ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — One weekend has me feeling ready for the North Dakota bow hunting season.
I never would have thought that possible a few years ago, but my summer scouting strategies have changed quite a bit in recent years. Years ago, I was addicted to checking cameras and diving into bedding areas frequently in June and July. It felt like I never had enough time to accomplish everything I wanted to get done in the woods.
Today, I run about five game cameras between Minnesota and North Dakota that I check once before the bow opener and then shift over areas I want to get information on for future seasons.
This change in strategy was born out of the fact that I did not want to spend a ton of money piling up a huge amount of cameras, but also out of necessity.
I would get pictures of good bucks, but I never saw them in the bow stand. I don’t use cell cameras, so going into the timber every two weeks was doing me no good come September. Maybe I am over analyzing things, but the pieces I hunt are all shared properties, and I have become a full believer in limiting pressure even in the summer.
Detailed scouting on foot, mostly in the late winter and early spring, and analyzing what I see in the stand to understand how deer use the terrain has become my focus.
I have seen my buck encounters increase by a lot the last three seasons, even as I have relied on cameras much less. I really believe better access to stands in season and a less-is-more approach in the summer has played a part in that.
This past weekend in North Dakota is a good example of my scouting strategy now as my buddy, Tyler Notch of Alexandria, and I drove out to look at properties we have permission on.
These are all river-bottom properties in farm country. In North Dakota, that often means relatively narrow strips of timber between the river and crop fields. Anywhere the tree canopy opens up to let sunlight in along the bank creates thick vegetation that is great bedding.
Tyler and I set out with expandable Hooyman saws with a plan to prepare as many trees as we could for our hunting saddles so we were ready for any wind.
All of the spots we prepared had to feel like the perfect tree in terms of its location for a shot opportunity. Only hunting will tell us with 100% certainty if we were right, but river bottoms are so fun to hunt because subtle terrain features that dictate movement are often found. Instead of setting up anywhere along a beaten down trail, we were looking for the spot within a spot.
Our first set-up came after finding a faint trail we anticipate bucks using to get downwind of a wider stretch of timber where three trails come together. This will put us in a tree right up against the river that will discourage bucks from catching our wind while they use that less-used trail to utilize their nose to scan the entire area for does.
Most of the trees we prepared came in subtle pinch points. They are not classic bottlenecks that show up on an aerial map. Instead, they are dictated by weather events, and they can change from year to year. That’s why it’s important to walk the land each summer before the season.
There are almost always slight topography changes on narrow strips of river bottom like this. Dead timber brought in by flooding gathers into low areas. That deadfall or water left standing in the fall on wet years creates amazing funnels in the right locations.
Huge rain events in recent years have caused a lot of erosion. River banks change and small drainages form. We found a worn-down creek crossing off the main river this past weekend that was not nearly as noticeable when I first hunted the property two years ago.
High water levels have created much steeper banks on that drainage, leaving deer with really one spot to travel. There are areas like that where you find them by getting boots on the ground, and then there are those that do jump off the page on a map.
Tyler and I got permission on a farm on Saturday afternoon, and there was one spot in particular I wanted to check out. Narrow ridges on this property are so sharp vertically that it’s almost impossible for deer to travel on many spots.
The topo lines on my OnX Hunt Map were showing one area where there was just enough of a flat shelf running a couple hundred yards. Making it even better, there was a bean field up top surrounded by a long stretch of thick bedding cover.
We got to that flatter ridge and there was a two-foot wide path worn to the mud cutting through the waste-high vegetation. We found where another subtle trail merged with that main path and spent a few minutes preparing two trees for saddles so we have every wind covered.
In one weekend, Tyler and I were able to prepare about 15 trees that we’re excited about.
It’s not hard finding these types of spots, and it doesn’t mean having to battle 90-degree heat and bugs every week.
Commit to one weekend in the summer to seek them out. If you do, you will enter this fall season calm and confident knowing you can slip into a tree with little disturbance when the time is right.