Eric Morken: Connecting at 2 yards during a second encounter on my biggest buck ever
A slight move after seeing two good bucks together on the first evening sit in North Dakota on Sept. 3 leads to a 2-yard shot from 8 feet high in the tree. Video and written details of what worked for Morken on opening weekend.
ALEXANDRIA — People sometimes ask me what I am really gaining for future seasons when scouting long before a future hunt. Knowledge gained last fall is where the story starts on a buck I shot on Sept. 4 during the opening weekend of the 2022 North Dakota archery season.
I shot my 2021 buck in North Dakota on Nov. 2. My dad still had his tag to fill, and I decided to scout for him while he was hunting on Nov. 3. One tiny area of cover that I had ignored in prior years caught my eye. It was nothing more than a narrow stretch of thick timber between a small river and an ag field that runs about 200 yards north and south. The majority of the timber we had targeted in prior years was on the east side of the water.
What this sliver of cover has going for it is a small oxbow in the southeast corner. Oxbows in river systems big and small tend to be fantastic bedding areas.
I walked into the little stretch of trees on the evening of Nov. 3 and was blown away by the rut sign. Scrapes everywhere. One area in particular was worked to the size of a car hood. Nowhere on this small property had I seen sign like this before. I marked the location on my onX Hunt map with a very specific note: “Hunt this in 2022.”
One day of summer scouting
Fast forward to August, and I was back with my dad to scout and prepare trees for my saddle three weeks before the opener. This was the first area I went to. The trail systems that met near a river crossing were worn down again. That’s ultimately where I prepared a tree.
I walked 100 yards further up into that oxbow. A big bed was right where it should be on the thickest part of that point where the river forms the ‘U’ shape. Add the fact that there was standing corn in the field this year along the timber, and I saw all I needed to see.
This is how I love to summer scout. Get in there one day, learn what you need to know and then stay out. An hour of scouting verified deer were using the area under the same summer-like conditions that I would have in early September. Browse on the corn edge was heavy.
The first encounter
I climbed into the tree over that river crossing for my first sit of the season on the evening of Sept. 3 with two afternoons and one morning I could hunt. At about 7:45, I caught movement behind me along the corn edge. Two bucks.
The smaller one looked to be a 3.5-year-old. The bigger one was huge by my standards — a heavy, wide and tall-tined 12-pointer in velvet. They were at 20 yards, but I had no shot through the thick brush. Both acted like they caught a hint of my ground scent where I had walked about 30 yards on the field edge, but nothing that seemed to spook them much.
I waited an hour after last light to get out of the tree to let them work their way off. My wife and two daughters were waiting for me at the camper. “It just feels like you get one crack at a buck like that, and that might have been my shot. I guessed the wrong exit trail,” I told my wife.
I hunted that next morning and saw about 10 deer on a different property, but my mind was wrestling with all the decisions we have to make as archers. Did he catch my ground scent enough to shift where he would be the next day? How close do I dare get to that oxbow where I suspect he was bedding?
A shot at two yards
Exactly how far to go in was my primary dilemma as I slowly made my way along the corn on Sunday afternoon. I did not have much room to work with here. Winds were out of the southeast and gusting to nearly 25-miles an hour. That was my great advantage.
There was a tree I could get into with a little work that was about 75 yards away from the tip of that oxbow. It offered good cover to my left where I suspected deer to come from and a 15-yard shot to the corn. For an hour, I waited for those wind gusts to cover my sound in order to trim a bunch of small branches.
At 5 p.m. I settled into the saddle with the platform for my feet about 8 feet off the ground. The wind was iffy at best. There was one window I would need to stop him in to get a shot before he would catch my scent if he took that same route along the corn.
The sun had just gone over the horizon when a 1.5-year-old buck showed up on the field edge. He got right to where he should catch my scent and stopped. Young bucks react differently to this, and he stood at attention for a minute before letting his guard down.
The buck kept looking back into the woods, monitoring another deer. I heard a branch snap just behind me, and within a couple seconds, movement.
It was him. The same huge-bodied and wide-antlered buck from the night before. Now he was 2 yards away directly to my left. I could have easily jumped on his back.
The buck caught a whiff of my ground scent and halted. How am I ever going to get drawn on him? That thought had no sooner gone through my mind when he turned his head directly away from me to smell into the wind.
I slowly drew back, anchored in and examined his body angle. Slightly quartered away. I put the pin behind his shoulder a little above mid-body to account for the higher angle, and pulled through on a shot that perfectly hit its mark.
The deer bolted into the corn. This is the difficult part of hunting standing corn. I knew the deer was dead within 100 yards somewhere, but tracking in corn in the dark is hard.
A scenario just like this is why I spent this summer training my 4-year old black lab, Gus, to track big game . Gus has pheasant hunted his whole life, and he picked up the training with ease. But this would be his first-ever actual track of a dead deer.
I did not know what to expect from him as we walked along the field edge an hour after dark with my wife and kids along to help make the recovery. From the second I sat Gus down where the deer entered the corn, it was clear he had the scent.
Gus shot his way through the corn stalks, and I worked to keep hold of him on the leash. We stopped to untangle him once, and there was good blood sign five feet away.
It was not 15 seconds after we started up again when all of a sudden the tug on the leash stopped. I ran a few steps through the corn to find Gus standing over the biggest buck I have ever shot.
As I write this, I have had two days to reflect on this whole weekend, and two things keep coming to mind.
First is how thankful I am. Thankful for my family and friends sharing in the excitement with me, and thankful for the meals this buck will provide.
I told my wife after getting back to the camper around midnight that I wish I could better explain to non-hunters why I feel the way I do about hunting. The best I can come up with is that hunting — knowing you are trying to take an animal’s life that you appreciate so much — is deeper than many other passions people might have.
It’s serious, and there’s great pride in being a part of the process when it comes to what your family eats. Many of my greatest friendships in life are with guys who share a deep appreciation for this. Hunts like this always remind me of that.
The second thing I keep coming back to is how nothing replaces understanding how deer live on a landscape by putting in actual hours in the woods. You don’t need game cameras in every inch of the forest or scent-elimination units to get close to deer consistently. I lived that life for many years without much to show for it.
Once I really committed to scouting, that’s when consistent encounters with everything from does to mature bucks took off. There’s no substitute for it.
The deer are going to win this battle about 80% of the time. Maybe more, and that’s OK. That’s what makes a hunt like this so special when it happens.