As I’ve mentioned in posts over the past few years I’ve always dreamed of heading west and chasing Elk and Mule Deer so I’d really been looking forward to this trip. Moving to Minnesota definitely helped cut that distance and made this trip even possible. We were going in with a great plan and some good insight from others who had hunted the property so I felt great heading into the hunt. The forecast looked great, nights in the 40’s and days in the upper 50’s lower 60’s. It couldn’t get more perfect.
All that perfect changed in a hurry. . .
We drove about 10 or so hours from Josh’s house just west of Minneapolis to get to northwest South Dakota. Tuesday was all driving and we got to the camping area and set up around midnight. We got up the next morning and waited for Sam to arrive while Bobby, Josh and I packed up our gear and started to load up the bikes for the trek in. Once we were finally ready we hit the road down to the forest access road we had marked as our route of entry. We get there and it’s plastered with no trespassing signs. Apparently, there was private property within the national forest that wasn’t well marked on the maps so now our plan of entry was shot. We rode back to the campground and luckily there was a Conservation Officer there so we asked him about it. Our only other option to get where we wanted was to drive to the southern end of the property and bike a lot further to get close to where we wanted. So, we got in the truck and headed to the southern end.
There is always another way in so we weren’t discouraged but this did cause us to waste some time. It took us several hours to bike in. Straight line we were only 3 or so miles from the truck but we figure we biked somewhere between 6 and 7 miles uphill most of the way to get where we ended up setting up camp. This was a long exhausting bike ride. The bikes handled the sand, grass, mud, rocks and cow crap amazingly but uphill is always tough whether walking or biking especially when loaded down with gear. Once camp was set Bobby and I headed east to find water further down the drainage we were set up in and glass a little while Josh and Sam headed to the northwest to glass. Bobby and I found water and took in the sunset atop a hill noting the increasing winds and decreasing temperature. Sam and Josh returned to report seeing 4 or 5 Mule Deer does form the top of the buttes.
Thursday began with frost on the ground and a frozen tent fly. It was cold. This is where we realized the weather forecast for the week was off and they were wrong about the winds and the temperatures. For the morning Josh and I hiked to the northwest while Bobby and Sam headed basically straight north on the bikes. Bobby and Sam had an eventful morning seeing 12 Mule Deer does, 1 Mule Deer buck and 4 Whitetail bucks. Bobby attempted a stalk on the Whitetails but it just didn’t work out. Josh and I covered a ton of ground and we kept saying to each other, “Why didn’t we ride the bikes?”. We had only planned to cover a small area but kept saying, “Let’s just see what’s over there”. All this time the sustained winds were much stronger than the forecasted 10-20 miles per hour. We regrouped around noon at camp and grabbed some lunch. When we headed out that afternoon all four of us mounted the bikes and headed Northwest hoping to go where Josh and I had checked out but use it as an entrance with the wind in our favor to cut off some of the deer Sam and Bobby saw that morning.
Our plan didn’t work. Winds gusted somewhere around 60 or so miles per hour and rain came in. The draw we had planned to go down was over on private land so our entrance was cut off. After the rain stopped we headed back east to hunt the same area as best we could given the property and wind limitations. The wind being the biggest limitation. The wind was strong enough that you could lean against it. It was pretty crazy. After not seeing much that evening we huddled back at camp for a few minutes and decided this just wasn’t working. We would pack up camp and ride out in the morning and head back to the primitive campground and hunt the most northern section of the property. Thursday night was a long night. The winds gusted like crazy, all night long. Luckily my MSR tent held up to the wind no problem, Josh’s tent didn’t. Thank goodness Bobby had a two person tent so Josh could sleep in there for the night.
Friday morning was cold. The temperature around freezing and winds still gusting we slowly packed up camp and readied our bikes with numb, uncoordinated fingers. It didn’t take long to warm up once we started pedaling though. Thankfully the ride out took substantially less time. With the majority of it being flat or downhill we sped out in less than half the time it took to get in. It also helped that the disgustingly thick mud we trudged through on Wednesday had either dried up or was frozen.
Once back at the campground Bobby ran into another Conservation Officer who was more knowledgeable about the property and clued us in to a few things. The bad news, the area we had been hunting was the one hit the hardest the last two years with Blue Tongue/EHD and harsh winters. The good news there were good reports for deer numbers on the norther part. The intel we had gotten from various sources was a few years old and because of that, we hunted largely the wrong area. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have gone there on our own direction but just goes to show that unless someone has scouted the area very recently take their suggestions as just that, suggestions and don’t put too much weight into it. The Conservation Officers other note, always hunt in pairs the place is loaded with mountain lions!
Friday evening all four of us headed to the eastern side of the northern section. Bobby and Josh headed just northeast of Sam and I. We set up on a steep hill side over looking a creek and a grassy hillside hoping to catch something on it’s way out to feed, and we did. A whitetail doe and two yearlings came out around 120 yards or so and fed. They were at a bad angle and too far out and we hoped they would come in range, but they were in no hurry. It took them forever to move in front of us. They made their way in front of us at 80 yards or so as shooting light faded quickly, never offering a shot. . . Part Two