Spot and Stalk Mule Deer Hunting
A monster 6x5 muley bedded 75 yards from the author

Over the weekend, I donated one more arrow to the deer hunting gods, and I learned one more lesson.

Deer Hunt: Day 1

Prior to the opening of Montana’s deer and elk General Season, I really had not planned on hunting deer in September. However, this past weekend brought some badly need rains to much of Montana. I must admit, I am a bit of sissy when it comes to hunting in the rain. With rain falling steadily on all of the mountain ranges I planned to elk hunt, I decided to switch gears.

I set out to find a good muley—but I’m not above arrowing a solid whitetail either—especially one still sporting velvet. When I arrived at my public land hunting destination, I was the only vehicle there. The first cold snap of the season had rolled in and the 54-degree air felt like good things to come.

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Eight months of pent up deer hunting withdrawal coursed through my body as I donned my camo, binos, pack, and boots for the first deer hunt of my 2020 season. I left the truck and started into the public more like a racing greyhound than a hungry wolf. Within the first 200 yards, I jumped a group of 6 whitetail deer, four does, and two bucks, and one 120-130ish whitetail. I slowed the pace a bit and tried to remind myself, “You’ve got nothing but time.” 500 yards later, I jumped three more bucks. The two 1.5 year old deer held tight and looked inquisitively. The 140-150 class 10-point had seen plenty and bolted immediately. “Wow!” I thought to myself. Here I am, 20 minutes out of the truck, and I’ve already seen five bucks.

The author spotted these mule deer bucks during the hunt

About 30 minutes later I closed in on the spot I picked off the map from cyber scouting (learn what I look for here) I glassed the suspected bedding area from 100 yards out. Not long after, I spotted a 110-120ish 8-point in full velvet. He headed up a three-buck bachelor group. After a few minutes of glassing, the bachelor group paralleled my position about 80 yards out. I consulted OnX Maps, guessed the group’s likely travel route and started to make a loop to try and cut them off. 10 minutes later, I crested a small knoll only to find the bucks’ straight line went faster than my loop. I never caught up.

I tucked into some cover to consult the maps and plot my next move. Then, like a thunderbolt from Zeus, I heard quite the commotion erupt from the pothole swamp behind me. Two bucks rocketed out of the swamp and ran by me at top speed before I could hardly react. The bigger of the two bucks sported eight freshly polished points. Two hours in and I’ve seen ten bucks. I am genuinely starting to wonder if I am hunting some sort of high fence ranch or animal refuge…this doesn’t happen on public land!

After collecting myself and finally gearing down from greyhound to sloth, I worked towards one last point of interest. I spotted a group of deer about 250 yards out. When I pulled up the binos, “Oh. My. God!” There stood a 6×5 TANK of a muley. Over the next 30 minutes, I closed the distance to 95 yards, but a 70-yard coverless expanse stretched between us. I posted up in the largest sage bush nearest to my position, and I watched him feed for 10-15 minutes hoping he would work my way. After those eventful minutes, the monster muley and two does busted for no apparent reason. I looked behind me and saw another hunter walking in the wide open, completely skylined on the horizon against the setting sun. Ahhh, the joys of public land!

Deer Hunt: Day 2

The second day of the hunt started at 4:55 a.m. After maybe three hours of sleep in Hotel Tacoma (my truck) I unzipped my mummy bag to an exceptionally brisk 36-degree September morning. With my anticipation pegged to 11, it didn’t take long to shake off the cobwebs. With a little less than 30 minutes before first light, I started into the public towards my post from the evening before where I spotted the big muley buck. A little frustration set in when I spooked a few does on the final approach. “Stick with it,” I thought to myself.

Unseasonably cool weather set the stage for a great early September bowhunt

Around 8 a.m., a lone doe worked into bow range. I have been fooled by this trap a few too many times at this stage in my bow hunting career to fall for it again. Every two to three minutes, I would very slowly pan my head and eyes around to look for the buck that likes to sneak in when it knows a hunter is preoccupied watching a doe. The second time I panned around, I caught a glimpse of antler. Three whitetail bucks snuck through some scrub brush 45-yards out. Seeing those bucks renewed my confidence in this location. As I panned back to look at the doe, I spotted a small muley buck 250 yards out. Mental note, check that direction in five minutes.

Almost exactly five minutes later, I heard an unmistakable sound, a grunt. It sounded too deep to be the doe keeping me company. “Could it be the small muley buck?” I thought to myself. When I glassed in the direction of the grunt, there stood the 6×5 monster from the night before. I ranged him, 130 yards. Shortly afterwards, he worked behind a small knoll, and I lost sight of him. The evening before, I talked to my buddy, Ryan Anderson, who has more mule deer hunting experience than I do. Ryan said, “If he doesn’t show up first thing in the morning, be patient. Muleys will mill around forever before bedding down.”

Forty-five minutes elapsed, and I assumed my opportunity for the morning had passed. Then, I caught a glimpse of tine where I lost sight of the 6×5 last. I pulled up the binos and frantically scanned the area to confirm. “Yes, it’s him!” 81 yards. He worked his way towards me at a glacial pace. 15 minutes later, he bedded down at 75 yards. A dead calm morning and exceptional dry vegetation made for horrible stalking conditions. I decided to chance it and hold tight.

Bedded mule deer
Can you spot the rack of the bedded buck?

After watching him for close to an hour with no wind, mother nature gifted me some intermittent wind gusts. Over the course of 20 minutes, I belly crawled 20 yards to the last bit of cover between myself and this monster. A half hour later, he stood up and immediately started walking parallel to my position. I ranged him: 71, 63, 51, 71…the numbers were all over the place. It was now or never. I settled my 60-yard pin, a distance I had practiced all summer, just above his back and squeezed off a great feeling shot. The arrow flew true and went exactly where I aimed…just over his back. I laughed a bit to myself. I waited a half hour to make sure curiosity wouldn’t bring him back for a second shot, which it did not.

I walked to where the deer stood when I shot and ranged the exact spot where I took the shot. It turns out, he was exactly 55 yards when I shot. Bowhunting, the most fun a guy can have on two legs. Here’s to next time!

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