Mule Deer Assistance

4XBOWHUNTER

New Member
Sep 26, 2018
38
12
Wisconsin
Hello, I am wondering if anyone would be wiling to discuss mature Mule deer habitat/terrain and characteristics?

We have hunted South Dakota, Nebraska and Colorado and have had encounters with mule deer in all 3 states, but never any mature mule deer bucks, we went on a family vacation and of course we saw some mature bucks at that time but never in a hunting situation. We have hunted out in the sandhills and would glass and hike the entire day and when we think we are far enough away "2-5 miles from roads" and find small patches of timber or water source it seems that we only see whitetail or a group of Mule deer doe with young bucks mixed in. I am "Thankful" we have had success and harvested some nice whitetail bucks. I cant get the Mule deer out of my head, we see plenty of people with mature mule deer online from these states and I wonder what they are doing that we are not. I guess my first thought is "Research" so that's why I'm here asking for advise.


Are we not heading far enough West? "For the most part we have not been further West than Central Nebraska and S.D. I should say we were Elk hunting Colorado and the area we were in had minimal mule deer.

Should we be looking at more Mountainous regions for the mule deer? "As asked above I believe there are a lot of Mule deer in Nebraska and SD were just hunting the wrong areas?"

I don't believe we could change much in Nebraska as essentially its rolling sandhills and just repeats itself except for the pockets of timber/water.

I've read and talked with people that say just keep going through the sandhills and you will find them, do the mule deer consistently move throughout the hills or do they stay on a home range and only leave because of pressure or lack of food?

Should we be putting in for preference points for the Mountain region instead?

I have a thousand questions and am hopeful someone wants to discuss this topic. I may be going it alone as the guys I hunt with would like to stay in the area we are and have had success, I guess I'm looking for that next adventure and the opportunity to pursue something I have been unable to come close to.

Thanks for reading and any input is appreciated.
 
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JimP

Veteran member
Mar 28, 2016
4,712
2,638
67
Gypsum, Co
The flatland's have just as good of mule deer as the mountains have. However you might have to work harder for them, perhaps not physically but in just finding them.

Even in the very best mule deer units in the west you have to work hard to find a buck over 200" if that is what you are looking for and I'll even say a buck over 170" is hard to come by very easy.

I have hunted the west for over 55 years and honestly I can say that I have only seen less then 10 200" bucks during the hunt and perhaps 20 or so that would go over 180". In my younger years I would wear out a pair of boots hiking the high country from 10,000' on up. It takes a lot time to figure them out and once you learn what they want in the area that you are hunting the easier it gets, so to speak.
 

Alabama

Veteran member
Feb 18, 2013
1,284
70
Sweet Home Alabama
I've hunted public land in NE quite a bit in the past. There is so little public land that it gets hammered with pressure, the most I've ever experienced on any hunts I've been on. Mature bucks are few and far between simply because most are shot when they are young. The deer densities are quite low as well so you usually have to cover a lot of ground to find the few that are there. It's fun hunting and will definitely make you a better hunter but my advice is find some private ground there for more consistent success on mature bucks.

I would build points in states west of there; specifically CO and WY. There are some decent units in CO that can be drawn for just a few points and quite a few region wide tags in WY that can as well. In CO you will have to buy a license and habitat stamp before applying. It's something like $110 to apply for one species but more can be added for $9 each (antelope, elk, and bear). The quality deer hunting because of good management in CO make it worth it IMO. WY is $41 for a deer point. Maybe consider the general hunts in UT as well, you have to buy the license but you can get 2 years out of it if you buy it right before the draw period closes this year and apply before it expires next year. NM is a random draw so you might try your luck there. AZ and NV are expensive unless you plan to apply for multiple species to justify the cost. MT general tags are costly and I've heard are generally crowded and not managed for mature bucks, but I have no experience there.
 

taskswap

Active Member
Jul 9, 2018
369
215
Colorado
Colorado raises its fees all the time. You'd be well advised to reference https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BigGameDatesandFees.aspx and the Big Game brochure at https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/RegulationsBrochures.aspx. In 2019 (and I think they're raising it again in 2020?) they changed the process so you HAVE to get a "small game combo tag" (fishing and small game, $49 or so) before getting a big game tag, whether you plan to shoot rabbit or go fishing or not. They also changed how the preference-point vs tag fees worked. To be honest, I find it hard to follow even living here and watching it month by month. I don't know how the rest of y'all tolerate it.
 

Alabama

Veteran member
Feb 18, 2013
1,284
70
Sweet Home Alabama
Yeah the small game is something like $90 for NR, then add the $10 habitat stamp, and $9 per species to apply. I said it's about $110 but I could be off by a little as I'm going off memory. I add antelope and elk for $18 more but CO is still worth it IMO for the deer hunting alone. At least at this point, I'm sure prices will continue to go up, as they have in all states since I started applying out west. Demand keeps increasing and prices will follow. We will keep applying too!
 
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alaska2go

Active Member
Oct 20, 2012
259
89
Canon City, CO
Older, mature mule deer bucks are : sneaky, nocturnal, solitary, loners, and wise. AND, the biggest bucks are killed by mountain lions for the those reasons. A mature mule deer will go to great lengths to avoid human contact and disruption unless he lives in town limits.. To find a old narly buck takes patience lots of patience, time, and a good strategy... They are the most vulnerable the last week of August into September and during the rut. The time in between those 2 is almost next to impossible to find a mature big buck on public land.. I could on for hours but that is the basics in a nut shell...
 

Montana

Veteran member
Nov 3, 2011
1,049
235
Bitterroot Valley, MT.
I really appreciate your approach to this. I was in the same boat for a lot of years. And then it clicked, and now I am able to harvest a quality buck every year. As JimP said, those big big bucks are very far and few between. But if expectations can be in the 160 + range, one can have a blast chasing those deer.
Here are my thoughts.... though “flat land” can hold bigger deer, remote scouting is about impossible. Been there done that. So therefore I would say it’s essential to move into the hills. I can pretty much look at any map and move into new country and find bigger deer. Step 2... you have to be in country that holds deer. Lots of deer. Reason I think lots of deer is because to harvest a mature deer, it’s going to take time. If you are not seeing any deer then you are more likely to pull the trigger once you see something decent. But if you are seeing decent deer on a daily basis it’s enough motivation to keep you going and keep your finger off of the trigger. Step 3... just touched base on it. Time. Including travel time, you really need 10 days when not hunting a home state. It goes by sooooo fast. Last. You have to enjoy the time and find value in the hunt itself. Be willing to eat the tag and still be satisfied.
im happy to visit over the phone too if you’d like.
 

NE69

Active Member
Jan 6, 2013
364
39
62
Southwest Nebraska
Are we not heading far enough West? "For the most part we have not been further West than Central Nebraska.

Should we be putting in for preference points for the Mountain region instead?
4X, I would look farther west in NE, central NE is on the eastern edge of our mule deer range unless you are on the north side of the state. Bow hunting you should be able to find mature deer early in the season. Walk in hunt areas surrounded with private have some good bucks on them during early bow season, but it takes a lot of looking.

Preference points in the western states would be good, but it’s also a little different type of hunt that you will find in the flatter states.
 

4XBOWHUNTER

New Member
Sep 26, 2018
38
12
Wisconsin
The flatland's have just as good of mule deer as the mountains have. However you might have to work harder for them, perhaps not physically but in just finding them.

Even in the very best mule deer units in the west you have to work hard to find a buck over 200" if that is what you are looking for and I'll even say a buck over 170" is hard to come by very easy.

I have hunted the west for over 55 years and honestly I can say that I have only seen less then 10 200" bucks during the hunt and perhaps 20 or so that would go over 180". In my younger years I would wear out a pair of boots hiking the high country from 10,000' on up. It takes a lot time to figure them out and once you learn what they want in the area that you are hunting the easier it gets, so to speak.
Thank you for your advice it is appreciated, I am looking forward to continuing the research, I think I understand what your getting at here and if I'm reading into it correctly is I need to do more work with my mapping skills, this is an area that I am lacking in, I can navigate with no issues but I admit I need to learn how to use a topo map to my advantage, I wonder if at times we have been in good areas but missed something a couple of hills/ravines over because of lack of knowledge on topo's?
 

4XBOWHUNTER

New Member
Sep 26, 2018
38
12
Wisconsin
I agree that the flatlands have as big of muleys as the high country but unfortunately most of the plains in AZ, CO, MT, NM, & WY is private land. Most of the mountains, (AZ, CO, MT, NM, & WY) are public land but the best big buck units and regions take quite a few preference points to draw a tag.
Looks like I need to start accumulating points, Thanks!
 
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4XBOWHUNTER

New Member
Sep 26, 2018
38
12
Wisconsin
I've hunted public land in NE quite a bit in the past. There is so little public land that it gets hammered with pressure, the most I've ever experienced on any hunts I've been on. Mature bucks are few and far between simply because most are shot when they are young. The deer densities are quite low as well so you usually have to cover a lot of ground to find the few that are there. It's fun hunting and will definitely make you a better hunter but my advice is find some private ground there for more consistent success on mature bucks.

I would build points in states west of there; specifically CO and WY. There are some decent units in CO that can be drawn for just a few points and quite a few region wide tags in WY that can as well. In CO you will have to buy a license and habitat stamp before applying. It's something like $110 to apply for one species but more can be added for $9 each (antelope, elk, and bear). The quality deer hunting because of good management in CO make it worth it IMO. WY is $41 for a deer point. Maybe consider the general hunts in UT as well, you have to buy the license but you can get 2 years out of it if you buy it right before the draw period closes this year and apply before it expires next year. NM is a random draw so you might try your luck there. AZ and NV are expensive unless you plan to apply for multiple species to justify the cost. MT general tags are costly and I've heard are generally crowded and not managed for mature bucks, but I have no experience there.
That is a good point Alabama, how do I find a mature buck in a consistently pressured area, not saying there not in those areas, but our success should go up getting into more remote areas, Thanks for that, sometimes the answer is right there in front of you but it takes advice from someone else to make you see it.

I am definitely going to start accumulating points, I just need to determine which states, Thanks for the information on ease of draw.
 

4XBOWHUNTER

New Member
Sep 26, 2018
38
12
Wisconsin
Colorado raises its fees all the time. You'd be well advised to reference https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BigGameDatesandFees.aspx and the Big Game brochure at https://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/RegulationsBrochures.aspx. In 2019 (and I think they're raising it again in 2020?) they changed the process so you HAVE to get a "small game combo tag" (fishing and small game, $49 or so) before getting a big game tag, whether you plan to shoot rabbit or go fishing or not. They also changed how the preference-point vs tag fees worked. To be honest, I find it hard to follow even living here and watching it month by month. I don't know how the rest of y'all tolerate it.
Thank you for the information and the links, speaking for myself I have no experience getting preference points or drawing a tag in the Western states, I guess Im about to find out how confusing it can be. Regardless its forums like this and people like yourself that help guyts like me get through it. Thank you!
 

4XBOWHUNTER

New Member
Sep 26, 2018
38
12
Wisconsin
Older, mature mule deer bucks are : sneaky, nocturnal, solitary, loners, and wise. AND, the biggest bucks are killed by mountain lions for the those reasons. A mature mule deer will go to great lengths to avoid human contact and disruption unless he lives in town limits.. To find a old narly buck takes patience lots of patience, time, and a good strategy... They are the most vulnerable the last week of August into September and during the rut. The time in between those 2 is almost next to impossible to find a mature big buck on public land.. I could on for hours but that is the basics in a nut shell...
I think that may be where we have missed some oppurtunities in the past, I look at the maps and pick out an area that I feel should hold deer and hike while glassing on our way to it, but moving at a fairly fast pace. I wonder how many deer I have blown right by that watched me from a distance? "Probably a ton" If I can learn to read a topo better and start to figure out where these mature deer typically would feed/bed then maybe I can get an opportunity at one, I understand why you say they are vulnerable during rut, but why early September? Is it because they have been undisturbed for a few months or do they transition elsewhere at this time?
Thanks!