What’s the Strangest Experience You’ve Had While Hunting?

Whenever you head into the field, you have certain expectations of what you’ll experience. But sometimes Mother Nature throws you a curveball.

What’s the Strangest Experience You’ve Had While Hunting?

Spend enough time in the field in pursuit of everything from ducks to deer, and you’ll eventually see something that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief. During the 2021 deer season, I had two such experiences. Both happened in mid-November while pursuing rutting whitetails in South Dakota.


Running On Water

I was sitting in a hang-on treestand overlooking two well-used deer trails, one that ran parallel to a spring-fed creek, and a second that crossed the creek 15 yards upriver from my ambush. My treestand was on the side of a steep hill, so close to the creek that I was basically looking straight down at the flowing water about 25 feet below.

Whitetail movement had been decent during my morning sit, with bucks chasing does. I came close to getting a 15-yard shot at a 125-class 4x4 as he crossed the creek, but he passed by me too quickly, not stopping as he trotted toward a lone doe in the distance. With my head on a swivel, I scanned the river-bottom hoping to see an approaching buck in time to prepare for a shot.

Before I reveal my strange encounter, you should know more about the creek itself. As I said earlier, it’s spring fed. It cuts through a hardwood forest, and the banks of the creek are fairly steep, so deer prefer crossing from side to side in those areas with moderate slopes. The creek is 15-20 feet wide and depth varies from 10 to 20 inches in most places, with holes of 3 feet in some outside bends. If you’re careful, you can cross the creek in most places and stay dry by wearing knee-high rubber boots. The creek bottom covered in rock, everything from skipping stones to boulders weighing hundreds of pounds. In general, the footing to cross is tricky because most rocks under the water are baseball- and softball-sized, with a bunch of basketball-sized rocks mixed in, too. One last fact: The current flows fast. Anytime you hunt nearby the creek it’s noisy due to the fast-moving water, which makes it difficult to hear approaching deer.

The author’s hunting property in South Dakota features this fast-moving, rocky creek.
The author’s hunting property in South Dakota features this fast-moving, rocky creek.

I’d been in the treestand for a few hours when I suddenly spotted a doe running in the creek 150 yards west (upriver) from me. I assumed she was being chased by a buck and was simply using the creek for a few jumps to escape his advances. I was 100 percent sure she’d exit the creek in a second or two. But she didn’t. 

I still can’t believe what I witnessed. She stayed in the center of the creek, high-stepping at a steady 5- to 7-mph pace the entire time, with her eyes glued to the creek in front of her, and traveled from 150 yards west of me, to under me, to 150 yards east of me. She never tripped on a rock, changed her speed, or left the creek. She finally disappeared around a creek corner, and I have no idea how long she stayed trotting in the water.

To put this behavior in perspective: I’ve hunted along this creek for nearly 25 years, usually for at least 30 days each deer season. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve watched thousands of deer cross the creek. I’ve watched fawns “play” in the water, deer of all sizes and ages stop for a drink, and a few deer walk in the creek for 5 yards, maybe 10 yards at the farthest, before stepping onto one bank or the other. This high-stepping doe traveled at least 300 yards from west to east in the water.

Important note: The doe was not being pursued by a buck, or coyotes, and I have exclusive hunting permission on this mile-long section of river-bottom. No other hunters were in the area. Was she sick? Maybe, but she appeared fine physically.

The creek has numerous blowdowns blocking much of the water’s flow just beyond where I lost sight of her, so she had to leave the water. I wish I could have witnessed that, because I wonder if she jumped back into the water after running around the snags.


A Not-So-Wise Owl

Strange encounter no. 2 during the 2021 deer season is shown below. I was walking back to my truck to warm up and have lunch when I spotted something stuck on a barbed-wire fence. From the distance, it looked like a trash bag or other debris, but as I walked closer I could see it was a large bird of some sort. Because the feather color was too light to be a turkey, I figured it was a red-tailed hawk, which are common in this river-bottom, I cautiously approached — I didn’t know if it was still alive — and was surprised to find a dead owl.

I suppose the owl was cruising low to the ground after dark to ambush a mouse or other critter. Whatever the case, it must have been a slow, horrible death.

These two encounters during November 2021 serve as a reminder that every day spent in the field can result in a “I can’t believe what I just saw” moment. In addition to my drive to punch a deer tag or drop a few ducks, these unexpected experiences help keep every trip afield fresh and exciting. I hope the same is true for you, too.


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