Wild Adventure: Bowhunt Minnesota’s BWCAW

For the past several years I’ve been in search of the ultimate whitetail rut hunt and now believe I’ve found it—in the remote, northernmost stretches of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness!

The author's ulitimate whitetail rut hunt -- the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The author’s ulitimate whitetail rut hunt — the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Canoes, paddles, and gear-laden dry bags may not be standard rut-hunt gear, but they’ve become a few of the integral ingredients that make this hunt so special: Other than your legs, human-powered canoes are the only way in or out of the BWCAW.

Some other fringe benefits are your remote wilderness lakeside campsite complete with ancient, towering white pines and dense cedar swamps patrolled by secretive Canada moose, as well as soaring bald eagles, abundant beaver colonies, and at least one a bit more obvious: bruiser northwoods bucks built like NFL linebackers, toting heavy racks rubbed a rich dark chocolate with help from sweet-smelling pine sap. For this bowhunter, it’s about as good as it gets.

Those familiar with this popular recreation area know it sees a steady stream of spring and summer use from adventurous groups and families arriving from points nationwide and beyond—paddling campers of all sizes and ages. But come late October, the place is darn near deserted. When it comes to bowhunting, and big bucks, deserted is good.

Melotik's Bowhunt the BWCAW DSC_7300
Come October, the BWCAW is nearly devoid of people.

That was the scene a few years ago when Chad, Steve and I paddled our way to a carefully chosen campsite just a few scant miles from the Canadian border. Not long after making camp, we began discovering fresh scrape lines on nearby ridges, and then, clusters of fresh, promising rubs in some fairly obvious funnel areas. Things were looking up.

A few days later found me in a small, portable hang-on stand in a lakeshore pinch point, guarding a handful of fresh, bright yellow-orange rubs. I’d accessed the area after rising early and paddling from our campsite in darkness to the small secluded cove, where I beached my canoe and hiked the remaining quarter-mile to the stand. Shortly after 8 a.m., I’d completed a brief, but silence-shattering rattling sequence; it wasn’t a minute later when a brutish buck snuck in to 30 yards or so, looking for trouble. At that point I switched to a soft doe bleat call and he came in on a line—until he stopped and stared up at me from just 12 yards, in brush so thick I could just barely make out his dirty white throat patch, and wide, 20-plus-inch rack. Trouble indeed.

After a tense 30-second standoff that featured my best tree trunk imitation, the buck seemed to relax and lose interest. It shifted to its right, allowing me time to find a small, clear opening just ahead. I quickly drew my trusty recurve and focused on that spot should the buck’s deep chest appear. Seconds later it did.

The release was subconscious; to this day, not one of my bow shots has ever looked or felt better, and my double-thumping heart confirmed my optimism. However, it was not to be. Closer, ground-level inspection of the shot site minutes later found my broadhead buried deep in a pine trunk—cocked steeply at a strange angle. An obvious deflection that broke my heart.

Melotik's Bowhunt the BWCAW DSC_3752
Another fringe benefit of visiting the BWCAW: a remote wilderness campsite.

Thankfully, much like bowhunting itself, the magical, long-awaited whitetail rut is best defined not merely by success or failure, but rather by its many, almost mystical components.

Add a pristine backdrop like the wild, relatively inaccessible BWCAW—and win, lose, or draw, you’ll find it’s a great way to enhance your enjoyment of an already magical time of year. I can’t wait to get back.

For more info on the BWCAW and obtaining the necessary permit go to http://www.fs.usda.gov/superior/;  or recreation.gov, or Boundary Water Oufitters.

For info on outfitting your adventure with the right gear, or rentals, I’ve had great success with John and Lynn O’Kane at Voyageur North Outfitters.

Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of Archery Gear!

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