Wyoming Mule Deer 2020

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Scouting notes:

Before I even drew the tag, I talked with my buddy Jaden Bales from the Wyoming Wildlife Federation about what type of terrain I should scout for Wyoming mule deer. I had him judge three spots I had e-scouted. The spot Jaden liked the best was the one that I thought might be the best, so my girlfriend Abby and I went to check it and another area nearby. While a lot can change between June and October, there will be a few things like access, terrain and food/water that will be fairly constant.

June 12 – Scouted a relatively smaller section of public land at around 6700 feet of elevation. There is a water source nearby and plenty of buck brush for feed. We saw a few does and small bucks which was awesome. I marked spots as we went with OnXmaps. Dark Blue = June 12, Light Blue = June 25.
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We saw one large buck (above photo) and marked its location. We had come over a small rise and jumped it which was unfortunate. There is enough texture to hold bucks in small spaces here, but you have to see them before they see you, so I was hoping to see something in a bed. But coming over small rises allowed the buck to see us first and but moving away by the time I would have been able to get set and get a shot. I made a mental note to approach from the same area, but be aware of the point in which we will be visible to the clump of rocks near where the buck had to have been bedded.

June 25 – Drew the tag and returned to the spot to get a better look and more pictures. Made a point to walk slowly as if it were an actual hunt and discussed how we’d approach the area in different winds or time of day. Approached the spot near where we saw the first buck and paid attention to how much we could see and how we’d get in position for a shot come October rifle season. There was a pile of rocks I thought would provide cover, but turns out they wouldn’t. There was a doe feeding broadside in the draw.

The next thing we wanted to see is if there was a covered approach to get within range of the great beds we had found. Who knows if any of this will be available in October, of course. There may be no deer around, the weather and wind and everything else will come into play, but as much knowledge we can have about the terrain, the better.

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Using the photograph feature to mark a location, I took a photo once we had successfully moved to within 265 yards of the bed. Nothing was bedded currently, but there was a doe in the draw between us. We now know that we can move to within 265 yards without being detected if we stay on that line. From that point, if nothing is there, we can back up and move around to make a move on anything we might spot further up the draw.

While I am excited for the three spots we have in mind, in no way am I counting on the same bucks or any bucks being there in four months. That’s hunting. We have seen the terrain, evaluated the access, seen quality bucks, but only time will tell if it will lead to meat in the freezer.

October 17 – Well, all that scouting for nothing. The Spot had someone in it, so we went to a B spot and found so many people. Half mile hike, truck, another half mile on a nice gulch with cover, orange hat. Just can’t escape people. We ended up two miles in near a creek hoping something would come out but nothing did. In these moments, you’re making a bet there’s a deer but you’re also thinking he’s probably just north in that other gulch. Stayed until after sunset and walked back in the dark with was a frustrating roller coaster of hills since the car was perpendicular to any sort of helpful ridge.


October 18 – Woke up to frozen boots and a frozen tent. Hiked in over some BLM land through a low ceiling fog and snow. I asked the question many times as we scoured the white landscape, Do we use the fog to cover movement or should we sit tight? There was a lot of wind but eventually the sun came out and was warm enough to melt the snow. We ended up sitting at a spot near a creek but were too low. There were a couple spots that were 200-300 feet higher which would have given us a better view of anything moving. We crossed the creek easily and looked for steep terrain with trees that we figured would be where the deer would bed during the day. After sunset and seeing nothing, we did see a doe in a sage garden as we were hiking back.

October 19 – Finally got to The Spot where we had scouted and seen procession of bucks during the summer. Seen bucks as we hiked. Seen bucks on game cam. But we only saw does when it counted. The season was a weekend old by this point and not overlooked as we had hoped. We didn’t see any sign of a kill so that was positive but it would have been nice to see a buck. Pulled the camera we had on a bed. There was a nice 4-point with a white face from September but nothing else. This was a nice spot during the summer, but that didn’t mean they would be there in October. I knew this could happen, but of course hoped it wouldn’t. We also decided that with the winds, the planned approach to get to the rock where we could see the bed (and where the camera was placed) to take a shot was not the way to go. It was too exposed to the canyon that provided the most cover for the deer, so we decided that subsequent approaches would be out of sight until we were well back into the area. We’d walk past the bed and canyon and play the opening.

Digital Camera

October 20 – Pulled cameras in Abby’s elk unit, then headed back to The Spot for the evening. We’re doing what’s required. Frozen boots, flipped tents, hiking in the dark, that’s not epic, that’s what happens when you hunt mule deer we told ourselves. So we felt like we were doing what we needed to get it done and wanted to finish it. I started to get a little feeling of frustration and desperation, but no matter how frustrated I was, I was up and ready the next morning. I wouldn’t consider myself a masochist but I couldn’t get enough of this mule deer program.

Finally had a breakthrough and saw a group of deer and one was a chopstick buck. We watched them for a bit and figured something of substance was around, but couldn’t find him. On the way back to the car I saw a forkie and employed the drive by method of passing it so it’s not alarmed. I’ve heard of bucks being so secure in their stillness that they will let things pass and not spook. This also allowed me to get a better angle and get a broadside shot when it stood up. But as I tried to crawl back on a stalk it took off. I was of course upset and figured I should have just taken the frontal shot since it was only 30 or so yards. Seeing two bucks was enough to get me excited, but also wonder if that was the only chance we would get. Had I been too patient?

October 21 – Been warm since that freeze and snow dusting on the first day. Wind was terrible and the sun made hunting terrible. At this point I had gone from  hoping for the chance at a solid 3 or 4-point because we saw them in the summer, to thinking about a stalk on chopstick. Abby said she would gladly shoot chopstick so we went to The Spot looking for him, found him, but we bumped the group, though I think it was the people in the truck that we saw parked next to us. There is limited entry to this small piece of land but they stopped anyway and marched in anyway, probably in the same exposed line we figured we’d use before we got smart about exposing ourselves to anything up the canyon. So we hiked out and went to a chunk of obvious BLM and hiked around in 60 mph gusts. Just miserable. I was almost blind with frustration at this point.

After reaching the far end of the ridge, we spotted a buck all the way back by the road. We dropped down and hustled up the creek to the road and then the base of the hill where the buck had been feeding. Uphill stalks are tough so we glassed carefully to make sure he was out of the way and picked a different face to hike up. Wind was perfect. We were within 30 yards of where I thought he fed over to but didn’t see him. The top of the hill is a pyramid so it doesn’t take much to get to another face. Figured he just kept feeding because why wouldn’t I think that? Turns out he was switching beds and just fed along the way so at about 20 yards he popped up and bolted over the ridge. I ran to the ridge and saw that he ran along the inside of a bowl to another ridge. I laid my bag down and got set. This sliver of land was pretty small so being paranoid about where this deer was standing, I checked OnX to make sure we were still on state land. We were. But that had taken precious time and now I was almost panicked because he was standing broadside at probably 300 yards. So I didn’t bother to range. The last time I took too much time the buck took off. I let out my breath and fired. High. Again. High. Turns out my scope was on 6 power and the buck was at 150. I needed patience and to range or check the power of my scope. Simple, simple things but my mind was on property boundaries and caused a short in my routine.

October 22 – So what do you do, right? You’re on the most miserably exhilarating hunting trip of your life but you’re running out of time. You airmailed 2 shots at a forkie you rushed and spooked a forkie you tried to be patient with. But the weather had now turned perfect. Cold and snowy. Everyone who knows mule deer apparently knows that’s what you need: Cold and Snow. We headed to The Spot and chose a spot that put deer in nice close shooting range to anything that emerged form the canyon but I felt exposed. Nothing was happening except for us both getting cold so we backed out. In moving we saw a few does which bumped somewhere. Then I saw the profile of antlers on a head off in the distance but it turned out to be an antelope. As we were moving forward into an opening where a canyon gives way to an open flat, I saw bucks sparring. It was unreal and right in front of the spot we had started the day. Maybe if we had been patient I would have had a shot. But maybe the only reason they had come out, was because we were gone. We moved back out and looped around to get into a shooting spot. By the time we were in a spot to take a look at them, they had vanished in the snow. I was livid. Deer everywhere and I just can’t get it right. Always the wrong call. On our way out we looped to where we had seen the forkie that had spooked when I crawled at it. There were deer. First saw a doe, then another, then chopstick, then a forkie. Abby had said she would shoot chopstick so I was thinking we were going for a double. She used the tripod as a rest and shot. I heard rock connection. I fired and nothing happened. Gun was frozen. I ejected the round and worked on thawing the shooting mechanism and told Abby to shoot the forkie, which she did. The pressure was off. We had a deer.
 

We cut up the deer, packed it to the car and drove to another spot to let The Spot chill. We had seen 2 bucks sparring so how do you not go back? After a fruitless glassing of a few other spots close to the road, we returned to The Spot to look for the bucks that had vanished. I was more careful with the spot I chose to post up. We had decided that the most likely place for the bucks to emerge from was the canyon, so we were a little further from it, but more protected from view and the wind. After about an hour, up from the little canyon comes a parade of deer and one is a 4-point. After all the screw ups and wind and hot weather and cold weather, I got another shot. Insanity. Five hours after Abby got her buck, I killed mine, not a half mile from hers. The only day we didn’t hike out in the dark was the day we both shot deer and mine happened to be the white-faced buck from the game camera. This sort of thing never happens to me.


Lessons:
1. Cold and snowy gets the bucks moving.
2. You have to believe the bucks are there.
3. Choose a spot with a view, but not too close. It might be the right spot, but they won’t come out if your profile is too high and your noise too loud.

Moving away from the best deer location, but maintaining quality glassing eyes, allowed us to stay hidden and deer to feel safe enough to emerge from the most protected area. We sacrificed a closer shot, but likely would not have had a close shot since the closer (white) location was much more exposed.


4. Adjust your standards for the term “epic” because in the mule deer hunting world, epic is just the way. Do what is required. It might sound or feel epic, but that’s just the standard when it comes to public land hunting.