Too Many Mulies

The sparse sage offered scant cover as I worked closer to the herd in my first Wyoming bowhunt for mule deer.

I’d been three hours on this stalk, starting from a rocky ridge far down the valley, circling part way around the mountain to stay out of view, then climbing hard and circling back to the boulder-strewn flat where deer lay and play. Now came the hard part. A dozen sets of ears and eyes monitored the mountainside, probing the shadows for signs of danger. I’d entered the zone of detection, where those living radar units could easily pick up a small movement or muffled sound. Still a hundred yards from my objective — a 4-point bedded behind a boulder — I literally inched along, feeling my way with stockingfeet when all deer within view were looking away.

Once in the boulder field, I had the luxury of cover, and alternately crawled and galloped, according to the relative positions of cover and deer. I peeked over a huge chunk of granite to see the buck dozing, oblivious to the danger he was in.

Stalk Is Interrupted
I was just starting the final leg of my approach when I was rudely interrupted. Another buck, smaller, sidled up to my target and horned him in the rear! I was at first afraid it would send the buck trotting off, but he leapt to his feet and met his challenger head-on. As they meshed antlers, I realized the situation couldn’t be better: The sparring bucks would be distracted as I closed the distance to easy bow range.

With no cover left, I duck-walked toward the deer. At 40 yards, I was in my effective shooting range and my heart pounded. Then it sank. From my left, a doe I hadn’t seen suddenly jumped from her bed. The bucks dashed behind her, never hesitating to see what had caused the alarm.

I dropped to the arid earth in dejection, drained physically and mentally. Few things are as demanding in both categories as stalking a trophy animal, and when it fails, as it most times does, it can leave you feeling like an old piece of organic deer sign.

That was the type of hunt this had become: finding bucks, making careful stalks, getting within a breath of success, and having it all mined by a minor glitch.

There was certainly no shortage of opportunities. Mule deer were everywhere in this country, a conglomerate of ranches in the Copper Mountains, located right smack in the middle of Wyoming.

On day one of my hunt, I took a hike up a pointed butte and glassed a big basin, and noticed a half-dozen bucks exit a stand of jackpine. I put a stalk on the herd, but was spotted. They ran off about a hundred yards and watched me for awhile, then ran out of view. Later, stalking along the top of some rimrock, I spotted two trophy-class bucks in a stand of cottonwoods far below. After an arduous descent down the cliffs and a painful stalk in stockingfeet to minimize noise in the dry ground litter, I arrived at the edge of the stand. It was vacant of deer.

A Thrilling Day Two
Day two of my hunt will live forever in my mind as one of the most thrilling of my life. I flipped open the tent flap to find the ground covered with snow. I expected to spot deer easily against the white backdrop, but nothing was moving. I elected to hike up the edge of a canyon. From the edge of the canyon wall, the snow-covered mountains were magnificent. A golden eagle soared up from the bottom, barely over my head with a surprisingly loud rustle of wings. A line of does and fawns pussyfooted along a trail in the white canyon wall. Then I spotted some bucks, so the rest of that day, and all of the next, were spent stalking and still-hunting. I had little trouble finding bucks or getting within a hundred yards. It was when I got to marginal bow range that small mistakes, shifting winds, and sentry does blew my stalks.

Mule deer have a reputation as being rather dimwitted compared to whitetails. I was beginning to realize that label had been applied by gun hunters, who benefit from a spooked mulie’s proclivity to run, but stop and look back when it’s 100 yards to 200 yards away. That makes them easy pickings for a man with a scoped rifle. But it’s a great defense against bowhunters. It allows the deer to analyze the situation, plot the hunter’s course, look for companion hunters, and learn the ways of human predators.

My goal on this hunt was to make a good shot on a mulie that I had stalked. With most of my bowhunting experience centering on whitetails in the Midwest and East, it was something I’d never done before, and the challenge and newness intrigued me. But I was starting to have some serious doubts about the workability of this technique, and was eyeing a couple of waterholes that would make good stand sites. I was tempted to revert to my old ways, but decided to try stalking for at least one more day.

Day Four: Trouble Finding Deer
On the fourth morning I had trouble locating deer. I wore myself out walking a huge gorge that held only a few deer, which detected me easily at long range. That afternoon I stalked some deer that I spotted, but they spotted me.

With the sun touching the horizon, I made my way back toward the truck, sneak hunting along a cottonwood-lined creek. I’d scramble a few yards, hunched over, then stop near a tree to slowly ease upright and scan the area as far as I could see. Halfway to the truck, I was glassing some willows when I noticed an abnormally large leaf protruding from a funny-looking branch. It was the ear and antler of a buck.

I covered half the distance on hands and knees, using the long grass for cover. From behind a sagebrush clump I glassed the area around the buck carefully for other deer and spotted two. I tested the wind, positioned an arrow on the bow, and when all eyes were averted, continued my crawl.

I had to cover 20 more yards to get within 40, my self-imposed maximum shooting distance. When I covered 10, watching the ground to stay shy of any noisy obstructions, I raised my eyes. A doe stood between the buck and me, peering at me, and her unmistakable body language had caused the buck to rise warily.

The author bagged this nice mule deer buck on a subsequent trip to Wyoming.

The next morning I was cruising down the highway toward home. Nope. I didn’t have any antlers in the truck. But I had accomplished my goal. And I must admit there is a certain satisfaction in knowing the bucks of Copper Mountain have a little less help to count on now.

For a fine selection of Archery gear, click here.

Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.