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'09 DIY Public Lands ND Muley Hunt-- Semi-Live

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Hi All,

I'm going to do a write up of our recent mule deer hunt in Western ND similar to how I've done our elk trips the past two years. We had a good trip and it was a lot of fun. Did we get any? Well... you'll have to follow along and find out.

This year's trip was a different type of trip for my buddy, Slevy, and me. We invited several of our friends out and camped this year. In total, there were seven of us out there for most of the trip. We called it an East vs. West trip: four of us were from the Fargo area and three of the guys were from Minot. I'll get you some pics of everyone (almost) as we roll along through the story/pics.

The line up for the West was Slevy (my long-time friend and buddy from the past two years of elk hunting stories), Mark (aka. Mort), and Jake (aka. Smidge). For the East there was Jake (aka. Sweetcorn), Gabe (hmmmm... Gabe doesn't have a good, insulting nickname yet- we'll have to work on that), Briggs (aka. Doc) and me.

This year I asked everyone to bring a camera with them in the field and to take lots of pictures. Apparently only Gabe was listening when I asked this (all six times I asked it whistle), because he's the only one who got me any pictures. Still, I've got enough pics to give people a feel for our trip.

Here's a little background and info about the trip: Slevy was going out on the opener to set up camp and do some hunting before most of us got there. Jake and Gabe also left on Fri and hunted Sat-Mon before anyone else got there. Those first few days were really tough- highs in the 90's and with virtually no wind. It was miserable and the guys were getting whooped by the conditions. Still, Jake and Gabe managed to get several sneak opportunities, but didn't get a chance to seal the deal.

I showed up on Mon with Briggs. He and I had sick kids at home and didn't leave as early as we'd have liked to. By mid-day on Mon our kids were on the mend and doing well, so we packed up and left. Although Briggs had a headache and I hadn't slept much for several nights because I had a four year old boy vomiting all over the place, we were happy to get going and glad the kids were feeling better. We pulled in just in time to glass a couple spots from the roads. I was surprised to see very few deer. We got our stuff in order at camp and hit the rack.

Here's a pic of a spot Briggs and I glassed the first night:


Tomorrow was our first official day of hunting (at least for Briggs and me) and we were excited to get going.

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I am also looking forward to the rest of the story grin You have a really good aproach to bringing others into the story. I love how you encourage your hunting buddys to take lots of pics and only had one other guy taking pics. Classic



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One thing I need to give you a heads up about is that this write up will be even more slanted towards MY experiences than usual. I did a particularly poor job of taking notes from this trip and it's really tough to remember what everyone did and saw on each day. With multiple groups of people out each day, this was especially the case on this trip. So... I'm not trying to hog all the story, but I honestly can't remember what happened for the other fellas every day. Also, not having many pics from them doesn't help either...

Day 1

On Tues Briggs joined Jake and Gabe while Slevy and I went on a bivy hunt. If you're not familiar with the idea of bivying, check out my previous post on the topic:

Bivy info here

Slevy and I parked our truck on the NW end of a no motorized vehicle area and drove around to the SE corner of it. We figured it was about six miles between the vehicles, but we'd have to take a pretty indirect route, making the trip about double that for us. We were planning to put on about eight miles the first day, then hunt our way out the final four miles the second day. We chose this particular area because it was really rugged, had little access in years past, and now didn't allow any trucks, 4 wheelers, etc. in it at all- we thought we'd be the only hunters in the middle of it for the entire hunting season, and that really appealed to us.

It rained really hard the night before we started and the roads were slick as snot! Fortunately, the trails were all smoothed over and any sign we saw was very fresh. A few hundred yards into the trip we spotted five nice bucks, but they came out of a draw that was down wind of us and we had no chance at them. Soon after, we saw other deer too.


The morning was very productive- we saw a lot of deer very early on. About two hours after sunrise, we came to a big saddle area between two decent draws. We were on an old cattle trail that was worn smooth from the pounding rain from the night before. That's when we realize we weren't the only hunters in this area.


The picture isn't perfectly clear, but this was clearly a mountain lion track. The track was fresh- it'd been made after the rain, which made it less than two hours old.

Not too far down the road, we saw this little guy:


I didn't know horny toads lived in ND, but apparently they do. My dad's response to this was, "Of course horny toads are in ND- you see little toads out every year, don't you?" grin

The pics below gives you an idea of what much of country we hunted looked like. You really can't appreciate how rugged it is from the pics, but you get the general idea.



After working our way through a few miles of this terrain, we passed into a new draw that had incredibly steep cuts and banks on the far side. We'd need to climb these hurdles to get to the other truck. I literally started laughing. "There's no way", was all I could say. In the pic below you can get a little bit of an idea from the highest peak in the background- we climbed this area.


Climbing out proved to be really tough, but managable once we had picked the best looking spot to dive in. Here's a pic of Slevy about 2/3 of the way up the hill. The hill is behind him, but you can only see about 10% of it. It took us about 1 1/2 hours to climb out of this basin.


I had been doing pretty well with my water supply- I brought 100 oz. in my water bladder and had extra water after that. However, when we reached the "big climb" the temps had reached the mid-80's and the climb out of that basin was tough. Soon after, I realized my water bladder was nearly empty. I'd still need water for supper, through the night, breakfast, and the walk out. I just didn't have enough water to do this. So, our bivy hunt ended up being a very long day hunt during which we hauled all of our bivy gear with! crazy

We ended up seeing 53 deer on the "bivy hunt" with 38 of them being bucks. It was a fun day, but we really never approached an opportunity.

Smidge and Mort showed up later in the afternoon that day and hunted a spot near camp. In a nutshell, they struggled and only saw a few "slick tops" (does).

Briggs, Gabe, and Sweetcorn saw quite a few deer and Jake got a shot at a nice 4x4. He only connect with a little hair on the top of the deer's back. Not sure if he'd misjudged yardage a little or just shot a little high. Either way, there was a buck out there that had a little hair cut and was dang lucky!

Besides Jake's miss, they also ran into this fella:


He was a big 6x7 and was only 35 yards away from them. No elk tag in hand, so all they could do was admire the view of that big ol' bull.

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how big was the area you guys were hunting, how many acres?

Heck if I know! We hunted in a bunch of different areas- there's tons of public land out there. The no-motorized vehicle area we "bivied" through was about five miles x five miles (give or take).

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Day 2

Wed. found Briggs back with Gabe and Jake in their double-top secret spot. This area was producing buck sightings and sneaks every day, and today didn't disappoint. Gabe found this fella in his spotting scope a loooonnngg ways away:


The pic is pretty fuzzy as it was taken through the spotting scope- but I think you can get the idea-- he was high, deep, and wide. Just what anyone would be looking for in a muley!

After covering the mile or so between the spotting location and the buck Gabe got down to the final couple hundred yards. He found the buck still in his bed and put the last 100 yard sneak on. Everything was going perfectly, but for reasons no one could explain, some deer bedded in the wide open a couple hundred yards away (why would they bed in the wide open on a 90 degree day???) busted him, blew out, and took the big boy with them. It was a long walk back to the spotting location and Jake and Briggs!

Later that day, Jake got a shot on another buck. He made a perfect shot on a large clump of dirt immediately behind and above the buck! Strike two!!! grin

It's no wonder Jake got two cracks at bucks early in the hunt-- here's a shot of him that Gabe took while Jake diligently searched for a buck. For the record, this pic was NOT staged.


Later that day Briggs also got a sneak on a nice buck. He was a solid 4x4, but also had a nice kicker on one side, actually making him a 5x4. Briggs patiently and cautiously made his way towards his first muley buck-- this was his first sneak ever! He got to within 18 yards of the buck, but couldn't manage a shot. He waited patiently for an opportunity, thinking the buck would eventually stand up. Unfortunately, a cow ambled over a little too close to the buck and he blew out of there without so much as a second's chance at him. Bummer, but a great experience for Briggs on his first ever sneak! Just getting that close is a success in my book.

I didn't see much in the morning, but I did put a sneak on four bucks in the evening. Three of them were really nice! Everything was perfect and I sneaked to inside of 100 yards. However, when I poked my head out expecting to find them 60 yards away on the hillside, they were gone. I searched high and low for them, but never saw them again. I know they didn't hear me, but I'm guessing they smelled me. The wind seemed right for the sneak, but I imagine a wind swirl spread just enough scent over to them at some point to end my hopes of getting a crack at them.

Mark, Slevy, and Smidge had a good day too. However, it was an expensive day for Mark! He fell/ran/tumbled down a place he calls "Devil's Canyon" and somehow lost his quiver and release. He couldn't get back up to find them, so he was forced to tuck tail and come back to camp. For the rest of the trip, he borrowed a release from Slevy and made use of a small piece of tubing stuffed in his pack to hold his arrows. Necessity is the mother of invention!

That evening Mark got a crack at a fork horn. Instead of coming up one of the trails on either side of him, it came right up a steep clay-faced cliff and topped the hill right in his lap! Mark was pinned and couldn't draw his bow. The buck finally spooked when it was three feet away! He could have reached out and touched it!!! The buck ran out to about 40 yards and stopped. No time for a range finder, so Mark estimaged the distance at about 45, drew, settled, and released. He watched the arrow sail harmlessly 2 inches over the buck's back! Awesome experience, but no meat in the coolers!

In the meantime, Slevy and Smidge had a good outting too. They sneaked on a nice 5x5, but couldn't manage a crack at him. Just as they were about to head back to camp, a small 5x5 elk came in to a nearby wallow. It thrashed around and made one heck of a ruckus! Unfortunately, it was too dark to get any pics, but it was a very neat experience none-the-less.

Day 2 was in the books. Soooo close, but no dice for anyone in camp.

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Anyone out there reading this? Not sure if my writing stinks this year, if muleys aren't as exciting as elk, or what the scoop is... Feel free to reply, ask questions, comment, whatever!

Day 3

Thurs found Gabe and Jake at their "special spot" (insert joke here!) Once again they found deer to sneak. The buck below bedded down close to where this pic was taken.


However, before Gabe left to put a sneak on, this fella wondered by.


This was a different bull than the 6x7 that you previously saw. In fact, he was bigger and wider, with really nice whale tails- a rock solid 330+ bull.

Eventually the bull ambled by and Gabe put a sneak on the buck he had spotted. While he did this, Jake was diligently searching for other deer and making sure Gabe's buck hadn't moved.


For the record, Jake hunted hard and the pic above is just a funny cheap shot. He hunted all day every day from before sun up to after sun down for a week straight. ... and, the sleepy-nap-time pics of him are actually from a trip he took with Gabe a year or two ago. I'm just funnin' with him! grin

After a long and slow sneak, Gabe got up on the buck, but found that even though he knew he was close to the bedded buck, he couldn't spot him. He sat tight for a while, but couldn't locate him even though he knew he was within 30 yards of it. Eventually he got impatient and tried to get the buck to stand up- he bleated, whistled, and threw rocks, but the buck wouldn't stand up. Finally, the big boy took off like a rocket, never presenting a shot. Bummer!

I went out with Briggs and Mort to some public land that butts up to private land. This was the general area that I saw the bucks the night before. In a nutshell, we struggled. I tried to tell Briggs about a little saddle that I'd seen several deer move through the night before, but my description wasn't clear enough and he sat in a spot about 150 yards away. Accordingly, I saw a buck go right through the area I had tried to explain to him...

BTW, I haven't shown a pic of Mort (aka. Mark) yet. I didn't get an in field shot, but here's a pic of him at camp one evening.


Jake (aka. Smidge), seen below, had another tough day. This was the day we dubbed him "Black Cloud". All he seemed to find were does and fawns. He saw a few deer this morning, but once again they were all slick tops.


Slevy found out a couple weeks prior to the trip that he had to go back to Minot to play in a golf tournament this day. To say he wasn't excited about it would be an understatement. So... under normal circumstances his day would have been fun (golf, beer, good people), but he considered it a total bust. Can't say I blame him.

The evening was much the same- we generally struggled. No sneaks were made this evening and we didn't see anything of major significance.

Another day bites the dust! Only two days left to hunt for most of us and we didn't have a lot of optimism. Mood was generally good in camp, be everyone was aware of the fact that we were really struggling and couldn't seem to get in a position to have everything work out like we needed to. The next two days would prove to be our most active, opportunity filled though...

Next report will come on Mon. Have a great weekend!!!

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A great read Scoot! Looks like you should have had some elk tags. grin

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Looking forward to the rest of the story Scoot. I've been looking at hunting ND the last couple years but haven't committed to it yet. This year I'll be in the Montana Missouri River Breaks area starting the 26th to chase elk.

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A great read Scoot! Looks like you should have had some elk tags. grin

I wish!!! ND elk tags are dang tough to come by. It's a once in a lifetime draw and the odds are not good. I'll keep tryin' though!

Cheetah- I'll be applying for a Breaks tag next year, I think. My first app will be for WY, then MT Breaks. If neither of them pan out, I'll be looking at a low likelihood draw in NM. I've also got some irons in the fire for CO and ID. CO and ID are OTC, so if all goes well I'll definitely be able to hunt elk somewhere! Are you bow hunting out there? A guy I know from our archery club is headed out there next week.

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Wow! with the temps out that way, you better pack alot of h2O!

Great read so far, again, Scoot. Good luck this week-end & I'll also be looking for a great finish to this hunt. About ten years ago, I saw a giant 4X4 muley come up out of a riverbed in Eastern Montana on a ranch we were hunting. That was breath taking! He stopped and looked back at us as though he knew that we had only doe tags! He was definitely a wall-hanger, high & sooo wide! shocked

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You're killing us man. Get the Paul Harvey part up there.

...and now, the rest of the story. grin

Day 4

This was a weird day for us. I forgot to mention that Briggs hadn't been feeling too well for about a day and a half. Mid-day yesterday he'd finally had enough- he felt terrible and looked even worse (sorry Briggs, but it's true!) He called his parents in Fargo and asked if one of them could come get him. This was silly, I thought- almost 12 hours of driving for them round trip. I drove him out, so I decided to drive him home. However, Jake had been hunting since Fri and he wanted to get home anyway. So... Jake took Briggs home early. At the time, we had no idea just how sick Briggs was- he ended up to be diagnosed with viral menengitis. Serious stuff that had really taken the wind out of his sails. Good thing he went home when he did.

I hunted with Gabe this morning. We saw a few deer and a number of elk, but nothing presented itself with a crack at making a sneak. Here's a shot of Gabe diligently trying to sniff out a big ol' muley.


...and here's a couple shots of the area we hunted.



Mort and Smidge sat in the same general area, but didn't see too much in the morning.

Slevy showed up at about 11:00, just as it started to rain. He quickly got his gear on and I knew he was going to go out and still hunt (he loves to do this in the rain). I waited for him to poke his head in the tent, so I could say "Can I come with?", but instead, he hopped in his vehicle and took off. He returned a few hours later, telling us about the nice 8 pt whitetail he missed. He saw the rack on the other side of a small bush. He sneaked to inside of 50 yards and continued to inch forward, whenever the buck's head was down. Eventually, he reached the end of his cover and it was "now or never". He ranged the deer- 42 yards, drew back, and let the arrow go. Right over the buck's back! The buck wheeled, and tore off, never to be seen again (at least by Slevy).

After Gabe and I left for the evening sit, Smidge went to some hills near our camp. He quickly spotted seven bucks bedded down in a pretty sneakable spot. Slevy got back and the two of them put a sneak on together. After a long and slow sneak and a 50 yard belly crawl, they got in pefect position. Slevy ran the range finder and Smidge readied an arrow. They rose up and Slevy ranged the largest buck- a 25" 5x5. He softly said 44 yards to Smidge. He steadied his pin and let it go. Slevy said the arrow flight looked perfect. The buck popped onto it's feet and bounded off. Both thought it was a good shot. Unfortunately, when they got up to the buck's bed, they found Smidge's arrow squarely in the middle of the bed, without a hint of blood on it. As far as they can tell, the buck jumped up to it's feet just before the arrow landed! Terrible luck, but one heck of a cool experience for them.

Gabe, Mark, and I all had pretty quiet evenings. We saw a few deer, but nothing too close.

Tomorrow is the last day of the hunt. It was a pretty crazy day! I've got some good pics for tomorrow's post and the ending is one that I've never experienced in my 26 years of bowhunting...

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and the ending is one that I've never experienced in my 26 years of bowhunting...

Way to make sure we check back tomorrow.

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...but if you say the ending is sweet i trust you

Well... I didn't say the ending was sweet, I just said I'd never experienced it in 26 years of bowhunting. whistle

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