I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted the giant non-typical standing only 60 yards off the county road in the creek bottom! I quickly devised a plan to intercept the buck. I traveled down the road and entered the drainage hoping the magnum buck would continue his course through the cover. I traversed 100 yards in the open drainage and realized I had better slow down and glass ahead to see if I could spot the buck. To my surprise, I spotted him through the sparse trees and he was headed my way in a hurry. I looked for cover to hide behind, but was unable to find anything more than a small mound of earth, covered in a few small weeds. I hunkered down and watched the buck continue down the path towards me. As he cleared the trees he was less than 15 yards away and if he continued his course he would walk within two yards of me. Panicking, I drew my bow. I was grunting loudly with my mouth as the buck spooked. It did the trick, and the buck stopped 20 yards away, giving me time to release an arrow.
Hunting mule deer in the rut can lead to fast paced action like I just described. The adrenaline charged encounters will leave a bowhunter craving more. There are many plans of attack that can work to successfully harvest mule deer during the rut. Spot and stalking, and intercepting a buck cruising for does, are two methods that have worked well for me when hunting mule deer during the rut.
Mature mule deer become more visible during the rut for several reasons. They obviously are in search of a hot doe, but fall harvest is usually in full swing as well, removing cover on a daily basis. Areas where the deer have been hiding for months in the standing corn and milo fields are opened up by the farmers taking the grain off. The deer feel comfortable in these areas and will usually stay close for a few days before seeking out new hiding places. I have had great success hunting recently harvested fields in areas where I have located a big buck in the pre-season.
On a hunt to the Eastern Colorado plains I was having trouble finding a quality buck to hunt. After the first evening I spoke to the farmers who were finishing up corn harvest. They told of a good buck they had spotted as they finished picking corn that evening. The next morning I checked the areas where I had found deer the previous day with no luck. I was headed back to the farm with my tail tucked, when I remembered the tip from the night before. Like clockwork, the buck was standing in the middle of the recently picked corn field, and was kind enough to bed down as I sized him up. Needless to say the hunt was on!
The number one key to killing a trophy mule deer is finding him. While hunting during the rut increases your odds of finding a mature buck, if possible, it is also important to spend time scouting in the preseason. During the summer and early fall the bachelor groups will not move much, keying in on ripening grain fields for bedding cover and forage. To find a magnum buck it is critical to cover lots of ground. It is important to check areas that historically have good genetics and have held quality bucks in past years, but it is more important to put lots of miles in search of a monster. With wide open spaces and fields full of lush produce, heartland mule deer can literally live anywhere. It takes a lot of luck to be in the right spot at the right time and catch a mature buck on his feet. Spending lots of time behind the wheel and behind your glass will increase your odds.
From day one of the season I focus on areas where I have located potential shooter bucks, but the closer it gets to rut the greater the chance is of finding your target buck. The bucks that would stay bedded in the standing crop fields until dark are now starting to move more during daylight hours, and as I alluded to earlier, crop harvest is rapidly decreasing cover on a daily basis. As peak rut nears, the mature bucks will be on their feet nearly all day and will be covering lots of country. I have witnessed a buck cover more than three miles in a morning in search of companionship.
A typical mule deer hunt in the early season consists of putting a buck to bed and devising a plan to stalk him. During peak rut and into post rut, mature bucks will usually be with one or more does, and several smaller satellite bucks. If you find a shooter buck in this scenario you can usually follow the herd and wait for them to bed. If they bed in a less than ideal location be patient and watch them from a far. During the rut they are likely to stand and move multiple times throughout the day. The target buck will get tired of the smaller bucks being close and will need to show his dominance. The buck will also be scent checking the does. When the deer are up and moving you can get away with more movement than you would think. Being aggressive and closing the distance as the deer move to another bedding location has allowed me to get within range on multiple occasions. The frequent repositioning of rutting mule deer can be a blessing if they bed in a more approachable position, but it can also be a curse if the buck starts pushing does and moves off completely.
My two largest bucks have been taken in the early stages of the rut and have consisted of intercepting cruising bucks. Smaller bucks are content finding a herd of does and camping out with them until one comes into heat, but the dominant, mature bucks will cover lots of ground, hitting multiple herds of does in search of any signs of a doe nearing estrus. When finding a rut crazed buck they will not likely bed at all throughout the day, continuing their search for a hot doe. This allows you to work your way into their path and hopefully get a shot. It takes a lot of luck to correctly guess which path the shooter buck will take. These bucks have a tendency to go any direction and many times they don’t do what you would expect. However, half the battle is locating a mature buck, and they are much easier to keep tabs on when they are up moving all day. If you should lose sight of the buck you are hunting don’t panic. They have a tendency to resurface in the same areas in search of fresh does. It may take several days to relocate the buck, but with some persistence it can be done.
Rut crazed muley bucks will typically do what you least expect. Don’t be afraid to fail. When spotting a buck you want to pursue, it is best to sit back and study his actions before making a plan, but sometimes it is necessary to make a quick decision. Every failed attempt will add to your knowledge bank of what to try next and will help you identify if it is time to sit and wait or strike. Whether you live in mule deer country and are able to scout during the preseason, or are traveling out of state to hunt, chasing mule deer during the rut increases the odds of success, dramatically. Using the methods I have described, or a combination of the two, should help punch your tag this fall.