Big muley bucks fed in the valley below, darkness shrouding them from danger. Far from any road and safe from the average hunter, they would likely feed past my ridgetop position in the morning. I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag, took one last look at the stars, and fell asleep. Tomorrow would be opening day, and I was right on top of the biggest, hardest-to-access bucks in the territory.
In today’s era of dwindling mule deer numbers, burgeoning habitat loss, and restricted access, a mature public-land mule deer buck is one of the hardest-won big-game trophies in North America.
Bivy hunting is my ace-in-the-hole technique for pursuing old mule deer bucks before the rut gets cranking and bucks become unpredictable. Simply put, I sleep on the mountain with the deer, camping as close as I can to an old buck without bumping him. This game plan saves me miles of hiking back and forth, disturbs the area less, and allows me to hunt deeper, smarter, and harder. Here’s how to do it.
Bivying isn’t hard, but it takes practice and lightweight gear. You’ll need a one-man tent, a 4,500-cubic-inch pack, a sleeping pad and bag, a backpacking stove, and some freeze-dried meals. Plus, all your hunting gear. Before you hit the backcountry, practice using your gear in the backyard. Then make some overnight trips into local public-land areas (these can be used for preseason scouting if you live close to your hunting area). You should be able to spend three or four nights in the bush comfortably.
Read More: Tactics for Hunting Public Land and Stories About Why We Love It
Wait Him Out
Monster muley bucks can be found from the high alpine basins of Colorado to the flat Sonoran deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. The key to finding them is to locate an area that’s undisturbed. Think trailless mountaintop basins, roadless desert wastelands, or a remote patch of alfalfa field that’s a long walk from any public road. Find these and you’ll find mature mule deer bucks—you will usually glass them in the distance, at sunset.
That’s where bivy hunting comes in. It enables you to camp where nightfall finds you and stay on that old buck until he makes a mistake.
Camp downwind of where you expect deer to bed, and be clandestine. No sound, no fire, only stealthy movement. If you have to relocate to glass, do so during midday, while the bucks are napping. Park behind your optics and wait for deer to appear. On this kind of hunt, time is on your side.