ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- It was the afternoon of Nov. 4 during the 2019 archery season in North Dakota, and I was moving slowly through the open timber toward the tip of a big oxbow with the wind in my face.
I had hunted this same area two weeks prior and had an encounter with a great buck. He held up in a strip of thicker vegetation while the does and smaller buck he was with fed across the road in an alfalfa field. My goal on this November hunt was to set up in my saddle within shooting distance of that thicker cover in case another buck wanted to stage there until last light.
As I got close, I noticed a couple of fresh rubs on a well-used trail that led from bedding toward the tip of that oxbow through the thicker cover. I wasn’t settled in the tree for half an hour before I noticed a buck working his way toward me.
It wasn’t a huge buck, but it was a decent-sized 9-pointer. He tore up a scrape and raked a tree with his antlers as does browsed their way through the timber to his left.
My heart was racing at this point, and that made my decision for me. If I got a good shot, I was going to take it. He made a slow walk to within 25 yards, bristled up trying to impress those does, when my arrow hit perfectly right above the heart. He ran about 20 yards, stopped for a second and it was all over.
That’s November in a nutshell. You never know what you might see, but you know there’s potential for something special to happen.
Maybe a buck runs a doe past your stand too fast to react. Maybe, as in this case, you watch for minutes that feel like hours with anticipation building. From there it’s talking yourself through it -- settle down, go through your shot process, take your time.
November is what we live for as whitetail fanatics, and it’s here. With my buck tag already punched in Minnesota this year, I have plans to pursue the rut on trips out of state. I will have columns with as much video as I can get with my phone breaking down what I’m seeing in the coming weeks from North Dakota and a public-land hunt in Missouri.
Here is how I plan on attacking my hunts in both states.
Find the areas of high deer densities
The hunt described at the beginning of this column is not centered around a pinch point that helped me intersect a cruising buck.
Instead, the whole setup was dictated on figuring out where the highest number of deer were at. That sounds like common sense, but it was stressful deciding on this spot because I kept wanting to jump back into one of those pinch points.
There are no funnels on this oxbow. It’s almost 500 yards wide where I set up, but I needed to be there because that’s where the does were. My best guess at figuring out where a buck might come through was being within shooting distance downwind of that thicker cover near fresh sign where I thought a buck might stick close to.
The funnels along the river where I had hunted the year before had recently been under water due to fall flooding. I sat in a pinch point during my first sit last November and didn’t see a thing because all the bedding along the river was a frozen wasteland.
As I was sitting in the stand that morning thinking about my next move, it was all about where I thought the does might be. I had seen between 20-30 deer, mostly does, on that hunt in mid-October within that oxbow. That made my decision for me.
Yes, there was a good chance a buck might elude me by sitting in such wide-open timber, but I needed to be where the does were at that exact time.
This November with river levels much more normal, I will be back on those bottoms looking for funnels, but the exact spots will still be centered around that question. Where are the does at? Just sitting a pinch point in the middle of open timber might not be the ticket even at a time when bucks are traveling further. I want that funnel that is in close proximity between two known bedding areas. Those are the spots I’m targeting in North Dakota.
Going into Missouri blind
This will be a new experience hunting Missouri during the rut.
A close friend and I will be hunting public land that features a lot of hills and creek bottoms that borders private agriculture land.
I’m interested in seeing what kind of other hunting pressure we will run into. I won’t be surprised if the public land is pretty packed during the second week of November, so my plan is to try to get as far off the beaten path as possible. It’s no secret that many people are doing that, but this land features some pretty up-and-down country with steep ridges. That could eliminate a good handful of people. We’ll see.
In studying my onX maps, I am seeing a lot of fingers of timber where the tips of those fingers lead out into private land off of big swaths of public. Those are areas of interest.
One small, 50-acre public piece that requires crossing a river into an oxbow has my attention, and also areas of the big timber where multiple ridges dump down into a bottom. These generally have good deer traffic, and while they are hard to hunt due to wind swirl, they are definitely areas I am going to check out in the case I can get a cool, calm morning where thermals might carry my scent up and out of the bottom as the sun starts to rise.