New Bowhunting Tactics For Taking Big Mule Deer Bucks

Photograph by Donald M Jones

Whitetail bowhunters sit in trees and mule deer hunters spot and stalk. If you follow that mindset on your next Western mule deer bowhunt, you might be limiting yourself and your success. Use every strategy—muley-like or not—from your whitetail playbook to optimize your opportunities for success this fall.

Partner Up
Nothing suggests Western hunting more than spot-and-stalk mule deer hunting, but you can increase your stalking success by hunting with someone.

First, two sets of eyes are better than one. During your initial spotting session, a partner’s eyes can help you cover more country with scrutiny. Face it: Some hunters have better spotting abilities than others.

Next, a partner can keep an eye on a buck as you make your move. Whether it’s bedded or traveling, it’s commonplace for a buck to disappear once you start decreasing real estate between you and it. The buck could exit a side canyon you never saw. It could bed and then move because it was uncomfortable, or because it miscalculated the shade available. A coyote might even bump it. Your partner could spot the sly move and alert you to it via hand signals or electronic communication where legal.

Lastly, if you do pull off a successful stalk and creep into range of a buck, there’s no guarantee of a shot. Instead of trying to get a buck to stand by tossing rocks or whistling, put your partner into play several hundred yards away. Have him take a position between you and the buck, and stand in full view, wave his arms slowly, or walk. Oftentimes a buck will watch intently or even stand. Regardless, the distraction gives you a narrow window in which to make a move.

Take a Stand
There's nothing wrong with a whitetail ambush for muleys. Mule deer follow patterns and repeatedly visit the same locations, but they often take a slightly different entrance on each visit. Be ready for several days of sitting for the pattern to repeat. Early season is best for patterns to emerge, especially with bachelor groups of feeding bucks. Watch a hayfield. Note the arrival and departure routes muleys use. Now set up your tree­stand or ground blind.

As you scout, keep in mind the best location may be hidden several hundred yards from the field. Be sure to backtrack on game trails leading to bedding cover and look for terrain features that funnel deer, such as ledges, canyons, and saddles. These could force deer into a tighter trap than the average field-edge trail.

And don’t forget about water, particularly if you bowhunt arid or desert regions. Ground blinds or treestands overlooking water can pay off in early-season heat and during the rut, when bucks become thirsty athletes. Put your trail cameras to good use to document visits and to establish visiting hours.

Call…and Decoy
Despite deer call manufacturers' marketing primarily to the whitetail crowd, you can use the same calls to lure in a mule deer. Mule deer vocalizations are nearly identical to those of their whitetail cousins. If anything, you can use inflection to introduce a deeper tone, but every whitetail call you own reliably mimics mule deer.

In September, you can entice curious mule deer into range using soft grunts, bleats, and sparring noises made by the gentle clicking of rattling antlers. As rutting behavior begins to surface later in the fall, due to testosterone surges, rattling becomes even more beneficial for drawing a buck in close. Once the buck falls for the ruse, you can pull him the last few yards with grunts, bleats, and even snort-wheezes. Combine your calls with decoys, like those manufactured by Montana Decoy or Be the Decoy, and you can create a complete illusion.

There’s no reason to stick to one tactic when you hit the fields for a mule deer archery hunt. Revitalize traditional tactics and try something new—even if it has a whitetail air about it.