toll on the mule deer numbers. The whitetail population also got hit extremely hard this year by a disease called EHD. Which as I understand is always fatal with 24-48 hours after contracting it. It got so bad that the ND Game and Fish offered refunds to anyone with anterless tags in our unit. My friend didn't have the option for a refund, and I didn't want to leave him to go alone so I decided to stick with it. A bad day hunting is still better than a good day at work.
We made some more calls, did some more research and found a few places to try. We only had two days to hunt so we picked what we thought was the best spot and decided to focus our hunting there. We chose some land right on the Cannonball River to hunt.
This is the first time I had been to this area of the state despite having been born and raised here. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to return. It is truly beautiful and we met some very nice people too.
The first evening we walked a couple miles of the river bottom spending most of the time trying to spot deer through our binos. We saw hundreds of pheasants, but exactly zero deer. We started to get a little worried. Later that evening, we checked into our hotel and had some supper at a local cafe. Having grown up and still living in a small town and also having traveled all over the world, I can still say there is almost nothing better than a home cooking style meal in a small town cafe in the middle of no where.
The next day we started before dawn with more glassing. We spotted some deer on land we did not have permission to hunt. We tried locating the land owner without luck so we decided to keep with the original plan. Back at our parking spot, my friend spotted some deer right along the river back almost a mile away. There was a whitetail buck in the group so that meant he had first shot.
We stalked the river bottom all the way to the deer and when we got closer we lost the original group, but spotted a group of mule deer does bedded on a cut-bank. Roles switched and I was up to bat. We stalked to within about 120 yards, but could not see the deer around the corner of the cut-bank. As we got closer the whitetails that we were originally hunting spotted us and started to come up out of the bottom. This resulted in another quick position change between me and my hunting partner.
I was able to get a buck to stop by yelling and give my buddy the range off my range finder, but unfortunately the buck had stopped directly behind a tree and my friend had no shot. The buck finally worked his way up the draw away from us. We didn't know how bad he was spooked so my buddy stayed in the lead for now.
The whole herd finally blew out of the coulee and when they did they spooked the herd of mule deer too. The good part was that they ran over the cut bank right into us. We both dropped in the dirt and we did another switch-a-roo to get me into shooting position.
The range was about 100 yards, but the wind was blowing at a 30 MPH cross wind. Another typical day up here in ND. Here in ND you can only have a 1X scope maximum on your muzzle loader, and trust me that cross-hairs seems to cover up a whole lot of deer even at 100 yards. I double checked the 10 MPH drift for my bullet off the chart on the stock, tripled it to account for the 30 MPH wind and touched off the trigger.
The smoke took a few seconds to clear, but we knew she was hit from the sound of the bullet hitting. She ran about 30 yards down hill and tipped over.
Now the real work began. We had to back track about a 1/2 mile to find a place shallow enough to cross the river since she was on the other side. I was wearing water proof gaiters over my boots, but my buddy wasn't and he still got wet feet in the shin deep water. To his credit, he never complained, and still continued on to help me.
We found her, took some pics and deboned her right on the spot. I loaded all the meat and the head into my new Eberlestock back pack - they really do mean what they say with "Go in light and come out heavy". The pack worked great! Can't wait to use it in the next couple years hunting up in the mountains.
I also attached some pics of the river crossing (the one with my face in the pic) and another one of some rapids too. Like I said, pretty country.
Well, if you took the time to read this whole thing, thanks. I know it wasn't a riveting story of a big buck or bull, but this hunt for me was about spending time in the outdoors with a good friend (unfortunately, we couldn't get him a deer despite our best efforts and a couple close encounters). The opportunity to take a deer to fill up my freezer was a bonus.
Hope you enjoyed the story.
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