Bow hunting season is here.
My Instagram feed is filling up with people around the country tagging out on whitetails, with North Dakota being a popular destination for archers this time of year.
Our neighbors to the west have one of the earliest bow openers in the country with it coming on the last Friday in August. As I scrolled through my phone on Sept. 3 and saw a few big bucks already on the ground, I got to wondering what specifically led to success for those hunters during a time of year where bucks generally aren’t traveling very far in daylight. The answer is almost always scouting. In this case, it’s often by glassing from a distance and then moving in close when a good buck is spotted.
I know many of the guys who had success over opener were giving themselves multiple days to get the job done, generally four or five days at a minimum.
That’s smart, but I don’t have the option of devoting that much time to hunting in North Dakota at this time of year. Work and wanting to be there for the first day of school for my two girls meant I had only the Sunday and Monday of opening weekend to hunt.
I didn’t get a buck, but I left Monday evening feeling as good about my prospects for later this season as I ever have about a spot. That stems from convincing myself to get out of the stand and scout with an eye toward the future.
When scouting in-season, or really almost any time, I’m learning everything I want to know about an area my first time in -- where the likely bedding is, what trees or ground set-ups work for which winds and how I’m going to access the area. I’m tearing through a spot once and the next time in will be for a hunt that is much more quiet and strategic.
Here are a couple specific scenarios of how I believe that scouting will set me up for success later this season.
Pinpointing past sign around bedding
One area in particular that I wanted to get a better grasp on featured an oxbow on a big river.
I hunted this piece of woods last November, and it was littered with rubs like nothing I have ever seen before. They were everywhere, and it was obvious there were multiple bucks competing for this core area.
My anticipation was high when I set up that night last season, but I didn’t see a thing. I was too far away from their bedding area, and they weren’t getting to me in daylight.
I went in on Sept. 2 this year to learn everything about where these bucks were bedding. I figured it would be near the inside turn of that oxbow where the river bends to create that “U” shape, and that’s exactly where it was.
There was a bunch of thick vegetation among the trees back there. I walked straight through it, not concerned at all about disturbing the area, and kicked a nice eight-pointer out. Years ago, I would have cringed at bumping a buck off it’s bed. Now, I loved seeing that because it just reaffirmed that this is where the bucks are bedding.
From there, I worked the outside of that thick cover to look for additional sign. It wasn’t long before I came upon three different scrape trees from last fall. All of them were right on the edge of that bedding and all three had fresh tracks leading right to them again this year.
The scrapes hadn’t been opened up yet, but perfect licking branches were still in place. I’m confident that it’s just a matter of time before they are getting used again. My next planned trip to North Dakota is Oct. 17-20 when that scrape activity should be popping up.
I prepared trees for my saddle right on those scrapes, and I can access this area unseen both morning and evening by walking along the river bank before slipping quietly into the tree.
The rubs I saw last season did me no good because they were getting laid down after dark. Pinpointing sign like these scrapes so close to bedding puts me much more in the game.
Changes to a pinch point
Another area I wanted to scout centered around a pinch point where I saw great buck movement during the first week of November last season.
I went in looking for different trees to hunt on any wind direction during the rut again and quickly realized that things have changed. The river flooded this past spring and left behind a bunch of deadfall. The trail I was hunting over last year was covered up in timber.
It took me a while to find how the deer were moving around this, and it actually pinched them down even tighter and into thick, grassy cover next to the river bank.
This spot is right on the outside bend of another oxbow, so I can see a long ways in both directions. The trees become more sparse, which not only pinches a deer’s path of movement but creates some great bedding cover up against the river where the sunlight hits the ground.
This habitat stretches almost 300 yards to the north. As I was preparing a tree, I saw a doe trotting towards me through the tall grass. It wasn’t long before she filtered right by almost 12 yards away.
Access makes this spot one that I can hunt multiple times without leaving any sign by coming down the river with a boat and walking just 20 feet to the tree.
I didn’t get a deer on the opener, but I am now in a position where I can go into spots with great potential quickly, quietly and with much more confidence. It’s a long season. Sometimes success is getting out of the stand when the calendar says it’s time to climb in.