Hunting mule deer out west requires specific preparation measures. Read on to see if this type of hunting is for you.
Prepare by Packing
When packing for a mule deer hunt out west, what to pack is probably the hardest thing to account for. In September in the west, the weather can go from the extreme heat of 100 plus degrees to a high possibility of snow, hail, and flooding rains. All this weather can be present within a 24-hour period and can come in with little to no signs, so it’s important to consider these hunting gear items while preparing your pack:
I use a tote to haul my clothing that will accommodate any weather condition. My super-heavy winter gear goes in the bottom. My rain gear goes in next, followed by hot weather camouflage at the top.
Having the right shoes is a very important tip for mule deer hunting (or any hunting) trip. Going from sand to shell rock to cheatgrass and 6-foot sagebrush makes footwear a high priority when navigating this terrain. Trail-rated tread with good ankle support is what I recommend. Walking with sore or wet feet turns a challenging walk into a miserable, relentless task, which makes waterproof shoes a necessity. If you’re going to spend extra money on anything, I would say boots are where to put it, knowing a 13-mile hike on a daily basis is more than likely going to happen.
Most water sources are fresh if you can find where they come out of the ground. If you can’t find where they come from, there’s a good chance that there are bacteria of all sorts that can cause serious health issues. A crucial mule deer hunting tip is to never fill up your water source from a stream without a charcoal filter system.
Prepare by Knowing Your Area
Map out the area you will be hunting. I like to mark locations on a digital map where I may want to set my camp, by looking for a flat area and a nearby fresh water source. Next, I like to mark waypoints and access points to different areas I would like to hunt.
Make Others Aware
Another key aspect of knowing your area is to make sure someone else knows how to find you. If you decide to move to another location, make sure your contact knows. This is vital to the safety aspect of hunting mule deer out here. You hear and read stories about people going out and not telling someone where they went, and it takes too long to find them. Don’t let this be you. Any time you hunt, let someone know you’re going, where you’ll be and an idea as to when you’ll return.
Prepare by Conditioning
The best way you can condition your body is to ride a bike and throw in some hikes throughout the off-season. Riding a bike will help condition the knees for the uphill and downhill climbs to get close to the trophy mule deer you have always wanted. The small hikes during the off-season will keep those lungs and muscles in condition to not fatigue as fast. Remember mule deer hunting is in September and temps could spike and drop extremely fast. So, when choosing what days to condition for the hunt, choose days that will match the extreme weather you may endure during your hunt.
Prepare by Spotting
When thinking about mule deer hunting, spotting is a key tip and the first step to being successful. Binoculars can be very helpful for that. I’m not saying you have to buy a $3,000 set of binoculars or spotting scope, but I am saying there is a difference between cheap, inexpensive, and expensive when it comes to looking at all the vast mountains. The time spent looking through binoculars and spotting scopes will save you the time and energy you’ll need to achieve a successful stalk. During archery season, you will have roughly three hours of good glassing time after which your vision will be impaired by the massive heat waves and the mirage of the mountains. The perfect spotting time starts before sunrise.
Pro Tip: Glassing is looking through binoculars.
When you find that mature buck or the buck that makes you say, “I want that one,” it’s time to start the stalk. You’ll need to keep three attributes of the mule deer in your mind for the hunt:
First, and the most impressive, are the ears. Mule deer have massive ears, much like the mule, allowing them to hear much better than other animals. You want to look for a pathway with little to dry material on the ground. The mule deer’s ears are like hearing satellites for sound. This makes them extremely useful when it comes to hearing predators.
The second is the nose. Make sure you start figuring out how the wind thermals shift and change as temps rise and cool during the day. Wind can swirl and push your smell right to the mule deer you are stalking, causing them to run off. Look for grass or brush blowing near the bedding area. One way of determining your best approach is to look for objects moving in the wind to determine which direction you should approach to keep your scent from going toward your target.
Lastly, you need to consider the vision that bucks will have from their bed and how you can move faster without being spotted yourself.
Using data from your extensive spotting, you can now start the hike. Keep yourself off the skylines and stay low while taking brief pauses to confirm your path is correct to get you in close.
Remember, if you are unsuccessful on your first attempt, don’t get discouraged. Take your experience, both the positives and the negatives, as better knowledge for next time. I’ve been hunting in Nevada and Idaho since age 4 with my dad pulling me up the mountains. As a kid, I learned each time I went mule deer hunting, and I still learn new things each time as an adult. Let this be your starting point when deciding if this style of hunting is for you. Good luck out there!