If you are new to mule deer hunting, and looking for some advice, here are five tips for hunting mule deer.
The open skies and big country of the West offers some of the most memorable hunting experiences in the United States. The only thing to top the majestic creatures roaming our western lands may be the magnificent lands they tread upon. One species in particular that embodies the spirit of the West is the mule deer.
Largely under-researched and misunderstood, these iconic creatures represent the West for several reasons. First, mule deer are as big as the country they inhabit, with typically larger bodies and antlers than their whitetail cousins of the eastern woodlands. Secondly they have a traveling spirit to match the openness they call home.
If you’ve ever pursued them, you are familiar with the challenge. If you’ve never had the opportunity to be humbled by their pogo-sticking silhouette bounding into a setting sun here are a few tips for hunting mule deer to help your learning curve.
1. Understand the nomads
To begin, if you are going to hunt muleys you have to understand their habits vary drastically from the often-chased whitetails. Mule deer typically operate with sheer unpredictability. Trying to pattern a wise old mule deer can be like trying to pattern leaves in a fall gale. These nomads appear to have core areas of several square miles, but show no real affection for any one location.
Unless you are hunting an extremely large area, don’t expect to see the same deer day-in and day-out like you may expect from whitetails. For example, one research project in Wyoming has tracked deer in an epic 150-mile migration. With travel potential like that, it’s not unheard of to see the same deer miles from his usual haunts.
Strategy: Don’t expect to pin these nomads in a predictable pattern. Stay flexible and react to the unique actions of the deer each day.
2. Extend your range
Talk of the West stirs visions of wide-open vistas, open grasslands, mountain top views, or sparsely timbered hill country. These big spaces offer several advantages to hunters. One big asset is that open country offers hunters the ability to clear miles of country with optics rather than boot leather.
On the other hand, if you can see the deer, they can see you. Additionally, especially concerning bowhunters, as you close the distance your chances of begin spotted increase by their superb ability to spot movement. For every deer I’ve been able to sneak within 40 yards, I’ve blown at least ten before getting there. The bottom line is that getting close presents some serious challenges.
Strategy: Practice diligently to extend your “nail-driving” distance as far as possible. On a final note, be honest with yourself about your shooting skill. Lots of hunters on TV can hammer animals at 60-yards with their bows, but that doesn’t mean every archer should shoot a 60-yard shot if presented with the opportunity.
3. Basics of the spot-and-stalk
Because of the unpredictability of mule deer, and the open country they inhabit, muleys tend to best be hunted by spotting and stalking. First, you must find, or spot, the deer. Like with many game animals this tends to be easiest the first hour of the day and the last hour before sunset. Try and find a high point and catch the deer moving off a feeding area into a bedding area, or vise versa. I prefer to hunt mornings and watch the deer move into their bedding area. Once bedded a mule deer can be awfully hard to spot.
After you have successfully spotted a deer you must next plan the stalk portion of the hunt. Before stumbling headlong into a haphazard stalk, it is generally best to intently study the ground between you and the deer. Make a solid mental map, taking special note of landmarks between the deer and you. Try and remember as much detail as you can. The land can seem to morph as you proceed, and you wouldn’t be the first one scratching your head wondering which yucca plant the deer was in front of. Finally, the closer you get the slower you have to move. If you think you are moving slow enough, slow down a little more.
Strategy: Be glassing when the deer are on their feet, and plan a stalk according to their position. Make a solid mental map before you proceed.
4. Be in shape
Wolves were top predators of much of the western lands prior to the twentieth century. One reason they could successfully hunt was their outstanding ability to run. If you want to hunt mule deer, and I mean get out and hunt the backcountry, you don’t have to be in wolf shape, but being in decent shape will allow you to hunt harder and enjoy the hunt more.
Mule deer hunts often require miles of hiking over rough country looking for, or stalking, deer. You’ll never hurt yourself by showing up to a hunt able to cover a few miles.
Strategy: Use the offseason to prepare. Develop a cardio regime a few months prior to your hunt. The farther you can go, the more you can hunt.
5. Stay persistent
The final tip for hunting mule deer is the most important. Due to the country they inhabit, the excellent senses they posses, and the nature of spot and stalk hunting, expect to fail. A lot. Even the very best muley hunters have hunts come unglued all the time. Consistent failure can be very frustrating, and cause a lot of heartache.
Don’t give up and stay persistent. Sooner or later the stars will align, and when they do the pain and frustration will subside and you’ll have a grin from ear to ear.
Strategy: Never quit. Never quit. Never quit.