Muleys With Stick & String
Growing up on the prairies, I was lucky to be surrounded by fabulous mule deer country 360 degrees around me. Maybe that’s partially why I’ve always been such a mulie fanatic. It’s certainly not because they’re easy to hunt—a big, mature mule deer buck can be about as cagey as it gets, spending the majority of time in open country. In my opinion it’s tougher to harvest a big mature mule deer than breaks B&C then it does a B&C whitetail and one look at the B&C record books confirms that.
Now taking a massive antlered, sway-backed old Mule Deer buck with archery gear isn’t as easy as some may think and those hunters who always brag how dumb Mule Deer have obviously never spent much time pursuing old monster bucks, especially with the stick and string.
We are blessed in many areas of the West to have general OTC archery seasons, so it only makes sense to be at the ready to take advantage of every possible opportunity, as a coveted rifle draw tag can take years of applying before you get your hands on one. So knowing how to hunt mule deer with a bow, can give you the opportunity to pursue these amazing animals every single Fall.
Mule deer live a large portion of their lives in wide open terrain, so being able to shoot your bow at long ranges can really give you an edge. Push your limit to become as comfortable as possible with long bombs and try to get your archery gear dialed in to shoot up to 100 yards. Today’s new bows are lightning fast, and have no problem effectively shooting that far. At those longer distances, however, it’s even more important to make sure your shot counts, and that requires a lot of practice. If you plan to get out with your bow for mule deer, then, make sure you keep your skills sharp during the off-season.
Ideally, start scouring the countryside for potential hunting hot spots in the early summer months. That’s when bruiser bucks are travelling in bachelor herds, feeling untouchable with next to no pressure. You’ll spot them out in the open fields, gorging on ripening crops— they’re particularly suckers for alfalfa, canola, lentils, oats and peas.
Mule deer move about the most at dawn and dusk, travelling from their bedding areas to their feeding grounds. I love using my Spypoint Trail Cams on the main trails between these spots, as there is no greater tool to let you know what’s travelling the trails without being there. These new Cellular trail cams, such as Spypoints new Solar Link series and even their Cell Link will allow you to get the pics right on your phone without ever stepping foot back in their bubble to pull memory cards.
Also be sure to spend some of your summer scouting these areas during the prime times and your searching will pay off. Glass until your eyeballs feel as if they’re going to pop out of your head. Then glass some more.
Once crops start to turn and the Fall harvest begins, the deer patterns start to change, with the big bucks getting bounced around from one field to the next. That makes it tougher later in the archery season, so pay close attention to where the deer are coming from and going to at first and last light, as you may have to change your strategies accordingly. A cagey old mulie will go from feeding in crop fields to foraging in pasture lands, not only making him tougher to find, but also harder to get close to without spooking him.
Every single one of today’s archery companies make very fast, accurate bows and there is a ton of amazing archery gear out there. I shoot a Bowtech with a Spot Hogg 7-Pin sight, it’s already a few years old and I’m likely due for an upgrade, but it shoots well for me, so I haven’t changed yet. If you’re in the market for a new bow, I suggest going to an archery shop with the ability to let you test shoot a few makes and models to see what fits you perfectly.
You’ll also need a rangefinder, an amazing tool that takes the guesswork out of the equation and makes bowhunting more effective than ever. As well, I use Swarovski EL Range binoculars with a built-in rangefinder, making for one less piece of equipment I have to carry, allowing me to do everything in one motion, which I love.
Having the best camouflage clothing is essential when stalking, but the key in any clothing is making sure the fabric is as quiet as possible to allow you to get into their ‘bubble’ undetected. Trying to sneak up on a wily mule deer buck with noisy camo is pointless, as those big ears will hear you coming from a mile away.
Seeing Everything You Can
No matter how you hunt for mule deer, you need quality optics if you want to be successful. You’ll be spending hours peering through the lenses of your binoculars and spotting scope, so cheap optics just won’t cut it, as they often produce eye strain and fatigue.
Choose optics with great eye relief and at least 10x magnification (for anything higher than 10x, you’ll need a tripod to keep it steady). I take a spotting scope and a lightweight tripod on my mule deer hunts. I also don’t leave home without my Swarovski EL Range 10x binoculars with built-in rangefinder. I’ve put mine to the test on many hunts around the world and they’ve never let me down. A good spotting scope and tripod are a must as well, I run Swarovski’s STX 85 spotting scope as there is nothing like being perched on a vantage point as the sun is peaking over the hills and having the optics to see the unseen.
If you have a smartphone which pretty much everyone does, I also recommend a must-have in your arsenal, it’s a nifty little gadget called the Phone Skope. It hooks your phone directly to your spotter or even your binoculars, letting you take incredible photos and video at great distances. I used to hold my phone or point-and-shoot camera up to my spotting scope to take a photo, but this takes the guesswork out of it and gives you the best shots every single time. They also have a Bluetooth shutter remote that syncs to your phone to take the pics without ever touching it and wiggling your focused animal into an unfocused blur. You can’t be without one of these if you spend anytime in mule deer country, your pics and videos will speak for themselves.
Strategies For Success
The early archery season can be one of the best times to harvest giant mulie bucks, as they’re still in their late-summer routines, feeding heavily in crop fields and staying out in the open. I’ve had some of my best luck watching a big buck feed, then staying on him until he beds down. That’s when I begin my stalk.
Two very important things you need are cover and a favourable wind. If the deer is in a crop field, a decent wind can be your savior, allowing you to close the gap enough for a good shot by masking the sound of your stalk. If you don’t have a breeze, wait until you do. And once you begin your stalk, go slowly and very carefully, or you’ll bust the buck clear out of the county.
There have been times when I was down to the wire on the last afternoon of bow season, and left with no choice but to try to close the distance without so much as a tumbleweed for cover. I once belly-crawled for three hours down a ravine, to close the gap on a giant non-typical buck that was bedded down. I took my time and got to within 50 yards of the buck, but when he finally stood up, I took the shot and missed. That’s hunting and you have to remember not every stalk is going to be successful. Archery hunting can be the epitome of frustrating at times, but you just have to learn from your mistakes.
The most important thing with bowhunting is to have patience and never rush the shot once you’re in range. Keep your cool, be patient and wait for everything to fall into place. You’re better off watching and waiting than blowing your opportunity and educating a buck.
Remember that eventually, any bedded buck will stand up for a stretch or go for a walk. When that happens, wait for him to look away or lower his head to feed, then draw your bow. Even if he spooks and starts to run away, remain at full draw and be ready. Muley’s can be curious creatures, and sometimes they just can’t resist stopping to see what spooked them, providing you with a glorious opportunity if you’re at full draw and ready. All I can tell you is some of the most exciting times I’ve had while hunting has been pursuing Muleys with the STICK & STRING.
By Jeff Schlachter