Rattling in a South Dakota Whitetail with Mark Kayser

Flying straight from Kentucky to South Dakota, whitetails are once again on the menu. Back on the road with Mark Kayser, and we’re in his old stomping grounds near Pierre, South Dakota. For this hunt we had a whitetail only tag… so we figured we would probably run into a world class muley at some point. If so, we could shoot lots of video, but that would be all.

Upon arrival at our new home for the week we found the river high – really high. Normally you can drive right across it and access the hunting land on the opposite side. As luck would have it that was no longer possible… looks like we were in for some walking. We headed out two hours early the first morning to ensure sufficient time to get situated and accomplish the long walk. The first obstacle would be the high river.

We couldn’t drive across it, so I was interested how in the world we were planning to wade across it. Well, ask and you shall receive. Obviously this was not the first year with high waters, so the rancher had a form of transportation already setup. A trolley cart if you will. A cable was run from one end to the other which supported a wooden box that you crawled into. Once you were settled in it

was hand and arm power that brought you across the river. Simple transportation, you needed to pull one hand over the other and shimmy your way across the river. Once on the other side we tied up our cart for safe travel back when the day was over.

Mark Kayser is not the type of hunter who enjoys waiting for whitetails to come to him. Instead he brings them in close, real close. The first morning we were slowly hunting our way through an aspen grove walking a 100 yards, then stopping to grunt and rattle.

He called in two beautiful mule deer to fifteen yards! He had these bucks fired up, mad, and looking for a fight. Only problem, they couldn’t locate us. They stomped around and we stood motionlessly. Eventually they left, but what an amazing experience. We were also able to watch two muleys parallel walking, sizing each other up, and obviously looking for a fight. I hoped we would have front row seats, but dominance was conveyed without any violence and we moved on.

When you hunt South Dakota, you better be prepared for a wide variety of weather – and DON’T forget about the wind!  With 50mph winds and almost blizzard-like conditions I found myself wondering what type of job did I sign up for?  Who works in these conditions?

Hard little ice balls were pelting my face and I could hardly keep my binos clear, much less hold them steady. Deer obviously can’t disappear during this type of weather, but they do take cover. Although to find them, you need to sit right out in the worst of it. We would have been much more comfortable out of the wind, but we were out there to hunt; not stay warm and cozy.

Our efforts finally paid off when we watched two bucks rutting along a tree line that paralleled the river. We stood up, almost got blown over by a strong gust and started booking it down the steep hills. Even though it was cold, it only put a thin layer of icy crust over the greasy gumbo that lie beneath our feet. I had a heavy backpack, my tripod strapped on the outside, and my camera slug around the front of my body. A couple times I came close to loosing my footing.

Then, as we were heading down the last steep bank, I completely lost all footing and wiped out!

My feet slipped out right from underneath me, and my first reaction was to protect the camera. So instead of catching myself I stuck my camera in front and the great slide began. Within seconds I was at the bottom, and made great time down the steep hill.

To say I was covered in mud would be an understatement. My poor tripod was almost unrecognizable and everything from my hat to my boots had a two-inch slimy layer of gumbo glued to it. On the bright side, I figured if we needed to crawl at least my entire backside would blend in perfectly with the terrain.

Quickly forgetting the mud, we had two bucks to track down. We snuck in silently using the river bottom and 50mph wind for cover. Once I was setup on the tripod Kayser made a few soft grunts, but NOTHING. In this wind a buck 15 yards away would probably have a tough time hearing, so we switched to a little louder tactic.

As Mark crashed the antlers together, broke limbs, and kicked up dirt, it was no surprise we immediately got the attention of a nearby buck. He walked in on us and stood at twenty yards, dumbfounded. Again we stood motionless and the deer finally moved on. The buck was gorgeous but only had about a 125-inch rack and frankly we were looking for his big brother.

Within seconds of his departure his big brother showed his face. He was only twenty yards in front of Mark, but as he circled us a big tree stood right in the way. Mark had a perfect shot but I had to call him off because of this giant truck blocking my view. The buck swung around and stood motionlessly at 20 yards. I now had him in my viewfinder, but only from the chin up. Mark had the same view, and even with a gun that close, there was no shot.

It’s almost as if the buck knew that if he took one more step there would be severe problems. So he just stood there. We could see his rack perfectly and there was no question this guy was a shooter. He had great mass–not super wide–but an old buck with a grey face and extra dark scull cap. Finally, he moved but stayed in the thick brush and scurried out, never giving us another shot. Mark could have killed this buck, but because of the slight difference in angles the deer was blocked so I had no choice but to call him off the buck.

We had worked hard and braved the weather only to let a trophy walk. But that’s hunting, and hunting with a camera adds yet another level of difficulty to say the least. It’s double the scent, double the movement, and now you need double the shooting lanes, not just a clear shot for the hunter but a clear lane to film as well. The walk home was long, cold and windy and we both knew if things would have been just a little different we could be sipping hot chocolate in the protection of a house, but unfortunately that was not the case.

The last and final morning the weather seemed pleasant and deer were on the move. We set up on the edge of the woods so we could see a great distance. As soon as I had good camera light Mark made a few grunts and BAM – a buck was on top of us. The sun was just on the verge of peeking over the horizon and the light was truly stunning. This buck came in as if Mark had hooked him with a lure and was reeling him in on my command.

The footage was some of the best I’ve ever filmed and the hardest decision we had to make was whether or not we should take this buck.  He was a mature deer, perfect light, tons of footage and only twenty-five yards! I think the image of the big buck from the day before was still playing in Mark’s head as he made the decision to pass. We looked twenty-yards over to this deer’s left and another mature buck stood looking for the source of the grunts. They were cookie cutter bucks, and made for great TV but still not quite what we wanted. At noon our stomachs were getting hungry so we decided to climb up to a lookout point and eat our sandwiches.

Mark snuck over the hillside first and quickly crawled back saying there was a shooter below us. I setup the tripod, let Mark get into position and crept over the crest of the hill. The buck stood there at 125 yards and within seconds was heading for the brush. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. I followed the buck through the brush and saw an opening coming up.

As soon as the buck got into the clearing, Mark let out a loud bark like a coyote and the buck stopped. Mark fired and knocked the buck right over the ledge. What a feeling of accomplishment.

We rushed down to the buck, and to make things even sweeter, he was the SAME buck as the day before. Remember the big guy who stood in the brush at twenty yards? Well, a little persistence, a lot of walking, and ultimately passing the smaller bucks and we had the trophy that had eluded us earlier.

As tough as it may be hunting with a camera at time, the feeling of success is twice as gratifying.

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