December 10, 2018 8 min read

2018 Season // South Dakota // Tom Jensen

Archery elk // Archery muley // rifle antelope // archery whitetail // rifle muley // rifle muley // rifle whitetail

My season started with an epic elk hunt in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Me having much more experience as a deer hunter, when I drew this tag, I knew I’d want help. Fast forward to Sept 2nd, With 2 very capable callers behind me, as well as my dad joining in, we soon called in a big satellite bull in some thick timber made up of tall trees and “jack pines” – short young cedars. This presented an easy place for me to hide in some jack pines, but also presented a visibility/shootability challenge. The 280-290” bull (satellite bulls can be very nice in SD!) stomped and bugled his way right in to about 40 yards, stopped broadside perfectly after catching about the last 10% movement of my draw cycle, and after an entire summer of intense archery practice, I nicked a tree on the way to the bulls vitals, resulting in a complete miss…. And that’s how my first encounter went with a bull that we bugled in, with a bow in my hand. My heart was POUNDING! What a rush. The intense encounter made it possible to stay positive and not be bothered by the mishap. And it was still early in the hunt.

On the morning of September 4th, the 4th day of my hunt, we found a nice bull that had about 6-7 cows and was bugling his head off, driving the cows towards dark timber for the day. We had other plans. We got above him and, out of his eyesight, somehow convinced him that another cow (my dad with hoochie mama call) was being taken away by another bull (my friend Brandon). This caused the bull to take a slighter wider loop on a sidehill and come closer to me. He wasn’t leaving his cows, but was trying to see what was happening on top of the hill, where I waiting next by a tall cedar. He let out some sort of prehistoric sounding scream that was not a bugle but something of intense anger and emotion towards fake bull Brandon. It was absolutely amazing, you could feel how mad he was at this intruder. The first I saw of him was ivory tips in the timber, I’ll never forget it. I stopped him at about 40-50 yards, no time or ability to use my rangefinder as cows and a smaller bull were also nearby. Whack! A good shot, about a 200 yard dash and my first archery bull was down, all 306” of him. 2018 was off to a fantastic start as my most valued and high pressure tag was filled with a beast! Everything to follow would just be gravy!

I came home for a couple days, but I was still on vacation time that had been allotted for the elk hunt, so I headed back out to western SD to chase Muleys for a few days. On the first morning, I got a chance at  a 175-180” full velvet muley. But, he was bedded perfectly, could see everything that he could not smell, and was taking advantage of some swirling winds as well. I pushed my luck anyway, and once inside of about 40 yards, the wind swirled and he stormed out of there. I was only 5 yards from where I needed to be, and then any exit route from his bed would have doomed him. My hunting style is aggressive, so while knowing I could maybe wait or turn him up the next day, it’s a feat to even find a bedded buck of this caliber in the first place, so I was going to try something.

  Still on a high from that encounter, that afternoon, I located a full velvet 150” buck in a tight little feeder draw coming off a larger feeder draw to the river I was hunting near. I have never taken a velvet buck, so 150 class was more than fine for me! Dropping my pack and sneaking around, I figured I was about 50 yards from the buck, yet unable to see him for another 10 yards as I approached the edge of the embankment he was in front of, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a different buck feeding that I hadn’t known was there. He had come out of velvet that very day, his rack looked dark and had a wet/sticky look to it still.  With him there, and being slightly better caliber of buck than the velvet buck that I still couldn’t see, I ranged this buck at 62 yards, and with some pretty heavy winds, took my time and squeezed off a very challenging shot. I made a decent shot, essentially a center mass type of hit with a Rage Trypan broadhead. After about an hour, I followed up and found my beautiful 4x4 buck, the tips of his tines and the junk on the bases so sharp from being brand new to the open air, that you can barely touch them. What I thought might be a 3-4 day hot and unsuccessful time filler of a hunt, produced a beauty on day one! September was being good to me!

I did hunt several times in North Dakota in 2018, and had a few encounters, but after those few trips up there, it was clear ND was kicking my butt and although I was enjoying the habitat and challenge, a hunter must also stick to some sort of budget and plan, so ND was declared the victor over me this year.

Later in September I had an antelope rifle hunt with a buddy. This was a short but successful hunt. A local rancher allowed us access and we headed out with my buddy Joe being up to bat first, looking for his first ever antelope. I spotted a small herd almost immediately through my Zeiss spotter at about a mile, we made a long approach on them, getting closer than we needed to, and Joe made a good shot at 100 yards on his first antelope, a decent buck at that! Several hourslater and on the same large pasture, a lone satellite type of buck wandered a bit too close, and a well placed shot ended the hunt. It seemed at this point that despite the several disappointing trips to ND, SD on the other hand was throwing animals in my lap!

Next up was another archery tag, this time for a different side of the river that divides SD, as you can take both a west river and an east river buck. This was a bit of a grind. To put it shortly, there are a few muleys on the east side of the Missouri river, and I missed a nice one at 74 yards on public ground. a long shot, yes, but one I felt was doable given all the extra practice I squeezed in for the elk tag. He was a wall hanger. Tail between my legs a bit, I eventually surrendered the goal of an east river muley and headed further east into whitetail country that I am well familiar with. This leg of the hunt was also a grind unfortunately, as in a downpour rainstorm that I thought would let up a bit after I got to the stand, I hit a nice buck high in the shoulder at about 45 yards, and with minimal penetration, hours of looking and 0 blood whatsoever, I knew he would survive, and back to the motel I went with a broken off arrow.

I have improved over the years with being stubborn and persistent. I know that time in the zone is such a large factor towards success, and deep down I don’t expect a whole lot of archery success until later in the year anyway, as crops come out and the rut starts to heat up. So I saw myself east river essentially playing with house money, which helped me stay positive despite the wounded buck and the missed wall hanger. Several mornings later, I snuck into a good stand for the first time this year on a cold breezy morning with a straight north wind, and before you know it, a dandy pope and young stormed right up the closest of about 4 possible trails, and at a mere 5 steps from the base of my tree, I stopped and double lunged my 3rd pope and young animal of the year!

Successful hunts allow me to concentrate more fully on upcoming hunts, and I was using my success to spend extra time preparing for coming hunts. That extra time was about to continue paying off.

A tribal deer season opened in early November, my favorite month of the year, and I had already been scouting because I had no other open tags besides ND archery which I had put on the backburner. On the second day of the hunt, instead of bouncing around to high vantage points looking for bucks on the perimeter of several large areas as we had been doing, I launched an aggressive plan under the cover of high winds, to simply sneak through a large muley infested area at a lower elevation, creek bed level basically. To me this seemed unorthodox for muleys but as I stated earlier, I sometimes lose patience and do aggressive things hoping they pay off. Well, several hours into that plan, I made a 1 shot 355 yard kill on a 168” 4x4 muley with a beautiful chocolate rack and deep forks, that had been bedded under a thick cedar tree. This is my biggest muley ever.

A mere week later, on public land, I found myself sick as a dog with a bad cold, but it was opening morning of west river rifle, and I was going to hunt with my dad and friends. In my left cargo pocket, a bag of cough drops. In my right pocket, a bottle of cough syrup to sip on…. I was a train wreck. Well, until about 3pm, when a big buck tried to sneak across the public to go do deer stuff in a large drainage, and I dropped him at 100 yards. I forgot about my cold for a little bit! My throat was so sore that I hadn’t eaten much for a couple days prior, so, being low on energy, I packed my deer maybe half way to the truck, and a buddy finished the pack-out for me. I owe you one Kyle.

And finally, the following weekend, east river rifle would open in SD. I hunted 4 days without seeing a buck I wanted to tag. Using a millennium tripod made of aluminum, I am able to move around easily while covering a large slough and be unpredictable to the deer. I headed home for Thanksgiving and some family time, but, being stubborn and persistent as can be, hustled back out that following Saturday, and during the cold overcast morning took a nice buck at 330 yards that I am very happy with. He was chasing a doe along with 2 other bucks, and upon falling to my bullet, the other 2 bucks continued chasing the doe like they had won the lottery. There is no love lost between whitetail bucks during the rut.

This is just a short and simple recap of my 2018 season. My wife would tell a much different story. One of shooting practice and exercise all summer to prepare. One of poring over deer/elk tag stats and spelling out what I plan to draw, what I know I will draw, and what would be a bonus if I drew, and lining up lands and strategies for each before the draws even take place. To me there is no off season, and this short summary of successful hunts doesn’t cover a fraction of the behind the scenes effort. Lastly, give all the glory and thanks to God for the beautiful animals and lands he has created. These wild animals live a crazy life. It is such a blessing to be of sound mind and spirit, and with a good connection to our ancestral past, to be able to chase these animals every fall. I hold these animals in the highest regard and respect. All the meat has been processed and has been either donated or is in my freezer. The antlers will remind me of the success that followed failed efforts and hard work. The hunt never ends. Preparing for 2019 has already begun.

Follow Tom's journey on Instagram - @jensen.hunting


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