Also, I recognize that one can hunt mule deer in many different ways. What I am hoping for is a lot of time spent glassing, and then putting a stalk on a nice buck similar to the style of hunting that you can see in the Matthews Video called "Best Laid Plans." The big thing here is that they are glassing from the truck, which obviously lets you cover a lot more ground. (see the link - if you haven't watched this video before, i highly recommend)
I have done 2 solo DIY OTC Colorado elk trips before in wilderness areas, and I'm comfortable spiking and bivying, but for this trip i'd like to have some road access to cover as much ground as possible.
If you were in my shoes, what states would you start accumulating points in? any units i should be aware of? as i get closer i will be doing a ton of google scouting and i'll have more focused questions, but for now i'm just trying to figure out which direction to point myself in.
any thoughts appreciated!
There are lots of deer and good numbers of mature bucks with good genetics. These deer are truly migratory and spend the warmer months in the high altitudes of the Plateau. I have fallen in love with the Kaibab! Unfortunately I have not killed a buck yet but not for a lack of trying. Most of it is conifers and aspens but there is a lot of more open burnt area where one can glass until their eyeballs fall out and see lots of deer! Also lots of country to glass along the edges of the Plateau where it drops off. The true master of the Kaibab on archery bucks is one of the Bowsite regulars. Maybe he will chime in.
There are also some great mule deer hunts in all of the other states that have mule deer. Some that you can do OTC unlimited tags and some that require a lot of points.
Based on a lot of experience (read: lots of money spent on applications and points every year), I would steer you to hunting more and building points less - you can find monster mule deer in areas with OTC tags if you put the time in or get lucky.
I will focus on Colorado as I know it the best. Couple of things to consider...
The unit that they were hunting has really jumped in points for a NR. Last year it was 12 for archery. They unit right next door (with the same deer) was 2 and there are several others in that general area that run as low as 0 and up to 7. That area was hit hard by winter kill and the deer numbers are down. It will hurt the number of bucks available and tag numbers will stay low for a while (4+ years). That country has been the focus of Huntin' Fool and other services for trophy mule deer for some time and the top-end bucks have a lot of pressure on them from the serious trophy hunters. They will continue to focus on those units as the deer numbers come back as well. I am not sure that I would necessarily focus on that area.
There are a number of great mule deer units in Colorado that you can draw for 0 to 1 point. There are even a number of great mule deer units that you can pull on second choice (get a point and a tag) and start to learn how to go about hunting them while getting a point in the coffer for potentially a better hunt in the future. I find 190+ bucks every year on public land in units that you can pull on second choice - and NOT in deep wilderness, long miles from the road, or on private land.
You will want to cross reference the areas with early rifle seasons because those areas will generally have fewer big bucks out in the country above treeline. The big boys get pounded at long range and the ones that get old figure out that it is better to set up camp somewhere else down in the trees where the gun guys can't see them as well.
Road access can help, but is absolutely not necessary for finding mule deer bucks. Typically, big bucks can be glassed from the right locations from roads early in the season, but they will vanish with any pressure. They do not move as much as elk and you will really want to hone your hunting methods to focus very intently on the right habitat and location to find bucks. They can vanish in areas that appear to be in the wide open and in plain sight - even at very close range. They are nowhere near as easy to find as elk.
If you don't have the optics, you will want to invest in the best you can get your hands on. In order to hunt mule deer effectively, you will have to find them. That may well require finding the tips of their antlers a mile away in a willow patch above treeline or a patch of service berries in the sagebrush in the lower country. You will want a top end set of 10's - make sure these are of the highest quality because you will be using these the most - no scrimping here! You will also want a very good spotting scope - you can drop down a step here, but not too far. Lightweight is better, but the lighter (smaller objective) you go, the higher quality ($$$) you will need to go. A good carbon fiber tripod and head is amazing - do not scrimp here! Also, look for a way to attach your bino's to your tripod - you will find 2x the number of deer versus handheld. A good set of 15's on the tripod is also very nice to have, but not necessary. I typically will leave the 15's behind if I am hiking very far but the 10's and spotting scope are necessities...
Good luck! Big mule deer are addictive...
I hunt a unit that I can draw every year but not as a second choice. Rifle hunters need 6-7 points to hunt the same area.
I just hate to burn money to hunt a critters that are likely better quality in my backyard and have to pay a guide that most likely has far less experience bow hunting mule deer. About a 99.9+% chance that they will have less experience killing them with a traditional bow.
If you do consider using an outfitter for mule deer, the flat farm country can be very productive for spot and stalk - Eastern Colorado, Western Kansas, Western Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Eastern Wyoming can all hold fabulous bucks in addition to the southern prairies of Alberta.
This is a totally different type of hunting than in the high country of Colorado, but many of the same principals apply with respect to how to make a successful stalk.
The trick in most of the prairie country is to find that outfitter or access that is not getting overhunted. Mule deer are very susceptible in the open country, especially by rifle hunters. The top end can be knocked out really quickly if the outfitter does not have some restraint and limit the number of hunters that he takes. The problem is that the more hunters he takes, the more money he makes. It is tough not to want to make more money...
You will have to spend a good amount of time to find the right outfitter that will fit your needs as well as skill level.
The more experience you have doing it on your own, the better you will do if you ever decide to pull the trigger and go on one of those potentially very expensive guided hunts. The experience you gain by bow hunting high country mule deer on public land will definitely pay off when you do a spot and stalk hunt for any species anywhere.
I moved to Colorado almost 30 years ago for the opportunity to spot and stalk bow hunt big mule deer bucks above treeline. It is still my passion.
again, thanks for all the thoughts, and keep them coming!
Twenty years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be sitting on as many points as I am now. I figured I would be doing most all of those hunts within a 10 year window.
Life gets more complicated as you go and it gets tougher to make the time and those mountains are not getting any easier, so don't let it pass you by.
You're providing. You're not some slouch. Take a week and go hunt this year. You're not getting any younger. 5 and 10 years from now, you'll have other reasons not to go, same as now. There's a chasm of a difference between being a deadbeat and taking some time to make yourself happy. And make sure your wife takes her own time too and help her do it.
Not all MD hunting is glassing / hunting open country.
Maybe that’s why they are big? :)
Most of these areas can be drawn every other year. Res or NonRes
Probably easier with a compound where you can freeze, wait till their head is down or behind a tree, and shoot them at a much greater range than I am capable of with my longbow.
I have killed good bucks in the low country (8,000' +/-) by watching a group of bucks and then setting up in their travel route along the edge of timber/aspen/sage. It is more random and you have to hope that the buck you want comes in range before the other ones bust you and blow the whole thing.
Hunting them in the open country above treeline is totally different and requires a significantly different approach. I really like hunting this way because I am going after a target buck - even if he is in a large group. It gets rid of that randomness thing that drives me batty. Probably the reason I am not a big fan of sitting in a treestand for whitetails...
Planning that far in advance can be a bad thing. Winter kill will vary from year to year and place to place, and a lot can happen to a unit in two years. Don't expect to find monsters in every basin, and don't expect to see high numbers of 170" plus bucks every day.
Colorado is nice, but Utah is a sleeper unit that certain units can be drawn every year and the tag is decent for non residents. The country and terrain will vary in the units as will the pressure in certain areas. Wyoming is another state not to over look, and it does produce some great bucks every year. From timberline to sage, Wyoming has it's share of great bucks. Arizona... The strip is unreal, as is the Kaibab. And I fell in love with chasin rutting desert mulies. From December to the end of January, with the chance of slippin in on a huge cous thrown in.
Lots of options, lots of states worth looking in to. But be aware how quick mule deer numbers can change in a year.