Have you dreamed of backpack hunting mule deer far from the nearest highway or road? It has been said that its not hunting sheep that is the most exciting part of the venture, its where bighorn sheep live. The same can be said for true mule deer hunts. Mule deer thrive and live in some of the most enticing, uninhabited areas around the world. Just visiting these magnificent beasts and the place they live is worth all the effort. With that said, here is some advice to make your first mule deer hunt a real success.
First, and most importantly, you’ve got to get yourself into shape! I’m not just talking about walking to your mailbox each day or playing basketball on weekends. To truly enjoy your backcountry mule deer hunt, you’ve got to be in great shape. I do realize, that dependent on how old you are, that this may not be possible, so if that’s the case, aim for the best shape you’ve been in for the last five years. The important thing is to do the best you can. Personally, my workout program is jogging three or four times each week. I start out by walking and work up to jogging around three months before the hunt, and when the trip arrives, my target is to be able to jog for at least an hour. I found this is easier than trying to give specified distances. If you can build up a jogging pace for at least an hour, you should be capable of climbing the mountains that would be needed for mule deer hunting. I also hike, bike, jump rope, and walk with my pack (around 50 lbs) . All of these activities are good to build the muscles you’ll need on the mule deer hunt.
Second, shoot your hunting rifle. I recommend shooting your rifle weekly at ranges out to 300 yards. You’ll need to know where your gun is going to shoot at different ranges. Start at 100 yards with a fixed mechanical rest. Experiment with assorted types of ammo until you figure out what your rifle works best with and stick with it. I prefer Winchester 130 grain Ballistic Silvertips in 270, but each gun shoots differently and you have got to use the load that works. When you know where your hunting rifle shoots on the range, experiment with a shooting stick, prone position, over your pack and also other positions you might run across on the hunt. Just remember you won’t have access to a bench in your real hunt and even if you are an excellent bench shooter, that doesn’t necessarily make you a great shooter in the hunting field. You will also want to study distances versus angles. Most shots at mule deer are either up or downhill and hunters have a tendency to shoot over deer. Get out and practice some downhill and uphill shots. You’ll be amazed at the difference an angle can make. I also suggest that finding a laser rangefinder to use as you practice. It’s also helpful to learn how to judge mule deer in the field. Hunting DVDs and videos by Mossback titled Mulies Gone Wild are a great tool for learning how to judge big bucks. They report the score after you’ve seen footage of the bucks on the hoof.
Third, get the best gear you can. There are great products out there. Get the lightest, strongest material for your backpacking and clothing items. I don’t want to go into detail with each item, but a few I recommend are: sturdy, stiff, hiking boots – I use Lowa Sheephunter boots, an internal pack I use a North Face pack, but there are many different kinds on the market, wool socks I use Smartwool, and light packable rain gear I use Frogg Toggs. If you are planning to hunt with a guide, request a list and make sure to follow it. Buy quality optics! I personally like to use Brunton Epochs in 10.5×43 on account of their magnification and light weight, but there are many fine optics on the market. Once again, buy the very best you can manage to afford.
Lastly, buy or rent some good mule deer hunting videos. This will get your blood moving and get you excited about shooting that big muley. They will help motivate you to workout and find that deer you’ve always wanted when the deer season opens.