By Mike Willis
The mule deer rut is right around the corner, so start preparing now to get in on the action! Mule deer hunting is a ton of fun and provides a great excuse to get back on the mountain. Perhaps the best part about hunting mules is visiting the places that they call home.
Mule deer reside in the high country where winter arrives early. Since winter on the mountain sets in a bit sooner than the lower elevations, mule deer rut a little ahead of whitetails. While the rut varies from region to region, the first weeks of November are typically the action’s peak. I love the fact that the Pacific Northwest provides back-to-back-to-back rutting action!
First, the elk go crazy, then the mule deer, and before you know it, you are chasing whitetails. Fall and early winter are by far the greatest times of the year! For a hunting enthusiast, the Northwest is paradise.
If you want to try hunting mule deer but don’t know where to begin, here’s a good rundown to get you started:
Getting Into Mule Deer Country
To access the high country during the rut, you will need to figure out your travel method. Here are your primary options for getting to the mule deer.
1. Pickup Truck with Chains on the Tires
2. ATV with Good Tread
3. Chevro-legging it/ Hiking all the way in (Not recommended)
Once you establish the best way to get into the high country, you will then need to be prepared to start hiking once you get there. I like to take my ATV up the mountain until I start cutting tracks. Once I know that I am in the muleys, I ditch the quad and begin tip-toeing around.
Where to Look
Your regional conditions will dictate the elevation that you should be hunting. During the rut, I look for mule deer at elevations between four and six thousand feet. Again, your local conditions will determine everything.
If the mountain’s highest elevation gets three feet of snow overnight, you better believe those deer are migrating down. As the season progresses, you will slowly be following the deer down the mountain. However, the big boys will hang tough for a while, so don’t run off with the does right away!
Look around the head end of draws, as mule deer tend to hang around there. Those muley bucks love to hang out on rocky cliffs and outcroppings where you don’t want to hike. They know they are safe there, so that is where they will be.
How to Look for Mule Deer
There are a few different options for finding mule deer.
1. Glassing with binoculars or a spotting scope
2. Hiking slowly on forest roads and logging roads
3. Driving around until you see something to shoot
Unfortunately, number three seems to be the most common method of pursuing mule deer. Since the young bucks aren’t very elusive, they normally get whacked in their first couple of short years. If you want to get a quality mule deer, you will probably have to sweat. If you want to have years-worth of good mule deer hunting, don’t shoot the little bucks.
For your best chances of success, hike to a good glassing knob. Using a quality set of binoculars or a spotting scope, comb over every inch of the mountain. Look for partial views of the deer. You may only see an antler or a leg.
Once you find your muley buck, make sure that he is what you want to shoot. Before descending into the pit of hell for a shot, know that he is the one!
Check back next week for a full rundown of the gear needed for your first mule deer hunt.