Note: One of the greatest disappointments of my hunting career is not having hunted out on the Milk River for the last 3 years. Miss everything about it—the sights, sounds and smells of the river; the intense on-the-ground bow action; the camaraderie with my dear friends, Luke and Eliot Strommen. Man we had fun and filmed some awesome TV shows and shot some fine bucks out there the last 10 years, before most of the deer died. Luke sent me this blog, and all the good times and memories came flooding back…
Mike: I had been hunting an area along the river for about two weeks, from a pair of new tree stands that I had put up back in August and September. Seeing some deer was good medicine for me. I have missed it since the 2010-2011 die-off, caused by the perfect storm of record-breaking snow and spring flooding, followed by a massive EHD outbreak the following summer where we lost 97% of the whitetails in my area. Almost unbelievably, we have had touches of EHD in 2012 and 13 as well, making it even more difficult for the deer to make a comeback. We are still a long way from our pre-2011 population…maybe decades before they come back. But just seeing some bucks again helps a bowhunter to cope. I hadn’t shot a deer with my bow since 2010.
November 7th found me sitting in a stand I had been trying to hunt all season. The wind was finally right, and I was excited. After getting into my warmer clothes that I had packed in on my back, I settled in for the 10 degree temperatures. I passed several small bucks—one came by and sniffed the ladder on my stand. I finally couldn’t hold back any longer and let an arrow loose from my Bear Kodiak. It was a fat doe, and a good hit. After a bit I got down to take care of her. As I pulled her from the woods to a nearby field, I saw a rutting buck cut across the field 150 yards in front of me. He ducked into the same patch I had just been hunting. I grabbed my gear and ran into the woods, hoping to cut him off.
I hustled to a spot beside a cottonwood tree. The wind was still perfect, and I saw him walking away. I floated a few grunts and doe bleats. He turned and came back in—to ONE YARD! Seriously, I could have poked him with my arrow, which was nocked and ready to go.
I couldn’t get a shot off of course, but I was ready when he spooked. He stopped to look back at me and I sent an arrow on the way. My first thought was, “Too far back…” But he was quartering away pretty hard. I gave it some time and then went and looked for blood. There was lots of it, but then the trail went long. Mike, I was sick. It was getting dark, and I was worried about the river. I had no choice but to back off and wait until tomorrow.
(Hanback note: Out on the Milk, bucks can go on a death run and fall in the river and float away. I had a good buck do that once. After hours of searching, we found him floating a half-mile away from where we had lost the blood trail.)
With help from a good friend, Mark Jackson, and his trusty lab, Griz, we found the end of the blood trail–going into the river. Argh! My worst fear at this point. But I wouldn’t give up. No way. I finally found him caught up in a log jam several miles downriver! I was able to rope him in from the shore, on my 6th try. I had to toss the loop just behind his head and let the current take it around his rack as the loop sank. That bank was steep and frozen close to the water. There was no digging in your heels and the buck was heavy. It was a chore, but we got him.
Pure luck, but my prayers had been answered. With some help from another great friend, Don Fast, we were able to shore him up and I finally put my hands on him. I think he would have sunk in 12 more hours. He had already started to roll and was nearly under the log jam.
It was a pretty special and emotional time for me. My girls were with me when I got him. The spot where I found the buck was special as well. I killed my first deer in nearly that exact spot, with a recurve nearly 24 years ago. I also killed my first longbow buck right there in 2007. And Mike, we found one of your bucks in the river just around the corner, hung up on a sand bar…remember that?
I can’t help but feel a little guilty. Our deer population is still way down. On the flip side, I had finally begun to see a few deer…and I hadn’t taken a deer from there for 3 years. I don’t know. I do know that the hunt and the kill fed my soul…and now my wife might be able to put up with me for a while longer.—Thanks, your friend Luke
Postscript: Thanks for the story and memories, buddy…I can see that spot in the timber along the river now…I’ll never forget finding my buck in the river and wading out into the cold, muddy water to get him…every time we post a blog from Luke, one of the best traditional hunters in the country, guys want to know his equipment…Luke’s setup for that hunt was a Bear Kodiak (new production of the 1959 Kodiak) at 60# and 60″…cedar arrows and 145-grain STOS broadheads.