09 November 2009

Mule Deer Hunt 2009 (Southwest Montana)

[Warning: For my readers who are sensitive to photographs of dead animals, "Little Brother" AJ is shown with his mule deer buck at the end of this post. - ER]

Mule deer are not difficult to hunt, especially for those who (like me) seek a fat little forkhorned buck for the freezer. Bucks with big antlers can be hard to come by, in part because they learn to be wary and in part because public land  is hunted heavily (especially if it's within sight of a road!) in the Butte and Big Hole River area of southwestern Montana. Still, we are spoiled by plenty of public land and an abundance of deer. Mulies do live in rugged country, and I love hiking the rocky, open sagebrush country they call home.

We like to get an early start and hike all day if need be. Here's friend and hunting partner Frank Ackerman starting out at first light in the rocks, sagebrush, and mountain mahogany (click to enlarge all photos):

Soon the moon sets and a frosty morning gives way to a warm, clear day:

Our strategy: walk slowly along the ridge and carefully, patiently glass the open country below. Mule deer have excellent vision. We do not shoot at running deer so it's necessary to spot them first. Often, once spotted, we stalk to get closer. But watch out for that cactus!

Like most animals, mule deer have excellent cryptic coloration. The texture of their coat makes them seem to change color with the brightness of the day and the angle of the sun. If they are facing away from you, their white butt gives them away. Alerternatively you watch for the flick of an ear or a shadow:

Frank and I hunted until dark, saw just a dozen or so does, but never saw a buck. This in a place where we sometimes see one hundred deer in a day, and it's the first time in many years that we hunted all day and came home without a buck. Keeps me humble. And it was a beautiful sunset in this low range of hills, and the towers of a power line remind us that even in a vast landscape with no people, there are many signs of the human footprint:

A few mornings later, "Little Brother" A.J. and I went out again. We spotted a large gang of does at first light and passed up a shot at the dominant 4 X 4 herd buck. I have shot a few larger bucks and found some to be tasty. Rutty bucks can be very strong, however -- almost inedible -- as I found from a monster that friend Brent Patch shot while hunting with me many years ago. I now avoid killing them, instead picking out the "satellite" forkhorns that are invariably hanging around. A.J. spotted one and shot it, and then (Oh, to have 17-year old eyes!) spotted another one which I shot. Here is A.J. with his mule deer buck (note the big ears--like a mule):

It was 8:30 a.m. by the time we field-dressed the deer for the half-mile drag back to the truck. We were home by 10 a.m., when Mrs. Rover kindly took us out to brunch. Now I owe Frank another hunt.


This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

ER: What a fun successful hunt, glad you got the meat for the freezer. The ears on the mulie is quite large.

Should Fish More said...

Nice buck, congrats to the young man. Your comment of hunting near a road is telling, there was a moose shot out near Cardwell recently by poachers.

Judy said...

So that is what a buckeye is! I have heard the term for years, but never thought to look it up or anything! I know the horse chestnuts are called comkers by anyone with British blood in their veins!

Anonymous said...

That is so awesome! AJ has a great pair of eyes on him! We have the same problem in the PRC...heavily hunted on the road side, but hardly hunted if you are willing to walk in. I even figured out a herd by my house...come firearm season we will have over 50 deer living on my property....the white tails are smart like that! :) Hope you have more fun adventures...thanks for sharing!

troutbirder said...

Enjoyed going along. Thanks for the picture report. The general view here in southern Minn. is that the whitetails are outproducing the geese and the rabitts. In some areas you can take 5 does but most hunters only want that big buck with the rack.

Janie said...

All the hunting keeps you busy and outdoors, which I'm sure is where you prefer to be. Nice to have a little venison for the freezer.
Beautiful shots of the scenery. We do have a lot of deer and elk around here, although they seem to go into hiding once hunting season starts.

Unseen Rajasthan said...

This is a fantastic post !!! Lovely shots