Mule Deer

Outdoor Life - - HUNTING -

for­tune of shoot­ing more than 50 mule deer with a bow, 32 of which made the Pope and Young record book. Four scored above 200 points. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, mu­ley bucks of 5½ years or older can be con­sid­ered a sep­a­rate cat­e­gory of this an­i­mal.

Young mule deer do tend to be calmer than white­tails, which seem to walk on eggshells from birth. A 3½-year-old mu­ley buck might stand and stare as you drive or hike by—that’s where the “dummy” rep­u­ta­tion comes from. Such a young buck can have wide antlers and look big to a white­tail hunter. But he’s still a baby, with much to learn. A trans­for­ma­tion hap­pens by a mule deer’s fifth year, es­pe­cially on pub­lic land, where I nor­mally hunt. They grow huge head­gear—and be­come amaz­ingly adept at avoid­ing hu­mans. You can­not un­der­es­ti­mate the chal­lenge of hunting a top-tier mule deer. But here are four things I’ve learned to help even the odds.

1 | WALK WITH YOUR EYES

Al­most all mule deer live in semi-open coun­try. The prairies I of­ten bowhunt in Wy­oming, Mon­tana, and Al­berta can look like a moon­scape. The best way to lo­cate a large buck is usu­ally with ex­tended glass­ing. Like most big game, mu­leys be­come more seden­tary as they age. They also tend to bed in more re­mote places, where they rise pe­ri­od­i­cally to feed with­out wan­der­ing much. Un­like white­tails, mule deer move about ran­domly from day to day within a large home ter­ri­tory.

You should glass from high ground with a qual­ity 10X binoc­u­lar plus a com­pact spot­ting scope. This strat­egy will show you plenty of young, me­diocre bucks in de­cent coun­try, but once in a while a real “gag­ger” will show up. Then it’s time to stalk.

2 | GO THE DIS­TANCE

Of­fi­cial statis­tics from P&Y show that the av­er­age record-size white­tail buck is ar­rowed at about 19 yards. The av­er­age record-size mule deer is shot at slightly less than 40 yards. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a wa­ter hole or al­falfa field can al­low for stand­hunt­ing mule deer. But you have to hunt most mega bucks on foot. Ad­just your think­ing—and your prac­tice rou­tine—for longer shots, and you’ll pre­vent a rude awak­en­ing when a gi­ant buck fi­nally ap­pears.

3 | LIGHTEN UP

Cam­ou­flage works. Yet, many white­tail archers blow it with their cloth­ing choice on a mule deer trip. Most West­ern habi­tat is quite light in col­oration, es­pe­cially com­pared to Eastern white­tail haunts. If you show up wear­ing deep-woods cam­ou­flage, you will stand out like a black blob on the prairie. Real­tree, Ca­bela’s, and many oth­ers of­fer light-col­ored West­ern cam­ou­flage pat­terns. Take ad­van­tage of them, and you’ll be able to hide much more ef­fec­tively on sun-washed slopes.

4 | STICK TO YOUR STAKEOUT

If you bump a mule deer buck, you still might have a shot if he’s young enough. But a big boy won’t stand around after he’s bumped. The slight­est sound or move­ment sug­gest­ing dan­ger will send him into in­stant high gear.

I have to laugh at the idea of get­ting a bed­ded whop­per buck to stand up by toss­ing a rock, whistling, or oth­er­wise get­ting his at­ten­tion. No mat­ter what cre­ative ploy you try, he’ll usu­ally leave his bed like a hair-col­ored rocket. The best way to get a shot is to wait and let the buck stand on his own.

Know­ing all this from ex­pe­ri­ence, I lay face­down and hid­den as the gi­ant buck chewed his cud in plain sight. Three hours passed and mus­cle cramps set in. But at 5 p.m., the deer started swivel­ing his head and shift­ing his body. At last, he stood, looked to­ward me, then an­gled away and dropped his head to feed.

I yanked the ar­row back as I rolled to my knees, and I dumped the bow­string when my 40-yard sight pin set­tled on his heart. A split sec­ond later, I watched one of my best-ever mule deer sprint 50 yards and flip tail over teaket­tle in a cloud of dust. The gor­geous rack mea­sured 31 ½ inches wide, with an of­fi­cial net score of ex­actly 203 and a gross score just un­der 210. Such an­i­mals are rare no mat­ter where you hunt.

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