I probably give mule deer too much credit. I’m reluctant to push a good buck, because my experience is that even “oblivious” muleys get more wary with age, and I’ve gotten careless on stalks or told myself the wind doesn’t matter – only to find the deer I was pursuing was gone.

So I tend to treat mule deer like whitetails. I sneak and crawl and am always conscious of the wind and my profile.

The rut changes some of that. This week I’ve walked up on a couple of decent bucks in full view, with the wind at my back. And they’ve been so preoccupied with ready does that they didn’t care about me. They survived only because I didn’t care to shoot them.

Today I got a little more bold. I’ve found a wad of deer, and a couple of great bucks, kegged up in a corner of my pasture where they can see trouble coming for a half mile. Earlier in the season, when I’ve pussy-footed into this place, I’ve always been out of range of the bucks I wanted. Today I changed all that.

I headed into the pasture well before light and instead of waiting and watching, I marched right into a clump of sagebrush that would be within range of the spot where the deer bed up for the day. Sure enough, an hour after legal light, the deer marched directly to their spots. Problem was, they didn’t drag with them any bucks I wanted to shoot.

Noticeably absent was the one buck — a wide 4×4 — that I’m waiting for. And he didn’t show up. Did he get shot yesterday? Did he follow a hot doe to another corner of the property? Did he simply sleep in?

I’m headed back out right now, in the hopes that I can find the no-show buck. I just might have to be especially aggressive to get him.

It’s not just me who is hunting this season. My twin boys are enjoying their first big-game hunting season. They each shot mule deer does on opening weekend, but they’ve been holding out for bucks.

Last night, I spotted a young whitetail buck in an alfalfa field behind our house. When Merlin got off the school bus, I asked him if he wanted to get a closer look at the buck. “With my gun?” he asked. Yes. So with his mother and me, he hiked across the field, climbed in a snowy irrigation ditch, and stalked in the direction where we last saw the buck.

I spotted the deer running across an open field, got Merlin on shooting sticks, and managed to stop the buck with a bleat. Merlin wasn’t quite ready, and the buck ran again. Twice I stopped him, and twice more Merlin couldn’t get a shot. The third time, as the buck stopped before jumping a fence, Merlin dumped him. A 200-yard shot with his .243. A great-looking 3×3, the perfect first buck for a hunting boy.

As we were notching his tag, Merlin asked, “Do we get more of those buck tags?” No, I had to tell him. His deer season was over. If he was disappointed, he sure didn’t show it.