When I asked him for some tips to improve my chances this mule deer season, his eyes sparkled, and the hunt was on. Grappling through a huge pile of photos, he started reliving hunts and the information started to flow like juice from a ripe melon.
"Hunting mule deer is as different from whitetail as night and day," he began. "With whitetail, you look for sign, and with mule deer, you look for deer, actual animals. One of the best ways is to scout from a distance with a spotting scope. You look for feeding and bedding areas. Mule deer will go down into a hay field to feed early in the morning, and then work their way back up into the rough stuff to rest for the day. One technique is to get in between those two areas and move to cut off their path to bedding areas when they finish feeding. It's a matter of "side-hilling. They're not going to use the exact same route every time, so you need to move laterally, very quickly and quietly to intersect their choice of the moment," he explained.
"The great thing about mule deer, is one of the best times to hunt them is during the middle of the day, say from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Again, they're not like a whitetail. You can't look into the woods and pick out a big buck, but you can use a spotting scope and find mule deer bedded down during the day. Once they bed down, that's where they are going to be. Oh, they might get up and move from the sun, into the shade, but they'll be right there in the same area once they've bedded down. Mature bucks will be in the open, where they can see, and of course that's where you can see them. It is also what makes the next phase much more exciting, knowing he's watching."
"That's when your other option, the stalk, comes into play. You find one bedded down, and make your move. A mistake that a lot of mule deer archers make is getting into a hurry. You can't get in a panic and rush a stalk. That buck is going to be there, all day. You've got to creep slowly and quietly. I'm talking about undetected stealth. You'll get close, closer than you ever thought possible. I often take off my boots on a stalk. You make a lot less noise in socks than you do in boots. Sure, you get a few cactus needles; that's part of it. I usually get them in my forearms, knees and belly, oh yea, and thighs. I get them there too, but I usually get my buck," he said matter of factly. "The thorns and soreness will be gone before your photos come back from the processor."
Improving Your Odds
On the subject of improving your odds, Severinson was quick with an answer. "The best thing to do is find a lone buck, rather than a bachelor group -fewer eyes and noses to catch you. Usually, with a swirling wind, you can sneak up on a lone buck, and the wind won't betray your presence. I can't prove it, but I think they take turns sleeping while one buck in a group watches. I've seen them do it many times. One buck will be alert, watching the area, then he'll drop his head to sleep and another buck will raise his and take up the vigil. It's uncanny, but a band of rams will do the same thing," he said, with the authority of a man who has taken many of each.
"Quiet camo that blends in with dry western environs is mandatory, but I'd be more concerned with quiet than a particular pattern. Your shot is the important element, once you get into position. Once again, it's nothing like whitetail. For hunters, just taking up mule deer hunting, it's going to be a major transition. When hunting whitetail with a bow, usually, you have the advantage of being in a treestand, where you can stand, take a full draw, anchor your arrow in a comfortable position, and take a buck that doesn't know you are there. With mule deer, most of your shots are going to be made from a kneeling position that is often awkward at best. You're going to have to rise up, pick up your target, estimate distance and release the arrow very quickly. It's instinctive shooting. You have to be almost mechanical, second nature. I was terrible at it when I first started."
"The best way to get good at it is by using a partner. One of you hides behind a tree, or garage, where you can't see and the other puts up a target at random distances from 10 to 50 yards. Once it's in place and you get the signal that your partner is safe, you pop up and take a shot. You'll be lousy at first, but it's amazing how quickly you get good at it, when you shoot every night for a week or so," he said with a grin.
"What about your bow?" I asked. "I always set a 50-yard pin when I'm hunting mule deer. Sometimes that's as close as you can get, when terrain and cover dictate your limits. Carbon arrows, an overdraw and 90 to 100 grain broadheads will get the job done. I've gone to mechanical broadheads, because I shoot so fast that my heads were starting to plane. With mechanical heads, you've got a celery stalk that you can shoot just like target arrows. They really fly beautifully. I shoot over 300 feet per second, using a Golden Eagle, single cam bow with split limbs and an offset riser, but I've got a short draw length of 28". With the overdraw, my shafts are only 23 ½", and I'm pulling 80 pounds with a 50% let-off so I get a very flat trajectory. That's important when you are trying to judge distance quickly. With a flat trajectory, there's a little forgiveness that you can factor in," he said.
"I hunted with the top guide in Alberta a few years ago, and he taught me a trick that I use every time I'm on a stalk. When we spotted a deer bedded down, he would take out a 3x5 card and mark every landmark, anywhere from 5 to 10 spots, in great detail. When you are stalking, and moving about, things look different from different angles. Trees don't look the same from another angle, and it can be confusing. With the cards, we could compare the relationship with all of the landmarks he had drawn out, and we knew exactly where the buck was lying down. It worked like a charm, and now I use it every time I'm on a stalk."
"With mule deer you've got to be very proficient with your bow, but you've also got to be a good hunter. A good mule deer archer has to be good with the stalk to pull it off. You have to be a good hunter," he repeated, as a point of emphasis.
"One last pointer," he said, sipping from his coffee cup. "Take advantage of opening day. With whitetail, the first of the season is going to be hot, and usually wet and buggy in the areas where you find them. With mule deer, they will be in the open areas, lying around fat from the summer and less wary than they will be in October and November. It's a great time to shish kabob one. Get out there early, glass them with a good spotting scope, and pull off a good sneak, and you'll get one," he said.
Turning back to his stack of photos, he pulled out a glossy print of one about the size I was looking for. Here's a shot of one I took in Wyoming at 40 yards. The stalk took over 2 hours, but there he is -piece of cake," he added with his trademark grin.
Gregg Severinson has hunted in all western states, all Canadian provinces, Alaska, Mexico, several countries in South America, the former Soviet Union, Mongolia, China and Africa. Gregg has been with Cabela's since 1984 and manager of Outdoor Adventures since its inception in 1985.
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