Backcountry Mule Deer Hunting 101

Have you dreamed for years of hunting mule deer with a backpack miles from the nearest highway? It has been said that it is not the sheep hunting most of the adventure, it is where the bighorn sheep lives. The same goes for true mule deer hunts in the desert. Mule deer thrive in some of the most beautiful uninhabited areas in the world. Just seeing these majestic creatures and the country they live in is worth the effort to get to. With that said, here are some tips to make your first mule deer hunt in the field a success.

First of all, get in shape! I don’t mean walking to your mailbox once a day or playing a basketball game every weekend. To truly enjoy mule deer hunting, you want to be in the best shape of your life. I understand that depending on your age, that may not be possible, so if that’s the case, find the best shape you’ve been in for the last five years. The important thing here is to do everything possible. My training is jogging three to four times a week. I start walking and jogging about three months before the trip, and when the trip comes, my goal is to be able to jog for an hour in a row. I find this easier than trying to give distances. If you can maintain a trotting pace for an hour, you should be able to climb the mountains necessary for hunting mule deer in the field. I also jump rope, bike, hike, and walk with my loaded backpack (about 50 pounds) in between. All of these are good for building the muscles you will need on your hunt.

Second, fire your rifle. If you pay the money, get in shape, but don’t practice with your rifle, you’re not ready to go mule deer hunting. The best case would be to fire the rifle once a week at ranges of up to 300 yards. You need to know where your rifle will fire at different ranges. Start at the 100-yard range with a constant mechanical rest. Try different types of ammo until you find what your gun likes and stick with it. I use Winchester 130 grain Ballistic Silvertips at 270, but each rifle shoots differently and you need to find the load that works. Once you know where you fire your rifle on the bench, try using shooting sticks, prone position, over your backpack, and other positions you will find in the field. You will not have a bench in your hunt and even if you are a great bench shooter, that does not make you a great shooter in a hunting situation. You will also want to study angles versus distances. Most mule deer shots are fired up or down and hunters tend to shoot at the deer. Get out there and practice some downhill and uphill strokes. You will be amazed at the difference a steep angle makes. I also recommend that you buy a laser rangefinder and use it in your practice sessions. It is also helpful to learn to judge mule deer in the field. Mossback Outfitters’ line of hunting videos titled Mulies Gone Wild is an excellent tool for judging big bucks. They give you the score after having seen images of the dollars in the helmet.

Third, buy the best equipment you can afford. There are some great products on the market today. Look for the lightest and strongest material for your clothing and backpackers. I won’t go into every item, but some I recommend are: Lowa Sheephunter boots, an inner pack – I use a North Face pack, but there are plenty on the market, wool socks – I use Smartwool and packable light rain gear – I wear Frogg Toggs. If you are hunting with a supplier, ask them for a list to bring and follow it. Buy the best optics you can afford! I personally use Brunton Epochs in 10.5×43 due to its increase and weight, but there are many quality lenses on the market. I’ll say it again, get the best you can afford.

Lastly, watch some great hunting videos on the subject. These will get your blood pumping and excite you to take the ride of a lifetime. They will help motivate you to get fit and find the deer of your life.