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Hunting Mule Deer

Hunting Mule Deer

At the end of each hunt, I ask my best hunting partner what we learned. What's the takeaway? Over the course of nearly 20 years hunting together, we have helped each other see the events and learn the lessons through each other's eyes. We made startling discoveries.

Mulies, blacktails and whitetails behave in ways that are sometimes counter-intuitive to our ways of thinking. When we turn our own assumptions upside down, sometimes we crack the code. And that means we eat wholesome venison throughout the winter, instead of feedlot beef and corporate poultry.

Mule Deer

HOLD YOUR FIRE


Deer know when it's hunting season. Four-wheel-drive trucks and ATVs start showing up on desert and forest roads. Brothers in camo start carrying bows and loading pockets with cartridges. Deer sense the game is on.


Large bachelor herds begin to break up into smaller groups of two or three. Other bucks attach themselves to a herd of does and some bucks go solitary.

We are always on the lookout for that loner buck, but more often we find mature bucks using other deer as decoys.

While hunting last season, we spotted a public-land trophy 3-point. We wanted to tie a tag on it. But he was grouped up with two does and three lesser bucks. They felt totally secure, lounging in a copse of juniper trees at mid-morning. A spike buck was posted on alert, downwind, to give the other deer early warning in case danger was spotted downhill. While the older deer relaxed and socialized, the spike was on alert. I watched from the spotting scope while a hunter worked in and broke up their little party.

Another time we crossed an open sagebrush flat and bounced a spike ahead of us. When the spike stopped, he turned and looked back. But he wasn't looking at us; he was looking at the spot he had come from.


The big buck, a 35-inch heavy-beamed beast, had jabbed the little one in the rump with an antler tine to get him to draw our attention.

As soon as I witnessed that behavior the next time, I made the connection. The big buck uses lesser deer to draw our attention. That's why we often hear a hunter lament that he shot the forked-horn only to see a 4-point get up and bounce away.

These days, whenever I see a spike or whenever I see a group of does, I tell myself they are decoys. There is a buck nearby, and he is doing the opposite thing. If the does are streaming up the hill, I look for the buck sneaking on his belly through the brush. And that has helped me fill a tag more times than I can remember.


HIDDEN IN THE OPEN

For me, scouting continues right up until the moment I squeeze the trigger. As soon as the buck is in the cooler, I'm scouting again.

It's as easy as sitting at the kitchen table with a map, or calling a biologist on the telephone. I want to find the bucks that are hidden out in plain sight. One of the best clues is when a buck leaves his track at a water hole.

One season a friend complained he didn't see a buck until the spike he shot on the last day. He was in the field for 12 days, and he had checked out half a dozen places I told him about. "Did you have a spotting scope?" I asked him. "It was in my truck," he said. "In case I needed it."

Almost all the bucks I saw that season I saw through the spotting scope. Sometimes the buck was given away by the shine of antler in silver-green sagebrush. The deer were hidden, right out in the open.

Once, in dry country, my partner and I spotted 10 deer halfway up a ridge. They were about 500 feet above us and a half-mile away. Zoomed in with the scope, we counted two bucks and eight does. Now it was time for them to bed. They lined out single-file, an old doe in the lead. She disappeared. Then the next one vanished. And the next, until the seemingly open hillside swallowed the walking deer.

I flashed back to the topo map. I'd seen a side spot between the contour lines, and that's where these deer had gone. I won the coin toss and started in on an hour-long stalk while my partner stayed in the scope.

PLAN OF ATTACK

Climbing that slope, my heart pounding in my chest, I knew I was close, the wind at my back. Those deer were so secure that although my scent was blowing right to them, they stayed in place until I was 30 yards away. Does and fawns. No bucks. I looked away and saw two bucks sneaking through tall sage. One walked away, the other went in my pack.

Any hunter with a bit of experience knows to hunt with his face in the wind. Smart, but elementary.

There are different ways to use the wind to advantage. Use soap bubbles. Seriously. I make my own from a special recipe. The bubbles last longer, and I scent them with apples. A bubble blown on a breeze from a canyon rim can go a long way. Unlike a puff of smoke, it can hang in the air for five minutes or more. And it may drift around on various currents of air. Now you have a better idea of how the wind works. It might look like it is coming out of the west, but there are cross-currents and counter-currents that can spook deer.

Advantage hunter.

RIFLES

M48 LIBERTY

NOSLER

The Nosler Model 48 Liberty comes in 18 different caliber options, but the new one is 30 Nosler, with a 26-inch barrel. At 7.65 pounds, it has a synthetic stock, pillar bedding, a tuned trigger and a push-button lightweight floorplate. MSRP, $1,795. Nosler.com.

MODEL 783

Remington 

This rifle might be priced right for the working man, but it shoots like a bank-breaking custom job with its adjustable CrossFire Trigger and new synthetic stock design complete with the SuperCell recoil pad. Choose from 10 different calibers in this go-anywhere rifle. MSRP, $399. Remington.com.

PATRIOT 

Mossberg

Fans of the bolt-action Mossberg Patriot lineup will see that the rifle now has a stock covered in Kryptek Highlander camouflage. The 6 1/2-pound Patriot has a Lightning Bolt Action trigger, adjustable from 2 to 7 pounds. MSRP, $421. Mossberg.com.

MARK V ACCUMARK

Weatherby

They're calling it the fastest 6.5mm there is. In keeping with some long-range shooters' need for speed, the new 6.5-300 Weatherby Magnum pushes a high-ballistic coefficient 127-grain bullet at over 3,500 feet per second. The Mark V comes with a sub-MOA guarantee. MSRP, $2,300. Weatherby.com.

COLORADO BUCK EDITION

Montana Rifle CompanY

This rifle stands out with a carbon fiber Kevlar reinforced stock in caramel brown with black spider webbing. The barrel is 24 inches of hand-lapped stainless steel, Cerakoted in tungsten grey and finished off with a muzzle brake. Best caliber options for the Western deer hunter are 7mm Rem Mag and .300 Win Mag. MSRP, $1,850. Montanarifleco.com.

HELL'S CANYON SPEED

Browning

This new sub-7-pound X-Bolt rifle is designed with a composite stock, a fluted and muzzle-brake threaded barrel, and the adjustable Feather Trigger. Choose from calibers ranging from .243 Win to .300 Win Mag 23- or 26-inch barrels. MSRP, $1,200-$1,240 for magnums. Browning.com.

AMMO

PRECISION HUNTER 

Hornady

The business end of this ammo is the new ELD-X bullet, a feat of engineering that utilizes a heat-shield tip to offer unprecedented accuracy by defying the effects of aerodynamic heating and allowing it to retain its shape. Precision Hunter ammo is available in eight options for all-range performance. MSRP, $43-$127. Hornady.com.

POWER-SHOK COPPER

Federal Ammunition

Looking for non-lead ammo that's still lethal? Federal's latest is a hollow-point, copper-alloy bullet designed to create nasty wound channels. Four calibers. MSRP, $34. Federalpremium.com.

BXR 

Browning

The BXR Rapid Expansion Matrix Tip is made for deer and antelope hunters.  .243 Win, .270 Win, .30-30 Win, .308 Win, .30-06 Sprg, .300 Win Mag and .300 WSM. Browningammo.com.

CROSSBOWS

X-FORCE ADVANTEX  Carbon Express

This crossbow is one of the best deals on the market with its pauper-friendly price tag and ready-to-hunt kit, which contains a scope, PileDriver bolts, and a quiver. Downrange speeds of 320 fps are possible with this 6.9-pound, 165-pound draw crossbow. MSRP, $400. Carbonexpressbow.com.

MXB-SNIPER LITE Mission Archery

Three accessories packages are yours to choose from with this x-bow, which weighs in at less than 6 pounds, measures 20 1/2 inches wide, 32 3/4 inches long, and can send bolts downrange at 310 fps. It has a 14-inch powerstroke and draws 150 pounds. MSRP, $599. Missionarchery.com

STORM RDX Horton Crossbow Innovations

Measuring only 15 1/2 inches between axles and weighing a shade over 8 pounds, this new crossbow is capable of generating 122 foot-pounds of kinetic energy and 370 fps of bolt speed thanks to its 16 1/2-inch power stroke and 165-pound draw weight. MSRP, $1,269. Hortoncrossbows.com.

CARBON NITRO RDX TenPoint Crossbow Technologies

This new bow is the Rolls Royce of crossbows thanks to its carbon fiber barrel and adjustable C3 carbon stock. When cocked, it measures only 10 inches axle-to-axle and when fired bolts can achieve 385 fps and KE measurements up to 125 foot-pounds. MSRP, $1,819. Tenpointcrossbows.com.

ONESIXONE CROSSBOW Browning Crossbows

Browning's latest is a 7.2-pound sweet-shooting rig that is outfitted with the Triggertech trigger and is made in the USA. Capable of generating bolt speeds of 350 fps, the OneSixOne comes complete with a scope, quiver and bolts. MSRP, $1,000. Browningcrossbows.com.

OPTICS 

VERACITY RIFLESCOPE 

Burris

All Veracity Series scopes have accurate, repeatable quarter-MOA adjustments and 5-times zoom for a wide field-of-view. Nitrogen-filled to prevent fogging, and Hi-Lume multicoated to provide glare elimination, these are designed for low-light performance. MSRP, $719-$1,079. Burrisoptics.com.

VX-3i Riflescopes

Leupold

This latest 12.6-ounce offering from Leupold boasts the Twilight Management System for maximum brightness, clarity, and ease-in-target acquisition in all lighting conditions. More than a dozen models. MSRP, $520-$1,170. Leupold.com.

WHISKEY3

SIG SAUER

Great glass and coatings. Comes with a free ballistic turret to match your ammo. Five models. MSRP, $190-$300. Sigoptics.com.

BOWS

ESCAPE SD Bear Archery

This Escape SD addresses the need for quality women's offerings with its 40- to 55-pound peak draw, mass weight of 4 pounds, and axle-to-axle length of 32 inches. Draw lengths from 23 1/2 to 27 1/2 inches are available in this rig, which can produce elk-killing arrow speeds up to 325 fps. MSRP, $900. Beararchery.com.

CARBON DEFIANT 34 Hoyt Archery

Measuring 34 inches between axles and built with a 7-inch brace height, this flagship bow is capable of producing arrow speeds of 325 fps. At 3.8 pounds, it's also one of the lightest weight bows on the market and is available in draw weights from 30 to 80 pounds. MSRP, $1,499. Hoyt.com.

BT-X BOWTECH Archery

This 4.2-pound bow is designed with the new Micro Sync Dial for easy, precision cam timing (without a bow press), and a host of other Bowtech technologies. Available in peak draw weights of 50, 60, 70 and 80 pounds and draw lengths of 27-31 inches. MSRP, $1,099. Bowtecharchery.com.

CARBON AIR  PSE Archery

PSE enters 2016 with their first carbon offering, which weighs just over 3 pounds, measures 32 inches axle-to-axle, and generates 340 fps-plus arrow speeds. A litany of technologies like HD hybrid cams round out this revolutionary offering. MSRP, $1,500. Pse-archery.com.

HALON 6 Mathews

With its No Cam technology, the 4.55-pound Halon 6 is a bow-

tuner's dream. It's also capable of generating arrow speeds in excess of 340 fps. It's available in 40- to 70-pound peak draw weights, and draw lengths of 25-31 inches. Half-inch sizes offered as well. MSRP, $1,099. Mathewsinc.com.

MEOSTAR B1 Meopta

The B1 is ergonomic and has ion-assisted multi-coatings. The 10x42 is good for open-country mule deer, while the 8x42 could be a better choice for blacktail hunting. MSRP, $1,379. Meoptasportsoptics.com.

DIAMONDBACK  Vortex

The Diamondback has been redesigned for 2016 and has dielectric, fully multi-coated lenses to perform in low light. The 10x42 weighs 21 ounces with an overall height of 5.8 inches. MSRP, $279. Vortexoptics.com.

HX 15X56  Steiner

One of the complaints hunters have about 15X binos is the loss of ability to pick up closer objects. Steiner fixed that with a fast-close-focus feature. 44.3 ounces and 6 1/2 inches tall. MSRP, $1,379. Burrisoptics.com.

RIFLESCOPES 

VX-3i  Leupold

This latest 12.6-ounce offering from Leupold boasts the Twilight Management System for maximum brightness, clarity, and ease-in-target acquisition in all lighting conditions. More than a dozen models. MSRP, $520-$1,170. Leupold.com.

WHISKEY3  Sig Sauer

Sig's optics have low-dispersion glass and a durable chassis. Free ballistic turret designed to your specific cartridge choice. Choose from five models. Covered by a lifetime guarantee. MSRP, $190-$300. Sigoptics.com.

HARNESSES

BINO HARNESS X  Alps Outdoorz

Binos should be on the chest, supported from the shoulders. Alps' new Bino Harness X protects the optics in a wide pocket and has metal-free attachment straps. Fully adjustable. MSRP, $49. Alpsoutdoorz.com.

GUIDE BINOPACK Vortex

This option protects binos and has a storage system for other gear as well. A front zippered pouch can hold a rangefinder and a knife or survival gear. Side pockets, a zippered rear pocket and elastic sleeves can hold more items. MSRP, $129. Vortexoptics.com.

INTEGRATOR SHELL

Nomad

Designed with intelligently positioned accessory pockets, and SilverZ scent-containment technology, the waterproof shell will carry through the season. Kryptek Banshee or Mossy Oak Break-Up Country. MSRP, $170. Nomadoutdoor.com.

THE BEAST

Scentblocker

This ghillie suit offers full concealment and outline breakup through 3D Realleaf technology. Yet it still fits snugly, thanks to full elastic cuffs, ankle cuffs, and waist. This suit also utilizes Trinity technology to fool deer noses as well. MSRP, $179 jacket, $130 pants. Robinsonoutdoors.com.

FANATIC LITE

Sitka Gear

Ideal for early to mid-season sits, this jacket is form-fitting, loaded with accessory pockets, and even features a built-in hand muff. It's also covered in Sitka's Elevated II camouflage pattern for tree stand hunters looking to confound deer. MSRP, $289. Sitkagear.com.

STORM BARRIER

Under Armour

A water-repelling finish and scent-control technology work together in this jacket to ensure you stay dry and undetected. ColdGear Infrared technology keeps you warm with a soft, thermo-conductive material to absorb and retain body heat. MSRP, $150. Underarmour.com.

GATOR PREMIUM

 Gerber

The new Gator fixed-blade, drop-point keeps its most famous feature — its glass-filled nylon handle with rubberized grip — but replaces 440c steel with CPM-S30V steel, which holds an edge longer and is more corrosion resistant. MSRP, $146. Gerbergear.com.

OPEN SEASON SKINNER

Buck

Out of the box, this knife gets high marks for classing up the joint. Of all the knives we reviewed, people gravitated to this one. This knife's dymondwood handle, metal overlay and centered-out blade gives it a ready-for-action look. The S30V steel is quality. The knife has a thick blade and is very comfortable while skinning. MSRP, $125. Buckknives.com.

TITAN Havalon

This is a double-bladed folder that has an AUS8 skinning-style blade and a replaceable caper. It comes with six replacement blades. Overall it's 8 inches long. Both blades lock and there is a removable pocket clip. MSRP, $69.99. Havalon.com.

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