When it comes to big game in North America, trophy mule deer are among the most sought-after species. Weighing in at close to 300 pounds and reaching antler measurements of over 200 inches, mule deer are icons of the American west.
Mule deer are highly adaptable, ranging from river bottoms and high plains to alpine environments above timberline. From Rocky Mountain deserts to coastal forests, mule deer hunting presents a variety of challenges.
Here in Arizona, mule deer hunting is also diverse. Deer habitat ranges from dry desert habitat to alpine environments. In either situation, hunting mature mule deer requires patience and determination. Here are a few tips for successfully hunting trophy mule deer:
Among most guides, there’s one common theme when it comes to mule deer hunting: glass, glass and keep glassing. Many mule deer hunters like to get to a high position early in the morning when it’s still dark, and set up behind their spotting scope or binoculars.
In many areas, mule deer like to feed and water throughout the night. This means that at first light, they can often be seen moving back to their bedding areas. Getting to a vantage point under the cover of darkness allows hunters to spot deer while they are still moving and plan a stalk.
Once mule deer lie down, they can be almost impossible to spot, even in country that seems open and exposed. Catching them while they are moving is a major advantage, particularly when it comes to smart old bucks.
When getting into a vantage point in the morning, take special care not to skyline yourself. Even against a dark sky, your silhouette can be a dead giveaway.
Mule deer tend to spend the middle of the day enjoying the shade. During these hours, patience and a quality spotting scope are your best tools. Even when you feel that you’ve covered the same hillsides a hundred times, stay patient and keep your eyes open.
When hunting mule deer, it’s important to stay alert and ready at all times. If you don’t see any action the first couple days of your hunt, it’s easy to let your guard down. Keeping your senses on full alert is critical, especially during a slow period when a quick opportunity might be your only opportunity. Wherever you find yourself, always be thinking about your shooting lanes, or where you’ll rest if an opportunity arises. Act like every situation will be the big one.
When you spot that shooter buck, remain patient. If the buck isn’t already in shooting range, you’ll need to take your time and plan a stalk. If the deer is still moving toward his bedding area, it may require you to stay put. If you can watch where a deer beds down, it will often give you a great opportunity to plan a careful stalk.
The test of your patience may not end there either. Even after you are in range, you may have to wait on the deer to give you a shot. If he’s lying behind an obstruction, you may be forced to wait until he stands up.
Mule deer hunting can be very physical. Once a buck is spotted, getting into position for a shot may not always be an easy task. Hunters should be ready to cover several miles a day through rugged country. Most guides agree that the better shape you can be in, the better your chances of taking a mature mule deer buck.
Like antelope hunting, stalking mule deer may require a great deal of crawling on your hands and knees or belly. If you’re in the best shape possible, that final stalk should be fun and exhilarating, not a painful experience.