Contributors to this thread:
High Country Mule Deer
I've never hunted mulies at high elevation, but this year I have the opportunity to. Open country high plains deer require a total different way of hunting than finding and hunting September velvet bucks at elevation I'm quite sure.
Any tips or "tricks of the trade" y'all care to share for us first timers?
If at all possible, scout this summer to find some areas that hold bucks. If you hunt early enough they should be in bachelor groups above timberline, trying to beat the heat and stay away from insects. There are not large numbers of bucks, and most basins will be empty. Just have to find those few basins that hold some bucks. Then spend a lot of time behind glass and figure out where they bed and feed and then come up with a plan to ambush them. Not an easy task above timberline, but can be done with patience. Knowing and using thermals is a big part of the game. It is some of the best memories I have ever had hunting. Truly it is like being on top of the world!
Are you hunting above timberline or high plains?
what state are you hunting them in
CO high altitude. Camping at 10k with treeline around 11k or 12k if memory serves me right. I have an elk tag too and hope to have a little variety :) I have a spotting scope and good glass. I saw some big mulies while hunting elk in there a few years ago.
Gonna scout 4th of July weekend. Right now there is still snow up top so I'll hike up to snow line and glass up. I'm sure the bugs are horrendous right about now too. Great chance to test my gear and make sure all is up to snuff. I'll scout it several times as the snow receeds
Spot them in the morning and watch until they bed. Then plan your stalk very carefully. Take at least 15-20 minutes to figure out all the possible landmarks and contingencies along the way. That will also give enough time that if the deer wants to reposition or move to a new bed, you're likely to see him do so. Afternoons and evenings spend time grid searching for bucks with the glass and/or scouting new territory. You are unlikely to get a stalk in the evening, but you may find a likely spot to glass or ambush the next morning. Good luck!
No bugs now.
Had big snows this last weekend.
All white above about 10K between Steamboat and Denver today.
Treeline bucks may stay on the lower edges this year...
My tip is to listen very closely to anything this guy has to say on the subject ^^^^ He is one of the best killers of high country mule deer around!
Don’t have a deer tag yet this year and watching the returned list.
I will be poking around different parts of the state with a goat tag down south in G5 and bear tag in 15.
Watching for a deer tag in there with the goats, but might just get one for the backyard in 15, 26, or 12 if nothing pops in the goat unit.
I can let you know what I see up high to give you an idea of what elevation to focus on whenever I’m out and about.
The hardest part for me has always been right at the end. Play the wind and thermals, take your time (hours) getting to bow range then the wait. Many times I have been within bow range for hours with the eternal debate raging:
Do you get the deer to stand? Or do you wait for it to stand by itself? Do you shoot it in its bed if you can?
Pros and cons to all those situations, but from my experience getting the shot off is the hardest part!
Waiting on the deer has always worked best for me. Have really screwed up on several monster bucks getting antsy. My equipment is marginal for busting bones and the bedded shot is not one I want, but works good for compounds with a solid broad head.
I generally prefer to wait as well, but I have been busted by swirly winds many times. If the thermals shift you are in trouble. The last time I had a passing storm cloud whip up the wind just enough to spook the deer. I have shot one in its bed with a less than ideal hit- very hard to tell where the vitals are. Luckily I was able to get a follow up shot. So the default is to wait......
Compound, or traditional? If compound, an angle-compensating range finder can be a handy tool to have in your pocket. If traditional, get your eye trained for steep angles, and be ready to test the limits of your shooting range.
Mike Duplan just finished a book called "The Edge" all about mule deer hunting...haven't read it but thumbed through it and it looks good...
I believe that’s David Long’s book with input (rifle) by Mike??? Same one?
What ever happened to David Long? Never hear anything out of him anymore.
He’s still writing.....just finished that book last year. Running a lot of marathons too
There are actually two bucks in this pic, the second one only had the tips of his antlers sticking above the willows.
There are actually two bucks in this pic, the second one only had the tips of his antlers sticking above the willows.
Get above them and look down into their bedding areas, they're real hard to see if you're at the same level or below...
X2 on getting thier book. Thier some of the best in the business. David’s last book was excellent and I read all of mikes stuff I can. Excellent practical info
The high country above treeline is tough. Make sure you are physically and mentally prepared. Take at least two flashlights and a two ways to make fire. Drink lots of water. Have some chocolate in your pack to perk you up when you hit it hard to the point of collapse. It may be enough of a boost to get you down safely. Keep covered up from the sun. Know the effects of altitude sickness and get off the mountain if you are being affected. Dropping elevation will relieve the effects quickly. Be prepared for rapid weather changes - thunderstorms, lightning, rain, sleet, snow, and major temperature drops are serious in the high country. Although the storms usually roll through quickly, they can be brutally intense. Wool is the best insulation and can keep you alive in bad weather. Rain gear is a necessity to keep from getting wet.
West or south facing slopes will have the most consistent thermals. The back ends of bowls will swirl all day.
Early morning is the best time to be glassing. You will be able to find most all of the deer in the morning up and feeding. Some bucks will not be up in the evening until right at dark or after dark.
Good glass is not a total necessity, but it can provide the edge necessary to find more deer. Finding all the deer in the area is critical to planning your stalk route. Blowing out a doe that causes the domino effect and takes every deer out of the basin and over the ridge into another unit after dropping 2,000’ from your glassing spot and then climbing 1,000’ up the other side is a bit discouraging. Sucks to never see the big buck you were after again after that screwup.
The first bed they go to in the morning is their lookout bed where they can see everything and make sure there is nothing out of the ordinary in their basin. The second bed is where they will hunker down in deeper cover for the shade. The deeper cover significantly cuts down on their visual advantage. Their blind spot is typically uphill and through bushes (willows or stunted pines). They will usually stay locked down in that second bed for until they get up to feed in the evening. You’re best bet to get close is in their second bed.
Do not skyline, even at long range. Sucks to hike 3 or 5 miles to get to a basin with full of big bucks and scatter them to the wind by walking the ridge line to get into position to glass. Then never see them again.
Plan your stalk route carefully. Very carefully. Draw a map if you have to. Memorize as much detail as you can about the area you are fixing to move into. That big buck knows the whole mountain like you know your living room so you better be sharp. Everything will look different when you get to the other side of the canyon on your stalk so pick landmarks that are very notable - a dead tree, a big black boulder, an old mine dump, etc. that you will recognize when you get over there. Pick your route so that it avoids other deer in the area and will not bump any of them out of the country and make you to want to cry.
Mule deer will lock down tight in their second beds for several hours. They might get up and turn around or shift slightly to get more shade but will not move far. Keep positive that they are still bedded in that spot even though it takes an hour or two to get there and you haven’t laid eyes on them the whole time.
When you are working in closer, look for the antler tips. Use your binoculars to adjust focus and look through the bushes even at close range. Move very slowly and look hard in through the bushes where you last saw your buck.
When you are in close, details are critical. A branch scraping your pants leg at 20 yards can be enough to blow that buck out of your life forever. Wool is the quietest material and gives you an edge to get close on a stalk. Get to your planned shooting spot and be ready to wait.
Wait for the buck to stand for the shot. Be ready with an arrow nocked and kept pointing in his direction to limit movement when he stands. Most of the time they are tucked in tight to cover and there is no shot with branches and the tough angles to the vitals.
Wait some more... Don’t get antsy and try to toss something to get him up. The vast majority of the time when I have tried that or had another hunter try it, the deer blows out of his bed fast with no shot and may never be seen again.
Keep waiting. I know it’s hot standing out there in the sun, but HELL MAN!!! If you got this far you have kicked some ass! Totally awesome work! If you do this right it will only be once so suck it up buttercup! Don’t screw it up now and have that buck of your dreams bounce away with no shot opportunity!
Still waiting? Hope so. It’s only been a few hours and you should have at least been enjoying the scenery:-) That buck is snoring but he’s old and will have to get up soon to pee.
He finally stands up! Hope he didn’t catch you snoozing! Told ya he’d have to get up and pee! Hold your $#it together and focus on the shot!
If you got all the above right, I certainly hope to see pictures and a story here! Good luck!
Good detail, Tavis! Got me in the mood!
Awesome info from someone who's been there done that!
Top Shelf info, Tavis...Thanks for sharing!
Excellent info Tavis, thanks for sharing. I might need to go back and check that left over draw list one more time...
Lots of gun tags available and not much for archery. Kinda stupid tag allocation on the part of the CPw. Don’t think gun killing a mule deer buck is anything like slipping up and skewering one with an arrow sent from a homemade longbow;-)
Wealth of info there, Treeline. Thanks!
I know, trying to talk myself into one of the unit 25/26 tags. I like the looks of it on Google earth, but you don't hear too many positive reports about it.
Also considering snagging a muzzleloader tag and using my bow.
Muzzle loader tag is weapon specific. You can't use a bow with a muzzy tag.
Thanks for the heads up Will, my mistake.
That's great stuff Treeline! And certainly more detailed information than I expected. I've got the "hurry up and wait" part down. Hunting open country plains mulies has taught me that. Knocking on wood here, altitude sickness has never bothered me other than maybe an occasional slight headache from climbing too fast. An ibuprofen and hydration followed with a short rest usually take care of that. But no matter what kind of shape I'm in, I know how tough it will be climbing from 10-12k'. I live at 7500' and work out getting ready for any CO hunt I've ever done, and CO high elevation still kicks my azz.
FYI, one of the first signs of altitude sickness is swelling in the fingers. If you wear a ring on your finger, check it often. If it starts feeling tighter than normal, get to a lower elevation.
To my knowledge, I've never experienced altitude sickness. That includes spending three weeks in Colorado sheep country last year. If I came off the mountain every time my fingers swell, I'd never get to hunt. Happens all the time. Personally, I blame the high sodium content in those Mountain House meals....not altitude.
As Tavis says. Getting in close on a bedded deer will definitely shakedown your gear selection choice. If it makes the very slightest hint of noise your done. Or hope for strong afternoon winds
I got altitude sickness bad once in 1998. I was so screwed up and delirious and almost put my hand on my broadhead....... My partner walked me down to about 8500 and I took a snooze in a park area......... It was ironic, I woke up and a bull was 80 yards end up killing him at 10 steps, best one of my life,,,,,,
went to the doctor, and had a full work up,,,,, after that I needed some medicine for it nothing to joke with, that is for sure
I am no expert, but I learned to wait and wait and wait some more. a partner spotting works great, but its slow slow slow,,,, I like a heavy pair of Canadian wool strength socks to slip over my boot / shoe........ I do not walk shoe less, I have soft feet, but it cuts the noise down
A set of the biggest, tallest wool socks you can find works over your boots and lower pant legs. Might look a little funny, but it works!
Most of that high-tech stuff (Sitka, Kuiu, etc) is synthetic and will make noise when you rub against branches. An old pair of grey wool military surplus pants that you get for $10 bucks is better for sneaking up on bedded mule deer.
Two more tips:
If you are on a stalk and a storm comes up with lightning, rain/sleet/snow stay with it. Don't chicken out. Have been able to get into petting distance on bucks when it is raining/sleeting and they just bury up and will not move. Look at the statistics, you are more likely to die of a heart attack or altitude sickness than lightning!
There seems to be a bit of time when the sun is going down that they can not see very well. That time early and late when the sun is coming up or going down and you can still see pretty well but the light goes grey. If you are on a stalk and have deer up and feeding, sit tight and wait for that sun to drop behind the mountain in the evening and you might be able to make a move and get a shot when they are up and feeding.
Dwight Schuh's book "Hunting Open Country Mule Deer" might be worthwhile reading.
BTW, check out the Colorado forum. Grasshopper is giving away a landowner tag for archery mule deer. Going to draw someone out of the hat that buys a 3-year membership to the CBA... Awesome offer for a decent tag!
This site can give a guy alot of great info that will make the difference between success and failure. I for one will vouch for that. Thank you Treeline for the education and the great advice. Reading your stuff makes me want to go stalk my neighbors dog.
I stalked bedded bucks for years in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains with some success. Then I was shown how to stalk feeding bucks and it blew my mind how easily you could get within bow distance! When their head is down they’re focused on nothing but what they’re eating and their chewing helps cover little mistakes. It’s not too hard to get a shot off if timed while they’re feeding with their head down. Don’t knock it until you try it a few times....
Many times relaxed bedded bucks seem to have a sixth sense and it seems it takes 4 - 5 close encounters for each good shot opportunity.
Tilzbow, that’s where that late evening window seems to really shine!
Especially when you have pushed that stalk so far that there is just nothing more you can do and you are still out of range.
Wait till they get up to feed and start working in on them. That late evening stalking in on feeding bucks can be magic.
Does make for looong days on the hill though. Be prepared and ready mentally for going the distance and your kill to stalk ratio will improve!
Hope all you guys chasing mule deer bucks this year have epic encounters and capitalize on some monster bucks!
Good luck guys and gals!
Was up in the high country last weekend looking around a little. There were bucks up there, even with the snow. Antler development still needs some time to tell what they are going to finish out at but saw a couple that look like they are going to be very nice.