A play by play account of our recent West River deer huntOn the north side of the Grand River, there is a place where a half-mile stretch of timber, mostly willow and cottonwood, lies between the river and the flat beneath the high rim to the north.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
On the north side of the Grand River, there is a place where a half-mile stretch of timber, mostly willow and cottonwood, lies between the river and the flat beneath the high rim to the north.
As dawn’s pink ribbons heralded the Saturday morn, Brian and I sat in that timber near a crossing where I had taken many nice bucks in the past. This time our effort was fruitless.
Seemingly well-laid plans failed throughout our first day of heavily overcast skies and misty precipitation, leaving all four of us without a deer. We could have taken lesser bucks, but all of us were eagerly thinking “tomorrow.”
A total absence of Sunday morning deer encounters led us to consider possible food sources. Mike and I knew of a large draw that emptied into the river bottom. The flats above it were planted to beans, corn and sunflower seeds. The cattail choked bottom was home to pheasants and grouse, and the brush-lined finger draws leading to the bottom always held whitetails. We might have hunted it earlier in our hunt, but in the past these deer usually found a way to elude us. Now the consensus was that we try it again.
While we developed our plan of attack, a brilliant sun broke out, a sun that eventually played into our hands. Jerry and I would begin at the top and walk down the respective sides, he on the north and I on the south. Mike would block the lower east end of the draw while Brian sat on the north side two-thirds of the way down.
As I walked around to the top to the south side, I discovered that whitetails were sunning themselves on south-facing slopes. Three heavy-antlered bucks got up 30 yards in front of me, but I couldn’t control my rifle because of my tremor. I kept going according to plan and hoped that a good buck might give me a chance to use my tripod.
Jerry was 5 minutes ahead of me when he came over a rim and kicked out two splendid bucks. He dropped a heavy five-pointer with a great running shot. A few minutes later Brian nailed a nice four pointer when it stepped out of a south side brush patch. The remaining deer slipped over the top on the south before reaching Mike. For Brian and Jerry, their hunt was over except for some deer dressing and hauling chores.
By Monday afternoon, a degree of frustration was tainting my morale as I wondered if any deer had moved into the timber described in the first paragraph. I suggested to Mike that he walk the timber from west to east with the modest west wind at his back. I would sit beneath the bank on the east end and watch for escaping deer that chose not to cross the river. Mike agreed that the plan had merit. I snuggled in and arranged my Bog Pod tripod so I could swing onto a crossing deer.
For me, our South Dakota West River deer hunt is an annual high point. I’ve gone to Corson County for the past 43 years, and this year some questions rolled around in my mind as I considered the next day’s November 3rd opener.
Would the severe drought conditions affect our hunt? Had the EHD epidemic plagued deer that far north? Would deer be moving in anticipation of the coming rut? I was indeed anxious about these things. I eventually learned that these northern climes were almost EHD free.
Partners on this hunt included Mike Hall, from Huron, Jerry Hnetynka, of Lake Andes, and Brian Jagodinsky, a Wisconsin friend. Dave Isebrands, who has hunted Corson County with me for well over 30 years, missed because of jury duty. We arrived at the ranch on Friday night, the Nov. 2, and were ready to go Saturday morning. Mike and I would hunt Saturday, Sunday and Monday while Brian and Jerry had to leave Monday morning.
Much Corson County land, including the ranch we hunt, is located on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. While there are jurisdiction and law enforcement problems, I have never considered hunting elsewhere for West-River deer. The stark beauty of the landscape, the Grand River, the mule deer, whitetails, antelope, grouse, pheasants, bobcats and coyotes, along with great people of pioneer heritage, make this country a personal paradise.
We soon learned that the drought would negatively affect our hunting. The usual waist high grass where we have hunted in the past was now knee high at best, forcing the deer into brush patches where they spooked well ahead of us. The sparse grass also left the spring calves 50 pounds lighter on the average, cutting the ranchers’ profits by an approximate hundred dollars a head. More than row crops suffered from the drought.
The hour had passed slowly as Mike methodically worded the timbered bottom toward me. And then I saw movement to the west. I placed my rifle in the yoke of my Bog Pod. A deer, now I could see antlers, trotted in my direction. When it cleared the heavy stand of willows, I studied the antlers. “Small” was my first impression as I worked at a quick assessment. I’d pass on this guy who was now at 2 o’clock.
I switched my gaze to his body. There was a sway to his back. He was heavy through the shoulders. His body size definitely diminished his head gear. He was an old deer, and I changed my mind about this guy. He was approaching ten o’clock when my swinging rifle caught up to him. Kawhoop! roared my .30-06. He went down right now.
Mike understood my tremor. He field-dressed the deer. Mike understood my neuropathy. I helped him drag the deer. Mike pushed our buck to me. Thank-you, Mike.
*See you next week with a grandchildren deer hunt edition.