2020 Had Its Moments..First Muley Buck!

NDGuy

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Joined
Apr 26, 2018
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458
Posted my MT Antelope story back in October. In addition to the speed goat tag I had my OTC any deer archery tag and also drew a North Dakota badlands mule deer tag, my first muley buck opportunity had come! A mule deer rifle tag is very coveted here in ND, most guys wait 5-8 years to draw as they are usually only found on the west side of the state in the ND badlands. We have a lot of public grasslands available to hunt and it is very unique, cool country. I drew my tag after 5 years of applying and it's my 2nd ND rifle tag drawn in a decade. We had a few rough winters which hurt numbers significantly. That coupled with more and more land being pulled from CRP/PLOTS programs things have been pretty sad to watch for hunters in ND. Due to Covid, my hunting party was cut from 3 guys being out for a full week to just 2. The other guys had to stay home but my brother begged to get 3 days off work to tag a long with me. We had 3 days to get it done before I would have to be hunting solo. I was under some pressure to get it done quickly as work was chomping at the bit for me to be back as I just started in September and my wife is very pregnant with a toddler at home alone.

I met a rancher last year helping out with some Mule Deer Foundation projects out west and we hit it off. He loves hunting and shortly after meeting him to discuss project work and how the deer herd has looked he had us in his basement looking at some giant bucks he's taken. He invited us to camp on his property near the Little Missouri River where I could have some good access to grasslands in my unit that most guys would have to go in 4-5 miles to access. The plan would be to wade or walk across the river each day and be immediately hunting. It really pays off to get to know people where you want to hunt. I skipped the first week of season, I wanted to give the deer time to have the rut start and let the hunting pressure let down a bit.

We left at 2AM Sunday the 15th and went got out to our camping area. While setting up camp we looked up a butte across from us and spotted what looked to be a solid buck chasing around with a hot doe. Still in my pajama pants from the ride out, I glassed him and saw he was a solid 4x4 with 2 kickers on his right side. Really cool buck, not super tall or heavy but well past his ears and looked like a perfect first muley buck. I threw together my clothes and walked across the still frozen river to try to get a sneak on him. I took a pretty big loop around to try to get some trees and hills between us, my plan was to evaluate once I got high if I could sidehill or try to come up over top of him. Once I got up on the side of the butte he was on, I realized if I tried coming over top the wind would potentially bust me before I crested and had a shot. I decided to try to sidehill until I could get a view of him for a shot. I got around a little corner and looked up to where he was sitting where I last saw and nothing! In my haste, I didn't bring a phone or anything with to communicate with my brother so I was flying blind. I took my boots off since the wind was gone on this side of the butte and it was QUIET. I snuck around a cattle trail and next I heard, loud crashing noises below me. Through the trees I saw about 8 does running down the butte out of sight. But no buck! I continued along the trail and didn't see anything else and I looked through my binos to my brother waving me back to him. When I busted the does, the buck and his doe he was trailing went over top and out of sight. Damnit!

I was miffed but hey I had been here for 10 minutes and already had a stalk on a nice buck I wasn't going to complain! The rest of the day we moved through the area slowly we had to work wide around quite a few good areas because the wind wasn't in our favor. Didn't spot any other good bucks, just some forkies and does with fawns. It was really weird the does hadn't kicked fawns yet so we figured we'd have to comb through a lot of deer to find a good buck. We ran into another pair of hunter and discussed ballpark what we had seen. They echoed our findings as they walked 6-8 miles without seeing many bucks or rutting activity. Towards the end of the day we found a good drainage with does in it and glassed for a while in case we saw a buck. With light fading we pulled out and said we would come back tomorrow. Found an 4x elk shed on the way back which was sweet. There weren't too many in the area we were in so that was like finding gold.

When we got back we drank too many Busch Lattes and Crown Cokes with the rancher so it was a rough morning to get out of bed. We did a huge loop to get back to where we found the nice drainage and got a little off our course into the grasslands lol. We kept telling ourselves "one more hill, let's see what's over it" next thing you know we were about 5 miles away from where we wanted to be. We didn't find much of note, I made one stalk on a bedded group of does and a small forky was with them. Frustrated as hell, but had to keep on keeping on. We found some scrub trees that had HUGE rubs on them but no other sign and no deer near them. Eventually made our way back to the butte that had the huge drainage in it. Long climb up the butte and was surprised we didn't kick any deer out of the smaller drainages on the way up. They were thick and some had some deep cuts in them.

Finally we made it to the top and were able to glass down a new drainage we didn't get to see yet. This was a nasty one with pines and deep cuts and rocky ridges throughout. We knew there were deer there but couldn't see anything. Not being a very patient man, I had my brother sidehill the drainage on the upwind side and I found a perfect nest to wait in to have a shot at anything running out. He started walking through and sure enough about halfway down he kicked out about a half dozen deer. I saw one buck and didn't get a great look but he didn't seem to be anything special. We started working down the drainage and near the bottom we spotted a doe looking away from us so we huddled down and crept up along the bench she was laying on. I got between her and some trees and creeped towards her. Don't know if the wind swirled or they heard me but she and 4 other deer took off down the rest of the drainage. 3 does and a buck with her. The buck looked wide running away but I didn't get a great look at him. He dipped out of sight and I never got another look at him. We hit on the bottom of the drainage and regrouped, deciding to split up and me check the other side of the drainage in case the buck stopped. I didn't turn anything else up but my brother waiver me over.

My brother spotted a bedded buck along this narrow section of plots that ran by private. We could walk the edge and get to him on grasslands without crossing into private. We snuck and got to the edge of a drainage in some trees where we could glass him. We had no way of getting closer because it was flat and bare between us and him. He was perched up in some trees and could see right down in the bowl we would have to cross. We glassed him for awhile and he was a good buck but didn't have anything spectacular so I wanted to wait a bit. We waited watching him for an hour to see if anything else came out of the trees or the drainage near us. With darkness coming I decided that I would be happy with him being my first muley and with my time constraints I was going to try to take him. We ranged him at 410 yards and although I didn't have a dialing scope or drop reticle I knew my 165gr 30-06 load dropped 27 inches at 400 yards. I aimed about near the top of his ear and pulled the trigger. "Missed just low!" the buck was alert but didn't stand so I aimed at the top of his front fork and BAM! "Hit him!" he stood up and stumbled down the drainage and he was hobbling in a flat opening. "320!" My brother yelled. BAM! Hit him again. He took 1 more step and tumbled. I got up to him and I shot right through his front shoulder so I was pleased it was a quick ending for him. Was pretty happy with this deer and I can definitely say we earned him. We walked 14 miles all through the badlands country to find him. We snapped some pics and packed him out the 4 miles back to camp. We were wiped when we got back and the river was a little sketchy walking back across lol no incidents though. We BS'd with the rancher, drank too much, and hit the sack.

The next day we packed up and headed to my lake cabin in central ND to sleep in a warm bed before headed back home. I wish I had a little bit more time to wait it out for a bigger one but I was in a time crunch. Next time I have the tag, I know I will be able to hold out longer! :) 2020 has been a struggle for me as well as so many I know on here and those I know personally. So this year I was truly blessed to take some nice animals during the hunting season. Hope everyone had a solid year and can continue to stay physically, mentally, and financially healthy into 2021! We can all pull through this crappy year!
 

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the444shooter

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Joined
Aug 28, 2017
Messages
293
Thanks for sharing your story. Beautiful animals, congratulations on a great season!
 

Jbotto

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Joined
Apr 12, 2019
Messages
471
Location
Big Horn Basin, WY
Great bucks! Great story! Great first mule deer! I lived in Watford for two years and that area gave me my first taste of western hunting, and so will always be held in a special place to me! Very fun to see that unique country again through your camera and words!
 

NDGuy

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Joined
Apr 26, 2018
Messages
458
Congratulations, and all the best to baby #2!
Great bucks! Great story! Great first mule deer! I lived in Watford for two years and that area gave me my first taste of western hunting, and so will always be held in a special place to me! Very fun to see that unique country again through your camera and words!
Thanks! It is really a unique area and so cool it's in my home state. I have been playing the points game for a few other states so good I can get a taste of it here first.
 

Buschy

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Joined
Jan 1, 2001
Messages
1,447
Location
Colorado
Congratulations on a really nice buck!

I love and miss the ND Badlands. So many memories and great hunts out there.
 

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