I'm looking too likely draw my first mule deer tag in Colorado this year. I'll be hunting above 10,000 feet with a buddy and then meeting up with two more friends who are trying to draw muzzleloader tags. I'm beginning to realize that mule deer were not made for easy traditional bow hunting. For instance, pope and young records show an average of 35 yards shot distance on record bucks. I'm a decent shot but 28ish yards is definitely my cut off on deer sized animals. Any advice on getting close and generally on stalking mule deer in mountain terrain.
You can stalk them but that will take patience- glass in the AM and wait til they bed. If you have a buddy to help your odds increase. Get above and slowly move into range then wait for it to stand. I guess about 1 in 10 stalks will result in a shot opportunity, wether you take it and succeed is another thing!
I would not be too picky on your first Muley, especially on a stalk opportunity. Forky horns are a lot easier to kill than a 4pt.
If I still hunted mountain muleys I'd hunt high the first week, then move down to 8,000 or below into the scrub oak/Aspen and sagebrush country.
Good luck and don't be picky.
They are tough but not impossible. Have fun and shoot the first one you get within your range. That way you can try for a bigger one later.
Often you can treat them like bou and put yourself where you think they will go and not try to kill them in a tough spot you probably can't get to.
And to Larry's point, you can get ahead of them and ambush them for close shots while they're moseying along. My muley this year walked past at 10 feet and I shot him at 7 yards walking away.
The above pictures are literally the last 3 stalks on Colorado mule deer that I have made. There are some tricks that work very well.
As Jaquomo stated above, they get tough to hunt after they strip velvet so you have to change your tactics. That usually happens about the 10th of September. If you are hunting before they strip out, 10,000' is too low. Focus on 11,500 up to 12,500. After they strip out, the bucks above treeline drop and are invisible. There will typically still be bucks down on the lower edges around 6 to 8K. Different kind of deer and different kind of hunting, but also doable.
Tradmt mentioned patience. That can not be stressed enough. I was less than 5 yards from two bucks for over 4 hours before I shot that buck in my first picture above. He was about 15 yards on the other side of those two bucks.
Optics are also critical. I will pack a lot of optics for mule deer and use them extensively. I use my 15x56's on a tripod for locating bucks then my 65mm spotting scope to tell if they are worth the effort of crossing the canyon and my 10's all the way in to shooting range. Once I locate a buck that I want to stalk, I will use all of my optics to ensure the stalk route is planned out to minute detail, then use the 10's all the way in to making the shot.
I will caution you about dropping your pack or taking your boots off - not always a great idea, especially if you are alone. They can be hard to find or several thousand feet above where you end up on your stalk.
In Colorado, the first two weeks of archery season are the prime time for hunting above treeline. The big migratory bucks will stay high to the end of the season, but will move into the timber more after they strip. Also, there is more pressure on a lot of the bucks above treeline due to the muzzle loader season and early rifle seasons above treeline.
Some of the big boys have learned to drop early, before they shed velvet, in the areas with early rifle hunts. I know of several specific bucks that summer above treeline and drop to 8,000' to private land around the first of September. Weird, but it is keeping them alive.
I am going again this year hope 3 times the charm.
Later in September I often drop down to 8000 range for elk to an area where they go to escape pressure higher up. There I sometimes find some real gagger hard-horned bucks in the aspen-sage transition areas.
Stamina to make the climb to where he is bedded.
Memorization of the stalk route, location of the deer and where you will stop.
Stealth to stalk into range and stake him out without being seen, heard or smelled.
Patience to wait him out.
Mental fortitude to stay LOCKED on the stalk plan even though you can't see the deer.
Luck that the wind stays steady.
Stamina to remain alert, stay put and not fidget.
GRIT to pick a spot and execute the shot when he stands up.
You can eat, drink, pee, poop, or even take a nap if you want after you have put an arrow through your buck's boiler room. You have to completely turn off your wants and needs and become a part of the scenery when you are staked out in that muley buck's bedroom until you close the deal.
It can be easier to shoot one if you can get lucky enough to be in the right place for a buck to walk by and give you a shot at under 20 yards. That hasn't happened for me very often. Much higher success when you put in the effort.
They are infinitely tougher than elk to kill even in the same country. In fact, mule deer and elk couldn't be any more different. You hunt them in different terrain, at different times of the day, and with totally different tactics. They may only be a mile apart but they are hunted completely differently.
I've been meaning to post up my hunt recaps here on bowsite but haven't gotten around to it yet.
But here is your dilemma: how do you sneak up on a mature mule deer when he has two other bucks nearby, they are all bedded facing different directions, and the cover consists of grass as tall as your ankle?
Mule deer bucks above treeline will typically bed out on open slopes early in the morning. They will scatter about and bed looking out over the valley below for several hours to make sure there is nothing out of the ordinary moving around before they go to their beds that they will stay in for most of the day. Almost impossible to get within rifle range of them when they are bedded in the open. Very frustrating to blow a stalk from 1,000 yards away and watch all the bucks blow out of the basin and over the 13,000' ridge never to be seen again that year...
Seems like they will usually move to cover about 10:00-10:30 and bury up in the willows or krumholtz to stay in the shade thru the heat of the day. When they are buried up in the thick stuff, their vision is pretty much useless.
That is when you move in close. Try not to get too close, though (seems to have been my biggest problem in the past). I like to set up about 10 yards from the bucks with the wind in my favor.
Figure they will get up and move around maybe once around 12:00-2:00PM and then drop into another hole close by to wait out the sun in the afternoon. You have a chance at a shot then if you are in position and ready.
They will get up to feed again around 4:00 to 5:00PM. If you are set up right, you can usually get a good shot opportunity then.
Don't get antsy once you get there and try to throw something over them to get them to stand. Most of the time that results in the bucks blowing out of there in all directions and you not getting a shot. Just be alert and wait. If you are in tight to the bucks, you are in control of the situation. Don't blow it and waste all the hard work. Getting another opportunity like that may not happen again that hunting season, and almost certainly won't happen again on those bucks you just got in position on.
Now I realize that running an arrow through a naïve young buck from a hiking trail isn't too tough. Especially one that is used to hikers passing through. But, actually stalking one within 30 yards and killing him is entirely different. Spot and stalk deer hunting made elk hunting seem easy.
Had an obsession with mule deer bow hunting for as long as I can remember. Started hunting them in the panhandle and deserts of West Texas over 32 years ago. Managed to get lucky and killed a whopper early on and then couldn't seem to get in rifle range of a good mule deer for a very, very long time.
Spent lots of years observing their behavior from the deserts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to sagebrush country of Nevada, Utah and Wyoming the prairies of eastern Colorado and Kansas to the High Country of Colorado.
Kind of developed a few systems that work, depending on the terrain. Not easy, but they work . Once I figured it out, I have had a lot of success. Would have to say that patience is one of the most critical components no matter where you hunt them.
Hunting elk is different. Sometimes tougher, sometimes easier.
Same on the plains. Treestand whitetails are way easier to kill than open country grassland muleys. At least in November I can bring those bucks to me, but like Treeline's note, sometimes they get too close.
I do not feel disadvantaged at all using a longbow. A longbow is much tougher than a compound or recurve and can handle the abuse of falling in a rock pile and still be shoot-able. I have seen a number of compound bows and a few recurves blow up hunting deer or sheep when a guy falls on his bow in the rocks. I carry and extra string and tip protector and am good to go with about anything. A longbow is easier to slide along with you in a stalk as you are belly crawling to get in position. You can use your longbow to steady your binoculars kind of like a monopod. I will use my bow as a crutch/hiking stick sometimes in really steep stuff and have shoved into the side of a slope to keep me from rolling off the mountain and possibly getting hurt really bad. I really like my two-piece Black Widows to break down and put on my backpack when I am packing an animal out - totally out of the way and leaves both hands free to be able to use hiking sticks.
I shoot instinctive - split 3 fingers. I practice a lot shooting from either one or both knees because that is the position I am usually in for a shot to keep a lower profile.
The gillie suit works really well if you are close and caught in the open and you just stop, but you better practice shooting with one on and trim out the stuff hanging down. Doesn't make a difference if they see you walking across an open, grassy face. Have busted deer at 400+ yards just walking across an open face with the gillie on. Not necessary, but it can save a stalk. Downside is it can mess with your shot.
Best bet is to just stay out of sight. You have to really work hard and use the terrain as much as possible to stay out of sight.
It is much tougher down in the prairies where Lou hunts due to the flat terrain, but those flatland hunts usually have the advantage of hunting in the rut and the bucks can get really gaga over the girls. You have to figure out how to get around the does or find a solo buck during the rut. There are some other tricks that you can throw at them that can work during the rut, but that is a totally different kind of hunt than spot-and-stalk, above treeline, velvet buck hunt.
My setup is similar to Tavis's except my bows are in the mid-50 lb range. I use 3 blade Muzzys and shoot instinctive, split finger. My carbon arrows are all in the mid-400 gr range and my effective shooting range is out to 40 yards. I "see" the arrow in my peripheral vision so it may be subconscious gapping after doing it for 50 years. I don't think about it, just stare at the spot and shoot.