Travis Leier | Mossy Oak ProStaff
I am often asked by hunters who are considering coming to North Dakota to hunt whitetails, “What are some of the best public hunting areas to bowhunt?”
The Turtle Mountains in the middle northern section of the state are also a productive public-hunting area, with most of the private land posted. The 58,000+ acre J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in the north/central part of the state offers public whitetail hunting and has rolling sand hills and some heavy timber. If you hunt there, you probably won’t see another hunter for a day or more. Although numbers of people hunt there, this tract of land is so large that a good number of hunters can hunt there without seeing each other.
You’ll probably have to hike a long way to find deer at J. Clark Salyer. This place is so vast that on a cloudy day or in a snow storm, you better have a quality GPS to use to go in and out of that area. Even if you are familiar with this public hunting area, I still advise that you have a good hand-held GPS. Although this J. Clark Salyer area gets a lot of gun-hunting pressure, typically not very many bowhunters go there, but if I had to hunt public land, that’s where I’d go to take a big whitetail. Archery is growing in popularity in North Dakota due to some bad winter die-offs, and drawing a gun deer tag is becoming harder.
From 2010 until 2017, North Dakota had some very cold winters. Then in 2011, the state had a major flood and close to 100 inches of snow that same year. Our first snows usually start in late October. For instance, in 2017, North Dakota received five inches the third week in October. So, the best time to plan to take a North Dakota whitetail with a bow is from the first of October to mid-October.
The best suggestion I can make for bowhunters coming from the East to hunt North Dakota is to plan to wear twice as many clothes as you think you should wear. When I first started bowhunting 11 years ago, I had so many clothes on that I looked like the Michelin man. I felt like I had really accomplished something when I could get my bow back to full draw with all the clothing I wore. To solve that problem, I started buying more high-tech clothing that was designed and created for extreme weather conditions. When I first started bowhunting, I was paying $10.00 for pants and shirts and windproof fleece to put over the top of that. Then I would put on any other type of bulky clothing that I thought would keep me warm. I also learned about chemical hand warmers and body warmers, and I found them to be a must-have when hunting in extreme weather. The rubber boots I wear are made by Bogs and have 1,000 grains of Thinsulate in them. I wear some incredible Heat Holders socks from Cabela’s that are fleece on the inside and wool on the outside. For my outerwear, I also like Nomad Harvester gloves.
If you are going to hunt property that you don’t know very well, a hand-held GPS receiver is an absolute necessity. Even though you may have and use a range finder, I strongly recommend that you practice and become proficient at judging distances without a range finder. The whitetails out here often appear and vanish quickly. You may not have enough time to range the deer and get your bow up to take the shot.
Travis Leier of Velva, North Dakota, has been hunting whitetails for 21 years and has been a Mossy Oak ProStaffer for over a year.