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Morken: Big buck stages for 30 minutes

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This map shows the land the author was hunting as described in this column. The bedding typically sits in the northwest corner of the oxbow on the river, but flooding pushed deer closer to the middle of the timber before they moved south into the fields to feed in the evening. (Map graphic created from OnXmaps)
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Hunters hear all the time about how mature bucks are different animals from other deer, but it’s still interesting to witness it firsthand like I did on an evening hunt in North Dakota on Oct. 19.

My scouting early this season in North Dakota was tailored toward getting spots ready for my saddle that I thought would produce over MEA break. I left after a weekend in early September confident that I would be able to get eyes on some good deer in October around traditional scrape areas that surrounded bedding.

Instead, North Dakota got hit by almost 30 inches of snow around Devils Lake that caused all of the rivers to flood. Water soaked the fields as farmers were left waiting to get crops in, and I was left scrambling trying to figure out how the deer were using the terrain now.

Corn fields off the river seemed like probable bedding destinations, and they were. I hunted one the first night, and sign was everywhere.

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Flooding on river bottoms in North Dakota meant deer were using corn fields this last week to both feed and bed in. Here, a worn-down trail in the mud runs along the edge where corn meets beans. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

A good buck came out of the corn and ran to a low area in the standing beans that he used to walk to a fence line. That buck stayed in that low spot on the terrain until dark, watching does that were feeding in the beans.

It was clear after an afternoon of scouting that any type of corn or tree cover that wasn’t wet was holding deer, and there was one spot on the river that fit this description. It’s an area that gets high enough within the trees that there was at least some dry land for deer to bed on.

This spot is in an oxbow on the Red River. The trees here are very open on the south end until it gets to some brushy cover about 75 yards in off a driveway. The thickest cover is in the point of the oxbow on the north tip.

I had scouted this earlier and prepared two spots just off the bedding. That whole portion of the trees was flooded, so where exactly the deer were in here was a mystery.

Because of that, I went into the woods extremely cautious for an evening sit. I knew deer would be much closer to the driveway, and I hadn’t gone 40 yards when the first doe and fawn jumped out of some thicker vegetation. They ran about 30 yards, turned and looked my direction and started blowing that dreaded warning wheeze.

The woods kind of came to life at that point. I could see more does and fawns trotting to the north. Another doe started to wheeze, and I think it’s safe to say I panicked a bit. I stood completely still for about 10 minutes until things calmed down, but my mindset went from, ‘Get to that thicker cover 30 yards up,’ to, ‘Just get in a tree.’

I saw a small trail through the brush into the open timber and set up off of that. By the time I got situated in my saddle, a few more does were already out in the open browsing. Things quieted down after a hectic start to the hunt.

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About an hour had passed when I saw more movement in the northwest corner. One after another, about a dozen does and fawns filtered south through the woods. A young eight pointer was nudging them along as they made their way across the driveway into the fields to feed. That was with almost an hour of daylight left.

A few more does and fawns showed up to my left. I had my eyes on them when I noticed another deer moving west to east in the thicker cover. He got into a small opening almost 50 yards away, and I could see it was a good buck. One of the fawns was browsing in front of me now, and he was working his way toward her, but never leaving the cover.

That fawn noticed her mom heading out into the field when she trotted off after her. The buck let out a deep, growling grunt as the fawn left.

By now, he was 35 yards from me, but to my weak side and with the vegetation covering his vitals. He kept browsing on the leafy weeds that were mixed in with thick cockleburs.

Every once in a while, he would look up and check on the does in the field. There was no way he was coming into the wide open timber with so much light left, let alone crossing a driveway to head into a field before dark.

I watched that buck stage there for almost half an hour before I lost sight of him to the north again. The whole while I was kicking myself for not doing what I had originally planned to do by getting tighter to that vegetation. There were two trees I could have hung the saddle in that would have allowed me a 15-yard shot at a better angle.

I should have stuck to the plan, even amongst the chaos of does trying to blow my cover. It seems obvious now that any good buck would hold up in that thick cover until dark.

This deer was a really nice 10-pointer that would have been the biggest buck I had ever taken with my bow. Instead, it’s a reminder that bucks like this operate differently than other deer.

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Wet conditions also meant reading sign like this good buck track was a little easier. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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