Mule deer are named after their large, mule-like ears that provide them with their excellent hearing. They have a brown colored hide with a white patch on their rump and underbellies, and sport large forked antlers. They are an extremely versatile species when it comes to habitat, living everywhere from the mountains to the desert. This versatility has caused several subspecies of mule deer to develop throughout North America, including the most common Rocky Mountain Mule Deer and Desert Mule Deer. Both species eat different foods due to their widespread nature and varying habitats, but typically forage on grasses and shrubs.
Where To Hunt Mule Deer
Mule deer are spread throughout the western United States and Canada. The Rocky Mountains are home to the largest subspecies, the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer, and Colorado is hands down the best state for growing large numbers of these giant bucks. Idaho is another favorite, as over the counter tags are available and there is potential for truly massive bucks. Montana is at the top of the list as well due to the vast tracts of public land that hold good numbers of quality deer. For desert muleys, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico are prime locations for hunting the spooky deer. The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is home to some of the largest desert mule deer and allows for some unique techniques of hunting them. Here, in addition to the classic spot and stalk styles of mule deer hunting, hunters can also track deer. With the help of expert local guides, hunters will follow the tracks of an individual deer, until, hopefully, they either find him bedded or are close enough that they can get a shot. This style of mule deer hunting is largely unique to this region, and provides even the most experienced hunters with a totally new kind of hunt.
Mule Deer Hunting Techniques
The variety of environments mule deer occupy allow for hunters to hunt them in several different ways, with the most common method being spot and stalk. Here, hunters will find a high point in the terrain that offers a good vantage point of a hillside, valley, or other high activity area, and use binoculars and spotting scopes to search for deer. When a deer is spotted, hunters will then attempt to sneak in close for a shot. With a rifle, hunters need only get inside of 400 yards or so to attempt a shot, whereas a bow likely requires the hunter to be 1/10th of that distance from the animal. However, depending on the terrain, even 400 yards can be difficult. For example, desert mule deer in Arizona live on huge areas of rolling hills with nothing but small trees and brush as cover. This is similar to the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer that live in Montana’s badlands, areas that are almost entirely grass and offer very little cover. This lack of cover makes it very easy for a mule deer to spot you, sometimes from as far as a mile away. In these types of situations, your only option is to use the subtle elevation changes in the hills when moving. Often, there are low draws or old riverbeds running throughout mule deer country. By utilizing these low areas and avoiding being sky lined (silhouetted against the sky on a ridge or high point) hunters have a much better chance of sneaking into shooting range undetected. Nevertheless, Muleys frequently sense your presence and make their trademark “pogostick” exit and bound away before you can make a shot. However, they will often stop and look back after bounding a short distance. This pause often gives the hunter another shot opportunity, especially if rifle hunting, so be sure to keep the animal in your sights and be prepared for one last chance.
During the archery season that typically starts in August and continues through September, Muleys are typically found at high elevations. However, as the season progresses and temperatures fall, they will begin to drop elevation as they move into their wintering grounds. The mule deer rut typically takes place between November and December, but is largely determined by the latitude of the area you are hunting. Much like whitetails, the rut is the best time to see a mature animal, as those typically wary bucks seem to throw caution to the wind in search of hot does.
Mule Deer Hunting Regulations
Mule deer regulations vary depending on the state you are hunting. Many top destinations, like Colorado, issue tags through a limited draw. However, certain units are easy to draw and still have the potential to hold monster bucks. On the other hand, Idaho offers over the counter tags, removing the whole application process, but still providing a shot at a big buck. Montana offers deer or deer and elk combo tags through a limited draw, but the combo offers very high chances of drawing. There are several trophy units that are difficult to draw, but there is also a huge amount of public land that holds giant bucks and can be hunted with your general tag.