Backcountry Mule Deer Hunting 101

Have you dreamed for years of backpack hunting mule deer miles from the nearest road? It has been said that it’s not the sheep hunt that is the greatest part of the adventure, it’s where bighorn sheep live. The same goes for true wilderness mule deer hunts. 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 them. With that said, here is some advice to make your first backcountry mule deer hunt a success.

First and foremost, get in shape! I’m not talking about walking to your mailbox once a day or playing a game of basketball every weekend. To truly enjoy your mule deer hunt, you want to be in the best shape of your life. I understand, depending on your age, that may not be possible, so if that’s the case, shoot for the best shape you’ve been in for the last five years. The big thing here is to do all you can. My workout is jogging three to four times a week. I start out walking and jogging about three months before the trip and by the time trip arrives, my goal is to be able to jog for an hour straight. I find this easier than trying to give distances. If you can maintain a jogging pace for an hour, you should be capable of climbing the mountains required for backcountry mule deer hunting. I also jump rope, bike, hike, and walk with my loaded pack (around 50 lbs) in between. All of these are good to build the muscles you’ll need on your hunt.

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

Third, buy the best gear you can afford. There are some great products on the market today. Look for the lightest sturdiest material for your backpacking and clothing items. I will not go into each item, but a few I recommend are: Lowa Sheephunter boots, an internal pack – I use a North Face pack, but there are lots on the market, wool socks – I use Smartwool, and light packable rain gear – I use Frogg Toggs. If you are hunting with an outfitter, ask him for a list to bring and follow it. Buy the best optics you can afford! I personally use Brunton Epochs in 10.5×43 because of their magnification and weight, but there are lots of quality optics on the market. I’ll say it again, get the best you can afford.

Lastly, watch some great Hunting Videos on the topic. These will get your blood pumping and get you excited to make your trip of a lifetime. They will help motivate you to get in shape and find that deer of a lifetime.