Mule Deer season has started or will be starting for many of the Western states - pushing mule deer hunting to the forefront of many hunter's minds. With some good-sized mule deer already hitting the ground, many are hopeful that this year is going to be better than last.
2021 Hunting Season
Last year seemed to be a tough year for many mule deer hunters. It seemed tough to find good bucks. Many hunters are talking about the fact that there seems to be a general decline in the age structure and overall harvest of big, mature mule deer. And many factors play into that.
Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is currently a pretty big problem in Colorado according to biologists. And their solution, whether it's right or wrong, is to issue a lot more tags and thin the population to gain control of the spread of the disease.
Another component affecting the herd population is the fragmentation of their habitat. We are seeing suburban housing areas creep further and further into these mule deer territories and taking areas of habitat and feeding out of the equation.
The last major factor affecting the mule deer population is that the entire Western region has been in a prolonged drought that has taken a pretty big toll on fawns and the mule deer population in general.
And there has been some action taken to try and minimize the impact on the western mule deer population, such as Utah decreasing the number of deer tags issued. But frankly....mule deer are not thriving in the West.
A lot of similarities between the current state of mule deer populations can be drawn to turkey populations. Turkey's are not responding well to changes they are having to face in both the East and the south, specifically with the fragmentation of their habitat.
Mule Deer Hunting Experts
With that being said, we wanted to reach out to a couple of people who we would consider experts in the field to discuss mule deer and mule deer hunting.
Introducing Randy UlmerRandy Ulmer is one of the most accomplished bow hunters in the world. He has won National and World titles for archery. He was inducted into the Bow Hunter's Hall of Fame, and what is even more impressive than all those accolades, is the sheer number of giant archery mule deer he has harvested.
Randy grew up in rural Northeastern Arizona in a hunting family. He grew up shooting a recurve bow for fun in the middle and bought his first compound bow at about 18 years old.
When compound bows first came out, there weren't many resources available to teach them how to shoot the new design correctly, so Randy and his brother figured it out together through a little brotherly competition.
After Randy went through veterinary school, he moved back to Arizona and joined an archery league, where he discovered he was pretty good. After some encouragement from other league members, he competed at the State Championship and won. From there it escalated into national and world championships.
During all this, Randy was still hunting and developed a fascination with big mule deer. He didn't experience much success in the first two decades of his mule deer hunting career but was successful with big bull elk. Randy still holds the Nevada State Bull Elk record.
And while he has gotten much of his notoriety in the hunting community for hunting monster muleys, he continues to hunt elk yearly and has harvested some Boone and Crockett record bull elks. The difference is the population for record elk is much higher than for record mule deer.
Over time, he was able to figure out the habits and behaviors of mule deer and started becoming more and more successful. Once he started gaining traction with Arizona mule deer hunting, he started experimenting with out-of-state mule deer hunting.
In the late 90s, he experienced a lot of successful and fun mule deer hunting in Nevada, until the trophy quality fell.
Next was Colorado, where he has been hunting every year since.
Randy is at a point in his life where he can do what he loves most, which is backpacking and scouting. He spends the majority of the summer up in the woods looking for deer.
Introducing David Long
David was inspired to write these books by his love of mule deer. He loves talking about mule deer behavior, and habits, sharing stories and being able to help someone else potentially harvest the buck of their dreams.
When David first started hunting, he hunted both deer and elk as well. But it didn't take him long to figure out that mule deer was the path he was supposed to go down.
Elk hunting has different challenges from mule deer hunting. They are flat just too big to pack out on your back. And for someone who does backcountry hunting, that plays a huge role in the animals you choose to harvest.
Eventually, David got tied in with Eastlands and started writing for them. And they approached him about writing a book. David says he wasn't quite ready for a full book and initially agreed to "half a book." And that's when he did The Public Land Muleys book.
After publishing his first book, David had taken up archery and had become the editor of East Bow Hunting Journal. He also continued to get more and more questions and requests for mule deer hunting tips, which was the main reason for his second book, The Edge. The Edge contains much more archery hunting resources than The Public Land Muleys book did.
David became an archery hunter out of necessity. Most mule deer hunters are aware that the frequency and ability to draw rifle tags for good mule deer units is very tough. It didn't take him long to figure out that he could buy an archery tag and still have a good chance at killing a big mule deer buck.
The thing David love's about archery is that it's kind of calming. It is kind of like therapy to go out into the yard and just shoot some arrows.
Tips on Stalking Mule Deer
Spotting a giant mule deer is one thing, but to be able to stalk that giant and get into bow range takes a high level of execution and perseverance, especially at high altitudes. It's truly a test of mind, body, and soul. What are some things that you've learned about stalking mule deer into bow range?
Randy's Stalking Advice
Randy would claim he hasn't perfected stalking a mule deer, but that he has learned his lessons the hard way by doing things the wrong way a few times first.
"I think the one thing that has finally come to me over the last maybe 25 years is how to handle myself in the moment of truth... Hunting mule deer, you spend maybe weeks or days, or months scouting. You find a good deer, and then you stalk them, and you get within range. And most people can find a decent mule deer and they're able to stalk within reasonable archery range, but...the issue seems to always be that moment of truth. What actually happens during that last say, 30 seconds."
"There's, there's so much information now like David's books and...videos and podcasts and magazine articles and the whole internet... all the information you need to get the job done is out there...The thing that's not out there is what to do in that moment of truth. What to do in the last 30 seconds, and what not to do, and how to keep yourself composed."
"One thing I will say about stalking is, I'm usually hunting a deer that I've watched for a long, long, long time. And oftentimes there's pressure from other hunters on that deer because it's all public land. And one of the things that I've found you need to do, is you need to have patience. You need to wait. Because most older age-class bucks are very, very, very sensitive to disturbance. And what typically happens is if there are others hunting the deer, they get bumped pretty early on."
"And hunting in the high country is very tough on the mind, body, and soul. A lot of people like to read about it and dream about it on the internet, but when it comes down to doing it, most people come in from the flatlands and they get up high and the weather's bad and there's not much oxygen. And most people give up after a few days."
"But what I've found is after the buck's been disturbed, if I just wait and sit on a deer for three, four, or five days and then they'll reappear."
"And it takes a great deal of discipline to wait several days for the deer to be in a position where there's a like high likelihood of success. I've laid on deer for as long as four days, watching them most of the day or at least morning and evening before they make a mistake and I finally get in a position where I think I have a high percentage opportunity to kill them."
"So...don't just automatically stalk every deer that you see. Especially,...if you're looking for one particular deer. You're not gonna get more than one opportunity to bump them. So you gotta just be extremely careful and, and wait for a high percentage opportunity to make your stalk."
Following this advice and being extremely selective in when and how he approaches his stalks, Randy has taken his stalking success rate from 1/15 when he first started hunting mule deer to 1/2 or higher.
David's Stalking Advice
"Like Randy, I'm pretty much hunting one specific buck normally. So there are times when a week goes by when I don't even do a stalk. You gotta make sure that everything's right when you do it, because, on a lot of my hunts, I only have like five or seven days to be there and you can't afford to bump that buck and have him be gone for three days."
"When I first got into archery...I learned quickly that I needed to make archery my main weapon if I was going to be successful at it. I tried dabbling in it at first..."
"But there are a couple of rules that I go by...One: I don't stalk at buck when he is not bedded. I always wait for a buck to be bedded before I go. And once I do go, I go! Because it's public land. There's been a lot of times out there when I've run across other people, stalking the same buck as me. When you have the opportunity, you need to haul butt and get over there where you get close in on the deer."
"And then I like to come in from above typically. Those thermals and the mountains....you can't trust them. They're whipping every which direction, but for the most part in the morning and the evening, they're going uphill. And those bucks are typically looking downhill or side-hill..."
"And one other thing I do is I don't like to get in any closer than I have to. If my effective range is 40 yards, I'm not gonna try to get into 20 yards. Because it's not increasing my percentage of my shot very much at all, but it sure as heck increased my chances of failure. You get 20 yards from a buck, their senses are so, so great. Odds are you're gonna blow it."
"And like Randy said, keep it together. I've seen a lot of people freak out at the last moment and just lock up. They can't even draw their bow back on the deer."
Another point that David made is how important glassing is to successful mule deer hunting. "That's one thing that we've got going for us. If you sit on your butt and glass a lot, you're going to see a lot more deer, and you're going to let your glassing do a lot of walking for you."
What Is The Average Archery Shot Distance?
"Because of my competitive shooting career and also the fact that I write articles about archery accuracy and I have for years and years, people assume I make long shots. But I have a hard and fast rule that I don't shoot until I get 60 yards."
"At 60 yards I feel that I'm well over 90% capable. Well...on the target range, I'll never miss the vitals at 60 yards. But a lot of things happen in the field, with the excitement, wind, up and downhill, branches, and other deer. A lot of things can happen."
"But I would say the vast majority of bucks I've killed right at 60 yards because I make myself get to 60 yards and then I typically don't get any closer."
"But for other people that may not have as much background in shooting that distance, you know, maybe 40 yards or 50 yards. Whatever it is, you just need a very, very high percentage range for you to shoot."
"One of the things that bother me most and it's extremely prevalent now is people taking these 80 to 100-yard shots because they can hit a deer in the vitals at that range after they've warmed up at home. So they think it's the same in the field. And it's not."
"And even if your percentage, on the shooting range, when there's no wind, flat ground, you're not excited, you're warmed up, and their percentage is 50%. Well, in my opinion, you should take the furthest range that you can consistently hit a deer's vitals......and cut that distance in half in a real-world hunting situation. So [personally], I've cut it in half to 60 yards."
Acceptions To Stalking "Rules"?
Are there ever any acceptions to your 60-yard rules? For example, are you ever completely comfortable and know you can get 10-15 yards closer and do that, or do you always stick right to your 60-yard rule?
The distance that a mature buck will tolerate little things like an unfamiliar sound or small movement isn't linear. Meaning that what a buck will tolerate at 40 yards is not twice as much as what he will tolerate at 20 yards. It is exponential.
"I would say that a deer at 40 yards will tolerate...at least four times as much as he'll tolerate at 20 yards... In my opinion, you can get away with so much more at 60 yards than you can at 40, and so much more at 40 than you can at 20."
"When you get close, even if they can't associate any of the disturbances you're making with a "human being", they just won't tolerate it."
"And I've got this theory, the thing that's killed more old mule deer bucks than any archery hunter is a mountain lion. And I believe that when you get within a mountain lion's striking distance, they don't tolerate anything. They just get the hell out of there and worry about it later. So that's the reason I stay back."
"So everything Randy said... there's no reason to get in any closer. I'd prefer to get into 40 yards, I'm not as good as 60 yards as Randy is... I'm not a world-class shooter, but 40 yards. I definitely do not try to get in any closer than that."
Do you participate in more 'real-world' archery challenges?
"I've never done any of those. When I lived in Wyoming I shot league up there for a little bit and the main reason why I wanted to shoot league is...I felt like it helped me under pressure. Sitting there shooting with an audience I just felt put that added pressure on me that I wanted so that I could see what I was capable of."
"And I did some of the field shoots with the 3d archery targets. But I haven't done any of the Total Archery Challenges or anything."
"I've got a property down here in Houston that's set up perfectly for that. I've got several large targets that I set up on the property down here, so, and I can kind of shoot from any angle that I need to and in any situation that I need to. But as far as the public events, no."
"Yeah. I've been shooting competitive archery forever. Matter of fact, the very first world championship I won, I was on the U.S. archery team and it was Norway. And they shoot in the most severe terrain that they can find. We were in the fjords of Norway, so everything was straight up and down. And so you have to learn, exactly how to shoot straight down and straight up."
"And I think it's great practice. And as a matter of fact, if you step outside my archery room door here in Colorado I have a target that's 90 yards away at a 37-degree angle, straight uphill. I'll shoot my arrows up and then I'll go up and I'll shoot 'em back down. And it teaches you how your bow performs straight up and straight down."
"And also one thing that I'll mention is tilt, compensated range finders aren't accurate. All they do is tell you the horizontal distance to the target. They don't compensate for uphill or downhill an arrow, obviously because the action of gravity won't shoot the same 90 yards uphill as they will 90 yards downhill."
"I do think these archery events that they have up in these ski lifts and I do 'em and I love 'em. The only thing I've got against them is they typically have extreme yardages like you'll be shooting at 120 yards. And I think it encourages people to think that that's the norm and that's acceptable. And if you keep that in mind that's not okay to shoot that far in real hunting conditions. I think those things are great for teaching you how to shoot under extreme geographical or extreme ups and downs."
Whether that is with archery equipment or a rifle, taking long-distance shots is becoming more and more common, due to advancements in equipment. In this episode, everyone agrees that it needs to be reigned in.
Some hunters may have differing opinions, especially if they feel like ethics are being attacked, however, we need to take into consideration that, as hunters, it is our responsibility to be a good steward of the animals we hunt and to make sure that we are making ethical shots.
Backcountry Hunting and Mental Resiliency
We recently did a podcast episode with Roland Welker from Alone and talked with him a lot about mental resiliency and toughness. We recognize that gear and physical fitness is critical to successfully hunting the backcountry. But do these take a back seat when it comes to mental toughness?
"I think they're kind of tied together. That's one benefit I had when I took up ultra running. I'll tell you when you're running a hundred miles up in the high country, it's tough and you're gonna see a couple of lows during that time when you're on that run. You just gotta keep forcing yourself through that saying, 'Okay, just one step at a time. I can get this done.'"
"This applies to mule deer hunting. I had a friend from Pennsylvania come out and backpack in with me into the remote wilderness of Colorado. And we packed in the day before the opener. The next morning he was so sore from getting in there. And he was already mentally shot on opening morning, he wouldn't even get out of his tent. I said, 'Okay, I'll go up and glass and see what I can find.' So I went up and did some glassing and found a couple of bucks. So I'll go back and grab him."
"I went back to camp and the guy was gone. I mean, his tent was gone and he took a stick and scratched into the ground floor there that he went home. This guy was supposed to be in there with me for a week. And he'd given up after one morning."
"I've seen it time and time again. Guys running out of water and they just can't handle it. Or day number three, they just can't climb that 3000 vertical feet anymore."
"So the mental game, I feel like is number one. You have a lot of hunters that can stick it out and they're gonna be successful, whether they're fit or not just being out there in the field and able to grind it out. So to me, that's more important than fitness, but I also think fitness plays a huge part.....I think they kind of both go hand in hand, but I think one isn't necessarily good without the other. So to me, you've gotta have both."
"I agree with David. I've been a competitive endurance athlete my whole life. I've always raced at some sort of endurance race, whether it be long-distance mountain marathons or 24-hour adventure races where you're running through the mountains for 24 hours. And now I race mountain bikes. So what that teaches you is really to endure discomfort and I think it's really important to be able to endure discomfort....and know that you're gonna be okay after it's all over with."
"But one thing I'll say is when I was younger, even though I was a lot more fit when I was younger, I was so gungho that I would race up into the backcountry and I would just go crazy trying to find a deer and go up and down, up and down and up and down. And after two or three deer days, I was exhausted and I would end up just going home."
"Well now I'm not nearly as fast as I was in my twenties or thirties, but I can maintain a decent pace. What I've found is I'm much more patient... Almost anybody can get into the country. The key is to get into the country and stay in the country. And I watch these people that are competing with me for deer and they just don't stay in the country. They end up leaving after two or three or four days."
"There's a lot of fear, anxiety, homesickness, and all these weird thoughts that people get when they're away from home. They're up in the mountains. They're all by themselves. The weather's bad. They're cold. And they just want to get out of there. And having done it so much, you get comfortable being out there. And all those anxieties just kind of melt away with time."
"These Instagram heroes that are always talking about, 'You gotta go in as far as you can. You gotta go in as fast as you can. You have to be this fitness monster and able to be a good bow hunter.' Well, that's a bunch of hooey. What you have to be is you have to be mentally disciplined. It's a lot easier to be mentally disciplined in the backcountry if you're fit, but even if you're not extremely fit, you can still be mentally tough. And the key is to stay there because the longer you're there, the more likely you are to be able to shoot the deer that you wanna shoot."
Set Yourself Up For A Successful Mule Deer Hunt
Future of Mule Deer Populations
We need to be advocates for responsibility among hunting communities. If there are going to be more people hunting, which we are seeing throughout the country, we have to offset that somehow and it can't be done with legislation.
Hunters are the ultimate conservationists. This is where we, as hunters, have to have a voice and be actively involved. The important thing is that we let our voices be heard because mule deer are being threatened.
"I'm not a biologist, so I don't wanna dive into any of that, but I just want to kind of hit on the tags and the pressure on these big bucks. I've been hunting these bucks for many years in the backcountry and I can tell you... the pressure nowadays is unbelievable on these big bucks. And there's a lot of reasons for that."
"There's a lot of resources out there these guys can get. I mean, there are books, there are magazine articles, anything you want, the equipment is that much better, you know? So you got all these people trekking in the backcountry that you didn't have years and years ago. And it's a rat race out there at times. I mean, running across the other guy, stalking [the same deer]. Public land can be an absolute zoo out there."
"So to me, it's all about tag restrictions. And I hate to say that because I like to have as many tags as possible. But I think it needs to happen. And especially in certain states like Wyoming. But you mentioned tag restrictions up there and some of those residents want to hang you... But I've witnessed it in Wyoming region H region G, which used to be highly coveted tags - extremely, extremely difficult to draw. And then it went through a phase there for a little while where you could draw it pretty easily because the numbers were down, the trophy quality was down. To me, it was a shame what was going on."
"It's rebounded a little bit, but to me, it's strictly tag numbers, because there's so much pressure on these things. And the only way to do that is to put a limit on the tags for both residents and non-residents."
"I don't want to discuss it from a biology standpoint, because I've got my opinions on that, but I'd rather keep those to myself. But from a tag restriction point, I think that needs to happen."
"My opinion is that yes, the mule deer populations have decreased... but what I've noticed more is over the last especially 10 or 15 years there's been a demand for more opportunity hunting. Everybody wants a tag. They say they're not trophy hunters, but given the choice between shooting a big buck and a little one, they'll always shoot a big buck."
"So what I've seen is just a lot more tags in the areas and with all the application services, there's a lot of people from the Midwest and the East that are putting in for units out here in the West that don't know anything about it, but, but they want to hunt it and they have the right to hunt it. But there are probably 20 or 30 times as many people putting in now as there were 20 years ago. So getting a decent tag is even tougher."
"But the main thing I've seen is just the Game and Fish departments managing away from trophy quality and just managing for opportunity hunts here in Colorado. I can kind of lay the blame at the Game and Fish departments, but they are just doing primarily what the people want them to do."
"And as a trophy hunter we all want to see more trophy opportunities, but here in Colorado, recently they've moved all the rifle hunting seasons back. So the three rifle deer hunting seasons are all pretty much in the rut. So the mule deer bucks are very susceptible to rifle hunters. I mean, rifle hunters are shooting out to 700-800 yards and the bucks moved down into the more open country during that period."
"And they've also increased the tag numbers. So what I've found in my scouting here in Colorado is over the last four or five years, the trophy quality has just plummeted. Very, very few bucks that are three or four years old survive. So there are extremely few bucks, 5 - 7 years old, which they need to be to be what we would call trophy quality."
"And the same thing has happened in Nevada. Where I used to like to hunt, the landowner tags there have just gone through the roof as far as the numbers because of the system they use in determining how many tags a landowner can get. They just increase, increase, increase. And the other thing about Nevada is their deer tags that are landowner tags - a person can hunt the archery hunt, the muzzleloader hunt, or the rifle hunt with that tag. And so what I found over there, and I haven't hunted there in several years, just because of this, but what I found is people that have land landowner tags and can hunt the archery hunt... they go out with a bow and they're not killing any deer, but they're good at scaring deer. And so the archery hunt is very crowded over there when it didn't use to be. And most of these guys aren't bow hunters. So they're just not doing a good job in sneaking up on these deer. Every deer they see they're trying to sneak up on."
"The other thing is that with the long-range rifles the success that they have...they don't have to be good hunters. They just have to find a buck within 700 yards to kill it. So I think a lot of the problems that we're having as far as trophy hunting, has more to do with the Game and Fish Departments and their movement away from trophy quality areas and more into opportunity areas."
Final Mule Deer Hunting Advice from David
"Be persistent... There are a lot of guys that get out there and it's tougher than they think it is. It's easy to sit around and say, 'Okay, I wanna go out West, do a hunt.' And then you get out here and the reality sets in about day number three. You can't even get up outta bed that next morning. But you have to be persistent."
"But the number one thing I would say is your optics. I can't tell you enough about that. Last year I got the Swarovski BTX and I don't know if you've ever looked through that thing before, but it is amazing how far you can see and how much you can see. And I bought that extender for it this year. But it gives the hunters such a huge advantage to sit in one spot and glass, several mountains at the same time. You can cover so much country with these things."
"So I guess that's the biggest piece of advice I have. Buy the best objects you can, have and use them, and use them all day long. Don't just glass in the morning or the evening. I've killed two of my larger bucks at noon. I spot at midday. They're getting up throughout the day. Sometimes they don't, but sometimes they do get up and stretch, use the bathroom, or whatever. But be looking through that glass all day long and you're gonna see stuff."
"Be persistent. Look through your glass. But the best advice I can give anybody is to follow Randy Ulmer wherever he goes."
Final Mule Deer Hunting Thoughts from Randy
"I've had this idea for years, and it's not about hunting mule deer specifically, but I want your guys in input on it. And it's about the subject we just talked about. I've had an idea for years because there's always this almost adversarial relationship between opportunity hunters and trophy hunters. And the opportunity hunters seem to almost always win. But there seems to be a very simple solution to it and I've never heard anybody else mention it. I think if we could get it out there, perhaps it would help us people that enjoy chasing older age class mule deer."
"But my idea is to let someone choose, for example, the state of Colorado. Let's choose so many units - say the best 20% genetic units - and let's designate them as trophy units. Now a lot of states have that designated certain trophy units, such as Arizona on The Strip and the Chiba, but what they don't do is they don't force you to choose between whether you're a trophy hunter or an opportunity hunter. And almost every opportunity hunter I know puts in for the trophy unit first choice because even though they say they're opportunity hunters, they really wanna shoot a big buck too."
"Almost every hunter, given the choice, is gonna shoot a mature deer versus a forked horn. But if we forced people to choose, 'Okay, I'm a trophy hunter. I'm only gonna put in for trophy units. I can't put in for opportunity units, but I'm willing to wait for three to five years to get a tag.'"
"But if I'm an opportunity hunter, I can go hunting every single year. But I'm not gonna have the opportunity at a trophy."
"And if we would do that... just separate units and always take the best genetic units for the trophy seasons and each Game and Fish Department could determine what percentage of their units they wanted as trophy units. And that could be distributed according to how many people choose trophy hunting versus opportunity hunting."
"But it seems like a simple solution to keep us trophy hunters happy and to keep the opportunity hunters happy. And anyway, something I just have always thought about and I've never seen it. And I just wanna put it out there for people to think about."
Hunting Camp Stories
Randy's Son's Archery Elk Hunt
"I would have to say it would probably be my son's first elk hunt. Well, first archery elk hunt. I think he was 13 or 14 years old and he wasn't very big for his age. He was shooting whatever the legal amount in Arizona. I think it's either 40 or 45 pounds. And his draw length was about 24 inches and he wanted to hunt elk with a bow. So I said, 'That's fine. We can hunt with a bow, but I'm gonna be right with you. And there's gonna be a lot of shots that you think you could take that I won't let you take. And as long as you'll hunt with me under those parameters we'll do it.' And he said he would."
"So the Arizona elk hunt is 14 days long and we hunted and got close to bulls, but they would be at the wrong angle or they would be moving. And so he was getting pretty discouraged. But he never quits. And at last, we found a herd of elk out in the middle of nowhere with a pretty good bull in it, like a 350-360 bull, which is pretty darn good anywhere, but it's PR pretty decent in Arizona."
"The bull would bugle a lot at night, but he wouldn't bugle in the day. So we would actually kind of follow them at night. And we did this for a couple of days. So we followed 'em, slept in the dirt, and he was just pretty much ready to give up, but it was the last day."
"We got out ahead of these elk and sure enough, the bull comes into about 30 yards and stands broadside. So I let Levi shoot and he got a complete pass-through. The bull died within sight. And we were just so excited after 14 days of hunting without ever having been in civilization. Especially having followed these elk during the night. It was just such a rewarding hunt for me."
"And he was so excited. I would think that he would probably think that was his best hunt ever. I think it was Teddy Roosevelt who said, 'The more difficult the trial, the more cherished the win' or something like that. It's true. The harder you try for something, if you're successful, it means so much more to you."
David's Wyoming Mule Deer
"As far as my favorite one, it'd be 2004 in Wyoming. It's the buck that kind of opened my eyes to the knowledge that all these bucks are not necessarily 15 miles deep into the backcountry. You find 'em where they are. And sometimes that's very close to the road."
"I was camped with a buddy in the Salt River Range there on the Grace River. The next morning we were discussing our plans and I said, 'I'm gonna get up early - Three O'clock, and hike back into the divide there in the Salt River Range.' But it rained all night long. And the thought of trudging in there - the mud and everything getting wet - I just like, man, I don't wanna do that."
"So I ended up sleeping in a couple more hours. When I got up, I went glassing near a road. And didn't see a whole lot while glassing a couple of miles away. And then finally about nine o'clock in the morning, I glassed up a buck."
"It happened like so many times before...you put this spotting scope up and it just turns out to be a buck. But this one had a four-point frame on him. I mean he was just a heck of a buck. So I watched him until he bedded down right next to some stunted quakes that had some yellow leaves on them. That was my landmark as far as my stalk goes."
"So I loaded up my pack, went and got in the truck, drove down to the next trailhead, and hiked in. Probably three hours later, I was set up probably 300 yards from where this buck was at. So I dropped my pack and started in. And I knew I wouldn't see this buck until I was pretty darn close to him, because of the shape of the mountain."
"I started in on him and the fog came in, so I backed off. Started again, the fog came in, and I backed off. Finally the third time, the fog cleared. So I go take one step then glass, one step then glass. And finally, I could see just the tip of his antler sticking up out of the bushes and ranged him. He was about 156 yards away."
"So I'm standing right next to a quake, finger on the trigger, just waiting for that thing to stand up. And he'd lower his head and you couldn't even see his antlers at all. Then he'd pick them up, and look around. But I couldn't even see a hair on him. All I could see is the antlers turning back and forth. That's when I noticed he had several extras on him that I didn't even see from a couple of miles away."
"This continued for two hours and 36 minutes, at 150 yards from this buck. And during that time, I wanted it to just be over. I was tired of standing there, against that quake. And I picked up a rock at one time and thought, 'Okay, I'm gonna throw this over there and kind of spook him out.' And I'm like, 'What are you thinking? Don't rush this or you're gonna screw it up.' So I put the rock down, but that buck finally started standing up and before he even stretched out his legs entirely, I dropped him right back into his bed."
"So even though it wasn't physically tough, it was mentally challenging sitting there watching that thing, going, 'Oh my God.' The whole time all the negative thoughts were entering my mind...everything is gonna screw this thing up. So I was so shot."
"I walked over to him, set my rifle down next to him, didn't even touch the antlers, walked back, grabbed my pack, and then headed back over to him. And that's when I finally sat there and looked at him and realized what I had there. He's a heck of a deer... over 30" wide, he's got a 203" typical frame and 30" of extra."
"It wasn't my most physically challenging hunt, but that's the one that opened my eyes to, 'Hey, these bucks are not necessarily in the most remote spot. They're where there's no hunting pressure. And since then I've killed another one right near a major Trailhead. They were just kind of in a tough little spot to get to. And the only way I saw 'em is being on the next mountain range over glassing back to 'em."
Locke's Whitetail Hunting Story
"We hunt so differently than you guys and with Whitetail hunting, you don't have the visibility. And so I think sometimes the shock and awe factor of the encounter, is the interesting part of whitetail hunting. Because unless you have trail camera pictures or something you don't get to analyze and watch that buck... it's just there. And you have a short amount of time."
"We have property here at home and being a kid that plays sports and is involved in lots of different things, he doesn't travel and do a lot of the hunting like that with me. So we focus a lot of his hunting here locally, where it fits around his sports schedule and school and church activities and things like that. And in October of last year, we had a couple of bucks on camera that we were kind of following, but I didn't have them patterned."
"Down here in the south, our rut is really like Christmas time. So we have all of October and November to hunt without any real rut activity. And that can be difficult in patterning deer. Because the older, larger bucks got that way for a reason. They're kind of hard to figure out until they get active in searching out does."
"So I had these two nice bucks on camera, but... there was no real pattern to it. And it was very little of anything in the daylight. He'd been shooting his bow for one year, this was his second year to bow hunt and he'd gotten good with it. Good enough that I was comfortable putting him in a tree stand. As Randy said, we had an agreement: you can't just take any shot. You think you might be able to, but it's gonna have to be the right shot. And he was good with that."
"Well, go late October. Last year, we had a little unseasonably cool front and I knew the hunting was gonna be good. And I was excited because I just thought I'd be able to get him a shot at any deer for his first deer with a bow. And we went on a Friday afternoon and we got close to one of the bucks we had on camera. We had him at 25 yards, but he was facing us and he couldn't get the shot before the deer left."
"The next morning, we went into an area where I knew there was a high chance that in that first hour of daylight, I would catch at least some does feeding through this hardwood flat. And that would present a high chance that we would have the kind of shot that he needed with his equipment and his range."
"And we're sitting there and there was one buck that we had on camera that had a unique one side of his rack. It got damaged in velvet and it grew a drop tine and a big kicker. And it was a unique buck. We were sitting there and we hadn't seen any deer and it was a cool morning for October in the South. And I was really surprised that we hadn't seen a deer."
"And he says, 'Hey here comes a deer.' And I look and he says, 'Oh, it's a buck. Oh, it's my buck!' And I'm thinking no way that this deer is on his feet at eight o'clock in the morning in October in the south, just walking through this hardwood flat. But sure enough, he comes through and I'm coaching him through every step of the way. And he's like, 'Do I draw my bow?' And I said, 'Hold on, hold on, hold on.' And he got to where he was gonna clear into an opening between two big oaks at about 25 yards. And I said, 'Okay, drawback.' And the deer did exactly what he was supposed to do. He stepped in there. I gave him a little call, he stopped broadside, and he shot him."
"I'm looking through the camera and it looked to me like the shot was a little bit high, but as soon as he shot him, he was all excited. And you can even hear me on the camera. He's saying 'I got him, I got him.' And I'm like, 'Hold on just a second. Just watch him.'"
"The deer takes off and he runs 50 yards out into these open hardwoods. And he just starts staggering and falls over right there in front of us. My son was 12 when he made this shot and, as someone who worked so hard to kill big mature whitetails and knowing how hard it is to do it with a bow and arrow, realizing this is the first time this little fella's ever even drawn his bow back at an animal of any kind. And here we have a nice trophy."
"And of all the hunting I've done, I don't know if I'll ever top that one. I've killed and had encounters with much bigger deer than that one, but that one was really special."
Mike's Favorite Hunting Story
"About five years ago, I had a bow tag here in my home state and of Utah. I'd been practicing all summer and was feeling pretty good about the hunt. Well, the day before the hunt, I go to pull my bow out of the back of my truck and it's gone. I've got a Tonto cover on there, but I guess I'd forgotten to lock my tailgate. And if you can believe it, I guess some bow hunter out there needed that bow more than I did."
"So here I was the night before the hunt and I had no bow. But my nephews had tags. And so I thought, 'Gosh, this sucks, but you know what... I'll just go up. I'll help them on opening day. See if we can let these kids get a good buck on the ground.'"
"We went out on opening day and honestly it turned into a scouting trip for me. These kids' standards weren't as high as mine. And so I kind of hope to help them harvest a respectable buck on opening day. So the opening weekend just turned into a kind of a helping them and a scouting trip. I was hoping to stumble across a big buck, get a new bow, and get back into the field."
"Opening weekend came and went. The following week I called my buddy at the local archery shop and I said, 'Hey, dude. You're not gonna believe what happened. My bow got stolen. I need a new one.' So my buddy called Hoyt, had the bow shipped, got it all tuned up, got some new arrows cut, and think I shot about 60 arrows through it."
"I'm a big advocate of hunting midweek, especially here in Utah. And I think it was a Wednesday or Tuesday night. I went out and that night I had an encounter with a pretty respectable buck. But it wasn't something I was going to shoot."
"Well, the next morning I hiked into one of my favorite spots and I had high hopes. And nothing. I didn't see even a respectable buck that morning. And so I was kind of feeling down."
"As I was hiking back to the trailhead, I thought I'm gonna swing around the mountain where I'd glassed deer bedding in this cave before. I didn't have high hopes. I just thought it was cool that, that there was always deer bedding in this cave."
"So took a detour and I glass into his cave and sure enough, there's a three-point buck just chilling right at the mouth of the cave. Well, half of the cave is blocked by brush and vegetation. And so I thought, 'My kids will think this is cool. I'm gonna just set up my spotting scope, get my PhoneSkope on there, and film this deer in this cave.'"
"As I'm getting my spotting scope set up a big buck, unbeknownst to me that was also in there had pushed this little buck out. And when I look back in the spotting scope, there's this giant deer in there. He's 32 inches wide and has cheaters on both sides. And it was surreal. I just couldn't believe what I was looking at."
"And this stalk has been gift wrap to me. I mean, this is the perfect stalking situation, because the deer was kind of back under the cave. And so I thought it doesn't matter what my wind's doing, the deer is not gonna smell me."
"And when you're stalking and you get close, your mind starts to play tricks on you and you start to kind of maybe overthink things. And I sat there for about an hour and a half, you know, and I don't, I can't see the deer. I know he is below me. And I got thinking, you know, these deer don't get big by being stupid."
"Finally I decided to take this opportunity and see what I can do with it. I ease out to the cliff and it's straight down. I mean, you fall and it's certain death. But I get to the edge of it and I pick up a rock and I chuck it off. A two-point runs out and he stops, he looks up at me, he feeds, looks back at me, and he kind of feeds off. I thought, 'Okay, interesting.' And so I pick up another rock and I toss it off. And the original three-point that I'd seen in there comes barreling out of there at full tilt and runs down the canyon like he'd been shot with buckshot."
"By this point, I'm thinking that buck got up and left. And so I began to question myself and I sat there about another minute and I thought, 'You know what... I'm all in at this point, right?' So I pick up this big rock and I throw that thing off and all hell broke loose. Rocks were rolling and it made a pretty thundering boom. And then everything went quiet. It felt like minutes, but I think it was about 30 or 40 seconds when all of a sudden that buck steps out."
"I'm 15 yards above him and he looks down the canyon and I'll just never forget it because he had no idea that there was about to be some death from above. I drew back and I still remember the color of the pin. It was green. And when that thing settled into his back about eight inches, I turned her loose and it smoked right through him like melted butter."
"He took off and ran, but it was cool because it was a burn area. So it was open and I watched that buck run about a hundred yards. He came to a stop, kind of stumbled a little bit, and then rolled. But what an awesome experience!"
"And that's when the shakes begin to happen and you realize what you just accomplished. And for me, it's what keeps me coming back right year in and year out."
Thank you guys for joining us on the Skre Country Podcast. And we encourage you to reach out, communicate with us, and let us know how you like the podcast. Let us know different guests and topics that you'd like to hear about. We love hearing from you and we appreciate you tuning in.