This article is all about bow hunting mule deer, but many of the concepts discussed will work well for rifle hunting mule deer as well.
Male mule deer fall into two categories. Super dumb or super smart. When a mule deer buck is younger, say below three years of age, they can be incredibly easy to hunt. If they make it past their early, stupid years, it’s almost like they flip a switch and become super smart. This article is about the super smart ones.
In previous articles we have discussed ambushing elk and antelope. I am sure there are places that an ambush is possible, however generally speaking ambushing large mule deer is not feasible.
We have also discussed calling as a method of hunting elk and antelope, however calling doesn’t really work with large mule deer. I have successfully stopped a mule deer from walking using a honking sound that mimics their alarm honk. Honking can work well if you need a buck to stop walking away from you to present a shot, but I would not really label honking as calling.
So that leaves a hunter with stalking as the only available method of hunting large mule deer. When we discussed methods of bow hunting elk I wrote about slow stalking elk in dense timber. Elk can be discovered in dense timber and stalked upon. However, large bucks will sneak away long before you get close to them. In most cases you will never see them or know they were there at all.
In order to stalk large bucks you have to see them first. The only way you will see them first is to get yourself in a position before daylight to overlook a large expanse of mule deer infested countryside. Get up high, hide yourself, and plan on spending the day glassing.
Large mule deer bucks are mainly nocturnal. They will spend all night feeding and all day hiding and sleeping. Bucks will always hid in place that has multiple escape routes and allows them a vantage point to scan the surrounding terrain. That is why you can’t hope to spot a large buck while walking.
Many times while glassing for large bucks I have seen a buck get up from a place I had no idea was hiding a buck, walk 10 paces, relieve himself, and then return to their bed. Even after seeing exactly where the buck laid down it is nearly impossible to find it.
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If your going to spend all day glassing be sure to bring proper clothing that will allow you to remain immobile. The morning hours can be very cold. If you get up and walk around to warm up you will alert every buck within a couple mile radius. I generally pack a sleeping bag covered with a bivey sack for just this occasion. The bivey sack is simply a water-proof shell that surrounds your sleeping bag to keep it dry and clean. I will generally take my boots off and climb in the bag for the morning to stay warm while I am glassing.
Be sure to hide in place that will allow for convenient bathroom breaks. Remember you will need to remain hidden all day.
Glass your area by working in a grid pattern to make sure you cover all of the terrain. Look for ears or sections of horn. Pay special attention to bases of trees and rocky areas.
I will be honest. Glassing is not very fun. It gets very old, very fast. If your not doing a good job you are wasting your time. Glass for 5 minutes and then take a small break. You will have to glass over the same terrain many times. As the sun shifts in the sky shadows may disappear, the buck may move it’s head just enough to be visible, that odd looking branch may turn out to be part of a huge rack. Keep glassing.
Plan Your Stalking Route
Once you have spotted a buck, spend some time figuring out your route to sneak up on the buck. Stay hidden by terrain as long as possible. Try to find landmarks that will give you guidance when you get closer to the buck.
Keep spotting the area once you have found your target buck. Large mule deer bucks will often bed with other large bucks. You have to find them all before you start your stalk. Assume there is another buck with your target buck until you can prove with more glassing that there is only one buck.
When you get within a hundred yards from the buck you will really have to slow down. Get on you knees and start crawling. Move slowly and quietly. The last 100 yards could take hours to cover.
Of course the wind has to be in your favor. If the wind shifts you have to abort the stalk immediately. If the buck winds you, you are done.
In Bow Range
When you get within bow range of your target buck you will need to have the buck standup to take a shot. This can be a tricky procedure because you want the buck alarmed enough to standup, but not too alarmed or he will race off without giving you a shot.
Before you get close to your buck put a few small stones in your pocket. When you get within bow range, toss a stone over the buck if possible, or in a direction that will make the buck focus away from you. Often times the clatter of small stone will alarm the buck enough to standup without running away.
Every hunt is different. Often times the difference between failure and success is the ability to improvise. Think about each situation and do your best to put yourself within bow range.
Harvesting a large, mule deer buck with a bow is extremely challenging. However, with a lot, and I mean a lot of patience it is possible.
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