November.

It’s a month that’s always on my mind. I have heard some successful bow hunters talk about how they don’t prefer the rut. The deer are too sporadic. The buck they have been trying to pattern the first month of the season is too unpredictable.

Maybe that’s why I love November. I don’t target one specific buck, and I don’t run as many trail cameras as I used to. I like the unknown -- that feeling of reading sign and trying to figure out the land before climbing into the tree wondering what might show up.

Then there’s the weather. Something about a morning with temperatures in the low 30s adds to the ambience in the hunting woods. It’s the kind of morning where everything in us is saying, “This is the day. It’s going to happen.”

I felt that when I climbed into a stand before light on Nov. 5, 2018 in North Dakota. A cold front had moved in overnight. Winds were building out of the northwest as the day progressed and there were snow flurries in the forecast.

Darkness hung around the woods a little later that morning with grey skies holding back the light. It was five minutes after legal shooting time when a buck paralleled the river and walked to within 20 yards.

The silhouette of his body was that of an older deer, but I could not make out his rack in the low light. I quickly determined that if it was too dark to see horns at that distance, then it was too dark to take an ethical shot. He passed unscathed.

An hour later, a half an inch of snow had covered the fallen leaves. The flakes melted once they hit the worn-to-mud deer trail that ran past my stand, creating a dark highway that jumped off the bright white forest floor.

It’s the kind of scene that keeps a person sharp in the stand. “Any minute now,” I thought. And I was right.

Buck sign, including big rubs like this, were everywhere in North Dakota last November, adding to the intrigue when climbing into the stand at that time of year. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Buck sign, including big rubs like this, were everywhere in North Dakota last November, adding to the intrigue when climbing into the stand at that time of year. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The buck first appeared almost 100 yards away -- his dark rack much wider than it was tall. His body was rutted out with the characteristics of a mature deer.

His walk was the kind one sees from a good buck in November. Brisk. He’s on a mission going from one bedding area to the next to check on does. For one of the only times all season, he seems to have let his guard down.

This buck was coming on a string. Step after step, he followed that trail that would lead right past my tree. I grabbed my bow and started talking to myself. “Wait for the right time. Don’t rush. Stay in the moment.”

Things slowed down as the buck neared my location -- 40 yards, 30 yards, 15. I drew back my bow and waited for him to take one more step with his front leg before stopping him with a bleat. Anchor. Aim. Release.

That deer would have been long bedded down a month earlier. I found that perfect tree in early August, but hunting it when it would perform at its highest potential meant showing patience and staying out until the time was right.

Some hunters long for the mountains of the west -- for a screaming bull elk in September.

Give me a cold morning chasing whitetails on a riverbottom. The kind of morning where each step creates a crunch of the leaves and your breath hangs in the air. The kind of morning that screams, “This is the day I’ve waited all year for.”

Give me November.