Mule Deer, Elk and Western Big Game Hunting -

Be Versatile For Muley Buck Success
By Jeff Keysar

Itís that time of year the tag results are in, scouting trips are planned, and gear is double and triplechecked. If youíre like most hunters, youíll spend an untold number of hours planning for your hunting trip to make sure everything goes as smoothly as planned. You may even have a game plan for your hunting strategy already mapped out in your head.

However, what happens if youíve taken the time, checked your gear, scouted the deer, and youíre out in the field working your game plan...with no results? This occurrence doesnít have to cause beads of sweat to form or cause you to pull your hair out. It just means you need to be able to change hunting tactics on a dime in order to suit the weather, the abundance of other hunters, availability of water or cover, or a dozen other outcomes. Being flexible with your hunting strategies will help you nail that buck when the other hunters are scratching their heads.

Blind Hunting
Mule deer hunting with blinds is often done around waterholes, and typically only after a hunter has placed trail cams nearby to verify the presence of any bucks worth waiting for. While deer can be taken this way, blind hunting may not be your best choice if your hunting season is unusually short (as it is in some western states,) or if youíre traveling a long way and your return trip will cut down on hunting time. One hunting friend of mine sat with his wife on three different blinds over an 18 day period before they finally nailed their buck. If you donít have that much gear or available time, you may want to reconsider blind hunting, especially if the deer in the area have multiple sources of water to choose from. In that case, youíre simply playing the odds, and they arenít particularly in your favor. A hunting area with limited sources of water and the presence of fresh sign stands a much better chance of success with a blind. Keep this in mind when planning your trip. In addition, be mindful of the fact that waterholes sometimes dry up making the entire blind hunting strategy obsolete.

Spot And Stalk
If youíve done your homework, you already know whether this method of hunting will be suited for your particular area. In the pinyon and juniper lowlands of the Great Basin, itís sometimes impossible to glass for deer through the thick stands of trees. If youíve drawn an area that youíre not familiar with and you donít have the time to travel and scout, start searching on Google Earth through the area youíve drawn in. It will give you a minimal look at the terrain, elevations, and the amount of timber in the area. Google Images may also have pictures of nearby peaks or landmarks shown on Google Earth. Viewing those pictures can give you an accurate sense of the how things look on the ground so you can try and determine whether the spot and stalk approach will be part of your hunting toolbox.

Blind Stalking
This is a term I use to describe how I ďghostĒ myself into my hunting area with as little disturbance as possible. Other hunters call it ďstillhunting.Ē It takes a minimal amount of skill and works best when the area youíre hunting in isnít bogged down with other hunters. And you donít have to be stalking through a fresh layer of fallen snow to get the drop on a buck. Iíve started opening day on some past deer seasons by walking up to three miles down a two track road at first light into the area I actually intended to hunt. I moved fairly slowly, perhaps two hundred yards an hour, and glassed as I moved. More than once, Iíve rounded a corner or looked up and spotted bucks within 50 yards bedded down in the cool of the morning, unbothered by road noise or other commotion. If you happen to cut a fresh track in a sandy wash or in the foothills, you can often follow it slowly into the trees before doubling back on yourself, checking the spaces in front of you. After reaching good cover, many pro hunters even remove their hiking boots and put on a double layer of wool socks to keep the foot noise to a minimum. Walk slowly, squat and glass often, and be ready for a quick shot.

Driving mule deer isnít commonly done, but it doesnít mean itís impossible. It just requires a team of hunters and a thorough knowledge of the area youíre hunting in. Posting hunters with a covered view of a wellused game trail, typically on a saddle, while others make their way through the timber below can push a decent number of bucks right into shooting range. This method is best reserved to areas you know well and have the team available to coordinate.

Road Hunting
Many deer hunting ďpuristsĒ are adamantly opposed to road hunting. If you havenít backpacked seven miles in and glassed for six hours, you arenít hunting, they say. For those hunters who could care less, road hunting has its advantages. Sure, you arenít as likely to kill a record class buck as the backpackers, but you can cover more area quicker, and if youíre injured or disabled, this may be your only option besides blind hunting.

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Last archery season, I waited on a blind for two days. It seemed like the perfect setup: it was a fairly remote location with 360 degree cover and plentiful feed and water. The buck tracks in the mud also made it seem like a winner. After the end of the second day and zero deer, I was walking back out to my truck when I jumped a doe. She was hanging out in a much less dense area below where my blind was. I walked further and jumped another deer. This made me start thinking.

The next day, I got in my truck and began to slowly idle down the dirt roads that paralleled the springs that were fed by the meadow my blind was set on. Within 20 minutes, I came across one decent threepointer and a small to mediumsized fourpoint buck about eighty yards away. A quick few steps angling up through the trees put me within 45 yards of them before I was able to put my arrow in the chest of the fourpointer. If I had stubbornly stayed on my blind, I might not have even seen another deer, let alone filled my tag. Of course, I might have seen and killed an even bigger buck on the blind, but thatís the risk we take. I only had a long weekend to hunt, certainly not 18 days like my friend, and if I hadnít been flexible with my techniques, I would have been skunked that year.

Take a moment to review these tactics and see which ones may be possible in your area. Consider them all. Donít be opposed simply because you think they arenít ďchallengingĒ enough for hunting. If filling your tag is a priority, think twice about using a blind when water is everywhere to be accessed by deer. Consider road hunting or stalking when cover is too thick to spot and stalk. If hunters are everywhere and you know your area well, consider beating them to a wellused saddle before first light and let their commotion drive some deer towards you. If you get injured between scouting season and hunting season, hunt the roads or put a blind on a limited water source.

Be ready to change tactics as needed for your best chance at tagging a buck this season. Remember, deer will change their behavior as water, hunting, pressure, or weather dictates...why shouldnít you?

Click-a-Pic ... Details & Bigger Photos

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