ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- It was midsummer a few years back, and I was parked at the end of a stranger’s driveway in my vehicle after driving hours from my house in Alexandria to North Dakota.
Anyone who has ever knocked on doors seeking permission for deer hunting knows this feeling. Palms are sweaty. We anticipate the word “no” because it comes more often than not.
This particular property was along a river system and stood out to me while map scouting on my onX Hunt app on my phone. When I arrived months before the fall season, the whole property was posted with no hunting and trespassing signs.
Is it even worth asking? I drove hours to get there, so I really had no choice.
I knocked on the door, and a woman greeted me politely with a smile. That always helps take some of the anxiety off. She led me down to the shop where her husband was working, and I explained what I was out there for. I was looking for permission to archery deer hunt for me and one other friend. We would be sure to contact them every time we were out in the area so they knew who it was if they saw the truck around.
Once I can tell a landowner is somewhat receptive to the idea, I’m able to relax. I try to explain who I am as a hunter. What I love about it. How I go about things.
I’ve heard many “no” responses, but that specific landowner, along with three others in that same general area, told me yes. I think about how grateful I am for that every time I climb into a tree on a cool morning during the first week of November.
This might be my favorite hunting trip of the year because of how active the deer are. I believe the start of the first does coming into estrus happens about a week earlier in that region than where I hunt in southern Minnesota.
The morning of Nov. 2 this year felt almost perfect. Cool conditions. A slight southwest wind. I could not have drawn it up better for getting back into an area where I shot my 2020 buck.
That deer came in on a trail right below my tree behind a doe. They were actually too close, but I got lucky that the buck never did get my scent before giving me a 10-15-yard shot.
This offseason, I went back in there to adjust. I wanted to get closer to the river, which runs north and south, so I could eliminate deer coming behind me on a west wind. I trimmed a couple lanes, marked my new tree on onX just off the northern edge of a great bedding area of ragweed and deadfalls and then waited for the first week in November.
My kayak that I bought this past summer was ready to go on the riverbank off of the land owner’s farm site. I climbed in two hours before first light and silently paddled with the current, banked it on the shore and went 15-20 yards up and over the bank before I was at my tree.
That kind of clean access on morning hunts in areas of big agriculture like this is so key. I see deer now at first light that I never saw years ago when I was content with entering through those fields and busting deer off.
A fork buck was the first to show up on Nov. 2. He took that same trail as the 2020 buck on a little higher elevation and was about 7 yards away from me with no idea I was there. I hung motionless in my hunting saddle as he calmly walked his way through.
A half an hour had passed when I heard a stick crack to my left. My eyes shifted that direction as a good buck worked my direction. He was moving slowly with his nose to the ground, giving me an opportunity to grab my bow off the holder.
His wide rack and big body were evident immediately. This was definitely a deer that met the standards of what I’m looking for, and I quickly shifted my attention to the spot right above his leg that I wanted to hit.
"Go through your shot process," I said to myself. “I’m going to do this right. Anchor. Aim. Let it float. Pull.”
The buck moved behind a tree as I drew back and anchored in. He stopped in an opening slightly quartered toward me. Don’t take that shot, I thought. He took four more steps to get perfectly broadside when I stopped him with a bleat.
This deer came on the far trail that I had prepared for during my scouting this past summer. I ranged it at about 33 yards. That’s the longest shot I have ever taken on a deer with my bow, but it was a clear lane all the way there.
I had prepared for this. Now I had to execute the shot.
My single-pin sight is set at 20 yards, but my practice told me that I only get a couple inches of drop from 20-30 yards even with a heavier 550-grain arrow. The pin settled about mid-body right above the buck’s front leg. I pulled through on my resistance release and watched that arrow tipped with a 200-grain single-bevel Iron Will broadhead penetrate right through him before he turned and bolted out of the timber onto the field.
Everything about the shot felt perfect, but I did not see him go down. I texted my dad, who was hunting out there with me, and a few friends before waiting about an hour to get down.
My arrow was covered in bright-red blood when I found it. Good sign. The blood trail started immediately, and I followed it 20 yards out of that dry riverbed until I was at eye level of that field that was filled with green grass. There he laid less than 75 yards away.
I ran up to him, examined his rack and huge body and then sat down in the field to think. I do not own a single acre of my own hunting land, which means I never take opportunities like this for granted. Each deer, each hunt is special.
A perfect way to fill a tag on another perfect November morning in North Dakota.
(Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor with the Forum News Service based out of Alexandria, Minnesota with the Echo Press Newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)