Backcountry Mulie Advice-Part II

Posted on October 16, 2013

 

Backcountry Mulie Advice Part II, the conclusion to Part I. To read Part I, click here!

Searching the high country for early-season mulies provides an incredible rush and adventure, but don’t expect easy anything. These deer often require lots of physical work and finesse.

By Jason Stafford

Deer don't just roam the mountains aimlessly. Study maps intently, coming up with the best likely hunting spots based on terrain features, water and appropriate bedding cover.

Deer don’t just roam the mountains aimlessly. Study maps intently, coming up with the best likely hunting spots based on terrain features, water and appropriate bedding cover.

Unusual Ambush Tactics

Besides stalking, ambush tactics work nearly as well. I’ve had great success setting up on deer as they use a travel route to escape a nearby intruder. But for this tactic to work, you must watch deer closely and determine which trails they’ll likely use to get to one area to another. When “bumped,” they’ll take these same trails to travel along, usually heading toward an area of more cover, elevation and safety.

When using this tactic, I prefer to set up several hundred yards from where the buck is bedded. Deer will routinely look back at the source of danger as they move in the direction they’re going. By giving myself plenty of space, I can change ambush locations slightly, particularly at the last minute, in order to make my setup more lethal and in line with the deer’s travel pattern.

Another good method is still-hunting, a time-honored tactic most hunters seem to ignore (I guess due to its difficulty). However, I find this tactic to work well in certain areas where other tactics just won’t work.

For example, one of my best mule deer areas in Wyoming consists of rim-rock cliffs positioned above scattered patches of pine trees. The bucks, I’ve noticed, bed in the patches of pine trees to avoid the mid-day sun. Also, as a great bonus, I’ve noticed the wind is almost always in my face as I approach the known bedding areas from above.

I have taken two of my best bow bucks by still-hunting along the rim rock, while peering intently into the patch of pine for bedded deer.  Last fall, while performing this technique, I peeked over a ledge and noticed a giant buck only 30 yards way. Unfortunately, the buck caught movement and bolted out of there. However, he stopped to see what had spooked him, giving me just enough time to send an arrow on the way.

Of course, this way of hunting is not ideal, as it’s hard to know where deer will bed down for the day. For this reason, in many environments and circumstances, it’s simply better to ambush animals as they head toward bedding or feeding spots, instead of trying to stalk them in their heavily wooded beds, where they are naturally on guard.

But, every situation is a little different, so a good mule deer archer will improvise as he hunts. It’s the true name of the game.

Some areas in the high country are nearly impossible to stalk deer in. For this reason, the author relies on still-hunting tactics from time to time. This is how he shot this Wyoming buck, by sneaking and peeking along rim-rock terrain, until getting a shot.

Some areas in the high country are nearly impossible to stalk deer in. For this reason, the author relies on still-hunting tactics from time to time. This is how he shot this Wyoming buck, by sneaking and peeking along rim-rock terrain, until getting a shot.

Back to the Hunt

After studying the willow patch for close to an hour, Ron and I realized there was no way to stalk in on the deer. The ridge was unbelievably steep and covered with loose shale. But we did notice a well-worn trail that lead from their bedding spot to the saddle above, a likely escape route.

We agreed that our best chance here was to try an ambush, using the old bump-and-intercept technique. There was a large boulder near the saddle, a perfect spot for a shooter to take stand, while the other hunter intentionally went toward the deer to spook them.

It was decided that I’d take stand, while Ron worked in on the deer straight on. I told Ron to give me about two hours to circle around and to get set up.

Later, as I did the big loop around and came up on the saddle, I was totally exhausted and I noticed the wind was wrong, too. I had to change my plans. The only thing I could do now was to set up on a small depression, about 20 yards from the trail, but I did not know if there was enough cover to conceal my approach or my hide.

Then I heard Ron yelling, “Get ready, here they come!”

Just as I was nocking an arrow, a fox came running past me on the trail, then a couple seconds later, there came a set of velvet-clad antlers! I barely got to full draw when the smaller of the two three-points came into view.

I settled the 20-yard pin just as he came to a screeching halt. I held at full draw for several minutes while the buck bore a hole right threw me. My mind was racing, thinking, “where is your big buddy?”

Finally, after realizing they must have separated, and knowing by the look in his eyes that he was not going to stick around much longer, I slowly squeezed the trigger on my release. Then I felt the familiar thump of the bow recoiling.

The arrow covered the short distance in a millisecond, punching completely through the buck’s chest. He whirled out of sight.

Next, I ran to the top of the saddle, just in time to hear Ron give a loud “Woo-hoo!” I looked down the hillside to see the buck in his final resting place.

Later on, I sat admiring his beautiful velvet-covered rack. What a great adventure, I thought. Although he was not the monster buck that every hunter dreams of packing off the mountain, he was my buck. I couldn’t have been prouder.

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