It's no secret... I love mule deer and helping people chase their mule deer dreams.
You've heard me say it a lot, but at the end of the day, mule deer hunting is an art and not a true science. You never know to an exact science where mature mule deer bucks will be, but in time, you can learn vital pieces to the puzzle that will help you narrow down the search.
What a mule deer buck does in a daily routine throughout the year is rooted in science (feed, cover, and water). But science can be thrown out the window when you are hunting an old mature buck that has seen years of hunting pressure. Learn more about how to research mule deer using biology reports here.
Below is a video where I outline six different strategies that you can use to hone in on finding mule deer this fall. There are a ton of different things I do when finding my next hunting spot, but these six tips should get you lined out this season!
Edge habitat is basically that sliver of an area where the cover meets the feed. That is where big bucks like to hang out. Older mature deer, for the most part, are smart, and during those late September to October timeframes, big bucks won't be seen out in the open that much. This is why if you focus on those fringe/edge habitats... it could lead you to find some areas where a big buck will slip up and allow you to put glass on him. The edge habitat I focus on is again right where the cover meets the open feed, but the edge also extends at least 50 yards inside the timber too. That will be where some of the best feed in the timber will be located, and bucks won't have to slip out into the open to feed.
This is all about finding those hard-to-access, hard-to-glass, little hidden pockets that have feed and cover.
There can be big deer anywhere, but from what I have seen, I find more deer if I get away from heavy traffic areas. Sure, you can kill bucks close to roads, trails, or towns, but I'd rather focus my efforts on places that I have to myself or at least places I can try to hunt unpressured bucks. But in saying that, don't overlook places that people might just drive or hike by. It's all about finding different barriers to entry.
This tip is actually very important. I like to look at all the terrain in the entire unit in 3D. It might seem simple, but the process can take a very long time. I like to pan around and look at every ridge, every patch of timber, and every corner of the unit. I want to get as familiar with the unit as the details on the back of my hand.
I want to be zoomed in close on 3D satellite imagery during this process because I don't want to miss out on any of the intricate details of that unit and how the terrain looks during this stage of my e-scouting. If I find something during this stage that interests me, I'll drop a waypoint. This process can take days or even a full week in the evening to accomplish.
This is probably one of the most important parts of doing some e-scouting research before you head into the field. It might seem like a very easy step... "just find high points and mark glassing spots," but it is way, way more in-depth than that. Not all glassing spots are created equal, and not all glassing spots allow you to see the best terrain.
Besides marking glassing points, I like to mark secondary glassing points along a ridge system. As the morning shadows start to move, I want to move as well and glass an area from a different angle. Sometimes, that involves climbing up the mountain higher; sometimes, that means dropping elevations.
Why also mark more waypoints?
You just never know if the terrain will be favorable enough to really glass from that spot, which is why I really like to zoom in on the satellite imagery to pick apart the vegetation and tree cover for my glassing waypoints.
Depending on the place you're hunting mule deer in the West, water might be important, and locating water sources could put you in that spot to take a buck. But when hunting mountain bucks, I'm not so much concerned about finding water for bucks; rather, I'm mainly focused on finding water that I will use on the hunt and possibly how I can use the lack of water to my advantage. Lack of water in a mountain range means long hikes to get water, so knowing how to use that to your advantage can put you in places where people just don't enjoy hunting. This is not really a huge tip, but I still felt like it was important to mention briefly.
If you want to know how I use this tool (extrapolating previous waypoints and hunting intel), be sure to check out the article linked below as I go into the weeds on ways you can use this tool to find mature bucks.
Also, along with the Terrain Analysis Tool, there is a lot of value that can be found by using Elevation Bands. You can key in on the habitat that mule deer use during certain times of the year with this tool, and you can also layer stack with public land, migration layers, and the Terrain Analysis tool to really hone in on your next hunting spot.
This article was originally published June 23, 2022