Stalking & Killing Bedded Mule Deer
Stalking and killing bedded mule deer in the backcountry is a numbers game. Statistically, if you make enough stalks, assuming you follow basic rules of the game, you will eventually find success. The problem is you don’t want to eventually be successful. You want to be successful right now. You want to be successful on your very next hunt. You want to leave the common 10% success rate for the 90%+ success rate. The best mule deer hunters in the west aren’t successful year in and year out by accident. They are successful on purpose. Here are three simple tactics to increase your stalking success on bedded mule deer bucks.
Play your game
If your goal is to successfully stalk and kill mule deer, don’t apply and hunt thick timber country that isn’t conducive to stalking. Look for open country, with scattered or scarce cover. High country in most western states will fit this playing field but don’t overlook low elevation, desert-type units either. You have to find mule deer in country open enough to watch them bed. Thickly covered or heavily timbered units call for different tactics. Focus on units setup to help you succeed.
Know Which Speed To Use
The best mule deer stalkers have three main gears or speeds. The first speed is slow. This is easy to understand. Slow speed is used at distances of 100 to 1000 yards, if you are within sight or sound of a bedded mule deer buck. Why up to 1000 yards? These are situations where you may need to cross in plain sight of a bedded buck, but are across the basin. Mule deer will surprise you with how well they pick up movement from what may feel like a “safe” distance. Don’t be afraid to move in open plain sight, but don’t get caught moving too fast. Stick to shade or trees as much as possible. Move slow when you are in plain sight.
The second speed is extra super slow. This speed is typically used inside 100 yards or the “red zone.” Inside the red zone you can’t get caught snapping a twig, crinkling a rock, brushing up against vegetation, or really making any unnatural noises. Extra super slow speed is a snail-like pace. You can’t go too slow in the red zone.
The third speed is fast, very fast. This is the most underrated speed when stalking a bedded mule deer. The second a mature mule deer buck beds hard for the day, time is your biggest competition. Every minute you are not closing in for a shot, the chances of that buck moving, standing up, changing positions, other deer bedding nearby, the wind shifting, etc. increases. This is where I’ve seen inexperienced hunters lose opportunities most. On the flip side, the very fast speed is the most understood speed by the best mule deer hunters. When it’s time to go, GO! Go now and go fast when you can. Examples of times when you can go very fast include moving out of sight or beyond about 1000 yards. If you can move on the backside of the ridge that a buck is bedded on, you can afford to go very fast. Don’t waste time stopping to glass for other deer. Don’t waste time to stop and eat food. Just move as fast as you reasonably can. You have bedded YOUR BUCK. You know exactly where he is bedded. He is in a killable location. Don’t waste time. You don’t need to run but you do need to hustle. You will have time to catch your breath during the last two speeds of the stalk. Choose the most logical and efficient route to a bedded buck that allows for you to move the fastest in the shortest amount of time. Remember, every minute a bedded buck lays without an arrow being shot at him; the chances of killing him drop quickly.
Know When To Strike
Not every bedded mule deer should be stalked. Factors include the terrain you are hunting, the size of buck you are expecting to kill, and the weapon you are using. Each plays into whether a buck should be stalked. Too many mule deer stalkers set themselves up for failure by attempting stalks on mule deer in low success locations.
Look for mule deer bedded well within your effective shooting range. This will be deceiving from across a canyon. 100 yards may look like 50 yards from ½ mile away. Practice guessing yardages from across canyons as you are hiking into your favorite hunting spot. Pick two distinct landmarks. Guess the distances between them from a long distance away. Hike to that point and check your guess.
Look for mule deer bedded alone or in small groups of deer. High country mule deer bucks are known to “group up” in large numbers, particularly during the summer months of archery season. Perhaps a group of over 10 bucks, even if bedded within your effective range, is not an ideal stalking scenario. Each additional mule deer is another set of eyes, ears, and nose to outsmart. One single buck is obviously ideal. That doesn’t happen too often. Look for low numbers of bucks. Also, look for bucks all bedded looking the same general direction. Groups of deer are infamous for bedding facing different directions and for good reason. “You watch my back, I’ll watch yours!” Choose wisely and wait for bucks all looking the same direction, preferably downhill since stalking from above is almost always the right play.
Stalking western mule deer will test all of your skills. The best chess players in the world know how to set themselves up for success long before they actually make their move. Start by choosing a hunting state and unit with favorable stalking terrain and deer numbers. Learn what stalking speeds to use and when to use each speed. Wait patiently for the right situation to execute a stalk. Refine these simple tactics and your success rates stalking bedded mule deer will increase dramatically!
Good luck and never stop finding backcountry!
Dustin – Team Backcountry