Bow Hunting Mule Deer

Whether you take to the hills or hunt the open plains, bow hunting for mule deer is a challenging pursuit. Here are tips and tactics to get you started this fall.

Beginner Mulie Bow-Hunting Equipment

For the beginner bow-hunter, getting a bow that you are comfortable with should be the first thing on your to do list. Get your bow with the aid of a good reputable bow shop. It can truly be overwhelming for the first time bow-hunter with all the new bow hunting technology. Having your bow set-up and tuned by a professional can go a long way to getting you started on the right path to bow hunting success. After that practice, practice and practice some more. You should very comfortable drawing and shooting your bow. Your stance and anchor point should be habit — even automatic — and always correct.

A good rangefinder should also be something that you utilize regularly. A misjudged distance of five yards can mean a missed mule deer, or even worse: bad arrow placement and a wounded deer. When it comes to rangefinders get as good a quality model as you can afford — and if possible get one that has a bow range mode as well as an incline compensation feature for the true ballistic range when shooting up hill or down. I mentioned in beginning of this article the actual distance on that mule deer buck was 39 yards and I should have been shooting at the deer as if he was at 33 yards. Fortunately, the buck still went down and everything went OK from there, however it could have easily been a wounded buck instead of a downed one.

The same goes with your choice of optics, which I believe are a must for hunting western mule deer. Every serious mule deer bow hunter should have good quality binoculars and spotting scope. These are invaluable at spotting your quarry far off in the distance and thereby allowing you to identify game and judge it at your leisure. This can save you a lot of foot work at times by being able to spot mule deer and observe them unnoticed, as the deer will likely be far up that mountain slope or bed down far out, smack in the middle of some huge barley crop field, on the lone prairies. If you see a buck you wish to put a stalk on, then, aided with your binoculars or spotting scope, you can also really observe the lay of the land and scrutinize the area to find the best unnoticed approach to take in order to stalk your game to a successful conclusion.

Mountain Mule Deer Behaviour

Mule deer unlike their white tailed buck cousins, do not lend themselves well to stand hunting. It is going to be the exception to the rule to hunt a mule deer from a tree stand for example. I have been able to pattern mule deer in certain terrain and they do travel the same trails at times going to food and water in the mountains. They like to inhabit replanted clear cuts. Another good place to spot mule deer is the old burns from past forest fires in the mountainous areas.

In the early season one should be looking up very high on the mountain for your mule deer bucks. They literally live right up with the mountain goats, high above the tree line and they might stay up that high until the first heavy snows of winter drives them down. Mulies can be hunted in a lot of the West during the annual migration they make from summer range in their high country, back to their winter range down in the main valleys. This can be one of the best chances to bag your buck as the mule deer follow specific trails they have been using for countless generations. These trails can be identified quite easily, be they bare of or covered in the early snows of winter (the latter by observing tracks from previous deer activity). Hide and wait along these migration trails, and wait for a buck to travel down it. A good quality pop-up type blind can be used in this situation and could prove to be beneficial to your hunting endeavours as, for the most part, mule deer do not appear to shy away from the well-concealed ground blinds.

Prairie Mulies

I have been patterning a group of mule deer bucks on a friend’s range in southwestern Alberta for a couple of hunting seasons now and I do believe I will be able to get a shot at one of them from my ground blind. They seem to like to bed down in the river bottom after feeding in the crop fields that border the steep riverbanks on both sides of the river. These mule deer bucks generally travel the same coulee when they go to the river and I am confident that I have a good spot picked out to place my blind this next hunting season.

With the prairie mule deer one should be concentrating on the coulees, creeks and river drainages that are the norm in mule hunting terrain in the prairie country. The foothills can also be a very good place to hunt for mule deer. The cultivated cropland is a true magnet for the mule deer and they can be patterned when they travel from bedding areas to the expansive crop fields.

For the most part, you will be spot-and-stalk hunting prairie mule deer. However, depending on the terrain, it can prove to be frustrating spotting big mule deer bucks out in the flats as they can be nearly impossible to approach. Many the stalks I tried in this situation have resulted in no arrows loosed. It is best to focus your efforts on the crop fields and the surrounding bedding areas that the deer tend to utilize. Try to spot your quarry and watch where it beds down and then makes your stalk. Keeping the wind in your favour is critical, as the mule deer possesses a truly great sense of smell.

Smells, Sounds & Sight

Because of the mule deer’s keen nose, I always use a complete scent-control program, which includes using a good scent-free soap and shampoo, and using unscented detergent when washing hunting apparel. Keeping your apparel in an airtight container will help keep it scent-free until you head afield. Finally, I complement that program by applying a good cover or attractant scent to myself when going after mule deer. Really, it is the same routine that any self-respecting white deer hunter would follow.

Always remember they are named mule deer for good reason. This is due to their huge ears and these ears are very receptive to the slightest of sounds. Their ears are most likely the best defence mechanism they posses when they are bedded down. It is of utmost importance to approach your quarry as silently as possible. I have spooked mule deer at hundreds of metres away by the swishing of grass as I walked, the sound of the crop stubble hitting my boots or a rolling rock on kicked accidentally off the mountainside.

They have excellent eyesight as well and can see movement from great distances. For this reason, it is of utmost importance to utilize the right camouflage pattern for the type of terrain you are hunting in. At all times afield, one should be in head-to-toe in camouflage. This includes a facemask and gloves for those close encounters you must achieve when bow hunting mule deer.

All in all, when it comes to bow hunting for mule deer — be it high up at 2,500 metres on a lonely Rocky Mountain in southeastern British Columbia, a rolling foot hill in southwestern Alberta or in some stretch of arid Saskatchewan’s great Sand Hills, you should employ all the aforementioned tactics that might apply to your given hunting situation.

But remember —first and foremost you must religiously practice the shooting of your bow — because you are only as good as your archery tackle, if you know your archery tackle intimately.

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