Randy Ulmer recently added another 200-inch brute to his long list of big deer. Added up in total, that puts Ulmer over the 5,000-inch plateau of mule deer mass over the years. All told, Randy has harvested over 20 deer that scored over the magic 200-inch mark — all with Easton arrows. Randy has used ACC, Carbon Injexion and — with this latest buck — 5mm FMJ’s.
“I spent all summer scouting for one great buck,” said Randy. “When it came time for the shot, I knew my arrows would perform perfectly. I started shooting when I was 10 and have taken every buck and bull with Easton — without a single failure.”
“That’s really saying something because I’ve been at it for 50 years now.”
Easton is proud to have Randy on the team and congratulates him on a great start to another fall season.
16 Mule Deer Rules To Live By — By Randy Ulmer
Bowhunting mule deer is a lot like golfing the Masters Tournament. They say the tournament really begins on the back nine on Sunday. Well, when bowhunting muleys, the real stalk begins with the final 100 yards.
Those new to stalking mule deer quickly realize that sneaking within 200 yards is not extremely difficult. Cutting the distance to 30 yards is another matter entirely. The pressure intensifies, and every mistake is magnified. Even if you do manage to get within range, you still have to draw your bow while remaining undetected — and hold yourself together long enough to make a good shot. No part of that is easy.
In more than 30 years of stalking big muleys with my bow, I’ve made just about every mistake possible, and most of them multiple times. After making a given mistake over and over and seeing my target buck run away each time, I finally realized if I try that one thing again, the buck is going to run away again. So I stopped doing that one thing.
Pretty soon I ran out of most of the things I was doing wrong. I started doing only the things that didn’t make them run away — and there weren’t very many of those.
I’m a slow learner, so it has only been in the last 15 years that I’ve become fairly consistent at killing mature bucks. It took me 15 years to figure out how to “close the deal.”
If you’re willing to learn from my mistakes, I think you’ll become a successful mule deer hunter in significantly less time than it took me. Here are 16 rules I hunt by:
1. Wait until the animal moves into a position that offers a high-percentage stalk. I’ve watched a buck as long as three days before stalking him. That type of patience is difficult to manage — especially when there are other hunters around. But one of the most difficult aspects of shooting a big buck is finding him in the first place. Don’t rush headlong into a low-percentage stalk just because you’re excited. Once you bump a big buck it may be days before he resurfaces, and he’ll be even more wary the second time around.
2. Find unmistakable landmarks before you begin your stalk. You need a very good landmark near the animal that you can use to direct your stalk. I’ll spend extra time before starting a stalk just memorizing the landmarks and terrain features. From a high vantage point opposite the deer, things always look different than they do when you get down and start stalking. This is a critical step in any spot-and-stalk hunt. Don’t be so impatient to get started that you overlook it.
3. Stalk in your socks. Mule deer got their name from their giant ears, and they can hear better than any animal I’ve hunted. Western terrain is usually dry and crunchy during the early season mule deer hunts, so it’s tough to walk quietly. Boots, and even running shoes, make much more noise than socks. Hunting in your stocking feet also forces you to slow down and take your time while placing your feet. If your feet just can’t handle the abuse of hunting in your socks, at least use Baer’s Feet or some other soft covering for your boots.
4. Wear the right camouflage. Camouflage is important. The vast majority of bowhunters I see while hunting in the West look like dark blobs. I prefer a light-colored, large pattern like the Cabela’s Outfitter Camo. Kuiu, Sitka Gear, Mossy Oak, and Realtree also make great western patterns. Study the country you’ll be hunting in, and try to match your camo pattern to the terrain. Also make certain your clothing material is ultra quiet.
5. Never take a chance a deer might see or smell you. This may seem obvious, but on nearly every long stalk you’ll be tempted to take shortcuts to save time or effort. If you ever think to yourself, I think I can make it without him seeing me, don’t try it. Because, believe me, he will see you. You must remain completely concealed from the deer’s eyes and nose even if it means an extra mile or an extra hour.
6. Know the wind. Although it may seem random to you, a mature mule deer buck beds with a great deal of care and forethought. Most often I see them bed in the shade, looking downslope on the lee side of some structure such as rimrock, a clump of trees, or a ridge. The wind will often swirl when flowing around this structure — like an eddy that forms behind a boulder in a stream. Consequently, while they are looking forward, they can smell everything behind them, leaving no quadrant unguarded. The good news is that once a buck has bedded for the day and has committed to a general bedding area, he will rarely move far until evening. Be patient and wait for the wind to shift or for the thermals to start moving uphill before attempting your stalk.
7. Know the animal. Knowing big buck behavior allows you to better guess what he’s likely to do at any point in the stalk. Quickly recognizing when the odds are in your favor is one of the keys to successful stalking. Take advantage of any opportunity to learn from a veteran hunter who specializes in mule deer. Ask questions about how he hunts: when he moves, how fast, how close, what you can get away with, and what you can’t. Where do the mature bucks like to bed? Where do they feed and water? Learning such knowledge the easy way, from others and not from your own mistakes, is priceless.
8. Use a buddy on the opposite hillside. If I have a buddy helping me, or if I’m helping a friend, the hunter will stalk in and the helper will stay back to guide the hunter. This kind of help is most valuable when the animal is moving or when it’s bedded in a nondescript setting where everything looks the same. It’s also a good way to know if a buck gets up and moves while you’re in mid-stalk and not able to see the deer.
9. Never make a bedded deer stand up; wait for him to get up on his own. This mistake cost me several good mule deer before I wised up. I would pull off a long stalk on a bedded animal and get in close. Proud of my accomplishment and filled with excitement, I just couldn’t wait patiently. I felt compelled to make something happen, so I’d throw a rock over the buck to get him to stand for the shot. For every one that stood up to look around, at least five blew out like they’d been thrown from a catapult.
Now, when faced with a close, bedded buck, I hang back and wait for the animal to make the next move rather than force things. This can take hours, transforming you into a nervous wreck or a stiff zombie by the time the animal stands. Several years ago I was on two stalks that ended in marathon waits. I ended up sitting or lying down for long hours before the buck stood. I got one of them, but my arrow deflected off a bush on the other. Last year, I had another long wait that paid off handsomely. But I’ve also had many long waits that produced nothing. It’s tempting to second-guess the virtue of patience when you don’t get a shot, but I heartily recommend that you don’t second-guess this one. No strategy, no matter how good, is going to work every single time. But, I’ve learned from years of mistakes that waiting them out at the end of a stalk helps me fill more deer tags.
10. Never draw on a buck that “probably” won’t see you. As when stalking, never take the chance a deer might see you move. Wait to draw your bow until his head is facing away from you or completely hidden behind a bush. When you are in a mule deer’s “panic zone” he will tolerate nothing — no motion, no smell, and no noise. If he detects anything at all within that zone, he will bolt first, and then stop and look back from a distance. I believe this panic zone is the striking distance of a mountain lion. This seems to be about 20–40 yards, depending on the individual deer and the local mountain lion population.
11. Take time to look for other deer. More of my stalks have been blown by non-target deer that I didn’t see than for any other reason. Mule deer bucks are rarely alone during the early season, when most hang with a bachelor group of bucks. Take the time to glass the surrounding area carefully for all other deer and even cattle before beginning your stalk.
12. Silence your bow. Of the bucks I’ve actually shot at in the last 10 years, I’ve lost more to “string jumping” than for any other reason. So I’ve become deadly serious about reducing the noise my bow makes. The two changes I have made that reduced my bow noise the most are using a removable bow quiver and taking it off before the shot, and shooting a heavier arrow. It’s also important that your bow be silent on the stalk and during the draw. I do a lot of crawling, so I silence the outside of the bow so it doesn’t make any noise against rocks when I lay it down. I apply moleskin to any structure on the bow that might contact a rock. I use a plastic launcher arm or I apply moleskin to the launcher so the arrow makes no noise when I draw.
13. Start fast, end slow. Stalking is usually a game of hours, but sometimes seconds count. One of the best mule deer I’ve shot was in the process of pawing out its bed when I peeked over the rise, just within range. I’d run two miles to get to him before he bedded, and got there not an instant too soon. Had I been even a minute later, it would have been much more difficult to get a shot. A lot of things can change from the time you begin your stalk until you next see the animal, so I rush the first part of the stalk. Run if you must, but get to the point where you can make your final approach as quickly as possible and then slow way down, be careful, and think!
14. Don’t get too close. Learn to shoot effectively to at least 40 yards. Trying to slip within 20 yards is almost always a mistake. I remember a couple of times getting within 10 yards of big, bedded mule deer and thinking, What do I do now? What I did most of the time was what I do best — I spooked them (I’ve never met a muley buck I couldn’t spook). After enough of those close encounters went south, I began to realize that getting inside 20 yards actually decreased my odds of tagging the animal. It’s hard to avoid being detected when you’re right on top of a deer.
I also believe the sensitivity of a big game animal increases exponentially as you close the distance. I think you can get away with more than twice as much noise and movement at 40 yards than you can at 20 yards. These days I rarely push a stalk inside 40 yards. I’ll remain motionless for hours if necessary and let the animal make the next move. Of course, if you plan to hang back at 40, you’d better be able to make the shot. According to the Pope and Young Club, the average shot distance at a trophy whitetail buck is approximately 20 yards. However, most trophy muley bucks are killed at approximately 40 yards.
15. Be patient. I can look back on nearly every good buck I’ve taken and point out how patience helped me kill the deer. I can also look back on most of my unsuccessful stalks and point out where a lack of patience caused me to blow it. I have a little mantra that I repeat to myself when I’m stalking a muley buck: “Patience seldom goes unrewarded.” I realize it sounds a little strange, but it works for me. Have patience, and you will be rewarded!
16. Be persistent. I’ve saved the best for last. Being persistent is more important than all my other tips put together. I used to figure it took 20 stalks on big bucks for every one I’d kill. I’ve been able to reduce that number substantially over the years. You need to remember you’re going to fail many more times than you are going to be successful. It’s easy to become discouraged when you blow a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But this is what bowhunting is really all about — overcoming obstacles, dealing with failures, and then continuing on, all while maintaining a good attitude. In truth, a tough bowhunt done right can be a metaphor for a life well-lived.
Killing a mature mule deer buck with a bow may not be as difficult as winning The Masters, but it requires similar dedication and persistence. After three decades of pursuing these amazing big game animals, I’ve learned a few things the hard way. Hopefully you’ve picked up a tip or two that just might help you tag a good buck out there on the “back nine.