Mule Deer Hunting Begins by Scouting | Zach Bowhay
Mule Deer Hunting Begins by Scouting
If a mule deer hunting in the high country for trophy bucks is on your bucket list, get a tag, and start scouting.
By Zach Bowhay
Of course, depending on where you will be hunting, you may have to draw a tag first.
During the summer — scouting season — mule deer bucks in the high country are found close to where they will spend their fall. Many bucks may be within a half-mile or often within a few hundred yards of where they will reside when the fall mule deer hunting season arrives. Spend that time wisely to find that trophy buck of your dreams. Of course, depending on where you will be hunting, you may have to draw a tag first.
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Instead, they prefer to keep close to needed resources, such as food, water, and bedding, with a good view of their surroundings.
Like bachelor herds of bull elk, most mule deer bucks will be in some hidden basin that holds everything they need without having to travel too far. Often, bucks won’t travel more than a couple hundred yards throughout the day. Instead, they prefer to keep close to needed resources, such as food, water, and bedding, with a good view of their surroundings. There is no doubt, a well thought out escape route, in case spooked by a predator, exists, too. Within this comfort zone, bucks can get up and browse throughout the day, without moving around excessively, and avoiding being spotted, in most circumstances.
Know Before You Go
With all of the technology at our fingertips anymore, there is no need for boots on the ground without conducting a bit of online research beforehand. Expert mule deer hunters scour Google Earth and other mapping apps, looking for areas that appear be “bucky.” Scouting from a distance will likely put you way ahead of the game before you ever step foot in an area you are interested in hunting.
The Basemap app allows users to examine potential mule deer hunting hot spots from the comfort of home or at work via smartphone if one can get away with it. Mapping layers include topographic, aerial, and a hybrid of the two. Another useful layer shows property ownership. Users can see who owns a given property, whether it be private or an agency, such as the USFS, BLM, or others.
Additionally, Basemap includes many other useful layers, showing everything roads, trails, current and historic forest fires, game management units, and units with over-the-counter tags available. Basemap also shows the mule deer ranges within each game management unit, a real boon for mule deer hunting. For best results, use the Basemap app to find mule deer comfort zones that may provide refuge for bucks, then scout those areas with boots on the ground when convenient.
Get Off the Beaten Path
High country bucks are skittish, and for a good reason: survival. Bucks, especially mature ones, don’t like and will not tolerate encroachment from the two-legged type. It’s not typical for bucks to encounter humans without getting nervous. If bucks continually see, hear, and smell humans, rest assured that it won’t take long before they take up residency elsewhere. They might not blow right out of there, but they will likely pack up and head for greener pastures if pressured from human activity. Because of this, finding secluded basins that don’t have main trails through them is often the best bet for finding bucks that will stay put into and through deer season.
Take Advantage of Low Light
As alluded to, bucks will get up and move throughout the day. However, buck sightings will be more common at first and last light. To find that once-in-a-lifetime buck, glass secluded basins during low light when you can barely see anything. Scouting for mule deer hunting hot spots means getting to a vantage point long before daylight and glassing in the evening until it’s too dark to see.
Optics for Mule Deer Hunting & Scouting
Quality glass on a tripod provides a fantastic advantage for spotting game, especially at a safe distance.
There is an old adage, “Buy the best optics you can afford.” For mule deer hunting, this is an accurate statement. When scouting for deer, try not to disturb the area, potentially disrupting buck activity. Instead, glass these spots from a far enough distance to make out a trophy buck without sending it to new digs.
A quality pair of 10X or 12X binoculars is advised. Make an investment in a tripod and the required mounting accessories for maximum results. Quality glass on a tripod provides a fantastic advantage for spotting game, especially at a safe distance. Binoculars on a tripod allow one to pick out stationary animals more efficiently and moving animals with ease.
To field-judge bucks, use a good spotting scope with a large objective. Smaller objective scopes are a little easier to pack, but having a larger objective like an 85mm really aids in seeing the detail of a big buck, especially in the low light when you are most likely to see them.
Vortex 27-60×85 Razor HD
The Razor HD incorporates advanced optical elements to eliminate aberrations for distortion-free, flat field images with unmatched edge-to-edge sharpness. Additionally, the Razor HD provides remarkable clarity, resolution, and color accuracy. The Razor HD is available in both straight and angled configurations.
- Magnification: 27-60X
- Objective Lens Diameter: 85 mm
- Linear Field of View: 117-68 ft/1000 yds
- Angular Field of View: 2.2-1.3 degrees
- Close Focus: 16.4 feet
- Eye Relief: 16.7-17 mm
- Length: 16.2 inches
- Weight: 65.6 oz
Final Thoughts on Mule Deer Hunting
Hopefully, these few tips will put you well on your way to finding a great buck to hunt this fall.
Hopefully, these few tips will put you well on your way to finding a great buck to hunt this fall. If employed, it may take a while, but eventually, you will find that trophy buck you seek. If you uncover a buck of interest, keep tabs on it until the hunt begins. However, don’t stop looking. Take advantage of knowing a target buck exists to spend a few extra hours glassing, scouting for the mule deer hunting opportunity that is just around the corner.
Zach has taken multiple big game species across the Rocky Mountain states. He is highly regarded in the Western hunting community as an exceptional elk caller and as an expert in DIY elk hunting on public lands. Additionally, Zach has successfully taken many deer across the West. He is also a well-published writer, writing for several print and web titles.