Morken: Lessons learned from the 2021 archery deer season
Four deer in the freezer between two states and some opportunities lost left me with a lot to look back on from the 2021 archery season.
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — The archery deer season has come and gone in most states around the Midwest. Many have shifted their focus to ice fishing, but January is one of my favorite times to really think about what worked and what didn't from the previous deer season.
This bow season was one of my most satisfying in recent memory. I shot four deer between Minnesota and North Dakota. That is about perfect for my family with us eating some form of venison almost 4-5 times a week.
I felt confident in my ability to make a great shot on whitetails again after working to overcome target panic that crippled me a few years ago. That in itself made this season a success.
I spent so much of my time a few years ago picking apart every aspect of my shot. It took away a lot of the enjoyment of hunting for me.
I felt like I finally got back to focusing on the process of what I love about archery hunting for whitetails this year. That’s scouting, reading landscapes, and analyzing how deer use a property in order to give myself the best chance of getting within 30 yards of them and filling a tag.
Here are a few of my biggest takeaways from 2021 that others might be able to learn from.
Test yourself on different properties
I have a property in southern Minnesota that has been my go-to piece to hunt during the last 5-plus years when it comes to whitetails in my home state.
I hunted it as little as I ever have this past season. Part of that was because of time constraints and not being able to travel two hours to hunt very often. Part of it was by design.
I explored different public properties around the Alexandria area in 2021. I started the process by scouting in March and then dived right into those areas starting in late September.
I got a big doe out of a public swamp during the early season because of that scouting. I also bumped two big bucks off their beds upon entering this area that I will use as information for future hunts.
All four of the deer I shot this past season came on different properties, which really grew my confidence in my ability to get the job done within different terrain.
Think about ways you can stretch your boundaries next season. It’s a great way to grow as a hunter.
Minor moves can make a big difference
I shot a buck during the 2020 season in North Dakota that left me a bit unsatisfied with my setup.
That deer just as easily could have gotten downwind of me. The doe he came in following actually did, but he stuck around long enough for me to get a clean shot at 15 yards.
That was an area that could consistently produce, but I needed to make a change. In the summer of 2021, I scouted my way through the narrow strip of timber looking for a new tree to prepare for my hunting saddle that was closer to the bank of the river. The goal was to position myself downwind of the trail those deer came in on the prior year, while also being able to shoot to the two other trails that paralleled this tree cover along the river.
I paddled up the water in my kayak on Nov. 2, 2021 for my first hunt in this new tree. At first light, a fork buck was 7 yards away upwind of me on the same trail I shot that 2020 buck about 75 yards away. This young buck moved right by without having a clue I was there because I was positioned in a better location. Less than an hour later, I had filled my tag on a good buck that walked through on one of the further trails.
I felt I got a bit lucky in getting a shot on that 2020 buck. Making a minor move can turn a good location into one that feels almost bulletproof.
Trust in terrain blockers
The prior example of making that move to position myself closer to the river bank leads me into the importance of using terrain blockers such as a water’s edge to our advantage as hunters.
My final bow hunt of the 2020 season came in cold, snowy conditions on a new property I had just gained permission on near Alexandria. All of the best deer track was in the middle of that block of timber as I scouted my way in for an evening hunt. I stood and looked at the intersection of trails and eventually set up there with the wind blowing back into about 75 yards of trees behind me before it met a field edge.
I was looking to fill a bonus tag on a doe that evening. Sure enough, a group of about 10 of them made their way along that transition where the timber met the field edge behind me. They caught my wind and blew out of the area.
Over and over again I see this happen where deer ignore the worn-down trail systems during daylight hours that you may find in the middle of a block of cover. They get on the downwind edge to travel so they can smell any danger in the entire area. This is especially the case in the late season when deer have been pressured for months.
I thought I was tight enough to a river in Minnesota this past season on an evening hunt in late November. The closest trail that ran parallel to the water was just upwind of me. Near last light, a buck ignored that trail to travel as tight as he could get to the river bank behind me. Busted.
A lot of great sign gets put down at night. You almost have to ignore what you see sometimes and trust that bucks and does alike are going to do anything they can to cover as much ground as possible with their noses.
This is a great thing to keep in mind when looking at maps or preparing spots for next season. Get as tight to that river bank, habitat edge or drop off that deer can’t travel.
If nothing else, it’s a good starting point that will allow you to observe an area safely.