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Secrets from a Three-Year Mule Deer Hunt

A record-book mule deer is one of North America’s most challenging trophies. Populations are down in many ranges, and the age structure is very unlike the good ol’ days. Mule deer face mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, and disease, all of which keeps their numbers in check. At lower elevations, the more dominant whitetails have moved into their range, competing for food and water. Mike Andrews, shown in the photo above, spent three years on his mule deer quest until he finally scored. Big muleys still haunt the mountaintops of Colorado, Wyoming, and other Rocky Mountain states, but don’t overlook the Plains, which is where Andrews scored. His full story is featured in the current Bowhunting World. Here’s a quick summary of what he learned:

Montana Antelope 192Glass, Glass, Glass: The most effective way to hunt mule deer is to spot where they bed, from a nearby ridge top or miles away. The hunting of no other species is as dependent on optical location skills as mule deer. Once the buck beds, you’ll need to make a wide circle and approach from above and downwind. Be patient and alert for other deer bedded nearby.

Stalk Bedded Game: Catching a whitetail deer in its bed is difficult, because they usually lay in thick, dense cover, making a quiet approach nearly impossible. Mule deer prefer wide-open country, often with their back against a bluff so they can spot danger approaching. Bad weather makes for great hunting, because the wind or rain will dampen your approach.

SD Deer Oct 2011 146Know the Range: A laser rangefinder is critical to success. The higher-end models like Nikon offer brush modes that will ignore grass close to the lens and detect an animal or rock in the distance. Once you know the range to a bedded animal, be patient and allow it to stand naturally.

Practice at Longer Range: Unlike tree-stand hunting, mule deer shots are rarely at 20 yards, and you’ll need to practice at longer distances while the wind is blowing. A 20 mph wind is normal in many Plains areas, so you should practice with the wind in your face and at a cross direction.

Joe Byers has more than 1,000 magazine articles in print and is currently a field editor with Whitetail Journal, Predator Xtreme, Whitetails Unlimited, Crossbow Revolution, and African Hunting Journal magazines. He’s spent the last three decades depicting the thrill of the chase and photographing the majesty of all things wild. Byers is a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and numerous other professional and conservation organizations.