Teamwork and the Learning Curve

By Jason Hornbacher
North Dakota, 2010, DIY Public Land
Teamwork and the Learning CurveMay/June 2011 EBJ (Issue 65) - North Dakota mule deer hunting is a relatively new adventure for me. Greg Busch, an avid big game hunter and friend, offered me a little advice last year when I asked him about bowhunting mule deer. His advice was simple - get some maps, look for a large block of public land with limited road access, strap on a backpack, and spend time covering ground. I took his advice and started covering ground…and covering ground and covering ground. I know the learning is in the struggle and man was I learning!

After a few months of struggling - I mean learning - I went back for some more advice. I told Greg that I wasn’t seeing the number of deer I had hoped. He responded with, “They are there, but they are seeing you before you are seeing them.”

He offered a few more tips about where and when to look, and recommended some better optics. I ended up purchasing an excellent set of used binoculars and a quality spotting scope.

Throughout the season, I blew stalk after stalk and made mistake after mistake. The learning curve was steep as I did my level best to apply my learning. On the last day of the season in 2009, I took a doe with my bow. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was an awesome experience that sealed the deal for me – spot-and-stalk mule deer hunting was in my blood.

This year started off with an opening day stalk on three great mule deer bucks, but eventually they caught my movement and blew out at 60 yards. Three weeks later I moved in on two bruisers and tried to close the last 100 yards in swirling wind, and you know exactly what happened.

Greg had filled his tag early in the year and was looking to get outside and cover some ground, so we did! Saturday we covered mile after mile, punching holes through deep snow looking for the right deer. With 20 minutes of hunting time remaining, we found a large buck bedded with three does. The buck was exactly what we had been looking for all day. He was close, but unfortunately not in position for a successful stalk, so we passed and sheltered up for the evening.

Sunday morning was brisk and cold and I still felt whipped from the day before. By 10 a.m., the overcast skies and heavy fog made it difficult to glass. We saw two does in a draw and Greg made the suggestion that I go to the bottom of the draw and he would swing around the backside of the butte and walk down the draw. He figured his scent drifting down the draw would push any deer in the drainage past me. I agreed and we parted ways. An additional side note - only a good friend would scale the backside of a butte that large to try to push deer past someone! Later I would find out that while Greg made his walk down the draw, he only saw one deer and it was a fork-horned mule deer. Neither of us could imagine the quality of bucks that were bedded out of sight in that draw and the events that were about to unfold!

Jason Hornbacher

For a full account of Jason's adventure, go to page 14 in the May/June 2011 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.