Eye on the Prize

By Tom Patterson
South Dakota, 2011, DIY, Private Land

Tom Patterson - Eye on the PrizeMay/June 2012 EBJ (Issue 71) - In September 2010, I traveled from my home in Wisconsin to southern Alberta for my first archery mule deer hunt. I was successful on an adrenaline-filled, spot-and-stalk archery hunt, taking a nice 156-inch mule deer; I was immediately hooked.

When I got home, I started to plan my 2011 mule deer hunt. Since Alberta requires the use of a guide, I decided I would hunt somewhere in the states where I could hunt DIY and closer to home.

After a couple months of researching every bit of data I could find, I decided to concentrate on South Dakota. The fact that you can purchase a license without a draw swayed my decision. More hours of research, talking to game wardens, outfitters, and searching Google Earth narrowed my search.

I made a trip out to the area with my son and brother-in-law in Aug. 2011 to look do some scouting. One particular chunk of land caught my eye and we spent an evening and morning glassing. Several good bucks found and I knew this was the place to be.

We spent a couple more days doing some long-distance scouting and saw several respectable bucks. One particular buck caught my eye one morning and I used the terrain to follow him for a couple hours until he bedded. The following morning I observed him again and he bedded in the same general area. He was in a bachelor group of ten bucks with several shooters and I noticed a particular pinch point in the terrain that they traveled through both times. Now I just needed him to stay on his pattern for a couple more weeks until I returned.

We returned home with great excitement and anticipation. The next two weeks seemed like months. Finally our week to hunt arrived and we headed for South Dakota one final time. We arrived at midnight, quickly unpacked and prepared for the morning hunt. We got a few hours of sleep and headed out before daybreak.

I dropped my brother-in-law at the end of the area where he had scouted and I headed to the other end where I had found the great buck two weeks earlier. The incredible sight of ten magnificent bucks feeding their way off in the distance welcomed me. Once they dropped into a drainage ditch and out of sight, I gathered my stuff and took off on a high-paced mile loop in and out of ditches to get myself in position ahead of them as they fed their way to the bedding area.

I got ahead of them and set up at the pinch point that I figured they would feed through. All my planning was coming together as they fed closer and closer. They were at 80 yards and things were looking good; it looked like they would feed by below me to about 40 yards or less.

Suddenly, a shift in winds pulled my scent up the ridge and down to the bucks. The wind actually fooled them as to where the danger was and the group busted by me at 30 yards running down the hill and up the other side where they stopped to look back for the danger. They couldn’t smell or see me and after about 10 minutes they settled in and fed around the point. Two small bucks stood watch for a few extra minutes before he rounded the corner. I knew I had to hustle to get ahead of them.

Once again, I gathered my stuff and took off on a half-mile trot down the hill and up the ditch that paralleled them to cut them off. I had a good wind in my face as I got to the end of the ditch and slowly crept to the peak of the ridge. When I peeked over the top, I was 30 yards from one of the feeding bucks. A good 160-inch buck, but not the one I was looking for. I backed up and crept to my left another 30 yards and peeked over again. The buck I was after was with them and feeding slowly away; I ranged him at 50 yards.

Tom Patterson - Eye on the Prize

For a full account of Tom's adventure, go to page 28 in the May/June 2012 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.