Bucks Locked Down in South Dakota

I hung up the out-of-office sign late last week and met up with my friend Neil Davies for a quick deer hunt on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Davies serves as the marketing manager for Hornady and he wanted to put the company's new American Whitetail line of ammunition to the test on some brawny South Dakota deer. I was on a tight deadline both professionally and personally (I had promised my girlfriend I'd be back for her birthday Saturday), and was counting on Davies' assurance that the deer would cooperate.

What neither he nor I took into account was the affect this year's EHD outbreak would have on the area's deer populations. Davies has hunted the reservation for the past several years, and he and guide Travis Brave Bird noted seeing far fewer deer than in previous years. Despite spending Thursday afternoon glassing the wide expanses of the Badlands, none of us so much as saw the fleeting flash of a white
tail, though mule deer does, fawns and small bucks were in abundance.

We spent Friday in more typical whitetail country, glassing the pine-studded ridges and pushing the coulees near Kyle. Altogether we saw probably less than 20 deer, 6 or 7 of which were mature bucks. Of those, four were locked up with lone does, bedded in thick cover. Early in the afternoon, Brave Bird bumped a buck from its hide, but the buck didn't move far, bedding right back down in the same patch of buckbrush. Only after we jumped the buck while moving in for a shot did the unseen doe stand and run.

At the end of the day, as were making our way to a final stand, a gnarly old buck crossed the trail in front of us 225 yards away. I muffed the first shot, but the deer didn't so much as flinch. I made the most of the second chance, as well as a third, as the buck fled into the timber. We were sure the shots were fatal, but gave the buck several minutes before we followed its trail. Only then did a single doe show herself, fleeing from her bed in the brush.

My deer (that's me in the green shirt at the top of the page), along with the wide-antlered bachelor buck Davies killed (above) earlier in the day, were incredibly lean, evidence of the effects of the rut. Considering there are relatively few deer in the area, I'd bet these bucks are cruising wide expanses, fighting aggressively and running does hard in the drive to breed. And when one finally gets a doe to stand, they're obviously reluctant to leave her side.