Volume: 16 | Back to issueSubscribe Now
feature By: Cole Frenzel | March, 18
The weather report for the second day of North Dakota’s 2017 archery deer season was calling for winds gusting up to 40 mph and extreme heat in the mid 90s. This would make ideal stalking conditions because a lot of deer would be using shade as a trump card over the wind, making themselves more vulnerable, rather than normally keeping the wind at their backs and being able to see what is in front of them.
I spotted the buck I called “Deuce” coming off a field it used for feeding, and this time I watched it bed down on the side of a steep cliff with the wind in its face and the sun at its back. I had learned from past experiences with mule deer that as soon as that sun would get a little higher, and the day would get hotter, this buck would more than likely move to shade or otherwise try to stay out of the sun. There was a small patch of cedar trees about 150 yards in front of the buck, and I thought it might try to sneak into that timbered pocket in order to get some shade. I figured I had better make my way to where the deer was bedded, and close the 1,000-yard gap between us before it got up and walked out of my life for the second day in a row.
When I was within 150 yards from where Deuce and another other buck were bedded, I removed by boots, took a good, long drink of water from my pack and started inching my way in. I had a very strong 30-mph wind in my face, with heavy gusts reaching up to 40 mph, and the sun was at my back. I was on top of the highest point of the hill, and it flattened out like a tabletop for a good 40 yards until the edge of it fell off in a steep cliff. Twenty yards straight below that cliff was where the bucks were bedded.
After some amount of time crawling and inching my way to the edge of the cliff, being careful not to knock around loose rock or cast a shadow onto these deer, I finally was in position. Deuce was right under me! Its head was up and I could only see the tips of its horns. The smaller buck was to the right, sleeping with its face and antlers in the dirt. The bucks were shaded by this huge, steep cliff. More than an hour went by, and neither of them had moved more than their heads while dozing. Finally, the smaller buck stood up.
I ranged it to get a good gauge of the true yardage because the shot would be straight down; my rangefinder indicated that I needed to shoot for seven yards! The smaller buck moved past the other and rebedded off to the left. Deuce had his head up the entire time, and I kept thinking sooner or later it was going to stand up, and I would be able to see its entire body and release an arrow!
Another hour went by and Deuce had still not moved, the wind was howling and my legs were starting to get tired, as I was fighting against my legs falling asleep and trying to move ever so slightly in order to find comfort again, but being careful not to make my presence known to the bucks. After a total of about three hours passed, the wind was absolutely howling and I had made up my mind I was going to pick up a rock, loft it out in front of the bucks a good 40 yards, then draw my bow and get ready to release an arrow when Deuce would finally stand.
I am normally not a fan of forcing things to happen, but for some reason I had a feeling if the bucks stood stood up and walked straight away from me, heading for the cedars, I would not be able to get a shot opportunity.
I took a step backward to make sure I was out of sight from the deer, lofted the rock 40 yards in front of them and drew back my bow, but nothing happened. The deer didn’t even hear the rock land in the grass because it was so windy! I gathered my thoughts and decided I would try it again. This time I threw another rock a touch closer, and it worked perfectly! Deuce stood up, looking toward where the rock had landed. It worked! I was at full draw and aiming straight downhill – as steep a shot I have ever attempted. I could see the buck’s entire vitals, I took a half-step forward while holding my full-draw position and touched my release. Clank! Unfortunately the arrow hit a rock and skipped into the air. This tiny rock on this tiny ledge the buck was laying under caused a clean miss.
Devastation immediately crept over my whole body as I watched the big buck run out to the front of the cedar trees where it stopped, stood there and looked in my direction. Not a sign of blood or even a scratch from my arrow. The deer slowly walked into the cedars and disappeared as if nothing had happened.
The only positive that came from this situation was that the buck was not spooked at all; it did not know what had really happened and never was able to get a good eye on me. It simply walked slowly into the cedars and disappeared. Ten minutes later I watched it and the smaller buck walk out of those cedars and over the hill. I tried to get another vantage point and glass the bucks up again but was unsuccessful that afternoon.
The very next day we found the buck, and now it was Andy’s turn. Andy is one of my good hunting buddies, and we both had found this deer while out scouting. Andy had the buck at 37 yards, but when he drew his bow the buck busted and his arrow just missed.
It took four days to find the buck again, and I watched it bed down and immediately made my way toward it. I was 40 yards away and perfectly downwind. As the sun moved, the deer would follow the shade, twice standing up and rebedding to keep itself in the shade. Each time I would make it to full draw, but somehow I was unlucky and never had an opportunity at its vitals. We did this for more than four hours until the deer finally stood up and made its way straight down a canyon right into the deep creek bottom full of shade and possibly a little water, disappearing in the tall grass and overhanging trees.
After sitting there another hour and not seeing it come out, I decided it bedded in tight for good. I backed out, grabbed food and water, and inched my way back that evening, hoping the deer would stand up to feed and present a shot opportunity. About three hours before dark, I snuck up to the top of the cliff above where the buck was bedded, with the creek bottom 60 yards below me. I carefully started glassing. After 20 minutes or so, I had not seen it. With my naked eye I caught the glimpse of an antler moving and put up my binocular to look. It was 350 yards away, bedded on the side of a different hill and staring right at me.
I carefully crawled back and over the hill in a different area, using a juniper tree as cover to glass. The buck had thought it was hidden, but after 10 minutes or so it stood up, walked back down to the creek, followed it into a drainage that connected with it, made its way 50 yards in and bedded down. After watching this whole thing, I made my way over there and was set up and in position within 45 minutes.
This buck, however, knew something was up as it seemed very on edge, and I don’t blame the buck considering we had bumped it around for the past week and flung two different arrows at it. Eventually the deer was too uneasy and would stand up, look around and even looked back to where it must have seen me laying on that edge glassing. I was 100 yards away and had the sun at my back as it was on its way down within the next hour or so.
This buck had no idea where I was, and for whatever reason decided to stand up and walk directly back to where it was bedded on the hill, except this time it walked over that hill through a saddle and disappeared. As soon as the deer went over the saddle, me being in my socks while stalking, I started running to catch up and hopefully get a vantage point to see if it was going to feed or rebed. I used sagebrush for cover and came over the horizon to start glassing, but could not see the buck anywhere. No deer, anywhere, period.
I crept to the south, thinking maybe it walked that way and I just could not see it. I made my way carefully back up to the north, following the ridgeline but never sky-lining myself, and popped over to glass where cover allowed. I had made it to the end of the ridge, and it was a straight, steep drop all the way down to the creek bottom – still no deer. Below me was a lot of sage, tall grass and trees along the river in one particular spot, and I had ranged it at 60 yards, but the rangefinder indicated a hold of 35 yards due to angle. I figured this buck absolutely had to be in this brush, but I just could not see it. There was probably 40 minutes of legal shooting light left, so I knew I did not have a lot of time. I decided to try throwing a rock once again.
I tossed a large rock straight down into the brush below, and sure enough, out busted Deuce! The buck was startled but did not know what had happened. It jumped up and took maybe one or two bounds, and I made a soft fawn noise with my mouth. The buck stopped on a dime and presented a hard quartering-away shot. I steadied my pin and touched the release.
Thwack! Perfect arrow, right on the inside of the back left hindquarter and out the front of the right shoulder! My arrow was hanging out to the fletching, so I knew I had a great pass-through; the buck walked 50 yards, acted almost gut shot, and hunched over until it disappeared slowly into the creek bottom. I sat up there glassing until dark and didn’t see any sign of movement. I figured it to be a good, lethal shot and did not want to risk bumping the deer, so decided on returning first thing the following morning. Sure enough, the next day there it was, a true North Dakota buck of a lifetime with a gross score of 195 3/8.
2016 North Dakota
(35 inches wide; gross score
208 0/8, net score 196 3/8)
I inched my way to within 130 yards and removed my boots after being certain of exactly which juniper tree this jumbo mule deer was bedded under. It was bedded with its rear end facing me, and was sleeping. I crawled to within 30 yards undetected. The clay in the drainage was extremely quiet and played a huge factor. I could hear the buck snoring! I was at the bottom of a clay knob and stayed below the horizon. The buck was slightly elevated from where I was hiding, and I had a juniper tree directly behind me, which I hoped would break up my outline, aid in helping me draw back my bow and disguise any movement I might make.
Eventually, the buck lifted its head and looked around. I literally could not believe the pure massiveness of its antlers. It almost did not look real to me. The buck finally stood up and raked its giant velvet antlers against the trees a few times but did not present me with a good chance at its vitals. The deer then tucked even tighter under the juniper, moving slightly farther away and following the shade from the sun.
The way it was bedded, its butt end was facing me and I could see its right shoulder, but there was some brush in the way. I thought hard about attempting to slip an arrow through the brush but decided not to. An hour went by and the deer picked its head up again. I was cautious not to always be looking at it, because to look at the buck would have required poking my head over the clay horizon, so I would peak about every 30 seconds, the whole time resting on my knees.
I had ranged everything around the deer so knew how far everything was from my position. I do not know what happened, but sometime in the 30 seconds while not looking at the deer, the wind could have swirled or the deer may have spotted me moving my head down. Or maybe it was just that sixth sense mature bucks have. Whatever it was, the next time I peaked over the horizon the deer was out of its bed and had taken two steps toward me and was staring directly at me with its nose below its body. Its enormous antlers were almost impossible not to notice. Busted! I thought to myself. Dang it! How the heck did he spot me? All the hard work I had put in over the last several years, and countless hours of glassing and shooting, and the buck had me! I did not move a muscle, nor did I make eye contact with the deer. My father, Doug, who instilled in me the true passion for the outdoors, always told me the same. So I did not dare make eye contact.
After what seemed to be the longest several minutes of my life, and as my legs were basically falling asleep, I had passed this buck’s examination. I couldn’t believe it! It turned calmly and started grazing directly away from me! I immediately pulled my bow back and knew the deer was 32 yards away. The buck saw the movement and snapped its giant rack back to look at me. It couldn’t tell what it was due to the juniper behind me blowing in the wind and breaking up my outline. The deer then turned its entire body to get a better look at me and gave me the perfect quartering-away shot.
I touched the string release and watched my arrow disappear exactly where I wanted it to! I knew that very second I had just put a fatal arrow through one of the biggest mule deer, if not the biggest mule deer, I had ever had the opportunity to hunt.
2016 North Dakota Rifle Buck
After waiting more than 10 years to be awarded a North Dakota rifle season mule deer buck tag in 2016, I had finally drawn. North Dakota residents are allowed to apply for a rifle tag through a lottery system, but they still are allowed to purchase a bow tag over the counter. So in 2016 I had two North Dakota tags in my pocket, and Brady, one of my good hunting buddies, offered his eyes to help fill one of the tags.
We covered a lot of ground both on our boots and from the pickup, sorting through quite a few decent deer, but still had not found the right mature buck. On the fifth evening of the season, while sitting on a hill glassing, I had seen a group of about 10 does walk out of the draw and into an open sage flat to feed.
A little spike buck was pushing them around. I figured there had to be another buck with that group, and hopefully it a was mature buck. There was about an hour of daylight left when I finally caught the glimpse of a big, deep chocolate-colored back fork making its way through the draw to meet up with the does.
I quickly grabbed my rifle and made my way toward them while keeping the wind good and staying out of sight. I got within 200 yards and was able to make a great shot with my .300 Remington Ultra Mag, putting an end to my 2016 North Dakota rifle season with one heck of an old buck. It scored out at 189 5/8 and only had four teeth left in its mouth.
Hunting mule deer is one of my greatest passions in life. I have been very fortunate to share many hunts with family, including my father, Doug, my uncle Chad, both of my grandfathers and brother, brother-in-laws, my cousin Kirk and close friends. All the time spent hunting year after year with these guys has taught me countless tips and tactics on how to become a successful hunter. We have shared many outdoor adventures together, and I am grateful for all of them.