Tips for Your First Mule Deer Hunt

2020 was my first year hunting mule deer. I hunted a week and a half in central Montana and shot a forky. Looking back, there were a few things I wish I’d known before the hunt.

The Cut Off

When elk hunting I think: If I cover enough ground, eventually I’ll find a bull. I can go faster, work harder and almost force opportunities into fruition. 

Mule deer hunting is a game of patience. Slower usually means better. 

I learned to let deer make mistakes and not force stalks when I didn’t have a chance. I was hunting small pockets of public land, and it was tough to get to bow range on a buck. Unless it was very windy, the deer would hear me coming. Even on windy days, I was forced to skirt past several does, which often tipped off the buck.

My best strategy was to find a buck traveling in one direction and cut him off. Deer and elk often choose the path of least resistance. Thinking “How would I cross this drainage?” will often put you reasonably close to their path.

Eyes on the Prize

Keep the deer, or at least his antler tips, in sight. 

I messed this step up on two separate hunts. As the bucks approached, I lost sight of them over a rise. I expected each to walk down the fence line. Instead, they changed course at the last minute and disappeared. Whether the bucks saw me, smelled me, or just  had a change of heart, I don’t know. What I do know: keep your eyes on the deer.

Not as Dumb as They Look

Mule deer get a bad rap. Compared to whitetail and antelope, they don’t spook nearly as easily. And when spooked, they hop off like cartoon kangaroos. 

I’ve been on elk hunts in Colorado where trophy mule deer stare blankly for five minutes easily within range. It’s not always like that. Though the hunt didn’t feel like the nearly impossible task of stalking antelope, I was surprised by how often and at what distances mule deer would bust. I repeatedly had bucks see me from a few hundred yards away as I tried to rush stalks and cut corners.


Hopefully this post shortens your learning curve and helps you find success. Take your time. Work smarter not harder. Have fun. Good luck. Stu

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