It is August 22, 2022. Nevada archery hunt has already opened, the Utah archery hunt opens this weekend, and by the end of the month, all the Western mule deer states will have followed suit. So for mule deer hunters, that means it is "go time".
We are joined today by accomplished mule deer enthusiast, Marlon Holden. He takes us on a deep conversation about the mental approach and strength necessary for hunting trophy Mule Deer with archery equipment.
Marlon is an avid hunter, but something unique about him is that growing up, he didn't participate in any type of Western hunting. He sailed around the world on a sailboat and spent a lot of time fishing, as well as snaring iguanas, and hunting monkeys and wild boars as a necessity for sustenance.
Marlon didn't even pick up a bow until he was older and had discovered mule deer. Now, he solely focuses on archery mule deer hunting. When asked how this focus came about, Marlon explained that it just evolved. He became enamored by how mule deer behave. He saw a lot of similarities between himself and the mule deer's mannerisms.
He noticed that they like being around "friends", but only sometimes. You can find mule deer bucks in a bachelor group here and there but for the most part they just kind of tolerate each other. Marlon related to this in the sense that he loves being in the mountains and having his alone time.
Mule Deer Hunting
Preparation for Mule Deer Hunting
There are a lot of hunters out there that focus their hunting prep primarily on their physical capabilities and gear. They will go out and focus heavily on cardio or even strength training, and purchase the best hunting gear on the market. But the truth of the matter is that there are guys out there who don't have the best hunting clothing on the market and have never spent a day in the gym that is consistently harvesting trophy bucks. How do they do it?
Not only is hunting in the high country physically taxing, but it is also mentally taxing. It is a true test of your mind, body, and soul to find success on a high-country mule deer hunt. That is what makes taking a high-quality buck above the Timberline the "Holy Grail of Mule Deer Hunting." Your mental condition and physical condition must match each other because if you are lacking confidence or determination, you won't make it to the end of your hunt - even if your body is capable. And visa versa.
The Two A's
Two things will determine the outcome of every hunt and I refer to them as the "Two A's".
You can't do anything successfully without both. You could have all the ability in the world, but a crappy attitude it will make for an awful experience. And if you have a great attitude, but no ability you are just holding yourself back.
The Thrill of the Hunt
The most exciting part about hunting is not the kill. It just so happens that the success of filling your tag marks the execution of an era that began months prior.
In January or February, after all the hunts have ended, you start daydreaming about what the next season looks like. You start thinking of all the ways that you can improve your skills and your hunting plan, and the excitement begins.
You take the mental aspect of how excited you are about your journey and build on it. Build your foundation, choose to believe in yourself, and build your self-confidence.
You get excited to test your abilities and you truly manifest into whatever you desire. You can make your body, whatever you want. You can also give yourself the time to hone and build your shooting and stalking skills. You take the time to grow your intuition.
Stalking Tips and Tricks
So after you have spotted the buck you want to pursue, how do you close the distance without blowing your cover?
Mule Deer Behavior
Once mule deer start to mature, about three and a half or older, they start getting smart. Everything could be in your favor, the wind, no sound, everything...but they just feel something. And because of that feeling, they book it and leave that country.
You see this same behavior in mature whitetail bucks and does as well. You can sit and watch a mature doe feed through a hardwood patch and as soon as she gets "within range," that sixth sense is triggered and she looks up and stares right into your soul.
And another way the Sixth Sense manifests itself is with the season changes. Early in the season, you can get a glimpse of these big bucks out doing their "big buck" things, but as soon as the hunt starts they sense it. They know when the pressure is on and they know where they need to go to avoid hunters.
Because of all this, it makes it difficult to get and maintain tabs on a mule deer's location. You are having to try and scout them from a basin a couple of miles away and then maneuver your way closer without triggering that sixth sense of theirs.
Add in lightning storms, the logistics of carrying in all your food, and climbing 3000 feet in elevation, and you have to be pretty dedicated to hunt these older more mature bucks. You can't be a hard-core Western hunter without being a true woodsman as well.
Build A Hunting Playbook
The first tip for successful stalking is to spend time in the field and build your Hunting Playbook.
Ultimately you can't predict what a mule deer is going to do with 100% certainty. They are very nomadic animals and they are going to do what they want. But if you spend enough time in the field, studying them, you can start to identify behavior trends.
For example, after studying mule deer behavior, your experience will tell you that when in a certain situation, 8 out of 10 times a mule deer is going to do "X".
Study The Weather
A lot of hunters don't take into consideration how the weather is going to affect the time frame that they have to close the distance between them and their target. Understanding diurnal shifts, knowing the weather patterns of the area that you are in for the past few days, identifying when air columns will shift from stable to unstable, etc. will give you a much better idea of how you need to execute your stalk.
You need to put a lot of practical application and understanding in your mental toolbox when it comes to weather. For example, if you have a perfectly sunny day with no clouds, you can expect your air column to steady up by about 11:30 to 11:45. You can expect to set out on a stalk, right at about that time. If you are thinking it is a beautiful Bluebird day and head out on your stalk at 7:45-8:00 am, you are being premature and that buck is most likely going to move.
You might get lucky a couple of times, but based on the law of averages you are going to miss opportunities more than you're going to win.
Marlon's Mule Deer Experience
Because Marlon focuses heavily on archery mule deer hunting, he has developed a lot of person knowledge on the subject of archery mule deer hunting.
Early Archery Mule Deer Patterns
Mule deer patterns change depending on the location and season that you are hunting. Marlon's experience with early archery hunting is that mule deer are still very habitual and still in a summer range home pattern. You wanna harvest your deer before the 10th of the month because after the 10th, chances are the buck is going to be out of velvet and his mannerisms are going to change. That means that any pre-season scouting data that you gathered is going to be a lot different after the 10th.
Something that mule deer do regularly at the end of the day during the early season is survey the land. Often they will feed on their own, but there have been times when a mature buck will position itself with one or two yearlings to act as lookouts.
Nine times out of 10, they will feed with their rear-facing either dead downwind or quartering into the wind. And they're going to position themselves so they have a very commanding view over a basin or a piece of country. They will make notable degree changes in their head and then they'll move even before the sun hits them to another bed.
It is common knowledge among mule deer hunters that a deer will often be up and feeding in the morning and will bed down later in the day, but that's not usually their "final bed." Mature bucks will typically bed one to two times in the morning before their final day bed.
So if a buck beds at 7:45 in the morning, it's only because he's been feeding all night and just wants to relax a little bit. But come 8:45 - 9:45, he is going to be up surveying the country because that deer is about to find his final bed for the day.
Now if you're hunting above timber, a lot of the mature bucks will bed before first light. They'll go into a little hole that you can't even see and stay there for the day. Some of these older more mature bucks go more nocturnal, which helps them continue to age.
If you can take the higher ground, absolutely do it. From a traditional understanding of how sound travels, it goes out directionally and not down. This can give you a huge advantage when it comes to sound on a buck if you can approach from above.
But ultimately as a mule deer hunter, you have to hunt the wind. If the wind changes directions, you are screwed. Avoid the wind from getting anything past 90 degrees. If it starts coming any further around than that, you should consider backing out and rerouting your stalk.
There are a lot of hunters that will do everything they can to minimize their scent and I've tried everything from scent-eliminating soap, carbon suits, and everything I could think of and still had a deer get downwind and runoff.
And while hunting the wind is the most important, it is important to try and find a little bit of relief in the terrain to try and get an advantage. Even if that is only a little bit of shrub, that could be enough to crawl into and be able to take your shot.
Life Lessons Learned from Mule Deer Hunting
These older bucks teach us something about ourselves. They're all kind of like us right now in our life. Maturity starts to garner wisdom. Wisdom will garner you things in life.
And you turn down opportunities to cut corners and make it easy. And there's something about it. There's something about matching wits. There's something about learning. There's something about accomplishment and personal growth.
A lot of times we make excuses for ourselves as to why we don't accomplish the goal that we set. We'll make excuses for ourselves as animals of leisure and comfort, or the path of least resistance saying, "I can't get that kind of time off of work." "I have a family to raise - I can't do that."
We have this one life to live, so you should do everything in this life that you want to do. And you can do all that and still be a great husband, father, and role model. If anything, your family will see how dedicated and passionate you are and it will inspire them.
Most hunters put in the time, not because they like to kill, but because they love being out in nature, they love spending time with family and friends, they love the challenge that it presents, and because it is an innate
Legality and Future of Hunting
We've all met that person....when it comes to hunting debates, their reason is, "Well it's legal."
There are a lot of things in this life that are legal. But hunting is more than that. It is a lifestyle and skillset that needs to be preserved. If it were up to a lot of lawmakers, hunting would be abolished today.
The most beautiful thing that we have as human beings is the ability to choose for ourselves. And we have to continue to fight and do what we can to ensure that our freedom of choice isn't taken away because we're governed by an entity that doesn't understand the lifestyle, that doesn't understand the hunting lifestyle.
Now is our time to distribute the knowledge and do the best that we can to be ambassadors and leaders of a generation that is a dying breed. And as sad as it is to say, it can and will be taken from us if we're not responsible in the way that we act, the way that we distribute that wealth of knowledge we have, and the way that we protect the freedoms that we still have. We need to band together as outdoorsmen instead of fighting against each other about trivial topics.
Follow Marlon Holden
We got a small glimpse into Marlon's vast knowledge of mule deer hunting, but if you want to dive further into this discussion, Marlon is planning on releasing an app. It will be the perfect opportunity to ask him questions, tap into the mind of someone who has harvested well over 50 mule deer over 16 years of archery hunting, and gleam some more mule deer hunting tips from him to improve your mule deer hunting game.
To keep up with Marlon's hunting adventures, make sure to check out his website and Instagram account:
Marlon is also a landscape photographer and owns a fine art gallery in Laguna Beach. You can see all of that work on his website and Instagram below: