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Are you looking for the best mule deer hunting tips to help you become a better mule deer hunter? Do you want to take home the deer you always wanted to dream about? These mule deer hunting tips will take your hunting game to another level.

Beginners Mule Deer Hunting Tips
Beginners Mule Deer Hunting Tips

Best Mule Deer Hunting Tips

1. Best Time To Glass

When the sun appears early in the morning is the best time to glass for mule deer. The hair on their coats and light-colored rumps glow because of the low-angle light. This light will also gleam on the tines of its antlers. The low-angled evening light is also good to find mule deer.

2. Mountain Mahogany

During the first days of the hunting season, the pressures build up very quickly and bucks move into the thick areas of the mountain mahogany. They position themselves so that they can see anything coming towards them from their back trail. This area is safe for them as the ground is covered with dried leaves and twigs that will snap, crackle and pop when pressure is applied to them.

These areas are the most difficult to penetrate as a mule deer hunter. One way to approach these areas is to wear moccasins and approach them with the wind in your face. You could also use a treestand to hunt there.

3. Spotting Mule Deer

When you are looking for mule deer in high-country canyons, identifying the mule deer’s steamy breath is as important as the deer itself. Tracks in the snow are also important to find and follow them. You might find a deer at the end of those tracks.

4. Moon Phases

Animals change their patterns depending on the phases of the moon. It might seem like they are not there, but they are. During a full moon, you will find deer that fed under the moonlight the prior night out of their bedding areas feeding in the middle of the day.

5. Windy Day Hunt

On windy days, deep canyons and pockets of dense cover are areas to hunt mule deer. Like humans, deer and elk don’t like being out there in the cold wind. You can get more hunting tips when you read the best whitetail deer hunting tips from this link.

6. 360-Degree View

If you sit in a location with a 360-degree view of the terrain when you glass for mule deer, remember that deer on all sides will have a very good view of you also. Hide your silhouette by sitting with a rock, some brush, or a stump at your back.

7. Mule Deer Gait

One of the unique characteristics of the mule deer is that it trots well, gallops if hard-pressed, and is a good climber. Its normal gait consists of a series of stiff-legged bounds with all four of its feet leaving and striking the ground at the same time.

8. Follow The Farthest Tracks

When tracking mule deer, don’t closely follow individual prints. Mule deer quickly pick up the sounds and smells of other animals following their back trails and this will easily spook them if they see you.

Instead of following individual tracks, follow their trail by picking out the farthest clear track you can identify and still hunt up to it. Watch out for movement and continue this until you find your target.

9. Clean Optics

Make it a habit to always keep the lenses of your binoculars and spotting scopes clean. if your lenses are dirty, you will have difficulty clearly seeing your target. Try as much as possible to avoid touching the lenses with your bare skin. Take along a bottle of alcohol and a clean cloth or microfiber cloth to clean the lenses when they get dirty or collect moisture. We reviewed the best spotting scopes and you can access that review from this link.

10. Bucks On The North Sides of Ridges

When you are spotting bedded mule deer, look at the edge covers. First, look at the north sides of ridges which usually get more shade. Deer will usually be bedded in these areas so try to identify parts of the animals like antler glints, hind-leg scratches, and ear flicks.

Mule Deer
Mule Deer

11. Search Your Area

If it is too hot for you when you are sitting in the sun glassing, chances are it is also too hot for the mule deer. If you move to the shade of a tree to glass, it’s possible mule deer could also have moved in the shade of trees to escape the sun’s rays. Search that area also for mule deer.

12. Thermal Current & Stalking Deer

It is very important to factor in uphill and downhill air flows when you stalk how weather bucks. When glassing for feeding deer, make sure you are not in a position that will allow downhill currents to carry your scent to mule deer. When the mule deer move uphill to bed, make sure you approach them from above.

13. Glass Your Stalking Route

If you see a bedded mule deer, don’t instinctively start moving into the shooting range. Be sure that you are familiar with the route you will take. Glass the area thoroughly before you pack up and start moving.

Look for landmarks that you will be able to identify from a number of angles.  Start stalking the path that will put you in a downwind location with a clear shot at the buck.

14. Mule Deer Winter Habits

Deer will lie out in the low brush on slopes to benefit from the heat when the sun is strong. When there is a heavy snowstorm, they will move into a ravine where the trees are thicker than usual, not moving until the storm has subsided.

15. Ambush Their Escape Route

When mule deer are spooked, they tend to flee uphill. If a mule deer is spooked by you, it will be confused and break to the left or right rather than running straight away downslope. This will give you a good opportunity for a shot if you are prepared.

16. Mule Deer & Clear-cuts

You can often find mule deer in recently clear-cut areas. These areas have deer-friendly shrubs and plants grow quickly in these clearings as their roots penetrate the soil and their leaves receive the sunlight that is usually blocked by large trees.

17. Meandering Tracks

When a mule deer is moving from a food source to bedding, its trail will be in a straight line. However, as it comes closer to its bedding area, mule deer begins to meander through the cover, going at twigs and searching for a spot to lie down.

If you are tracking a mule deer and all of a sudden the tracks start to wander, backtrack for a few hundred yards, go above where you think it has bedded down so that you can advance from a higher elevation. This higher elevation will get you closer to it and a better shot if you spook it.

18. Mule Deer & Sandy Basins

According to Dennis Wintch, mule deer love a small basin with white sand. It usually has the best bitterbrush and is more open. If you are in a new area, and you come across the white sand, hunt right there.

19. Deer You Can’t Reach

Don’t shoot a deer that you can’t reach. If you spot a mule deer on the other side of a ravine or canyon and you really don’t know if it’s possible to retrieve the animal, don’t shoot it.

20. Hiking Long Distances

It is a good hunting habit to always take along a daypack when you hunt mule deer even if you think you will not go very far. The weather changes quickly in the mountains and you don’t want to be stuck far away from your truck without the right equipment when the weather changes. You can improve your deer hunting skills by reading this article on how to hunt deer with a crossbow.

Be sure that your daypack can accommodate changing clothes, rain gear, a good hunting knife, rope, binoculars, a compass, a survival kit, food, and water.

21. Extra Water Supplies

Storing extra supplies of water on your pre-season scouting trips will keep you longer in the hunting terrain.

22. Mule Deer’s Mood

You can make a rough guess of the deer’s mood by studying its tracks. If the tracks are well-defined and evenly spaced prints that don’t disturb the snow, that indicate it’s a calm deer that is not keen on going very far.

If the tracks are widely spaced tracks that slide forward at the end of each step, that indicates the deer is looking to cover some ground by either moving from feeding to bedding sites or looking for does to breed if it is the rut.

23. Taking A Power Nap

It’s a good idea to take a power nap during midday when mule deer are holed in. This will give you a much-needed rest and you will be refreshed to go hard until it gets dark.

24. The Right Binocular/Spotting Scope Combination

If you are hiking long distances, you don’t want to carry large binoculars with heavy glass. A small pair of 10×50 binoculars and a small 20- or 25-power spotting scope is preferable. Spot movement at long range with the binoculars and use the spotting scope to get a closer view.

25. Mule Deer & Sagebrush

If you are hunting in an area that you are not familiar with, look for mule deer in thick patches of sagebrush. Mule deer like sagebrush and are drawn to it. Keep your eyes open for patches of sagebrush in areas where it is rare. These patches will attract mule deer.

26. Cold Weather & Mule Deer

In frigid weather conditions, when your glass for mule deer, pay attention to south-facing slopes. They get most of the direct sun; therefore, the snow cover tends to be brighter and deer-like with the extra warmth from the sun.

27. Local Mule Deer Information

You may be surprised at how much hunting information you can get from the locals near the area you hunt. They may not be hunters like you but still have a trove of valuable information regarding where mule deer can be found.

Never miss the opportunity to strike up a conversation with the locals. It’s also a good idea to take with your gifts from your local area to reward them for the information.

28. Stalk With Strong Wind

Stalk a buck in midday when the wind blows the steadiest and strongest. You can capitalize on the natural movements of the grass, leaves, and branches from the strong wind to camouflage your progress into the shooting range.

Wearing a ghillie suit will be an additional layer of concealment from the eyes of the mule deer and the loose strips of the fabric of the suit will move with the wind making you blend easily as part of the landscape.

29. Finding Summer Bucks

Mule deer bucks are more easily seen in summer than in the fall and winter because bucks in velvet need more food to maintain the growth of their antlers. Therefore, they feed more often. After shedding their velvet, their nutritional demands dwindle and then they quickly bed down during the daylight hours.

30. Hunting From Newly Placed Blind

Set up your ground blinds at least a week before you plan to hunt from them. Mule deer take time to get used to new things in the landscape. Therefore do some planning with your new blind. Additionally, you can also accelerate the process by spreading a brush around the blind to break up the outline.  You can read a review of the best hunting ground blinds on the market from this link.

Best Mule Deer Hunting Tips
Best Mule Deer Hunting Tips

31. Mule Deer’s Zones

Dennis Wintch, of the Hunting Illustrated magazine, states that most mule deer habitats can be put into three zones: a high zone (8,000 to 12,000 feet), a middle zone (5,000 to 8,000 feet), and a low zone (1,000 to 5,000 feet).

They cycle through these three zones depending on the weather, hunting pressure, and food availability. The key is to figure out which zone the mule deer are inhabiting. If the area you are hunting in is new to you, look for fresh tracks and follow them.

32. Hunting In Thick Brush

Do not hunt in areas where you don’t have good visibility. You can’t shoot what you can’t clearly see.

33. Fied-judge A Mule Deer

If you want to land a trophy mule deer, glass until you spot a five-by-five buck. It will have four points on each side and eye guards.

34. Cheap Orange

Cheap fabric is noisy and can give you away from your target. Hunters usually buy quality camouflage outerwear but then buy a cheap orange vest. Buy quality orange gear as you do for your other hunting clothing.

35. The Other Deer

As you are about to begin your stalk, make sure that you have glassed the route you are about to take for any other bedded deer in the vicinity. If you spot any, modify the path you will take such that you circle downwind of the deer or you just might spook your target.

36. Truck Decoy

It’s a good idea to park your vehicle some distance from where you want to hunt if you are hunting on public land that gets a lot of pressure. Where you park your vehicle can be a decoy for other hunters from knowing exactly where will hunt. Your vehicle can make noise that could also spook your target if you park close to where you will hunt.

Best Mule Deer Hunting Tips
Best Mule Deer Hunting Tips

37. Deer Sex & Their Pee

You can determine the sex of a deer that you are tracking by studying the spot it urinated. Bucks tend to pee forward into the snow, in the same direction their tracks are moving. Does, on the other hand, pee straight down or in the reverse direction.

38. Creeping On Your Stomach With Your Bow

It is difficult to creep within shooting range in open country with a bow. You will have to move forward on your stomach while keeping your head down and using only your elbows to push you forward. The challenge is to remain silent with a bow in your hands.

The solution is to be on your back and keep your arms moving freely. When you are in shooting range, slide the bow into your hands, put in an arrow, get on your knees, and quickly take a shot.

39. The Right Range

Adjusting to the scale of things is the most difficult adjustment people from the East have to make when hunting in the West. It is best to depend on a rangefinder while hunting wide-open spaces. East Coast hunters realize that deer are larger than what they are familiar with and the elk are five or six times better.

40. Spot-And-Stalk As A Two Member Team

It is easier to stalk a bedded mule with the help of a hunting partner. Leave your hunting partner behind at the spot you first spotted the deer. He will then guide you with hand signals as you inch closer to the shooting range.

He has to be far away to not spook the mule deer with his hand signals. Therefore, it is advisable for you to bring binoculars to clearly see and understand his hand signals.

41. Mid-day Bucks

If you are familiar with the terrain and know where to look, you can still spot deer moving during the middle of the day. As shade shifts when the sun moves, bucks will change their bedding sites during the middle of the day. They sometimes browse for a brief period and then lie down again. Look under trees and around brush and you just might spot bedded deer.

Mule Deer Hunting
Mule Deer Hunting

42. Set Up Away From Field Edges

Don’t set up hard on the field edge when mule deer are keying on alfalfa. If you are positioned farther back from the field along their travel routes from their bedding areas, you will have a better chance of hitting one. They are more relaxed when they advance toward feeding areas and become more alert as they move into the open.

43. Let The Sun Work In Your Favor

If it is possible, glass for a mule with the sun behind you. You will see more detail as direct sunlight is sharper. Deer will have difficulty spotting you in the backlight.

44. Age Tracks In Snow

Mule deer won’t leave tracks in the snow if the temperature is less than 28 degrees. However, you can still determine the age of their tracks. Feel the edge of their tracks. If it has no crusted snow around their rims, they are less than 15 minutes old.

If it has a light crust and feels a slight resistance before the track’s edges crumble, then it is 15 to 40 minutes old. If they are crusted such that chunks of snow break off the edges when you apply pressure to them, then they are at least 40 minutes old.

45. Hidden Water Sources

Locating and hunting funnels that lead to water sources is a very good strategy for finding mule deer. Deer often live in arid areas and water sources are very important for their survival. Stock ponds are easily found by most hunters which makes them heavily pressured. Keep your eyes open for hidden seeps and springs.

46. Wind Settling In One Direction

It is always a good tactic to stalk a buck later in the morning as wind currents are fickle before the sun rises. The wind usually stabilizes as the air heats up in the open country. It then blows in a consistent direction that makes staying downwind of your target easier.

47. Napping Mule Deer

A good strategy for finding a mule deer is to glass from a high vantage point early in the morning until you spot one. Then, from a distance, watch him until he is bedded for the day. Usually in the afternoon he will get up and feed. While he is bedded, you can use that time to get closer and well-positioned in the shooting range.

48. Glass in Comfort

It is important that you are comfortable when you glass for mule deer. Look for a spot that has solid back support like a big rock or a stump. Take along a foam pad or a folding tripod stool. A tripod with adjustable legs for your binoculars or spotting scope will minimize the strain on your arms. Don’t use your riflescope to spot deer as you will point the muzzle at targets you don’t want to shoot.

Mule Deer Hunting Tips
Mule Deer Hunting Tips

49. Big Buck on Mesas

Big bucks will move out to the end of long points on lone mesas if it rains a couple of days before you go hunting. The feed is better there and they get a good supply of water.

50. Get Closer Before Rattling

Rattling works on mule deer, however, big bucks are reluctant to travel far if they hear a fight in progress according to Scott Haugen, author of the “10 Big-Game Bowhunting Tips”. The closer you can get to him, the better your chances of pulling him in.

Best States For Mule Deer Hunting

Mule deer are found in the western part of North America. Mule deer hunting is not as popular as whitetail deer hunting but there are many mule deer hunters that travel to western United States yearly for mule deer hunting. We list and briefly discussed the best states for mule deer hunting.

1. Colorado

Based on data collected over the span of more than 10 years, Colorado is the number one state for mule deer hunting. Boone and Crocket Club has recorded 172 typical mule deer trophies.

Additionally, Colorado has a mule deer population that is estimated to be about 400,000 to 450,000. Moreover, Colorado has a preference point system that allows you to amass your points which can be applied at some time for a mule deer tag.

The state of Colorado does not have general (over-the-counter) deer tags. You have to go through the Primary or Secondary draws to get a deer license or get one from the leftover process.

2. Utah

Utah is the second state for mule deer hunting. It is estimated that there are about 320,000 mule deer living in the state of Utah. It is a little harder to secure a non-resident mule deer tag in Utah than in other states for the coveted districts, but with the large population of mule deer found all over the state, you might get a non-resident tag for other districts.

There are two separate and distinct drawings for mule deer in the state of Utah: Limited-Entry and General. The Limited-Entry hunts are more difficult to draw and it caters to more mature bucks. The General hunts provide more draw opportunities and are available in a different groups of units.

3. Wyoming

The state of Wyoming ranks as the 3rd best state in the United States for mule deer hunting. Like Colorado, Wyoming has a point system although some hunts can be drawn without any points.

Although federally designated wilderness areas are off-limits to non-resident big game hunters unless they hire the services of an outfitter, there are a lot of public lands that you can go through hunting for mule deer. Additionally, there are many private land hunting areas where you can hunt for mule deer.

Wyoming also offers general deer tags which are valid for a group of units of 17 larger defined regions in addition to unit-specific draw hunts. These general deer tags are over-the-counter for residents but are only issued via a drawing for nonresidents.

4. Idaho

Idaho ranks 4th for mule deer hunting in the United States. It has a mule deer population of more than a quarter-million deer and has millions of acres of public land to hunt them. Additionally, Idaho does not have a points system which provides you a good chance of drawing a great tag the first year you apply.

Deer hunters in Idaho have the option of a “Regular” season tag or a “White-tailed deer” tag. You get the option of both the mule deer and white-tailed deer with the regular season tag but this is only during October which coincides with the pre-rut. A “white-tailed deer” tag limits hunters to harvesting only whitetails but offers a longer and later season during prime time which is in November.

5. Nevada

Nevada has a point system for its best tags and you have the chance of drawing one of the many mid-tier regions for big mule deer in a short period of time after applying. Nevada has a total mule population of about 92,000.

Nevada provides some quality opportunities to hunt mule deer in some beautiful desert landscapes. Moreover, there are Nevada deer seasons that begin in August and extend into late December in some areas.

6. Arizona

Arizona makes it easy to get a tag as you can get archery tags over the counter. Additionally, there are three seasons to hunt mule deer during the year in many units that cover multiple biological patterns.

Mule deer and Coues deer reach peak rut in December and January in Arizona when most fall hunting seasons have ended. So with good planning, you can end mule deer hunting in a nearby state and go to Arizona where the mule deer hunting season will just be hitting its climax.

7. Montana

Montana has a mule deer population of 58,000 in 2022. You have two options for a hunting tag: the general deer tag or the deer/elk combo tag. The general tag allows hunters to hunt mule deer in units all over Montana.

Montana deer seasons are long which is a plus for mule deer hunters although the non-resident license is costly. Hunters can hunt deer for a six weeks period with an archery stamp. The rifle season runs for five weeks.

8. Nebraska

Nebraska offers mule deer hunters in the western half of the state for mule deer hunting. Nebraska has a mule deer population of 130,000 and a white-tail deer population of 300,000. With flat terrain, agriculture, and private land along river corridors, Nevada provides good hunting land for whitetail deer. Additionally, deer tags are available over the counter while archery and rifle tags can be purchased for particular regions.

The Bottom Line

Mule deer hunting tips will help you land that mule deer you plan for all of pre-season. Whether you are a beginner mule deer hunter or an experienced hunter, these mule deer hunting tips will help take your hunting to the next level.

If you hunt elk, then the best elk hunting tips is an article that will give you more tips to become a better elk hunter. Additionally, the article on the best duck hunting tips also provides tips to help you be more successful in hunting ducks.