Monster Mule Deer – On Your Own!

November 19th, 2008 / Posted by edersbow.com
Monster Mule Deer – On Your Own!

written by Tom Tietz
Surprises aren’t always welcome. Such was the case when to my surprise a Utah limited archery deer tag appeared in my mailbox. Don’t get me wrong, in some ways I was elated to draw such a tremendous deer area, but on the other hand I was depressed because I was to leave for the Yukon on a sheep hunt in the next few days. Coincidentally, my departure for the north country would come only a few days before the opening of Utahs’ archery deer season. So much for scouting. Nevertheless I planned to hunt for 3 days right after my return from the Yukon. Not much time, but I figured something was better than nothing. After all, it took three years to draw this tag, so I wasn’t about to waste it.

Hunting mulies in other states was relatively new to me. Up until a few years ago most of my mule deer hunting was done in my home state of Colorado. But drastic declines in Colorado’s mule deer herds and buck quality due to overhunting, poor management and an out of control elk herd, has prompted me to look elsewhere for quality mulies. It became obvious right from the start that trophy mulies are getting harder and harder to find, but a few “honey holes” do exist. What I uncovered were several special areas where an archer could find quality deer coupled with relatively low hunter pressure.

Nevada
Another trophy rich area, and one where a draw is not required for archers is the Kaibab plateau in northern Arizona. Once the premier mule deer area before suffering major die-offs, the Kaibab is back and producing tremendous bucks. The drawback to Arizona is the potential for higher hunter pressure due to unlimited tags, but it’s big country with lots of deer, so it’s high on my list of places to go.

Utah
The third place I uncovered was two draw areas in southern Utah. One, the Paunsaugunt, is probably the better of the two, but public access is limited, and the price of private land hunts is comparable to the quality of the area, high. The other, Elk Ridge, is mostly public and harbors an excellent mule deer herd. This was the area I chose to apply, and where this hunt took place.

After returning from the Yukon the end of August, I unloaded and reloaded my gear and headed for southeast Utah. Even though it would be Labor Day weekend, I hoped that hunter pressure would be low, as Utah only issues 50 resident and 5 non-resident tags for the archery deer hunt. Since the season had been open since August 20th, I figured most hunters will either have filled out or given up. I guessed right. In three days of hunting I only saw four other hunters, and only one of them ever left the roads.

The big buck population in Utah is still really strong.

The big buck population in Utah is still really strong.

Arriving in the area after dark on Friday, and in a driving thunderstorm, I decided to pitch a temporary camp down low and use Saturday morning as a scouting trip. The weather cooperated, the storm broke and the early Saturday morning skies were partly cloudy. After loading my camping gear I headed into the hunting area just as dawn was breaking. It didn’t take long to find deer, lots of them. In less than an hour close to 100 deer were seen, including a few nice bucks. Not bad for driving along the main road. Within a couple of hours I decided to set up camp at the edge of a long narrow meadow, about a half mile from the edge of a deep wide canyon. The scenery was stunning. The top was a long narrow plateau with a mixture of aspen, oakbrush and pine interspersed with lush green meadows. Off the sides of the plateau were a series of never ending canyons of red rocks and junipers. The valley bottoms contained stands of huge aspen and meadows. Canyonlands National Park was slightly visible to the northwest from the higher vantage points. Just the scenery alone, made this hunt a memorable experience, but the area was also rich in mule deer.

After setting up camp I grabbed my bow and started scouting the edge of the canyon on foot. It was a perfect day for still hunting. The heavy rains the night before left the ground saturated and quiet. A slight breeze from the west kept my scent behind me. Within less than 400 yards out of camp, I came onto 2 nice bull elk feeding in the oakbrush. After taking out my camera and snapping a few photos, I eased my way around the bulls, leaving them to feed undisturbed. Over the next 3 or 4 hours another 100 or so deer were seen and I blew a stalk on a typical 4-point in the 180 class. Not bad for the first few hours in a new area. I was already regretting not having more time.

That evening I went back to the edge of the same canyon and decided to play the spot and stalk game. The unit is in the southeast Utah desert country, where under normal conditions, waterhole hunting would be highly effective. But the heavy rains before my arrival, called for a change in tactics, as there was water everywhere. With quiet stalking conditions and steady winds, everything seemed ideal for my favorite form of hunting. Get on a high vantage point with my Swarovski 10×42′s and AT-80 spotting scope and begin diligently picking apart everything in sight. When a shootable animal is found, a stalk is planned depending upon conditions.

Spot and Stalk is the preferred method of hunting muleys in Utah. A high-quality pair of optics will help you locate bucks in low-light conditions.

Spot and Stalk is the preferred method of hunting muleys in Utah. A high-quality pair of optics will help you locate bucks in low-light conditions.

Although the first evenings hunt didn’t uncover any monster bucks, literally hundreds of deer were seen, including lots of bucks. One area that I could see, but was too far off to identify the numerous deer that appeared, really caught my curiosity. Later that evening, I studied maps of the area to see if it was accessible. It was, and a morning hunt was planned.

The next morning came in with fog so thick you could eat it with a spoon. Plan B went into effect. I headed over to another area where several deer were seen on my initial drive across the plateau. The area consisted of a series of finger ridges leading out into a deep, rocky canyon. It had all the makings of a buck pasture. But the fog was my enemy there that also, severely limiting visibility, and even though I put a couple miles on my boots, few deer were seen, none of them good bucks. About 9 o’clock I decided to head back to camp to wait for this pesky fog to lift, then I’d head for the originally planned area. On the way to camp I ran into a Utah conservation officer. Talk about luck. After he checked my tag, I proceeded to pick his brain. This guy was extremely helpful. He recommended three potential areas where a hunter who was willing to walk, would stand a good chance of finding some real wallhangers. Funny thing, is that one of the areas was the same one I’d already planned to hunt. It was a “no brainer”. The area definitely held deer, my glassing on Saturday night confirmed that. And the conservation officer confirmed the presence of big bucks. With only an evening and a morning hunt remaining, I decided to concentrate my efforts there.

The area, which was about an hour from camp by four wheel drive, was southeast of the main drainage in the area. Stretching southeast from the steep red rock cliffs of the canyon were open sage flats bordered by mixed oakbrush and pine hills. The sage flats is where the deer were seen on Saturday night, so I decided to concentrate my efforts there. It didn’t take long to confirm that the right decision was made. About two hours before sunset, a group of 8 bucks came down out of the oakbrush, feeding in the sage, only 300 yards from my position. Although five of them were nice four pointers, none were real monsters and it was early, so I left them alone. Over the next hour about twenty more deer, mostly does, fawns and small bucks, took their place in the sage.

Just the sight of a velvet-racked buck silhouetted in the sunset makes the trip a success.

Just the sight of a velvet-racked buck silhouetted in the sunset makes the trip a success.

With the sun getting dangerously low in the west, my patience was rewarded. Out of the rimrocks, a group of five bucks appeared, cautiously checking the wind, as they fed along the edge of the sage flat. They were about a half mile away, but it was obvious that three were really special. After a quick sneak across the sage flat, I was able to get a good look from about 150 yards. The first two bucks were average 4 pointers, the next a 4×6 with about a 30 inch spread, the fourth was a high, wide four by four with a spread of at least 35 inches, but the last one. Oh the last one. He was the buck of dreams – A wide nontypical, with at least 25 points heading in every direction and spanning an easy three feet. Definitely a shooter!

With the deer feeding and the wind right, the stalk began. Problem was that Murphy’s law also started work. Almost immediately a small herd of does and fawns fed up out of the rimrock about halfway between my position and the bucks. That was bad enough, but about the same time, a group of range cattle, decided to walk straight at my position, headed for a waterhole that was about 200 yards behind me. To make matters worse, I was stalking along a nice sandy trail, their trail. Needless to say, when they got close and caught my scent, all hell broke loose. The cattle spooked towards the deer, the does and fawns started snorting, and the bucks just melted into the thick brush on the canyon walls. That’s why they call it hunting, but it was still a sight I’ll not soon forget.

Although the author didn't bag a buck during this trip to Utah, he certainly has had success with mulies in the past.

Although the author didnt bag a buck during this trip to Utah, he certainly has had success with mulies in the past.

With some daylight remaining, I decided to slip down through the rimrocks where the bucks disappeared and onto a narrow grassy bench. What I found there was the bucks livingroom and bedroom. The bench was about 100 yards wide and chocked with thick stands of oakbrush and aspen, interspersed with lush green grass. Beds and other fresh sign were everywhere. The sage flat above was their dining room. Talk about the perfect spot. I’d be back here at first light.

Sleep that night was filled with dreams of an arrow propelled by my Bear takedown, passing through the ribs of that big nontypical. But when my alarm rudely interrupted the dreams, my tag was still unfilled. Foregoing breakfast, I jumped in the Toyota and headed for the buck pasture. No way was I going to be late on this, my last morning hunt. On the way, it was pretty much settled in my mind that even though it would be great to get the big guy, I’d take the first decent buck that gets in range. After all there was no tomorrow and my freezer was empty. Time to get real.
The Last Day Of The Hunt
It was still dark when I slipped down through the rimrocks to the narrow bench that was located the previous night. As daylight began winning its battle over darkness, the area came alive. Coyotes were yipping, birds singing and the occasional branch snapped, giving away the presence of deer. To say it was a beautiful morning would have been an understatement. This is what bowhunting is all about. Just being there, experiencing the world around you, with nothing human to disturb it. Or so the deer thought.

I had guessed right. In the first few minutes of daylight, the big boys showed up. They were slowly picking their way through the scattered oaks and aspen, grabbing mouthfuls of grass as they approached. At about 60 yards, just out of range, they decided to hang up in a small meadow, on the edge of the rimrocks. A stalk was necessary. Conditions weren’t great. There was no wind and things had dried out over the past couple days. Slipping into my bears feet, I knocked an arrow and started stalking like there was no to morrow. After what seemed like an hour, probably 5 minutes, I’d narrowed the distance to 40 yards. Ten more yards, and the big boy would be dodging arrows.

More sudden than a bolt of lightning, things began to unravel. Two bucks, that were previously unseen, jumped up from behind a deadfall, 15 yards in front of me. One was just a forky , but the other was a pretty little 4 point. He was in full velvet, which glowed like antlers made of gold, as the first rays of sun hit him. Quickly, I pulled my Quaker Boy grunt call from my pocket and gave a couple low grunts. It worked. The bucks stopped and looked around with a confused look in their eyes. It only took a second for the carbon arrow to find its mark and only a few more for the buck to cover about 20 yards and pile up. The big boys got away, but I was nonetheless happy with the trophy sprawled out in front of me. It was a quality end to a high quality hunt.

Conclusions
Big mulies may be getting scarce, but with a little effort, areas such as Elk Ridge are out there, just waiting for the diligent hunter to find them. Although some of these areas are unlimited, I’m sold on draw units. Sure they can’t be hunted every year, but if you apply in enough areas, you ought to be able to go somewhere each year. You just have to be flexible, and have a yearning for the best quality hunts available. That is what I found in southeast Utah, and will look forward to pursuing in the future. Low hunter pressure plus lots of deer adds up to the hunt of a lifetime.

Note: For information on the Utah drawing hunts contact: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, 1596 West North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84116. Phone: (801)596-8660.

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