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South Dakota Hunt December 2002
Mark Snyder  

Earlier this summer my good friend and hunting partner, Rick and I decided to go back to our home state of South Dakota to hunt deer and pheasant with my father and a couple of old friends. We planned on taking off a couple of weeks, one to hunt pheasants, and another to hunt deer.

We filled out the applications for the rifle deer hunts we were interested in and waited for the drawings. Lady luck was not with us and we did not get drawn for any of the hunts. We were bummed but knew our fallback position was to purchase archery tags, which fortunately were good statewide and you could take any deer with them.

Bill, a good friend and fellow archer, said he could get us in on deer and that we should get several opportunities. Having hunted deer in Arizona for several years with the bow, and being a glass is half empty kind of guy, I knew how hard a bow hunt could be so I was a little skeptical.

The road trip went fairly quick. We saw quite a few antelope in southern Colorado and spent the first night at my sister’s in Denver. One of the nice things about traveling to South Dakota is that there is a Cabela’s store on the way in Sidney Nebraska. On the second day of our road trip we spent several hours in the store looking at all the neat toys and mounted animals. It was like kids in a candy store. While in the store we also had a caribou sandwich for lunch . . . delicious!

We were really looking forward to this hunt. Along with getting to hunt with my parents, we were going to hunt with some of our old friends; Bill, Jimmy, and Brent S. from Rapid City, SD, Gene from Denver CO, Brent R. from Seattle, WA, Todd and son Tyler from Pierre, SD. Brent S. has hunted with Rick and I on several occasions here in Arizona chasing elk and javelina so it was payback time.

We arrived late Saturday night and visited with my parents awhile before hitting the sack. In the early part of pheasant season you are not allowed to hunt them before 10:00 AM so you don’t have to crawl out of bed before the rooster starts crowing -- kind of spoils you.

It was a good thing that we didn’t need to get going early in the morning. It was cold and windy and sometimes snowing on a majority of the days we spent hunting pheasants. It didn’t really bother you though, as you were always kicking up birds and getting in some shooting. It took us a couple of days to key in on where the birds like to hide and how to hunt them in that particular location. But when we did, we had a great time chasing them. For those of you who have never hunted pheasants their behavior is very similar to quail. They prefer to run until they run out of options and fly. When one bursts out of cover next to you it can give you quite a start.

The first day out we didn’t see a whole lot of pheasants but did see some nice mule deer bucks in the river breaks along Lake Oahe of the Missouri river. On our second day out besides pheasants, we ran into several deer while pushing stands of trees next to the fields. We were seeing enough deer and they were sticking to the trees that we decided to break out the bows and let my Dad try and push them to us. Both Rick and I got shots but missed. We were having so much fun we didn’t know to hunt pheasants or deer, carry the shotgun or the bow.

The next several days we mainly concentrated on pheasants and had a great time and got quite a few birds. It was nice to see old friends and hunt with my Dad once again.

It was also nice to see that the geese were moving early this year. We were very fortunate to see some flocks of several thousand on the fields. We didn’t have licenses to hunt them but it was fun to watch and listen. That is one of the best sights/sounds of fall in my opinion. The next week found us hunting deer in the Black Hills area on the west side of the state. We met up with Bill and Jimmy and stayed in a cabin in the hills overlooking a huge meadow. My earlier skepticism about the deer was squashed right away when we saw deer in the yard of the cabin on our way in -- turkeys too.

We also saw around a hundred deer on the meadow when we arrived. That got us really excited. Bill said he would take us to his other honey hole out east of town that also had a lot of deer. He said there were plenty of deer and provided we could hit them, we should be taking home some meat.

The first morning we hunted around the cabin. We hadn’t placed our tree stands yet so we more or less went scouting for a good place to put the stands. We were kicking out deer all over the place. Too far away to get shots but we weren’t too worried about that at the time. We found a couple of good spots where the deer were moving between their beds and feeding spots and picked out a couple of trees.

Bill and Jimmy met up with us later in the morning and suggested we hunt in their stands at a place east of town for a few mornings and afternoons. They felt we would have a better chance at a nice buck there compared to hunting around the cabin.

That afternoon found us in the stands hunting a farm east of town. There was a creek nearby with plenty of cover for beds and alfalfa fields all around for grazing. About 2:00 in the afternoon the deer started making their way to the fields to feed. I spotted three nice bucks grazing in a field about a mile away and watched them with the binoculars. I had several does and two small bucks come by my stand at about 50 yards but no closer.

Later that afternoon, towards dusk, I saw a deer jump a fence about 300 yards out and start to head towards me. Even with the naked eye I could tell he was a buck and knew he was nice one. He came by me at about 50 yards and slowly walked by. He was a nice 5x5 whitetail buck, but was beyond my comfort zone for a shot. I passed him up hoping I might get a chance at him another day. Later I found out that Rick had shot at him but missed high. That’s why the buck was running when I saw him.

We hunted that farm for the next couple of days. We saw plenty of deer but nothing came close enough to the stands for a shot.

On our next to the last day of our hunt we decided to do the afternoon hunt back at the cabin after being unsuccessful at the farm that morning.

We climbed into our stands around 1:00 and waited for the deer to start moving. Around 2:00 they started to come out of the bedding areas and make their way to the meadow. I had several does and fawns come by me and decided to take a doe if one got close enough as it was time to hunt strictly for meat.

At about 3:00 in the afternoon I had deer all around me. Most were out in the 40-50 yard range and I was hoping for a closer shot. It is amazing how keen their senses are, any slight noise and they were on it. I thought I was a pretty quiet hunter. I got a good education that week hunting deer. Deer are far more sensitive than elk and go on high alert if something doesn’t sound familiar or smell familiar. Just shifting your weight on your stand can cause the slightest noise and the deer pick up on it right away. I’ve moved around quite a bit before trying to get a good shooting position on elk and they never gave it any thought. I felt I had a pretty quiet draw on my bow also but not quiet enough.

Finally a doe started working her way toward my stand and gave me an opportunity. I drew on her, ranged her one last time and put my pin on her. I let drive and shaved the hair off her back. I am embarrassed to say she was only 24 yards away. I could have thrown a rock and hit her. I checked my heart rate…nope… no buck fever, what went wrong?

From my past hunting experiences I am beginning to feel that if I have too much time to think about my shot I usually screw it up. Especially with the bow, they are not forgiving at all.

Feeling dejected I sat down and waited for another opportunity. The several deer that were around me moved off to about 75 yards after the shot so I needed to wait for them to settle down. Later that afternoon several more deer passed by me but all were about 50 yards out. I had a little spike come by me and when he got about 40 yards out, I thought I would take a chance. I drew and a doe picked up on the noise and movement. She snorted and again the bunch moved out about 75 yards and went back to grazing. With 15-20 deer around you it is very hard not to tip one off that you are there. Too many ears, eyes, and noses to try and trick.

It was starting to get toward sunset and I spotted several deer running down the hill toward my stand. Something had spooked them as they were working their way towards the meadow. The first one jumped the fence and I could see it was a little buck. He was heading right towards me so I stood up and got ready.

He stopped about 25 yards out, did an about face, and was looking back at what spooked him out. I was already drawn when he got to me and quickly ranged him. I let drive and nailed him. He bolted and went about 30 yards. Within a minute he laid down and I knew I had him. He lay there for about 15 minutes and gave his last struggle for life. He was dead. I had my first deer with the bow. It was pretty close to dark so I climbed down and we took care of the deer.

Rick never had anything come by him within bow range that afternoon so we decided to move him to a better spot for the next day.

The next afternoon Rick climbed into the stand around 2:00. I stayed at the cabin and waited for our friend Brent S. to arrive for the afternoon hunt. At about 2:40, I looked out the window and saw Brent pull up. He was getting his stuff out and so I didn’t pay much attention. A few minutes later I looked up and Rick was talking to Brent.

Rick had scored on a doe not more than 20 minutes after being in the stand. Super! We both would be taking a deer home! We then put Brent in the stand and he hunted the rest of the afternoon. Being a local he didn’t want to shoot just anything so passed up on several does. He knew he had until the end of December to fill his tag.

We left the next day to visit some of Rick’s family in Miles City Montana, and left for home the day after that. Northwestern South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming were full of deer and antelope. We saw several nice mule deer and antelope bucks.

All in all we had a great trip, seen lots of family, friends, and got to hunt to our hearts content.

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