Few big-game animals exhibit the amazing adaptability of the mule deer. The species extends over most of North America west of the 100th meridian, from Saskatchewan to central Mexico. Its homelands are varied and range from scenic mountains and rugged badlands to windswept prairies and harsh deserts. The typical mule deer is larger and bulkier than a whitetail. Mule-like ears prompted its common name, first provided by William Clark in a journal entry on March 11, 1806, during the Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery through the Louisiana Purchase.
The two current Boone and Crockett world-record mule deer–non-typical and typical–have withstood decades of challenges to remain at the top of their respective categories in the B&C record book, which provided the following details about each.
WORLD-RECORD MULE DEER, NON-TYPICAL (BELOW)
SCORE: 355 21/48 B&C LOCATION: Chip Lake, Alberta, Canada YEAR: 1926 HUNTER: Ed Broder OWNER: See sidebar below
“…I tracked the deer to a clearing. He was approximately 200 yards away, standing and feeding with his back to me,” Broder recalled for the 11th edition of the Boone and Crockett Club’s Records of North American Big Game, which was published in 1999.
“Immediately, I had to make a guess as to when and how to shoot; the distance was right but his position was wrong. I knew I had to select a rear shot placed high in the spine. Raising my .32 Winchester Special, I waited for his head to rise. I fired and the animal dropped, his spine broken. ‘What a rack that one’s got,’ was the first thing I thought.”
WORLD-RECORD MULE DEER, TYPICAL (LEFT)
SCORE: 226 41/48 B&C LOCATION: Dolores County, Colo. YEAR: 1972 HUNTER: Doug Burris, Jr. OWNER: Cabela’s Inc.
Doug Burris, Jr., had successfully hunted the Dolores County area of southwestern Colorado and knew the country well. One day during the 1972 season, he decided to go after a buck that a friend had spotted earlier.
Burris located two muleys feeding in a clearing, and they were soon joined by an exceptional buck. For almost an hour, Burris slowly and quietly made his way through the oak brush. About the time he had cut the distance in half, Burris nearly stepped on a bedded doe. She exploded out of the brush, and the three bucks Burris was stalking scattered in different directions. He had time for only one quick shot with his .264 Win. Mag. The largest buck crumpled in midstride.
JUDGING A TROPHY
Look at the way the antlers fork and compare the tine lengths with the size of the ears. The tip-to-tip spread on a muley’s ears is 20 to 24 inches, depending on his body size. Therefore, a buck whose antler spread extends well beyond his outstretched ears on either side is certainly one to consider carefully.
Source: “Road Map to Monster Muleys,” by Jim Zumbo, www.outdoorlife.com.
RECORD-BOOK DIFFICULTY FACTOR: 9* It takes 190 inches of antler to make the all-time book. Reasons the odds are stacked against you: Increased hunter access to prime mule-deer country means that, on average, mule deer aren’t living long enough to grow record racks. The long Western drought and habitat degradation in ranges that traditionally produce the biggest typical racks also have had negative impacts.
THE BOTTOM LINE The mule deer population currently stands at about 2.5 million, but numbers in many areas have been declining in recent years due to habitat loss, forest succession, predation, drought, harsh winters, urban development and other factors. Management efforts and hunting regulations have been modified in many parts of the deer’s range to address the decline. In the meantime, there are still excellent opportunities to hunt mule deer in Western states and much of western Canada.
* On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most difficult.
Broder Clan on the Horns of a Dilemma A disagreement over the late Ed Broder’s nearly 80-year-old world record spilled into an Alberta court in May when one of his heirs was jailed for refusing to relinquish the trophy. Justice Myra Bielby ordered the sale of Ed Broder’s world-record non-typical mule deer last spring so the proceeds could be split among his seven heirs. Don Broder, Ed’s eldest son, who had had the mount since 1973, claimed it belonged to him. The court disagreed. After spending 10 days in jail for contempt, Don Broder admitted that he had already sold the mount to a U.S. buyer. The court ordered him to buy back the trophy. As of press time, according to the Calgary Sun, the buyer had offered an additional $77,000 above the original price of $230,000 to keep the rack.
TOP HUNTING AREAS TODAY
“I believe there certainly are some world-class mule deer bucks out there,” says Terry Cloutier, president and chief executive officer of the Mule Deer Foundation in Reno, Nev.
The best place to look for a book buck, Cloutier speculates, would be the open plains country of New Mexico, Arizona or southern Colorado.
“The historical record tells us that animals that frequent open plains tend to have the largest antlers,” he says. “They have higher and wider racks. And a lot of record-book mule deer have come from the plains areas of these states in the southern part of the animal’s range. Winters tend to be milder there, and the bucks seem to have the genetics required for heavy antler growth.”
Cloutier is quick to note, however, that a record-book muley could turn up where it’s least expected. “Last year, an individual in Oregon killed a buck with a thirty-seven-inch spread in a forested area on public land.”
Guns & Loads for Muleys Good mule-deer cartridges are legion. I prefer lightweight rifles, so I pair them with flat-shooting rounds that won’t beat me up. The .270 with 130-grain bullets, and the 7mm/08 and .280 with 140-grain spitzers excel. I like the .260 Remington with a 120-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip and the .25/06 with bullets of 100 to 115 grains. You don’t need lots of punch or a controlled-expansion bullet. Precise bullet placement is what counts most.–Wayne van Zwoll