By Dana R. Rogers
They say attitude is everything, and I try hard to keep a positive attitude and stay upbeat as much as possible. Lord knows everyone has enough problems of their own, and life seems to go much better when we focus on all the blessings and positive things we have in our lives.
With regard to our love of the outdoors and time afield, it’s supposed to be about fun and enjoyment. It’s also time well spent in reflection, communing with God in His great creation, or it can simply be time spent alone or with family and friends, enjoying a respite from the daily grind of life’s burdens.
I was extremely blessed to have the good fortune of cramming in nearly 30 days afield during the fall of 2016. However, the venison take for me was quite minimal this year for a variety of reasons.
The season started off wonderfully by mentoring a youngster and videoing him take his very first whitetail after three days of patiently waiting and asking lots of questions. The boy’s father doesn’t hunt, but his grandfather does. Listening to his stories and inquisitive thirst for deer knowledge was refreshing and helped ground my own mindset.
Later that month I arrowed a beautiful doe and felt poised for a great season with upcoming hunts planned in Illinois and Iowa, as well as many in eastern and western South Dakota. Little did I know, though, that God had other plans. I started off my string of relative disappointment by woefully executing shots on a doe and beautiful mature buck. Missing those two deer really shook my shooting confidence, even though I knew what I’d done wrong.
My standard routine of level, settle and squeeze through the pull of the breaking shot was lost in mad scrambles in unfamiliar treestands that I had failed to set up properly for the shots presented. My video confirmed my errors, as neither deer had ducked to load and launch. No, I’d simply screwed the pooch. In other words, my opportunities in Illinois and Iowa hadn’t yielded the hoped-for results.
Planning over two full weeks of leave back home in South Dakota is always my annual dream destination, but this year was different. As you all know, central South Dakota was absolutely hammered in many areas with epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD), and the results were weighing on my mind.
September and October discussions with friends, neighbors and other local ranchers and hunters had brought disappointing news. Over 70 carcasses had already been discovered and reported from this disease within just a few miles of our homestead. Still, it was home and where I had put in all the time, effort and expense of management over the past decade.
I had found six carcasses during the opening weekend of pheasant season, including one gorgeous 5×5 I knew well. The trail cameras showed a handful of survivors, so I had guarded optimism that some were still alive and that the impending grain harvest and hunting pressure on neighboring properties would yield a few travelers looking for food and safety.
The November rut came and went, and I continued to see a handful of very young bucks and a handful of does and fawns. If I was just looking for meat, I could have certainly loosed a few arrows to fill the freezer. However, with what I estimated to be at least a 60 percent loss to EHD in our local area, I’d long since decided this wasn’t the year to kill any does.
There were a few bright spots though. On opening weekend of the rifle season I got trail camera pictures of two very nice mature bucks that piqued my interest and were certainly mature enough to hunt under my self-imposed management philosophy.
Just as those bucks moved into our hunting area, they also left in search of does and excursions to new properties. A neighbor to the west took one, and a few days later a neighbor’s soon-to-be son-in-law took the other on their respective properties. I’m always curious and interested in movement patterns and particular deer, so I quickly sent both hunters a few trail camera pictures to share in their success and excitement.
I was very happy for their success, but I was also personally disappointed the only two mature survivors I had on camera had been removed from the landscape. Such is small property hunting in limited habitat.
I gave my Dad’s place another week and still had very minimal sightings and only a few bucks on trail camera. I finally had a decent opportunity at a 3.5-year-old 5×4, but knowing he may well be the oldest buck alive on the farm, I made the decision to pass in hopes he’d make it another year or two and to finish the duties he had with the waning rut.
Pulling chalks and heading West River, I made a few stalks and sits in the Black Hills and in a few places in prairie breaks country. One stalk in particular on a good 4×4 muley yielded a great morning.
I glassed him up from half a mile away and made a wide loop behind his bedded position. I crawled in the fresh snow to 40 yards and waited for him to stand. I had been blessed with great conditions and was set to execute the shot. An hour later my legs were frozen and asleep.
Mercifully, two does and a yearling buck got up to feed and noticed my ugly form. They came closer to investigate and moved broadside. My heart raced in anticipation of the older buck doing the same.
Of course, it was not to be, and he erupted from his bed and stotted off another 80 yards to look back and mock me. Kneeling there half numb and frozen with just my Hoyt in hand, I had to smile.
My trail cameras back on the homestead finally showed a couple mature bucks that had survived the predators, EHD and rifle seasons, but I was never able to close the deal and notch an archery tag at home during the late season.
In reflection, it would’ve been easy to lament the 2016 archery season, but then I would have only been focusing on the perceived negatives.
In reality, I had a ton of fun. As mentioned, it started with spending time with a youngster named Alex and being with him to see his genuine thrill and exuberance during his successful hunt. I had the pleasure of renewing old friendships in Iowa, going over habitat management plans, stand placement and making bigger plans for the future. At home here South Dakota, I was able to see many old friends, family and was blessed to experience all the wonderful sunrises, sunsets, sights, sounds and smells that always bring me back to my youth.
The thrill of hearing a flushing rooster at my feet, watching young bucks spar and experiencing the vicarious joy of seeing several friends and neighbors enjoy their own success rounded out my fall seasons. After all, hunting should never been about just killing an animal. It’s a culmination of all the experiences we place in our memory bank so that we can relive and smile about the highlights all over again.
This year I was extremely blessed to make many wonderful memories with friends and family. I also got plenty of soulful reflection alone in the splendor of God’s creation, and for that I am eternally thankful.
As always when afield, respect the land, respect the landowner and respect the wildlife.
About the Author: Deer columnist Dana R. Rogers grew up in central South Dakota before joining the U.S. Air Force. He can be reached with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.