All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
I’m going to be honest. Growing up, I never ever had the urge to pursue deer in velvet. It almost seemed wrong to me. When I would see a photo of someone with a big velvet buck, I’d think to myself “Aw, man. They shot that thing premature.” Why would someone want to have some fuzzy antlers when they could just wait until later in the year and get those gnarly sword like antlers that we all know and love? Fast forward to the present day and I have a different way of looking at the fuzz and might have even developed “fuzz fever” as I call it. This year, I was fortunate enough to draw my first out-of-state mule deer tag. This archery hunt will take place in the high country of Utah. As of publishing, I now actually have two high-country archery mule deer tags! To say I’m excited would be a pretty unenthusiastic way of putting it. For years I have gazed my way through the pages of magazine articles, websites and online hunting films, fantasizing about doing one of these hunts for the first time. From the stunning views to the majestic bucks that walk through them, I’m ready to get this show on the road. Until then though, I’ve got some preparing to do.
Before I get into actually preparing for this hunt, I want to cover a bit about the tag I drew. While I won’t say the exact unit I drew it in, it was an area that held great draw odds, even with zero points. This is something that I wasn’t aware of until pouring through goHUNT's Draw Odds and realizing that anyone could potentially do this hunt every single year and it wasn’t as farfetched of a dream as I made it up to be in my mind. I guess I was putting high country mule deer up on a pedestal that I thought was too high for me to reach. It also isn’t some garbage hunt either with super low densities and success rates. A friend of mine actually killed a very nice buck there last year on the August hunt with his bow and had a great hunt overall. He saw a ton of deer as well as some absolutely breathtaking country. Hunts like this are what I am really drawn to in the end. I’m not one for waiting years and years to go on a hunt. I’d rather get to go back year after year and truly learn the country and the animals it holds. This hunt fits the bill for that.
The first thing that I thought of when I knew I was going on this hunt was what I could read or listen to about the subject. I want to know as much as possible before heading out so I am better prepared for what I’m getting myself into. Nothing in the world beats real world experience, but having some semblance of what to expect and maybe some tactics that might help out is welcomed advice in my opinion. A few books that stick out to me are the late Dwight Schuh’s book called “Bowhunting Open Country Mule Deer” and David Long’s book called “The Edge – The Complete Approach to Hunting Mountain Mule Deer.” I’ve read Dwight’s book before, but plan on diving in again to brush up. I’m really excited to dive into David’s book as I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. Eagerly awaiting for that to come in the mail!
On top of tackling a few books, there are also a plethora of podcast episodes out there from various sources that dive deep into hunting high country mule deer. Podcasts are a fantastic way to soak up knowledge as far as I’m concerned and I try to do so every chance I get whether I’m at work or driving. Hearing experienced hunters go through their approach on gear, tactics, etc. is extremely valuable for someone like me who is just getting into this. Kudos to the folks that do so.
Aside from learning about the hunt I am going on, there is, of course, the need to hone the skills I do have—the first being shooting. I plan on putting in the work every day that I can before leaving on this adventure. A few things that stick out to me here are shooting out to distance, shooting under stress and shooting steep angles. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on this, but I am not opposed to shooting animals at a farther distance with a bow. I’ve done it for years with success. If you are able to do so, can’t get closer and the conditions are right, I say, why not? This is why I definitely plan on stretching my shots during practice. The country I will be backpacking into is nothing short of vertical, so I know that angled shots will be the norm. This is something that I’m not accustomed to here in Arizona and an area that I need to address. With that country being as vertical is it is, my guess is that I am going to be physically exhausted a lot more due to the higher elevations. For that reason, I also plan on practicing shooting with a raised heart rate and under fatigue when I can.
Shooting isn’t the only thing I need to worry about as far as this country is concerned. Another no-brainer area I need to focus on is my physical fitness. If I can’t physically handle these mountains, then I am destined to have a less than desirable experience out there. In general, I try to stay in shape all year long, but, with the difference in terrain, I definitely will be upping my endurance training. Of course, there will be some strength training sprinkled in as well, but it will be mainly focused on my legs and core. The way that I plan on doing this is through high-intensity interval training and weighted pack hikes. There is no better way to prepare for a heavy pack than hiking with a heavy pack. I love the gym for everything else, but this is just the truth, in my opinion.
For this hunt, I have chosen to focus on wilderness areas away from the roads. I just love the solitude that comes with backpack hunting. Backpacking has always been what I’ve envisioned for a hunt like this, so that is what I am going to chase. Where I put my scouting efforts will be a reflection of those things. So, right away, I started seeking out wilderness areas and trails to access those places. From there, points of interest like potential camp spots and water will get a waypoint. In a perfect world, I would like to make a few scouting trips up into the area that I plan on hunting. However, that just isn’t the case for me this year. In fact, I won’t be able to make any boots on the ground trips before my hunt. This means that all of my scouting will have to be done through local knowledge of friends in the area and Google Earth. For months, I have been marking potential glassing spots, basins, water, camping areas, access points, etc. Having a solid mental picture of the country I’m hunting is something I try to do for every hunt I go on. I want to know how the country lays, so I can better understand how I can both hunt it and live in it. Also, how the deer might be utilizing said country. Things like saddles and potential travel routes are noted. Where they might go under pressure in another thing I’m taking into consideration.
This is going to be my first time ever chasing mule deer bucks in velvet as well as my first time hunting them in the high country above treeline. I have no idea how any of this is going to go, but can’t wait for the events of the hunt to unfold. The preparation for hunts like this is just as exciting to me as the hunts themselves. It’s the pre-hunt if you will; the behind the scenes work. Putting in that work makes it a reality in a way before I leave come mid-August. I’ve always been a person that likes knowing what they’re getting into before getting into it and this hunt is no exception to that. So, whether it is reading, sending arrows down range, doing research on the area or upping my physical fitness game, I’m ready. When the adventure comes knocking, I want to, without hesitation, welcome it with open arms. Until then, I’ve got some work to do.