August 31, 2023
One fall, Dr. James Kroll and I observed a water system in action as a combined management-hunting tool in the Black Hills of Wyoming. The site was Mike and Pam Schmid’s Solitude Ranch, near iconic Devils Tower. This low-fenced ranch has been under serious management for a decade, with hunting limited to primitive weapons.
In this semi-arid land, water is often as limiting a factor as food. The average annual precipitation is about 17 inches of rain and 50 inches of snow. Put it all together, and the liquid total is only around 20 inches. That's far less than ideal. So four years ago, Mike decided to boost the water supply. Well water transported by truck was used to fill galvanized tanks placed around the ranch. The practice accelerated last summer, when drought led Mike to add more tanks. In 2016, ranch assistant Joe Penning distributed 25,000 gallons of water, while Mike hauled another 10,000.
I started out the week in a tree stand overlooking a water tank in a small cove off the end of a millet field. The millet itself proved a powerful draw for deer, but the water was at least as strong. In fact, in two days of sitting there, cameraman Cody Worley and I watched dozens of bucks, does and fawns, as well as turkeys, walk up to the tank to drink. Some deer did so on their way to the millet, while others stopped en route back to the mixed pine-hardwood forest. A few just popped out of the woods, drank and then walked back into cover. Although the weather was mild, water was clearly a magnet to these animals.
One of the drinkers was a heavy buck that slipped away before I could get my TenPoint Stealth FX4 crossbow on him. This happened at 9:15 the first morning, with no other deer in sight. Luckily, the buck didn’t spook, so Cody and I felt it would be just a matter of time until we got a shot at him.
Late the next afternoon, the same buck appeared well out of range, then walked into the millet and began to feed. We lamented that he hadn’t first stopped for a drink, but we still had time for that to happen. Suddenly, we saw another great buck — this one just beyond the water. Moments later I sent an NAP Killzone Crossbow broadhead on its way, and my hunt was over.
What became of that first brute? Three days later, at around 1:30 p.m., he again drank at that tank — un- aware Dr. Kroll and cameraman Justin Fabian sat in a pop-up blind 35 yards away. A well-placed Muzzy from the hunter’s TenPoint Titan SS crossbow downed the huge buck within seconds. Amazingly, two other big ones also were shot on ranch waterholes that week. Mike and Skyler Wirsig of Heartland Bowhunter TV shot them. Mike got his from a stand at another water tank; Skyler scored while hunting on a small pond.
Hunting this good is rare at any time, but especially so in mid-September. Our trip to Solitude showed that in the right situation, water can be the difference between a filled tag and a dry run.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
To learn more about Solitude Ranch & Outfitters, contact Mike Schmid at: 307-389-7336.
You can watch this exciting whitetail hunt and more past episodes of NAW TV presented by Wildtree Nursery on the My Outdoor TV app; to find out more just visit: myoutdoortv.com