Here are a few tips on how to glass for mule deer.
Turn on just about any television show where guys are hunting mule deer and you'll probably see the host doing a lot of glassing. While that does make for good television, it's also a really good way to find the right buck.
However, there's more to glassing than just randomly looking around with binoculars. Here are couple of tips on how to glass for mule deer more effectively.
Use a Tripod
First off, make sure you use a tripod (or some sort of support) when you're glassing for mule deer. Even if you're using a cheap tripod with low quality binoculars, you're virtually guaranteed to spot more game than if you were free-handing binoculars.
A tripod virtually eliminates the shaking that even the most steady handed hunter has when free-handing binoculars, so it is much, much easier to spot movement when using one.
Trust me: you'll be amazed at how much more detail you see in the environment after mounting your binoculars on a tripod. Mule deer blend into their environment incredibly well and it's incredible how often I've found myself looking right at a deer, but not actually spotting it until it moved.
The flick of an ear, the sun gleaming on an antler, and the twitch of a tail are all details you'll miss more often than not unless you're using a tripod.
Use High Quality Glass
You get what you pay for with optics and high quality glass really comes in handy when you're trying to pick out a deer several hundred yards away. High quality optics have very crisp images, better light transmission, and good contrast; all of which are essential for spotting well camouflaged animals at long distances and in poor lighting conditions.
I learned this firsthand on a recent mule deer hunt using a pair of Leupold's BX-5 Santiam HD 15x56mm binoculars (provided by the good folks at Ochocos).
I spotted the two bucks in the photo below shortly after daybreak one morning on a ridge about 1,200 yards away. It's tough to tell in the photo, but I could clearly see that the deer on the left was a big bodied, heavy racked buck through my binoculars.
There is no way I would have seen those two bucks that morning without using a set of good quality binoculars mounted on a tripod.
Yes, it's absolutely possible to successfully glass for mule deer with low end optics. However, it's much easier when you're using really good binoculars or a nice spotting scope and you'll really notice the difference after upgrading your optics next time you're out glassing for mule deer.
Pick the Right Spot
A lot goes into a good glassing spot. First, you need to be at a location with a good view of mule deer habitat. After all, it doesn't do you much good to have a great vantage point overlooking an area where no mule deer live.
Do a little scouting and try to identify some areas with good cover, food sources, and water (particularly in dry climates) first. Once you get on the ground, look for fresh sign (like tracks and scat) to confirm there really are deer in the area.
Then, look for a couple of vantage points that give you a good view of areas that hold mule deer. When you select these glassing spots keep the location of the sun in mind.
Ideally, you'll face west in the morning and east in the evening. This will keep the sun out of your eyes, it will be easier to spot game on hillsides that receive the first and last rays of light during the morning and evening, and having the sun at your back will make it more difficult for game to spot you.
While it won't always work out that way, do your best to at least avoid looking directly into the rising or setting sun.
Do not forget about the wind though: deer can smell you from several hundred yards away and you probably will not have much luck glassing for mule deer if the wind is blowing your scent directly to them.
Putting this all together means you should have several different possible glassing locations selected based on the time of day and potential wind directions you'll encounter during your hunt.
In addition to having a great sense of smell, don't discount a mule deer's senses of hearing and sight. Keep noise to a minimum when moving through deer country and when glassing for mule deer. It's not the end of the world if you break some sticks or kick a rock by accident because noises like that happen all the time in nature.
However, deer (mature bucks in particular) will notice unnatural sounds like metal banging on metal or human voices. Don't talk above a whisper and be extra cautious about making any noise with your gear.
Take extra care to break-up your silhouette when glassing for mule deer. It won't take long for deer to notice you if you're sitting there skylined on a bare hillside.
Instead, choose a spot below the crest of a hill or ridge and sit in front of a bush or tree that helps break-up your outline. If you do that, you'll make it very difficult for deer to spot you as long as you don't make any sudden movements.
Early Mornings and Late Evenings
Similar to many other animals, mule deer are most active early in the morning and late in the evening. Get to your first glassing spot well before daylight so you can start glassing for mule deer as soon as the sun rises.
This is your best opportunity to catch deer on their feet before they bed down for the middle of the day. If you spot one early and see where it beds, the deer probably won't move much until the afternoon. This will give you an opportunity to stalk within range and potentially take a shot.
You can still glass for mule deer during the day, but it's usually just much harder. Most of the time they don't move very much outside mornings and evenings, but it is possible to catch a glimpse of a deer standing up to relieve itself or change position. This is particularly true during the middle of the day when deer may need to move a little to stay in the shade.
At the same time, resist the urge to head back to camp in the evening before it gets dark. Mule deer will often leave their beds and start feeding shortly before sunset, so make sure you're still out there glassing as long as you can see.
I glassed the hillside below for several hours without seeing anything before those two bucks stood up a few minutes before sunset. They were bedded behind a tree all afternoon, but I had no idea they were there until they got up and started feeding. I would have missed them entirely if I would have given up and headed back to camp early.
Perhaps the best tip I can give for how to glass for mule deer is to slow down. Don't just quickly glass the hillside and conclude there aren't any deer there.
Once you get in position, do a quick scan of open areas where deer are easy to spot. Then, slowly and methodically pick apart the surrounding hillsides. Divide the area you want to glass into a grid in your head to help you search the entire area in detail without missing any spots.
When you think you've looked at the entire hillside in detail, go back and search again. Mule deer are great at hiding and you may need to glass his hiding spot several times before you finally spot the buck bedded there. Deer don't remain perfectly still when bedded. They occasionally look around or even stand up every now and then. Unless you're looking in the right spot, you won't see them move.
Dont' Give Up
My last tip on how to glass for mule deer is to remain persistent and don't give up. You're virtually guaranteed not to find any mule deer if you quit early and head back to camp. Keep in mind that you wait all year long for hunting season to start, so make the most of your time afield. If things are going rough on your hunt, remember that it only takes a few seconds for your luck to change.