Every year, thousands of eastern hunters head west to chase western game. However, this year I did the opposite and headed east to hunt whitetails. Whitetail hunting happens in nearly every state in the lower 48. However, my home state of Utah has no whitetail hunting. It is one of the very few states that aren’t in the whitetail’s current range. So, earlier this year when several other big game hunting options failed to materialize I decided to pull the trigger on a whitetail hunt with my old man tagging along.
We decided South Dakota was a great state to target whitetails. The open country is more similar to western hunting and the deer population was stable. Long story short, five of us headed east on Nov. 11th for the South Dakota rifle season.
Fourteen hours later found ourselves pulling up to the hunting area. The prior year my old man and his friends had done well in the same area. That evening I fell asleep dreaming about what the next five days would bring.
Day One Whitetails
The first morning found us up and relearning the property lines around the area. Just after daylight, we saw a whitetail buck pushing two does around. To my untrained eye, he looked like a shooter. However, several of the guys hunting with me said we should pass him on the first day. That first morning we ended up seeing twenty-four head of deer. Five of which were bucks, one being the buck described above.
That evening I decided to hike up onto the hill that had quite a bit of juniper, cedars, and willow for bedding cover. I found a nice spot where I could see well, had good cover for me to hide, and was about 150 yards from the property line. I could also see the lower part of the hunting area as well. The first thing I spotted that evening was a great mule deer buck. He had several does around and a few smaller bucks trying to work their way in on his does.
Passing Another Buck
While he was a nice buck, my tag was for whitetails only. However, he kept me entertained for about forty-five minutes. I would glass around a bit and then come back to him. At 4:30 P.M. it was like someone flipped a switch. Suddenly, whitetails were everywhere!
I had a small buck get as close as 30 yards as he walked passed me. Then a “good buck” to me showed up, he then jumped the fence onto the property. I sent a photo of the buck to my old man and he told me to pass. While I was confused at first I did end up passing. Soon after that there were bucks and does moving everywhere. At about 4:50, the young hunter that was hunting with us took a shot at a buck that had moved off to my right. Unfortunately, he shot just under the buck and the evening ended without anyone getting a buck. However, I saw forty-seven deer, and eleven were whitetail bucks.
Second Day Blues
The next morning my father and I decided we’d get sneaky and quietly hike into the property just before daylight. The day was cold and windy, welcome to South Dakota, and not many deer seemed to be moving. That morning for us was mostly a bust. We only saw eight deer, three were small bucks. As we were discussing what we should do next we got a text that the young hunter had taken a buck. So, we decided to sneak out of the area and go check out his buck. He made a great shot and dropped the buck in his tracks.
After taking care of the young hunter’s buck we decided we would check out another piece of property we had access to. I’d like to say it went better than the morning but that would be a lie. All evening long we only saw three deer. One of which was a big-bodied buck that had somehow broken both of his antlers off just below where his eye guards would have been. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t questioning why I passed the two bucks the day before. However, while I was dealing with the second-day blues, the young hunter had killed one in the morning, and the other hunter had missed a buck that evening.
Third Day Success
On the third morning I decided to head for the area I spent the first night. I was hoping to recapture that night’s deer movement. As I was getting ready to head out to my hillside spot, I could see the shapes of two deer out in a cornfield below me. I told the guys I was leaving at the gathering point that I could see deer and was going to move to a good vantage point.
As I got to my spot, I began to inspect the deer below me, I noticed that he looked like a shooter buck. At the same moment, both my father and another guy hunting with us contacted me and told me that the buck I was looking at was a shooter. At that point, I dropped my pack, left the Henry 45-70 with my pack, and moved in with my 7mm. The buck began to move into a shelter belt of trees near the edge of the cornfield. As I worked closer, I saw that the buck was moving to the left. So, I got down and set up for a potential shot.
Two Bucks in One Shelter Belt
I saw the buck two separate times in small shooting windows. However, both times he was moving too quickly or there were tree limbs in the way. Suddenly, another shooter buck came running in front of the trees at full speed. He turned and jumped the fence directly where I had been watching for the other buck. I had a feeling that this buck’s presence was going to push one of the bucks out the right-hand side of the trees.
Because of that thought, I hustled across a dry pond and popped up on the right-hand side of the tree belt. At the edge of the trees, standing between two of them stood one of the bucks. I knew either one was a shooter so I quickly got ready for the shot! Looking through my Vortex Razor scope I settled my crosshairs on the buck and began to squeeze the trigger. About halfway through squeezing the trigger, the buck turned around and started to head back to the left for cover. If I was going to make this shot it would have to be quick… I swung through the deer and got a slight lead and touched off the shot!
I heard the telltale “Whack!” that made me believe I hit the buck. However, he had made it behind the trees and I couldn’t see him anymore. The shot had felt good, but I hustled to the left to see if I could see the buck coming out the other side… Nothing, No movement at all, not even the other buck that was last seen in those trees. I then hustled back to where I had shot the deer.
Confusion After the Shot
As I was crossing the fence, my father and another hunter contacted me. They had been watching and had seen the shot. “We think you missed, the buck didn’t act hit and we saw the dust kick up. We think you shot just low. But we never saw him come out, but we can’t see where he went from here.” However, they were unsure if I had hit him or not, following that comment up with maybe you did hit him. My heart sank… The shot had felt great, and I thought I had heard the hit, I was almost positive I had.
I walked the fence line where I had shot at the deer, no blood that I could see. No tracks, the ground was hard and there was no sign of him. I walked down the fence line for about one hundred and fifty yards. At that point, lots of emotions were running through me. On one hand, I felt like I had hit that deer but there was no evidence on the ground to prove it…
At the end of the fence line, there was a small tight river bottom canyon that the buck could have used to get away undetected. I was torn about whether to walk down it or turn around and go through the thicker part of the trees. All of a sudden, up on the hill I saw two does and a buck, that looked like the one I had shot at. I hustled up the hill and cut them off. However, this buck was not the one I had shot at. He only had 3 points on both sides. And I remembered seeing four points on the buck’s left side as I shot.
Finding My Buck
So, I swung around and got up to a good glassing point and tried to glass into the trees where I shot the buck to see if I could see anything. For about fifteen minutes I argued with myself as to what to do. I wanted to walk those trees, but one of our other guys was hunting still and I didn’t want to bust any more deer out. Then I decided “Oh well, I’ve got to walk those trees.” As I reached the fence my old man called me and asked me what the plan was. I told him that I was jumping the fence and walking the heavy cover to see if I could find that buck. He told me that all four of them were going to come down and help me look.
I crossed the fence wondering if a badly wounded buck could even make the fence. After turning on the tracking feature in my ONXMaps app. I planned on making a solid search of the area. The grass on that side of the fence was waist tall and you couldn’t see more than a few steps away. I worked down the tree line using a small bunch of brush and trees at the end of it as a pivot point. Once I got to the small clump I cut back towards the way I had come. Essentially, I was making a zigzag in the grass working towards the thicker cover.
At that point, my old man and the three other hunters showed up to help me look. I continued walking, and about fifteen steps later the body of my buck appeared in the grass! I yelled, “He’s dead right here!” There was excitement, high fives, and pictures all around! The feel of that shot was good and I should have trusted my gut from the get-go. I have a lot of respect and amazement regarding the buck I had taken. He had taken a bullet from my 7mm Rem Mag, through both his lungs.
He had shown no sign of being hit at first and he had carried himself about one hundred and fifty yards from the original shot location. After backtracking him we found that he had not really started bleeding until he had made it through the fence. This buck will always have my appreciation just for how tough he was.
The Hunt Wrapping Up
After a few more pictures we got down to business and got my buck taken care of. During the following days I was able to help another hunter find a shooter buck, and bird hunt during the day. After our 5th day in South Dakota, the western boys loaded back up into the truck and headed home.
the buck I took in my opinion is a great representation of the species and I look forward to seeing what shows itself in the future. Overall it was a great experience and a great intro to hunting the most hunted big game in America. Simply put, this western boy will be back soon! You can read more hunting stories by clicking here.
Thanks for reading! special thanks to my father Biran King for doing the leg work and making this hunt happen. I look forward to spending many more days in the woods with you.