by Ron Spomer
When it Comes to Mule Deer Hunting,
Eyesight is Your Most Useful Piece of Equipment .
It sounds easy – find a mule deer, sneak within range, and make a clean shot.
Sometimes it is that simple, but usually it won’t be.
Here are some tips and tactics that bring success to top mule deer hunters:
1. Carry great optics and use them – Binocular and spotting scope. An 8X binocular won’t enlarge quite as much as a 10X, but it’s easier to hold steady and it takes in a wider field of view. Neither 8X nor 10X will reveal much about antler formation anyway, so use the advantage of lighter binos with a wider field-of-view to locate deer. Then switch to the spotting scope to size up antlers.
2. Look over there… WAY over there – If you don’t find what you’re looking for with the bino, employ the spotting scope on lowest power to scour even more distant landscapes. Patience, my friend. The deer are out there, but they aren’t as easy to spot as the open terrain might suggest. This is especially true after they lie down, which usually happens an hour or two after sunup.
3. Start at the crack of light – Even if shooting hour hasn’t begun, get your eyes working. Mule deer, especially big bucks that get harassed, are like vampires heading for the shadows at first light. Scan feed fields and routes toward bedding cover, either woods or brush pockets. They’ll lie in ditches, gullies and coulees in plain grass if they have to.
4. Key on feed fields – After a long summer drought, most native grass, forbs and shrubs are dried up. If there are any irrigated crop fields, deer will find them. So should you. Glass for green patches at dusk and dawn.
5. Miles to go before they sleep – Mule deer are travelers. They’ll easily hike four or five miles from bed to food and back again. Scan the landscape for at least two hours before dark and after dawn.
6. Hit no man’s land – If you find a spot that looks like the middle of nowhere, it’s probably the middle of mule deer paradise. They like peace and quiet. But if hunters are moving everywhere, mule deer are perfectly capable of lying low in skimpy cover right close to human travel routes. They can out-whitetail a whitetail when it comes to hiding.
7. Don’t shoot the first big one – If you haven’t seen many mule deer, be prepared to be fooled by those tall, wide antlers. Even a small one looks huge. If possible, study mounts near home or at places like Cabela’s. Note how mass really makes a difference. A really nice buck’s antlers should reach to the tips of his ears and stretch equally high or higher. Deep forks are a big part of score. They should be at least as long as one of those mule-like ears.
8. Call – Like whitetails, mule deer does live in extended family groups, and the does will often run to the squall of a predator call, thinking it’s a fawn in distress. During the rut, the bucks that attach themselves to the doe groups will come with them. And even if they don’t come running, they may jump out of cover to expose themselves.
9. Wait – If you’re hunting woods, forests and deep brush, you may have to out-wait your deer. Study tracks and find feeding sites, then wait for deer to appear. Fawns and does will emerge first. Big bucks often hang just inside cover until dark. So scour those fringes with your optics looking for shine from antlers, noses and eyes. A big buck can freeze motionless for fifteen minutes, just watching before emerging. Stay low, motionless and quiet.
10. Hunt early or late – In September bucks live in bachelor bands and feed in the light since days are still fairly long. In the high country they usually stay above treeline. In October they usually hide out in deep, dry forest where they don’t make a sound and you do – crunch, crunch. Try sitting waterholes if it’s dry and you must hunt October. Pray for snow. Better yet, wait until after November 10 when bachelor bands are broken up and big bucks begin wandering in search of doe groups. During the last half of November the rut is on and bucks expose themselves. Alas, not many states permit hunting during this vulnerable season. But some offer late season hunts via special permits. This is when high country snow pushes deer into small, low-lying valleys and hunting is much easier.
11. Become a better shot – Too many new muley hunters don’t train themselves to shoot far across open country. They miss their chances. A man or woman who can drop a bullet into a 12-inch circle with confidence at 300 yards has a much better chance at success. Extend that to 400 yards and you’re really sailing. But you have to be able to make the shot every time, not just some of the time. Practice, practice. And use a bipod or tripod. Natural rests are hard to find in grasslands.
12. Watch, listen, learn and enjoy – Even if you don’t get your deer, you’ll be alive in some of the most beautiful land God created. You’re using your eyes anyway, so revel in everything you see.
To Read Some More of Ron’s Informative Articles, Click Here.
Ron is rifles/optics columnist for Sporting Classics and North American Hunter magazines and host of Winchester World of Whitetail on NBC Sports. Learn more at (www.ronspomeroutdoors.com)
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