600 Yard Belly Crawl
Waking up at 4:00am on a Saturday isn’t for everyone. Heck, it’s not even for me really. Unless it’s opening day of West River deer season in South Dakota, however. I look forward to waking up at 4:00 am on the opening day every year. Where we hunt is an hour and half drive from where we stay and we like to try to beat everyone else there as it’s all public ground. Public ground in South Dakota can really be tricky – especially opening day of rifle season.
There’s something about seeing your breath as you watch the sun come up over a South Dakota ridge in the middle of nowhere that really can’t be matched. The time had come and we headed out with three “any deer” tags to fill. We got to our spot apparently early enough as there is not another hunter in sight. There are a few different ways we like to hunt our normal spot depending on the amount of people that are with us (and others) so we made a plan and got after it.
About 1:00 pm we had some lunch back at the pickup. My uncle had filled his tag with a nice 4x3 Muley and we had just got it loaded up – he was about a mile in from where the truck was. After lunch we decided to hit up another spot about three miles down the main road where I’ve had good luck in the past. As soon as we pulled up we bumped a really nice buck bedded with four does.
They were in a bottom that runs in and out over about a four mile stretch that eventually cuts back awfully close to where my uncle filled his tag earlier that morning. The deer took off and by the time we got to the bottom they were in I spotted them at what I thought was about 1200 yards away (my rangefinder picked up a tree that was 740 yards away and they were not quite double that distance from us). We made a plan. I told my dad to head back to the truck and take the road back to where we went in this morning and haul-tail down to where my uncle shot his deer. My plan was to walk the whole thing and push them over close to that point as I figured they would stay down and run that draw as far as it would take them.
The deer weren’t that spooked as I started walking the draw keeping eyes on them the entire time. There’s little-to-no cover where we were at which was going to make it difficult to not push them into another county. I don’t know how it happened, but they decided to bed down in that bottom after pushing them about halfway. I was still well over 1200 yards from them at this point. The drive had now turned into a stalk.
I kept myself low enough to where I didn’t think they saw me, ducking behind cut after cut and taking my time through this bottom they were in – belly crawling over pokeys and mini cacti at times. After about an hour I had that buck in my crosshairs at 497 yards. The wind was in my favor and I still had plenty of daylight left – I wanted to get closer. We were at the point where I was out of cover and it was time to make a choice: let the Browning .300 WSM make it rain at 500 yards, or belly crawl over those pokeys and cacti until I turn into a cactus myself. I chose the latter.
I had no idea what time it was at this point as I left my truck in a hurry with no phone or way of telling time. Heck I even forgot my binoculars!! The scope of my gun and the rangefinders that were tied on my belt were the only way to keep tabs on these deer – talk about a rookie mistake. I crawled and waited, crawled and waited. The last time I looked through my rangefinders I was 267 yards out. The buck and four does still bedded down and him looking in my direction the entire time. I lied there and took a break, I mean, they didn’t look like they were going anywhere.
I laid there with the buck in the crosshairs, bedded down and facing me at 267 yards for a long period of time. I didn’t want to shoot him bedded down and only had the white of his chest to shoot at anyway. After what seemed to be an eternity of hearing nothing but the pounding in my chest I decided to make another move – I had to get him to stand up! I was full prone and locked in at this point. I started moving my legs behind me, trying to make enough noise to get them curious. One doe stood up. Then another. Then another. Some time elapsed. The last doe stood up. Now my safety is off and I’m ready to pull the trigger. More time elapsed. The buck stood up and turned.
I took a breath and squeezed. He buckled like I made a perfect shot and spun around. I reloaded and squeezed again. Dropped him! I think everyone in Harding County could hear me shouting! After walking up and making sure he was expired, doing a small celebration and taking a small rest, I ended up walking back up to the top and toward where I left the truck at the beginning. My dad was waiting for me when I got there. Apparently, he and my uncle had watched bits and pieces of the stalk (the parts where they could actually see me) and come to find out it took over two-and-a-half hours!
Two days later I’m sitting on my couch still picking little thorn things out of my thighs and arms. It’s a small price to pay for a sweet kill. We put in a lot of miles on the ground this weekend and I figured I crawled for at least 600 yards on my stalk. I didn’t kill the biggest buck in the state this year and that’s a fact. I do know one thing’s for sure though: get your butt out of the truck, it’s a lot more fun that way!