Wyoming mule deer also known as the Rocky Mountain mule deer is a deer subspecies native to western North America. Named for its mule like ears much larger than other North American deer, the Whitetails and the Blacktails. You can find mule deer anywhere west of Missouri river but mostly in Rocky Mountains Region. There is a difference in size, antlers and the tip of their tail is black. Mule deer is larger in body, the antlers “fork” as they grow unlike Whitetails whose branch out from single beam.
That is my official introduction to hunting my favorite game species. I understand better today why deer hunting is so popular not only in the USA but also in Canada. I am trying to learn more about their behavior and become better deer hunter. The decision to focus more on mule deer than any other animal has paid its dividends. I feel more comfortable tracking them and finding their habitat.
There is a difference the way you hunt mule deer in very steep mountainous terrain of western Wyoming and more open ranch land of central and eastern part of the state. The migration, daily movement and survival in general is dictated by evading predators and availability of quality forage. These factors vary from west to east, north to south. I got to hunt in the steep and rugged western mountains and on the north central Wyoming ranch land.
The mule deer hunting in “my neck of the woods” demands the hunter to be physically fit and willing to put in a lot of time, hard work, hope for the best and be humbled every now and then. The area where I decided to hunt is familiar to me after two years of hiking. Seeing signs of deer spending the fall and winter there only reinforced the plan. I wanted to have an opportunity to get to know it as well as I possibly could during the late spring and summer hikes in a steep terrain with altitude anywhere between 6500 feet to 9000 feet. The altitude, the weather and staying within reasonable distance to civilization when hunting alone all played a role in making my final decision. The worst case scenario (injury, storm rolling in) and the best case scenario (you make a kill, how far do you have to move the meat or how many trips to retrieve it) also set a limit on the adventure. Couple weeks before the deer season started I picked a saddle where three ridges converge as a THE spot. We humans do not have the physical ability to keep up with wild game in this environment. The goal was to outsmart them. There was a wildfire in the area a year ago and deer love to forage on quickly recovering fresh vegetation in those spots. Tracking is easier too as you can see their tracks in the dirt not covered with thick old growth.
Deer season opened up and the weather did not cooperate. There was no visibility at higher elevation. Every morning was foggy with low clouds. Finally clear day came. I woke up at 4:30 and drove to trailhead. I had about 2 mile hike with about 2000 feet of elevation gain to a spot overlooking the saddle where the three ridges meet before the first light. I only followed the trail for a short while. Taking an unmarked and never used trail was necessary to avoid spooking the deer. Hour and half later upon reaching the ridge less than half mile away, I caught my breath and put on about five layers of clothing. The temperature was already in low twenties but I only had a T-shirt on going up trying to prevent overheating. I took out the binoculars, got the rifle ready and slowly made my way to designated spot to sit down behind a large spruce tree. The first light was like a breakfast bell. One doe after another, about five of them total, came out of the woods and peacefully grazed 100-200 yards in front of me. Then young buck made its way into the open and joined the herd. They had no idea I was only 120 yards above them. My heart was racing and while I was trying hard to contain myself I shouldered the rifle. I got the safety off, crosshairs on the buck’s vitals and I was thinking that this buck is bigger than the one I got last year. It was 7.30 at this point and I suddenly realized that I don’t have time to shoot him, gut him and haul him to the truck. I have to be 600 miles away later this evening for my first bird hunt in Idaho. And I decided not to take the shot because I will have “no problem” finding a buck when I want to. I enjoyed my adventure and the beautiful morning despite the fact that I didn’t pull the trigger.
After a return from the bird hunt (previous blog) I only had few days left in a deer season in our area. The weather turned from beautiful Indian summer to winter over the course of couple days. I went out three or for more times and enjoyed tracking the deer in the fresh snow. Tracking became lots of fun but catching up to them was impossible. Sometimes it snowed so hard I eventually lost the track anyways. One day stands out however, I hiked for about eight hours during fairly heavy snowfall. No signs of animals, no signs of any human activity. I started to get the feeling that there is no one else left on this planet. That’s when you start feeling insignificant, one of the times I felt very humbled while hunting this fall. My last day, late in the evening, I got another dose of reality. Same spot watching does and yearlings come out for their supper. The young ones decided to play on the snow covered steep mountain side. I’m sitting there shivering, all sweaty from my hike up yet very cold, temperature in low twenties. Humbled again after seeing them cover so much distance with so little effort. I was running out of daylight so I decided to return the same way I went up for the first time. Elk season started but I was too deer focused. As I was hiking the ridge I looked up and surprised herd of elk and myself. Cows, calfs and couple bulls. Frozen, literally and physically,I could not get my glove off fast enough to pull the trigger. When the herd disappeared I had time to realize I could not take the shot. Too late in the day, ridge was too steep on the one side in case the animal falls in the wrong direction and finally, I did not know hundred percent what was behind the target. Could have been another hunter coming up. So the shot really was not there.
I was little disappointed thinking my deer season was over until I talked to a friend in Sheridan. He invited me to visit and watch him hunt sage grouse with falcons. Amazing experience will be covered in my next blog. Deer season dates vary across the state of Wyoming. I checked for north central part of the state and got very lucky. The day after my arrival was the last day of the season in one section, the Big Horn foothills opened up day later. I immediately asked my friend if he knew anybody with access to some of these properties. It could not worked out any better. We all met for dinner upon my arrival and made plans to go to their family before daylight.
Hunting in the foothills and open ranch land in this part of Wyoming is quite different. Doing research during summer months on mule deer behavior I found out they like to come down from the mountains, their safe place, and feed on the irrigated fields and pastures. They love alfalfa so much, it provides tremendous amount of rich forage to fatten up for the winter, that they disregard their survival instincts and stay exposed. It worked out well for me. The recent heavy snowfall melted, the fields were still green and I had a day set aside in each section if needed. It was not the most beautiful of days but we had few hundred yards visibility to glass. The does, fawns and the yearling were out and about early being occupied with the candy-like alfalfa. The morning progressed slowly and the rain/sleet started to fall. We kept glassing and soon we started seeing bucks getting up from their overnight bedding spots. Interestingly enough the young ones were more anxious than the more mature ones. In one spot we probably saw dozen of them, half of them bedded down. Suddenly the anxiety set in, but quite different this time – I was wound up seeing eight mature bucks. I had a difficult time making a decision which one to take, but as we closed in within two hundred yards the bucks started to move and I just picked one buck and I pulled the trigger. First shot was a decent hit but I didn’t want to take a chance of losing him. I quickly reloaded and fired another shot and then third in fast succession. He went down. We walked up to him and saw one really fat mule deer. All that alfalfa. During the gutting process I always like to check the entry and exit wounds. Second and third shot entered and exited pretty much through the same hole and I was very proud of shots number two and three. I am looking forward tasting the meat, never seen all that winter fat on the western game animal. Field dressing became one of mine favorite parts of the hunt as I get better at it. We hauled the deer to the truck and off to meat processing. The fog, rain, sleet and some snow moved in as we moved out.
I learned so much during this year’s deer season. I enjoyed hunting alone but to bag a nice buck you almost have to have help. I’m planning to camp out next year in very difficult terrain. Getting nice buck is a lot of fun but it’s not everything. The adventure is what I’m after.
I was glad to choose CZ 550 in .308 Win with the composite Manner’s stock for this year’s hunt. It was either snowing or raining. I only had one dry day. It was a pleasure not worrying what the weather elements will do to the stock. I love the CZ 550 line of rifles. Perfect fit and very versatile with all the different calibers and stock options they are being offered. As I’m finishing up this blog, I’m hoping to get out to hunt some elk and CZ 550 is coming with me.