Going Public: Where Mule Deer Roam

The sad news in the West has been the general decline in mule deer populations over the last few years. Worse, nonresident tags are tougher to get than ever before.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Colorado, long known as the top mule deer state in which tags could be purchased over the counter, will eliminate unrestricted tags for the first time beginning this fall.

The good news, however, is that many observers believe the muley slump is cyclic and that deer numbers will begin to rebound. Mild winters can significantly help that population buildup. So while hunters will find fewer muleys than in the past, decent herds remain in much of the West.

A longtime favorite spot of mine is in southeast Idaho in the Caribou National Forest, close to the Wyoming border. This forest offers public hunting roughly from Montpelier up to Palisades Reservoir and the Swan Valley, and on both sides of Interstate 15 from the Utah border to Pocatello. The area is no deep, dark secret-for years this forest of aspens, firs, spruces and sagebrush has produced buster bucks. As elsewhere in the West, deer populations here have plummeted, but good bucks are still being taken by hunters who aren't afraid to hike away from roads and hunt hard. This is mountainous country, but a fairly extensive trail system allows access into many backcountry basins and drainages. Because most hunting pressure here is close to roads and along trails, big bucks often hide in pockets off the beaten track, where they're undisturbed by people.