Avoid tag soup when targeting Western deer. Strategize and scout wisely.
After the first morning, when we spooked a bachelor group of four bucks, we didn't see the big one for two more days. We hiked. We glassed. Then, it happened.â€¦
When we topped the hill, he had us pegged. Out there in the waving grass, he watched, every muscle tensed. Without knowing it, we had found his hideout.
And when he broke from cover, he made a mistake. At first, he bounced away with big stiff-legged jumps that put distance between us. He stopped for a moment.
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Something like 450 yards, then broke into a run. He ran right into the next canyon and bumped into the other half of our party. We arrived in time to help with the recovery. It was our second glimpse of this buck in three days.
Big mule deer bucks press younger bucks into their service. For much of the spring, summer and early fall, they stay in "bachelor groups" that can number 10 bucks or more.
Throughout the summer, the bucks enjoy each other's company and, by being together, are able to detect the approach of danger. When hunting season starts, the biggest buck splits off at the first sign of danger.
At this point, he may or may not rejoin the smaller bucks when the danger goes away.
Get to know the bedding areas â€” even the smallest little nooks and crannies where a buck can rest and watch its backtrail. Scout the feeding zones and learn the water sources. Most of all, know where the biggest buck of any bachelor group â€” let's call him the "Most Eligible Bachelor" â€” will go when pressured. In open country, it may be to a spot right out in the sun, where the buck can watch for hundreds of yards in any direction.
A month before the season, use high-magnification binoculars mounted on tripods to locate beds and potential bedding locations.
SCAN THE HORIZON
There are few trades-offs for wearing in shoe leather while scouting; however, pinpointing that most elligible bachelor buck shoud be your top priority. Don't assume that he'll be around a herd of other bachelor bucks. Scan areas for large open spaces that he may travel for a wide field of view that are close to a water source. Also, factor in where the wind typically blows and formulate a plan if you have to spot and stalk him. High-quality binos and spotting scopes can make a world of difference.
Roll out a topo map of the hunt area (or download to a big screen) and formulate a plan. In the field, pack along a spotting scope or spotting binoculars (tripod mounted) and a rangefinder.
When a bachelor group is bumped, try to get a good look at the biggest buck. Often it will be in the back of the herd.
Then back off and analyze the topography. Sometimes, it pays to wait a day or more before making the play. Consider the wind and the probable bedding location. The probable bed is where a hunter would logically expect the bachelor bucks to go to ground.
Next, determine a secondary location, one that might not be as comfortable, that might be right out in the open where a buck can only hide by keeping its antlers close to the ground. That is the spot to locate. That's where MEB is tucked in, antlers hidden in sagebrush, tall grass or by a tangle of limbs. And he might be right out in the open without a tree or a boulder for shade.
About the Author: Gary Lewis is an award-winning author, TV host, speaker and photographer. He has hunted and fished in seven countries on three continents and in the islands of the South Pacific. Born and raised in the Northwest, he has been walking forest trails and running rivers for as long as he can remember. He is a past president of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association and a recipient of NOWA's Enos Bradner Award.