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Missouri River Whitetails:

by: Tom Tietz

It all started back in late spring when, to my surprise, the days mail contained a Montana combination license. Since this was my first year to apply, and Montana gives preference to those who were unsuccessful the year before, I really didn't expect to draw until next year. But I had the tag, so the scramble was on to set up a hunt. The elk portion was easy.

I have a longtime client who has a cabin in western Montana, and had been after me for a long time to hunt elk with him. The deer portion was another story. For years I had read about Montana whitetails, but really didn't have a place to go. Shortly after receiving my tags, I called my friend and fellow writer, John Barsness. Not only does he live in Montana, but he harvested a near B&C buck with a rifle the previous season. John put me in touch with outfitter Scott Sundheim of Sidney, Montana, which is where he took his trophy.

Scott leases a ranch along the Missouri River, which John said was loaded with both whitetails and mulies. I was a little late in the game, as Scott was already pretty much booked for the fall, but he said if I wanted to come in for about 3 or 4 days in late November with a bow he would accommodate me. November is rifle season, but it's also the rut. With Scott taking only a limited number of hunters, the only drawback I saw was the fact that I was required to wear orange.

The week before Thanksgiving saw me boarding a plane for Williston, ND. After a short drive I arrived at Scott's home and was greeted there by Scott and John Barsness and his wife, Eileen. As it was only about 1:30PM, I quickly assembled my PSE takedown, donned my Mossy Oak camo, partially covered by an orange vest, yuk, and joined John and his wife for the 20 minute drive to the Missouri River bottoms. What a place!

Within minutes of leaving the truck, we were into deer. Whitetail and mule deer were scattering through the river-bottoms upon our approach. We were a little late (my fault) and the deer were already heading for the wheat and sugar beet fields that were sand-whiched between the river-bottoms and the rough breaks to the south. John told me to take a two track that paralleled a long meadow and there would be a tripod stand near the southeast end. I was having trouble finding the stand, and since deer were already moving, I decided to set up in a brush pile within easy range of several fresh scrapes that were crisscrossed with a myriad of runs.

The amount of deer sign was nothing short of unbelievable. There were fresh scrapes, rubs and trails everywhere. It seemed the only problem was determining which spot had the best chance for a big buck to move within easy range. The spot I chose wasn't bad, I had a spike and two does come within spitting distance and saw numerous whitetails from a distance. The most amazing thing was that even though it was rifle season, I only heard one shot, and that was John filling his doe tag.

The next morning found me at the other end of the property where John had seen a good 10-pointer the evening before. Once again the numbers of deer seen was incredible, especially considering much warmer than normal temperatures and nearly full moon. In less than 2 hours that morning, I had over 30 deer in view of which roughly 1/3 was bucks. Several small bucks came within easy range of the tripod stand Scott had previously set out, but the 2 big boys visited a small waterhole about 400 yards away. I spent most of the morning watching them spar and chase does. Exciting, but unproductive. That evening saw a similar scenario unfold. The waterhole was the hot spot, although I nearly had a chance at a nice 140 10-point just before dark. The day wasn't without action though; I took a nice tom turkey with a shotgun that afternoon.

That evening, as we swapped stories at Scott's house, it was decided I would give another tripod stand a chance the next morning. Scott still had one rifle client to fill, but would meet up with me mid-morning to hang a portable stand at the waterhole.

The next morning was like a rerun of the previous. Lot's of deer, a couple good ones, but no shots. About 10:00 Scott met me near the waterhole. His hunter had filled out with a nice 150 whitetail, so after some photos, we hung a portable stand in easy shooting range of the water. Sign was everywhere and things were really looking good. That is until a little cold front swept in from the west. What had been open water for two days was now coated with about an inch of ice when I approached it that afternoon. It was decision time. With only one evening and a short morning left, do I sit over a frozen waterhole, that would have been a winner for 2 straight nights when it was open, or move back to the tripod stand. Of course I picked wrong. Although I saw lots of deer that evening, including two good 10 pointers, a nice 9 point and a really cool weird buck, only a couple does came within range. The cold weather had changed the patterns and had I sat in the tripod, good things would have happened.

It was down to crunch time. Then next morning Scott was free to take me out, but based on prior experiences, I opted to sit in the tripod until 9:00. Basically it was all or nothing. Guess what? It was nothing, or at least very little. It was the fewest deer I had seen and the first time I went out that there wasn't even an opportunity at a small buck or doe. At 8:30 I decided to cut my losses. It had been a super hunt, but the big guys were staying one step ahead of me. That's why they call it hunting. After shooting a few pictures I went to meet Scott.

We had maybe an hour left before I had to get packed and off to the airport. Scott was overrun with does and since my tag was good for either sex and I love whitetail meat, I suggested we go look for a dumb doe for 30 minutes or so. Scott had another idea. There was a spot near where I had sat the first night, where he had rattled in 4 bucks a couple of weeks before. We decided to give it a quick try.

As we approached the area, several does spooked. Scott set me in an old rotted out stump and proceeded to set up next to a deadfall about 20 yards to my right. He rattled his heart out for about 15 minutes with no response. That's when I signaled it was time to go. Scott just wouldn't give up. Ten more minutes was his return signal. I nodded my acknowledgement. Seconds later the lenses in my 10x40 Zeiss binoculars were quickly filling with a rut crazed whitetail buck coming at us at a trot. Hardly believing my eyes, I lowered my glasses to see the buck at about 50 years and closing fast. My heart raced as the pretty 8-point turned broadside at less than 15 yards. I drew my PSE Sable T/D just as the deer stopped with a small tree obscuring his vitals.

Luckily though, he was focused on the ruckus Scott had created and didn't even flinch when I let down. But as Murphy would have it, just as I let down, he was back on the move, this time walking very slowly toward Scott. I swung to my right, drawing the bow. Now what? Because of the way I was positioned, I was unable to come to full draw. My elbow was hitting the stump behind me. With the buck less than 15 yards away, and since I was only about 2 inches short of full draw., I varied my shooting technique (don't do this at home), looked down the arrow and let fly for his vitals, The AFC carbon arrow found its mark and a few minutes later we were standing over my last minute trophy. He wasn't the best buck I saw by any means, but considering the timing he was an awesome trophy. Thanks to Scott's determination and expertise I was heading home with my tag on a nice buck instead of in my pocket.

If you're looking for a super deer bow hunt, with opportunities at lots of animals, I can highly recommend Scott Sundheim. And if you don't want to play the draw for a tag, Montana had guaranteed outfitter-sponsored tags for a little higher price. Scott will help you with the application process. Although I hunted during the rifle season in November, hunting is very good during the September archery only season also.