Over the years we’ve posted many a story from the Heartland Bowhunter team about their early September successes in North Dakota (including just a few weeks ago), and every time I post these stories I dream about someday going on a trip out there too. Well Wired To Hunt reader Travis Lange beat me to the punch and the result was his first velvet buck! Check out Travis’ story below and please join me in giving him a big congrats! – MK
By Travis Lange
As a resident of Minnesota, where the archery season opens in the middle of September, I knew my chances of ever harvesting a velvet buck were slim to none. That said, I’m a big fan of Heartland Bowhunter and have been following their show and success stories over the past four to five years. Every year, they travel to North Dakota to start their season off chasing velvet bucks. Last winter, I called my favorite hunting buddy and told him I wanted to try North Dakota for early season archery.
My friend and I have been traveling to Nebraska together for the past three years hunting public land, and have had having fairly good success. Last fall, after two summers dealing with EHD, the hunting was not very good. We decided on our drive home that we would let Nebraska recover for a couple years before going back. When I called him last winter and mentioned North Dakota, he was all in. One of my old college roommates from North Dakota State University, still lives and farms in North Dakota, so I gave him a call and asked him if he had any places to hunt and if he would be willing to help us out. Not only did he have places for us to hunt, but he even had a hunting shack for us to stay in.
In mid-August, we ventured out to central North Dakota to do some scouting and see exactly what we were getting ourselves in to. We set up a bunch of trail cameras in potential hunting locations and did some evening glassing. Being from Southeastern Minnesota, hunting river valleys and large tracts of timber, the lack of trees had us a little concerned. But we were continually reassured that the deer were there. A week after we got home from our scouting trip, my roommate sent us some trail camera photos. The photos revealed that the deer were in fact in the area, and also revealed some really nice bucks. For the next three weeks, the photos continued and the bucks kept showing up. The archery season in North Dakota opens the Friday before Labor Day. Since two of the three hunters had daughters starting kindergarten the day after Labor Day, we left for North Dakota on Thursday, September 4, 2014. We would have four nights to hunt (we didn’t hunt mornings because it was impossible to get in without busting everything out).
The first night was really windy and cold for that time of year. Not much was moving, but I did see two small eight point bucks feeding on the beans out in front of my blind. One still had velvet, the other did not. They weren’t the bucks we were after, but seeing a buck in velvet while hunting got me really excited! As the sun set, the rain started falling and I figured since those two bucks left the bean field, it was probably time to crawl out of the blind and head back to the truck. I stepped out of the blind, put my pack on, picked up my bow and started heading up the trail. As I crested the hill, a nice buck was on the horizon watching me walk out. He took off in the direction he came from, but didn’t blow out when he left. This was lesson #1 of the trip. I was so used to hunting out of a tree stand that I didn’t realize that while sitting in a blind it appears much darker than it actually is. I made a mental note to be sure and sit at least ten minutes longer the next night.
The next evening, the weather was much better and it was a gorgeous night in the blind. Right at dusk, one of the big bucks we had on camera entered the bean field off to my left. As he slipped into the beans, I clicked on my release and got ready for a shot. Thinking he was going to take the trail to my left, I focused my attention in that direction. After not seeing him, I slowly turned to my right and he was standing out in front of me, approximately 30 yards, looking right at me. He didn’t waste any time and took off. This was lesson #2 of the trip. Again, being used to hunting in tree stands, I had camo clothing on that was a little lighter in color and I think he could actually see me in the blind with the black backdrop of the blind.
The third night of our hunt, the weather was nice and the wind was calm. After two valuable lessons, the two nights before, I brought with me a black hat, a black t-shirt and put on black face paint. As the sun began to set and the temperature dropped, I noticed two bucks in the bean field approximately 350 yards out. I didn’t think there was any chance they would make it over by me before dark so I focused my attention on the area where the big buck came in the night before. With minutes to spare of shooting light left, the two bucks had picked up a third buck and were all 40 yards to my right coming my way. One of the bucks entered a small brush patch to my right and proceeded to shed his velvet. He was down in a low spot so I couldn’t see him, but I could see the tops of the bushes moving and it sounded almost like two bucks sparring. I had never witnessed anything like that before. While this was happening, the lead buck made his way past my blind. As he walked past, I could tell that he was a decent 8 point buck and I recognized him from the trail camera photos because of his splayed brow tines. Knowing we only had one more night to hunt, I decided if he went down the trail to my left, I would take the shot. He did and I sent a rage tipped VAP 300 through his vitals. He only went about 20 yards and expired.
I couldn’t believe it, I had just taken a velvet buck on my first trip to North Dakota!!! I had never had my hands on a velvet rack before, and that’s a feeling I hope I have again someday. I learned that hunting out of a ground blind has unique circumstances that require a different thought process than hunting out of a tree stand. Having recognized those lessons the previous nights, put me in a situation where I could be successful. After the experience we had and the hospitality that was granted to us, I sure hope we can make this an annual trip to North Dakota! Now it’s time to try and fill my tag in Minnesota!
Key To Success: I would say my single biggest key to success was patience. It’s so hard to sit that extra five minutes as the light starts to play with your eyes and you are constantly checking your sight pins to see if you can still make a shot. But because I sat those extra five minutes, I was able to harvest my first velvet buck.
– Travis Lange
When you get your buck this fall, be sure to send in your story to be featured on the blog and maybe even on The Wired To Hunt Podcast! More details here …