The Author takes you through a step by step guide that will put you on the right track to Mule deer Bowhunting Success.
Over the Past ten years the Mule deer has been my passion and most sought after quarry. I have hunted them in four states and on Native American Lands. In this article I will explain tactics and tips that I have learned to become an effective, consistent Muley Slayer.
Goal Setting :
First you must set a goal. A first time Mule deer hunter that desires
a record Book Buck is setting a lofty goal. Determine in your mind what
constitutes a trophy, for a first timer a nice wide racked three point
would be a nice achievement. A seasoned bow hunter looking for a true
trophy will be looking for a mature heavy racked four by four. The two
goals are similar, however research and preparation will differ.
Mule Deer are not predictable and will seem to wonder aimlessly. Hunt the does and you will find the bucks in late season. Upon locating deer, look for a near by drainage or rock out cropping and use it for cover when stalking. Keeping the wind in your favor and out of sight of deer is key. During the late season deer are herded up in larger groups. You will be dealing with more sets of eyes ears and noses, getting in close on a late season stalk is very difficult. Only the patient and aware bow hunters succeed in late season stalking. Another Method that has worked very well for my buddies and I are good old fashioned deer drives. We will head into known deer bedding areas at mid-day and set up “shooters” in known escape routes and have the “Pushers” walk through the bedding areas making noise and talking to each other. We have taken many good bucks this way, problem is, unless you watch the deer bed you have no idea of the caliber of bucks being pushed. You could end up shooting the wrong buck such as a buddy did a few seasons ago. We Pushed a 23 inch 3x3 past him, one lethal arrow at forty yards dropped the buck quickly. Moments later a near Boone 5x5 stopped a mere 20 yards from the hunter. Lots of excitement and an excellent way to “Make it Happen”.
Early season tactics require sound mental preparation and stellar physical condition. When speaking of early season I refer to it as “High Country” deer hunting. This means leaving the roads and crowds behind. All Western States offer this type of Public land hunting. I look for high alpine bowls among the Willows and avalanche chutes. I will find trail heads that lead as far into the wilderness as possible. The biggest of the big bucks are hold up here until the first signs of Fall are evident. Up this high big bucks live among them selves and are rarely disturbed. The occasional Hiker or Prowling Mountain lion is the only thing that will get them moving around. A quick look at a Topographical map will indicate where to start looking for big bucks. Concentrate on the areas above tree line, basically 10,500 feet and up. When studying the map look for the plateaus where the contour lines of the map get farther apart at the higher altitudes. These high meadows with evident water will surely hold dandy bucks. A couple of expeditions in late summer should produce big buck sightings, make note on your maps of where the sightings occurred. The bucks won’t be to far from that location come opening day.
In the high country bucks will be up and feeding in the early morning
hours. Moving periodically throughout the day, feeding again in the evening.
Best strategy for this situation is to get above the deer. Quality optics
are a must, 10 power or more. Good bino’s or a spotting scope will
save a bunch of leg work. A high quality 10-12 power by 32-50 mm lenses
are Ideal. I use Leica 10x32's and have had great success.
Special mountaineering equipment for this type of hunting will be mentioned a bit later in the gear portion of the article. Set up your spike camp at an elevation that is significantly higher than the deer . At sun rise set up on a boulder slide or high vantage point and glass the Willows below. Once you have spotted a buck that suites you, make a mental note and a drawing on a note pad of land marks. For instance using your laser range finder (a Must) range a tree or large notable rock near the buck then range the deer. If the rock or tree ranges at say 500 yards and the deer ranges for 375, then you know the deer is 125 yards from your land mark. Wait for the thermals to rise. Once you’ve bedded a good buck and have your land mark, search for surrounding deer that could potentially sabotage your stalk. At around eleven o’ Clock AM the sun is up, and thermals are rising, this is putting the wind in your favor. Though the predominant winds will blow keep them in your face, and the thermals will keep up the rest of the day causing the air to rise. Begin the stalk by getting well past the buck and staying above and out of sight, you should close in to he final 100 yards as swiftly as possible. Once you are at your land mark and wind in your face, slip on your shoe coverings or an extra pair of heavy wool socks over your shoes. Face paint or a mask is a must. Knock an arrow and get familiar with your 20 yard mental estimate. Range different trees, bushes, rocks etc get them ingrained in your mind as the buck will surely appear right before your eyes. Start moving S L O W L Y. At every step stop look and listen. Long pauses between steps is the norm. Look for movement, such as an ear twitch the bobbing of a deers rack as he is enjoying his mid day siesta. More times than not I will be inside 20 yards of the buck before I ever see them. Once you’ve located the deer it is paramount you instantly get into a position to shoot. Many times it is likely the buck will be facing away and laying down. If you have a clear shot of the ribs covering the Vitals take the shot. Do not attempt to get a mature Mule deer buck on his feet forcefully by “Throwing a rock”. This may work for some guys, but it has never worked for me. Stay as calm and still as possible, periodically bucks will rise and stretch changing locations to remain shaded. Just before a buck rises they will toss their head back to gain momentum, this is when you come to full draw, when the buck is on his feet and vitals are clear take the shot. If you blow the stalk, the buck will blow out of there in a flash, have your range finder handy as many times Mule deer will bound out to forty or fifty yards and pause to see what disturbed them offering one last opportunity for a shot.
Being prepared at the moment of truth helped me this past season. I had closed in on a beautiful 5x4, I knew I was within 50 yards of him. I had climbed an outcropping of rocks and was standing on tip toes trying to see him below me. I had already ranged the immediate area I believed the buck to be in. I was scanning hard when the buck rose to stretch right in front of me. I quickly came to full draw and pierced his heart at 50 yards.
Preparation for the hunt, Gear:
Mule deer hunting is just like whitetail hunting only completely different.
Shots are rarely inside 20 yards. Practice shooting farther, extending
your range will increase your chances of bagging a buck dramatically.
Most pin sights sold today come with a standard five pin configuration,
setting the top pin at 20 yards allows the bottom pin to be set at distances
beyond ethical shooting distance. A bow set up from 60 to 70 pounds and
shooting 250 to 300 feet per second is more than ample. Western deer hunting
is where Mechanical broad heads shine. Check the States Laws, as not all
Western States allow mechanical broad heads. Mechanicals fly great and
out to 60 yards they group right with my field points of same weight.
For those who prefer fixed blade heads, a quality drop away rest is ideal.
Broad heads can be difficult to tune for longer shots, fall away rests
will have less effect on arrow flight making them easier to tune. Again,
a flat shooting set up is paramount, go with a high quality, straight
carbon shaft and when using mechanical heads fletch arrows with 3 inch
vanes, smaller vanes create less drag, flatter arrow trajectory is the
result. As mentioned, a laser range finder is priceless on a western big
game hunt and can be used as a training tool in the off season such as
practicing for yardage judging for 3-D shoots.
A quality GPS is a great investment and will be worth it’s weight in Gold when you down a buck a long ways from camp and have to leave it over night.
Water filteration is a must, never assume water is ok to drink even at high altitude. I had Giardia once, not sure I am over it still. I contracted it from a spring in the high country above 12,000 feet. Filters are bulky and have weight. I use water bottles made by various manufacturers that you only have to unscrew one end, dip into a stream and suck through the opposite end that is filtered. For stored water I use Iodine tablets, leaves the water terrible tasting, however the tradeoff in weight reduction over a filter makes it worth it. A high quantity bladder with sipping spout is a sure way to stay hydrated all day, can’t drink too much water in the High Country.
You can not be in too good of shape for western hunting. The Body is the most important piece of equipment you have. Hours of cardiovascular work outs and leg exercises are a must. Every one loves a big chest and Biceps, they will do you no good in the High Country. Lungs and Legs are what matter up here. I wear an 80 pound load in my pack and hit various trails in the months leading to hunting season. Usually four to five days a week I hike up and down trails with my oversized pack strapped on for an hour each outing. Come hunting season my 45 pounder is cake. See your doctor before starting any physically straining execise.
Clothing and Foot Wear:
For me, my feet make or break a hunt. I chose the Cabela’s Elk Hunter by Danner for my high country hunting. Boots that lace to the toe offer a custom fit like no other. They are non insulated as your feet will burn up in the early season. Wool or synthetic materials are needed for socks. long hours on your feet will produce sweat and once wet, wool and synthetic material such as the Cabela’s Ultra max reamin comfortable and breathable. Take breaks and remove your boots periodically and let your feet air out, they are doing all the work, give em a break.
Cotton has no place here. Once wet, cotton offers no insulation and stays wet for long periods of time. Clothing, including socks and long johns as well as hunting cloths should be of synthetic materials. Materials that breath and wick moisture away from the body are a must. Even on warmer days out west, once wet and the breeze cools it can trigger Hypothermia. As for Camo patterns, opt for the lighter open patterns that have dark contrasting lines. I use Predator spring Green and Deception in the Buck Swede material, it is much like saddle cloth. Repels water and breathes. Dress in layers as the days will start out cool and then can turn incredibly hot. In late afternoon Temps will plummet drastically especially if thunder storms move in.
It may take a trip or two out west to see the benefits of the items I’ve
listed above. All of the details listed were learned by paying close attention
to detail and blowing hundreds of stalks. Being prepared with the proper
quality gear and careful planning will certainly get you in closer to
mule deer and provide you more opportunities to “Make it Happen”.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 - KJV