When planning for this fall, both my plan A and plan B options fell through due to reasons beyond my control and I was on to plan C. I never like to let a fall go by without doing one "special" hunt.
So plan C became etched in stone as I put in for, and successfully drew a deer tag for Montana. I really wanted to hunt mules again as it's been a number of years since the last time I went. I've always had a heck of a time, because spot and stalk hunting is basically non existent in Manitoba...unless its bears on the edge of a cornfield or something.
Now why Montana you ask? Well my priorities were pretty simple. I was going to have limited time to hunt, so #1)I didn't want to drive far from home, #2) I had to make sure it was somewhere I would FOR SURE get a tag, and #3) It couldn't be the Dakotas.
Before starting to hunt, I had done a decent bit of e-scouting, done some googling and some calling and had some pieces of state land picked out as well as having about 3600 acres of permission gained via telephone. Hate the cold calls, but sometimes it works. Found some landowners by googling names etc and my best one was a website that said the people were "over 80 years old" or something. I thought perfect. Elderly farmers, pretty much a guarantee to be salt of the earth people. Not only did they turn out to be awesome people, (I stopped by their place on my way out) they also let me pitch a tent on their property which I did behind the grain silos. They lived in the nearest decent size town, so I stayed on the farm yard. I just assumed I'd have a better chance of nothing being stolen. Whether theft is an issue or not, who knows.
Anyways, I made a plan for the hunt prior to heading out and committed to a minimum of the first evening and morning to be pure scouting, driving around. The information would most likely be critical. I had no idea where deer were, what they were feeding on, what size they were etc.
Starting my scouting that night I instantly found animals. Some crops were still on the fields, and so there were animals feeding in the standing crops, including a good bunch of small bucks that looked to have bedded all day in a canola field.
There wasn't a breath of wind and it was hot and sunny as heck. Little did I know that would become a theme.
The first night of scouting wrapped up with seeing a bunch of mulies, nothing exceptional, but on the way back to the tent I spotted something in the lights - turned out to be a bachelor group of whities. A couple of 2.5 year olds that looked tasty when I saw another deer way further back acting dodgy going the other way. I put up the bins and was absolutely shocked to see a 160+ whitetail. 5x5 approx 3" outside the ears. The stuff dreams are made of super tall, wide, a real beauty. i was told this area didn't hold big whitetails! Wish I had a picture of him but I didn't.
Morning dawned calm and clear, and a high of 85 degrees pure sun and little wind. I figured the deer would be making the most of the cool morning hours.
But before I took off for th me day I decided to stick around by the tent and glass the coulee system I was overlooking right at home base for a few minutes. Somewhere in here the landowner mentioned there was a bachelor group of 4 bucks with “big” racks. I had yet to determine what the local version of “big” is.
Just as I was about to leave I saw some silhouettes in the eastern orange glow. AHa!
Some of the pictures are a little fuzzy as I'm attempting to pull them out of video files and too lazy to do it from a proper program, so sorry about that. But I now had 2 mulie bucks spotted. I went to the truck and pulled out my spotter to give them a good looking over. Shortly thereafter, 2 more bucks appeared. There they were, the full bachelor group. A couple bucks were bigger than anything I'd seen the previous night, but not world beaters. But nice. I did remind myself I'm not in Alberta.
So I took off using OnX as my guide to check out some more state land and to see what the general area had to offer.
But no big ones. I was astounded how many animals I saw. Tons of deer, but they were clustered around standing crop fields which were all on private land. Over the course of my evening and morning of scouting I burnt a ton of fuel, covering a range of about 100-120 square miles and looked over an easy 400 deer. The majority of which were this morning.
Of all the deer seen, I saw no "BIG" bucks. A few good ones, but no world beaters. At this point I made a conscious decision that I'd like to take a buck of the size of my last pic or better. I hadn't seen any better, but I'm sure they're out there. Somewhere. My problem, is that out of the roughly 400 deer I'd seen, literally 3-5 of them were of the "good" size. Of those, only the bachelor group at "home" base were in a hunt able location. Everything else was on private. At this point I figured my best chance was the bucks back at my permission. As much as I wanted to make a plan to hunt them in the evening, I figured my best chance would be in the morning.
Now just as I was passing a piece of state ground I spotted a couple does, with some small bucks higher up. Now I was sportin' a doe tag as well as my buck tag, and thought this would be a great time to finally get out of the truck and fail on a stalk. I mean it never works out first time right?
So I drove past the animals a ways, and parked. Checked the wind. Right, basically none. It's dead quiet. I can hear a grasshopper fart a little ways over. Puff the bottle, well, the smoke is drifting to the north. That works, as I figure these deer will work their way north. My plan is to swing around them and get in the coulee and intercept them as they work their way north.
Movement is painfully slow. It is SO DANG QUIET. I'm worried they'll start moving and I'm not going quick enough. Well either way, I take my time. I know if enough to know that speed kills. Just as I work my way around to the coulee I want to be in, I see a body. It's a buck. Not big, about the size of the biggest of the 3 musketeers. But he's alone? That's weird. And with the location of the deer I had figured the does would be first. Had I missed them? Was this guy the trailer? But he too, was moving extremely slow down the coulee. At this pace, there's no way I was too late. Hmmmm, nothing I can do but wait.
I let the buck feed over the hill over the course of about 10 minutes and continue on my way. About this time I hear a vehicle. Sounds close. I watch the valley road. Oh there's a truck...2 miles away. Wow, sound sure carries. I think of how clearly I can hear the truck, and think if where I parked...a half mile away. To the deer it must have sounded like I was on TOP of them. Maybe they had moved off? It's the questions that kill in the mental game. They make you want to confirm. Wanting to confirm leads to rash decisions. Rash decisions lead to impatience. Impatience IS a mistake. Don't do it Pauls, keep it slow.
The truck stops. $hit. I have a lot of valuables in my truck. Is he at my truck? Sounded closer. I'm not where I want to be yet. But I keep working into position. All of a sudden I see a couple bucks come trotting around the corner. Crap. They've got me pinned. And they're about 140 yards away. If the does follow I'm screwed. I watch them watching the area by the road, and then they trot past. I slide forward and look over the hill. 3 mulie does looking right at me. Flip. That ain't good. They look down in the valley and then bound off past me at about 80 yards into the coulee. I slide a little forward and see a bowhunter walking around down there. I walk over, he sees me, and we go to talk to each other. I'm not sure exactly what his thought process was cause he basically parked beside the deer, and upwind of them, then worked them. They busted him, no surprise. I end up chatting with the guy. Super super nice guy, recurve hunter, a bowyer actually. He was decked out in wool, and had only seen one doe. So maybe that's why he didn't realize what he was doing. Also my truck wasn't in view and he had no idea I was there. Sucks for me but that's the way it goes. It's state land. As we are chatting another two vehicles of hunters are glassing us. We chat and I ask about what guys shoot around here size wise, and sounds like with the long rifle season here there are a few 160-170 type bucks killed every year. Not a ton of them around.
Ugh sorry guys, we ended up having company last night, then I woke up today, made my daughter Belgian waffles and went to hockey. (We won) Came Home and went whitetail hunting. At last light drew on a giant but it was too dark. Stormy night and even though it was well before legal I couldn’t make it happen.
Anyways back to mulies. After the blown deal with the does I went back to camp. Here’s a pic of “camp.”
As I park the truck I’m looking out at the coulees again and eying some cattle. I decide to laze in the truck and glass for a bit when I spy a buck walking beside some bush in the heat. Temp is now back up into the eighties and full sun
I figure these are prob the same bucks I watched enter the valley this morning, but good to note how far they travelled. For the afternoon I head to some state land and bump around the coulees attempting to find deer. Finally after miles and miles of hard miles I bump a doe group. But pretty eager. They were too far out anyways.
For the evening I decide to head out to the piece of state land where I'd had the morning stalk go sideways. About another 3/4 of a mile further down I saw a bunch of deer enter another finger. I figure I'll set up at the end of that cause the wind was right and hopefully catch them coming out of that general area and make a play on em as they move. With the sweltering temps and no wind, I basically just get killed by mosquitoes and don't see any deer. As I hit the sack for the night I check the forecast for tomorrow. Highs in to the 90's, no wind. Perfect.
I wake up in the morning however, knowing this could be my chance at the bachelor group of bucks. Of all the deer I've seen on the trip, very few were good bucks, and of those bucks, these were the ONLY ones in an area I could hunt; ie state or my piece of permission. I also can't screw them up a ton as they're basically the only good bucks I am working right now.
As the red orange sky starts to glow I keep my eyes peeled for the silhouettes on the horizon. Nothing. Wait a while longer. Nothing. Then a doe and fawn pop into view. Good sign. I hope the bucks are just taking their time. But as the light begins to grow, I realize that the bucks are not out in the field and I my hopes for the morning are most likely misplaced.
But then I see it. Is that a rack? Bedded in the grass? I run to the truck and grab my spotter. Sure enough, there's actually 2 of the 4 bucks bedded on a little plateau near where the does walked past. Only about 400 yards from the road. I waste no time in chugging some water, marking a location, grabbing my bow and bino harness and hoofing it off into the coulee. GAME ON!
The "wind" if you can call it that is hardly strong enough to push the smoke from my puff bottle but it is from the south. The deer here will be working their way with the wind to the north. So my plan is to ambush them as they come by. I loop about a half mile north to work my way into the coulee system the bucks will be using. One was a good buck, the other like a 100" er with longer back tines with no forks. Just as i round the corner into the coulee I want to work my way up I spot a body and instantly freeze. I grab my glasses expecting the doe. It's a buck, a nice one! Turns out to be the biggest of the 4! This is where the other guys are as the 4th buck feeds following this guy. Oooooooooh, I like this. Another development to the game, but they've got me pinned to the side of a bald hill. I can't move for fear of being spotted. I make myself as small as possible as they feed a mere 170 yards away.
I wait for them to crest the hill so that I can swing around and pull the loop on them. As soon as they crest I make my move. I keep checking back and after moving about 300 yards to the north I check my back trail and see the bucks coming BACK into the coulee I was already in. Thankfully I was walking beside cover the whole time knowing I may need it. I duck into the cover, check OnX and figure the coulee narrows down a little further ahead and that's where I'll set up. I make my way there and wait. It is so quiet, that any moves need to be made at LEAST 400 yards ahead of time in order to ensure I don't get busted.
Here's a video. I didn't take the video to share with anyone, I just keep some personal video files to make videos for memories of my hunts. But in watching it you can see a little of the terrain, capture some emotion, and see hear how QUIET it is. Not ideal stalking into a bedded buck type wind.
Anyways, of course these things do something different than I expect and they end up meeting up with the other two bucks that were bedded on the plateau earlier. Now there are four sets of ears and eyes, and they cross the coulee onto the sunny side (What the???) and I lose sight of them. I check OnX and can see that even if they cross over into the next coulee, that one and the one I am in work to a point and to a narrows much like the letter "Y" where they come together. Bingo. I sneak off down the bush line trying to find an ambush spot.
As I get to where I need to be I look up the hill and there is a doe bedded on the top overlooking my ambush spot. CRAP! Now I can't work my way into position. I can do-nothing but wait. Thankfully she gets up with her fawn and start feeding, allowing me to ninja into a position I like. And I wait.
And I wait.
Now I now these things move real slow, and you never wait long enough and get impatient, so I keep waiting.
And I watch the does until the disappear all of a sudden and it looked like they were finding a bedding spot on the hillside and with a few crags up there I am sure they are bedded right there. Knowing the does are bedding I wonder what the bucks are up to. I am confident they couldn't get past me without me knowing.
In fact I wait for nearly an hour and a half. At this point i figure the dang mules once again pulled a Houdini on me and I am screwed, so I decide with a doe tag in my pocket I'll try and kill one of the bedded does. So I suuuuuuuper slowly make my way up and every time that I can move where I can see more of the hillside I do it extremely slowly expecting to see a deer looking at me around the corner. But each time I do, I see no such thing.
I work my way around, until I can see the entire hillside. No deer. No dice. Well maybe they snuck around the corner through a draw where I wouldn't have been able to see them? I'll work my way that direction. So I sneak around the next corner. Once again, no dice. WHAT THE HECK? Where did they go? I'm now standing beside a finger off the coulee that works it's way to the top with thick bush inside of it. Just as I walk beside it I hear the bush blow up inside and a deer charging out. Aha, there you are ladies....
I quickly range the far side of the draw. 68 yards. Yikes, further than I'd like. The deer doesn't show. I hear another deer blow up in there, ah the fawn I presume when NO - I heard the DISTINCT SOUND OF ANTLER meeting branch! Now I have no idea where the first deer ran off to so I run down the finger about 20 yards enabling me to see more of the valley below. Just then a buck pops out and stands there looking back at me. I draw back, the other buck pops out standing beside him. They are the two bucks from the plateau, one nice one and one small one. I am at anchor....but I don't know the distance. I ran a little bit closer, and at these ranges you need to know!
For whatever wild and crazy reason, looking at the bucks I figure they look pretty relaxed, so I let down my draw, pull up my rangefinder, take a quick reading of 58.7, drop the RF, pull my bow back and anchor.
And release. Arrow is in the air, arching perfectly, there is no wind, what could go wrong when out of nowhere
It smashes him. Right in the perfect spot. Couldn't have hit him any better. I mean crushed him. He stood there and ate it like a champ. The buck actually hesitates for a minute even after the hit, enabling me to see that I penetrated into his offside shoulder, but there's still a good 8-10" of arrow sticking out the near side. But I know it's a 10 ringer, and he's got a 2" Vortex in there that will have done some damage. In two strides he is over the hill and I sprint around the finger trying to see him down in the valley.
i thought I'd try and put the blood trail into words, but I actually videotaped all the important parts. As opposed to writing it all down I thought I'd upload the video.
Please bear in mind I actually wasn't videoing this to show anyone else. So while I'm a little embarrassed to show it, whatever it is what it is. I wasn't videoing it for you lol. But emotion is raw and you can be there with me as I tackle the trail. I know personally I just LOVE blood trails, so if someone else had a video I'd watch it lol.
In the good old end the entrance wound was spectacular hence the heinous bloodtrail. The vortex opened on a nice quartering away shot and didn’t deflect at all. I was shooting the 100gr American ones whatever they’re called with the steel ferrule. Super bloody trail. Have to be happy with that.
The shot was a double lunger, with a 2" cut and the buck made it a full 260 yards. I was crazy impressed with the bucks toughness. I did not expect that at all. It's funny, because from where I first was watching over the hill, the dead buck had been in view the whole time, but I was watching for movement elsewhere and didn't think he had died right beside where the live buck was standing. In retrospect it seems obvious, but you know how it goes. live and learn. The buck dropped in the shadow of a tree making him not as obvious to see. I wasn't glassing at the time, less I miss something in my peripheral vision.
After I found him, I had to hike it back to camp as I had not brought anything with me. I took a quick moment to celebrate before heading back to work in the now scorching heat. The temp was up over 90 with no wind. Perfect packing weather. Thankfully my cooler still had ice ;)
In order to bring the head over the border home I had to remove all meat and such so I had brought a single burner along with pot to build the skull off. I also brought peroxide along and made a brush out of some grass so that I could complete the euro fully even before heading home. I'm glad I did, because the border agents wanted to see the head and inspect it. The first lady I got was pretty ornery, but then a younger one took over and she was real nice. She was quite impressed at how the skull looked, and asked how I did it etc. She said they often have to send guys back because skulls have meat, brains etc.
My daughter was pretty pumped to see the head, but really upset that I didn’t have a carcass to hang in the garage. She says her favourite part is skinning them and cutting the meat off the carcass. She’s always a good helper with that part
So there you have it. My 2019 mulie adventure. I had a ton of fun, and would love to do it again, especially with buddies. But someone's usually gotta pave the way and make sure it's a good hunt ;)
I know I didn't kill a world beater mulie, but he's a good one, I think I went in with realistic expectations and did indeed get very lucky with the opportunity afforded me. I continued to hunt a couple days to fill my doe tag, but wasn't able to. At the same time my wife was having some issues with my daughter so my heart wasn't in it and I came home. It just wasn't worth it to stay for a doe in my mind. But it did underscore how fortunate I was to have the opportunity I did. These things sure don't kill themselves.
I also thought I'd share the story simply because I think it's a very realistic example of the kind of fun anyone can have if you want to. It doesn't take much to do some research, find a tag, get it and go. If I missed anything or anyone has any questions feel free to fire away.
As much as I love to see them go down within sight, following a blood trail just adds to the excitement and anticipation of the hunt. Blood trailing in the tall grass is the worst. Nicely done with pics and words. my best, Paul
Question - What if I guy from south of the border wanted to come north of border up to Canada and do a DIY public land hunt. How do able would that be? Here about a lot of guide stuff but not much DIY.
Orion - yes my daughter is definitely all over the wrapping and marking ! Great times!
John, unfortunately Canada doesn’t have many DIY options for Americans. That being said, it doesn’t for Canadians either. I can’t go and hunt basically any province even as a Canadian. I believe there are DIY options in Ontario for Americans and Alberta you can hunt with a host. Which is essentially what I can do as well. It’s the pits.