I’m from the East, and I’m think-ing about a spot-and-stalk mule deer hunt. I take my bowhunting seriously but could use some advice on mule deer. –R. Harris, via e-mail
First, a public service warning: Locating and stalking muley bucks can be extremely addicting! The challenge gets in your blood, and I’ve been addicted for decades.
You have two basic options — to do it yourself, which puts the burden of research squarely on you, or to hire help. Start by assessing your goals. If you’re happy with a low-cost hunt for decent mule deer, consider North and South Dakota, on the eastern fringe of mule deer country. Licenses are inexpensive and reasonably easy to obtain.
If you’re interested in high-scoring, mature bucks, a quick look at the Pope and Young records (see tables) reveals that Colorado dominates in both typical and nontypical all-time entries through 2008. Utah holds second place, and then the field levels off somewhat. Note that Oregon is a sleeper, ranking fifth and sixth respectively. Certainly, you can find pockets of excellent hunting wherever mule deer are found, but success depends on the intensity of your research.
Regardless of personal goals, your research must focus next on license acquisition. State regulations and application processes get more complex each year and require considerable study. Colorado, for example, offers over-the-counter tags for some good mule deer country, but the best areas require that you draw a tag. Depending on the state and hunting unit, drawing a tag can take anywhere from one to a dozen years.
Once you have a tag, your research must turn to pinning down specific hunt locations. The standard advice to contact state wildlife agencies still applies, but some states also provide harvest data on their websites. The Internet has changed the game because you have access to mountains of information and useful scouting technologies such as Google Earth.
The process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds, but you could forgo the DIY approach and ask for help in three ways.
1. If you simply need help obtaining a tag, consider signing up for the Cabela’s T.A.G.S. program (www.cabelas.com), a service I’m currently using. Tell them what you’re looking for, and they’ll enter your application for the right tags in the right places, and even front the tag fees for you.
2. Enlist the services of a booking agency. A reputable agency has researched, and hunted with, all the outfitters it recommends, and it can advise you on how to acquire licenses and even what to pack for your hunt. I personally have used Bowhunting Safari Consultants (www.bowhuntingsafari.com). Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures (www.cabelas.com) is another great option.
3. Hiring an outfitter can be an efficient option and save you years of DIY futility, but you’ll still need to be diligent in your research. Check references and talk to former clients, both successful and unsuccessful. I’ve had good hunts with Atkinson Expeditions (www.atkinsonexpeditions.com) in Colorado, and in Alberta (outfitters are mandatory in Canada) I’ve had successful hunts with Willow Creek Outfitters (www.willowcreekoutfitters.com) and Big Sky Country Outfitting (www.bigskycountryoutfitting.com).
Good luck, and don’t say I didn’t warn you about that addiction thing!
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