Backcountry Mulie Advice-Part I

Posted on October 9, 2013

Backcountry Mulie Advice-Part I, check back in a week for Part II! 

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


Spot and stalk is typically the best way to bowhunt wilderness deer, which means setting up on a high vantage point at first light and glassing heavily using top-quality optics.

Spot and stalk is typically the best way to bowhunt wilderness deer, which means setting up on a high vantage point at first light and glassing heavily using top-quality optics.

The clouds swept into the valley, bringing a majestic view to the landscape few ever get to experience. But for as stunning as it was, the heavy billows of white began complicating matters. We now couldn’t glass the lush willow patches of cover at the head of the valley, due to the reduced visibility. This obviously isn’t good when glassing for deer.

Two days prior, my hunting partner, Ron Niziolek, and I had glassed up a nice three-point buck feeding in one of these patches, and by the looks of the spot, we knew their had to be more. The area provided great security, water and food—really, everything an early-season mulie could want.

The last three days we had spent hiking all over the place—truly God’s country if we ever saw it. But the problem was, bucks were scarce. We only saw a few after all the time spent searching. This was not what we expected while roaming such pricey looking Colorado real estate.

Slightly dejected by the lack of deer sightings and big bucks (me being one who measures the success of a hunt not by how big of a buck harvested, but by the work and adventure endured), we were back looking for the nice three-point we spotted a few days earlier.

In between intervals of clouds, we would glass the valley hoping to turn up the buck again.  Finally, I saw two bucks crossing a shale slide, seemingly headed for some knee-high willow. It was the same three-point from earlier, along with another three-point that had wider and heavier horns. Interestingly, they were already headed for their beds so early in the day. On other backcountry hunts, I’ve noticed bucks don’t do this until mid-morning or so. Perhaps these bucks were more wary due to human pressure. We just didn’t know.

We eagerly watched as they bedded on the steep side of the mountain, noticing the spot was surrounded by loose shale, making a quiet approach impossible. Also, due to the morning rain showers, we were soaked and chilled to the bone. With all this in mind, we decided there was plenty of time to back on out of there, wait for the prevailing midday wind to take over, start a fire to warm up and then come up with a plan.

The author's high country mule deer, which he arrowed along a travel escape route.

The author’s high country mule deer, which he arrowed along a travel escape route.

Where to Go

When it comes to Pope & Young mule deer, Colorado is undeniably the number one producer. This, in addition to ample opportunity for getting a tag and providing some of the most breathtaking country an archer could ever explore, was exactly why we were here.

This high-elevation state naturally offers some of the best environments for a high-country wilderness hunt—areas where you’ll see few other people and lots of wildlife. All in all, my friends and I refer to this kind of adventure as a poor man’s sheep hunt.

Of course, other western states can provide a similar experience. Nevada is definitely a top destination from what I hear, as are Utah and Wyoming. I’ve never hunted the Silver State, but many of my friends speak highly about the high country in this state. Lots of bucks and lots of wilderness here to roam.

Utah and Wyoming can certainly offer a similar experience with plenty of great scenery and big bucks to go around. However, the terrain in the high country can vary quite a bit and is sometimes tricky to hunt on. I would know; I’ve done it on several occasions.

Based on my experience, you’ll typically have no problem locating deer in such areas, as they often feed in open meadows or along hillsides in the morning and evenings. But, after filling their bellies, they will retreat to scattered patches of timber to rest for the day, and this is where the difficulty comes into play. Most of these bedding spots are quite dense and either hard to navigate quietly or monitor deer in, or both, creating a true nightmare situation for the stalking hunter.

In order to be successful in these scenarios, you must be well prepared to switch tactics or be able to utilize patience until a deer beds in a better spot. This means more days of hunting, along with using lots of discipline on your part.

Paying Attention to Wind & Noise

In most cases, the best way to close in on a wilderness buck is to simply locate him, watch him bed, and then move in for the shot by stalking. Before making a stalk, however, it’s best to wait a couple of hours just to make sure he’s well settled and the wind thermals are maintaining some consistency.

This is the classic case. Sometimes, however, the buck you want to stalk won’t be in a stalkable position. When this is the case, you’ll have to wait until he moves to a more approachable bedding spot, or simply search for another buck to hunt. There’s simply no point in trying to stalk a buck with the wind in his favor. You’ll just be wasting your time and possibly kick out other deer en route.

When finding a buck in a good spot, and while moving in closer, it’s best to remove your boots during the last phase of the stalk, say the final 100 to 150 yards. This will reduce noise immensely as you tiptoe across loose granite pebbles, shale and other noisy footing. I prefer to stalk in an extra set of wool socks, in order to pad my step better and to protect my feet.

Also, once within shooting range, I prefer to wait for the right shot. Meaning, I don’t want to shoot at the deer laying down, but rather standing up. I do this on his own time and don’t try to force him up by whistling, bleating or throwing rocks, which will only put him on red alert or cause him to bolt on out of there. Be smart and use extreme patience once inside shooting distance.

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