//Bowhunting Mule Deer: Tactics to Overcome One of Hunting’s Biggest Challenges

Bowhunting Mule Deer is something many hunters dream about, but is rarely turned into reality.  Mule Deer inhabit a vast area of the western half of North America that is characterized by arid deserts, rugged mountains, forests, and prairies.  To harvest a mature mule deer with a bow is one of the most difficult things a hunter can do.

Bowhunting Mule Deer

BowHunting Mule Deer

The author arrowed this mule deer after passing on several younger mule deer and blowing a stock on an even bigger buck as well

Bowhunting mule deer can mean different things to different people.  Anybody that has spent much time in mule deer country can tell you how dumb a young mule deer can be.  It would not be much of a challenge to drive around on the road until you see a herd of immature mule deer, slip out of the vehicle and off the road, and arrow a 1 or 2 year old mule deer dink.  These deer do not know any better and for someone who is really passionate about bow hunting mule deer, this would not be considered an achievement.

For the serious mule deer bow hunter, a mature mule deer is what dreams are made of.  A mature mule deer is on a different playing field than young mule deer.  Although a mule deer can successfully breed at 3 years of age, serious mule deer bow hunters typically refer to a mature mule deer as 4 years old or more.  This is the age when you start to see their antler growth potential and their ability to evade hunters.  While antler size will continue to increase through at least their 6th year depending on nutrition, most hunters (regardless of weapon) will agree that a four year old buck is a shooter and has developed the skills to keep himself alive even with rifle hunters all over the place.

Unfortunately, not many mule deer live to be over three years of age due to the fact that they are shot when they are young and dumb.  In general hunting areas where there is no limit on the amount of hunters, especially rifle hunters, for a mule deer buck to reach maturity is to overcome unreal odds.  If one is able to make it through a few years of hunting seasons, then it has a sixth sense to overcome hunters and to take one with a bow is one of the hardest challenges a hunter can experience.  In the rest of this article, we will discuss the tactics that can make a hunter consistent at bowhunting mule deer.

Methods for Bowhunting Mule Deer

There are several methods that can be employed to harvest a mature mule deer.  The most common are Spot and Stalk and stand hunting.

Stand Hunting: Tree Stands and Ground Blinds

One of the (dare I say) easiest methods to take a big mule deer buck with archery equipment is using a tree stand or a ground blind.  While sitting there waiting for a buck may not require a lot of energy, it does take a lot of patience.  Patience is the easy part.  The real work is finding a good spot that a mature mule deer will walk by in daylight hours.  This takes a lot of work with preseason scouting, trail cameras, and patterning bucks so you will have a good idea of where they will be when the season arrives.  It is much harder than it sounds and takes a lot of time to be consistent year to year.

Of course, you can just put your tree stand or ground blind at any waterhole, food source, or other high deer traffic area and be successful on a mature mule deer, but this will require a lot of luck and possibly patience.  Once you do find a good area that produces large bucks, it is reasonable to assume there will be more there in the years to come, so this type of hunting does get easier once you have established a good area.

Spot and Stalk:

Though requiring a little bit more energy than hunting out of a tree stand or blind, spot and stalk bow hunting is usually a faster paced way of bowhunting mule deer.  The object is to spot a big mature mule deer buck and then stalk to within bow range undetected.

The number one thing to remember when spot and stalk bowhunting mule deer is to be patient.  If conditions are not right, then wait for them to improve.  This might mean waiting for the buck to bed down in a better place where you will be able to get closer, or waiting for the wind to pick up or change direction to not only carry your scent away from the buck, but also to cover up your noise once you get close.


Most of the mule deer bow hunters that consistently harvest large mule deer begin their season well before the bucks are even done growing their antlers. It is important to have a good idea of what the area holds for big bucks so you can develop a minimum size and an order to which bucks you will focus on first.

BowHunting Mule Deer

The author spotted these Mule Deer Bucks a month and a half before the season started. Continue reading to see how that turned out!

Of course size is not the only factor in determining if a buck is a shooter or not.  An experienced hunter can often judge a deer’s age by body signs and antler configuration.  In my eyes A 6 year old buck with low scoring horns is more of a trophy than a 4 year old buck with great future potential.

For spot and stalk hunting, it is important to have several shooter bucks picked out and in known general locations before the season starts.  This is because it usually takes several stalks before one is successful.  After several years of spot and stalk bowhunting, I have found that the average success ratio for stalks is 1/6 or so.  Of course, it might happen in the first try, or it might take 15 times.  An inexperienced hunter may go several seasons without having a successful stock on a mature mule deer.

For Stand hunting (tree or blind) it is not as important to have several shooter bucks spotted, as it only takes one mature mule deer in the area and you can hunt him the whole season.  Of course your odds will be greatly increased if you can identify multiple shooters in an area.  One thing you do not want to do preseason is disturb an area too much.  You will run the risk of spooking off the bucks before you have a chance to start bowhunting them.

BowHunting Mule Deer

Archery uses muscles that you don't normally use and requires precise repetition, which only comes with a lot of practice. This is one of the major things that sets bow hunting apart from rifle hunting, you have to practice more than just once.

Archery Practice: One thing that cannot be overlooked is shooting your bow.  No matter how good of stand location you have or if you are the stealthiest person on the planet, if you can’t seal the deal when it counts, then you might as well stay home.  Of course, everybody that has hunted enough has missed or made a bad shot, but shooting throughout the year can increase your odds of being able to perform when you have to.  A good thing to do is to enter into 3D competitions where you will have an opportunity to shoot at life size deer targets in different positions, angles and ranges.

During Season:

Once the season has started you will obviously be targeting the mule deer buck that you like the best.  One thing to keep in mind is that with bowhunting mule deer you will not always be able to get the number one buck on your list.  Sometimes all you get is one chance, and if it does not happen the first go around, you may never see that buck the rest of the season.  That is why it is important that you need to know where other shooter bucks hang out.

BowHunting Mule Deer

Whether shooting from a tree stand, a cliff, or just a steep hill side, you will need to adjust for the angle. Rangefinders can do the work for you, and you should trust it. Check the link below to get a rangefinder that fits your budget and has the components needed for bow hunting mule deer.

Stand BowHunting Mule Deer:

If you are sitting in a stand, you must be patient.  Just because the opening day did not produce much does not mean the big buck won’t show up the next day right where you want him to.  I have an impatient friend that moved his tree stand after opening day because the buck took a different route. He then got trail cam pictures of the buck the following day from the tree his stand was in the just 12 hours earlier while he was sitting in a tree a few hundred yards away.  Should have stuck it out!

Spot and Stalk BowHunting Mule Deer

You should have a good idea of where there is going to be a good buck on opening morning if you did much preseason scouting.  It is best to be in position to spot him from a far when that first ray of light begins to show.  Once you have found the intended target, you will want to assess the situation and determine if the conditions are right to put on a stalk right away or to watch and wait until the conditions have improved.  This is where only experience and common sense can help you out, as every spot and stalk situation is different.  Knowing when to go on it and when to not, as well as how to go about it will vary a lot depending on how things fall into place.

BowHunting Mule Deer

Over 2 months after first laying eyes on this buck and one failed stock attempt, the author was able to arrow this mule deer at 23 yards.

The same factors that are responsible for most mule deer bucks not being able to achieve maturity are the same factors that make them so hard to get with a bow.  Many of the areas they inhabit lack cover for them to escape rifle bullets that can shoot in excess of 500 yards.  This same fact is why it is hard to get within bow range of a mature mule deer that has managed to sneak past rifle hunters.  There simply is not a lot of cover for a bow hunter to hide behind in order to get a good shot.  In this case, you have to use the lay of the land in order to get close enough for a bow shot.


Bowhunting Mule Deer Equipment:

BowHunting Mule Deer

Binoculars are one of the most important pieces of equipment a mule deer bow hunter can have, right up there with their weapon and an angle compensating rangefinder.

There are a number different items that can really increase your odds of a successful spot and stalk deer hunt. Gear comes in many different price ranges, but it is important to realize you get what you pay for. The following list is made up of gear that can increase your odds a lot. The best thing you can do is go with the best equipment you can afford. The links provided will take you to pages where you can find the best gear for your budget as they are broke down be price range.

  • Rangefinder: Knowing the exact distance to your target is a huge benefit when bowhunting mule deer. There are certain specs that you will want in a rangefinder, so make sure you check the link below to be sure you get the right one.  Lots of areas where mule deer live is steep, make sure your rangefinder has angle compensation abilities.  Angle makes a huge difference, trust your rangefinder

    Check out the Best Rangefinders by price here:
    Best Rangefinders for Hunting

  • Binoculars: Spot and stalk deer hunting requires you to find the deer. It is amazing how many more deer you can find with the use of binoculars that you would not see otherwise. They also are essential in the stalk as you need to find the deer before they find you, which means using your binoculars to pick out the tip of a horn or the flick of a tail.

    You can find the best binoculars broke down by price range here:
    Best Binoculars for Hunting

  • Spotting Scope: Both used for spotting deer and then being able to judge them to make sure they are worthy of a stalk. Spotting scopes are also important to find other deer and anything else that can compromise your stalk that is in your intended path. It is very easy to get busted by an animal you did not know existed. Spotting scope are a must have for Spot and Stalk Hunting.

    Check out the best spotting scopes by price here:
    Best Spotting Scopes for Hunting

  • Camouflage: With deer vision it is not as important to be the same color as the back ground, but more so to break up your silhouette. Plus, in typical spot and stalk habitat the foliage can be dry and yellow in grasses, or green in trees and shrubs. Therefore it is important to have a camo pattern that is very versatile. Sitka Gear lately introduced the Optifade Pattern to the world of hunting. It enables a person to blend into any habitat (comes in forest and open country colors) and comes in a variety of weights to keep you the right temperature.

    Here’s is a link to the best camo for mule deer habitat: Best Camo for Hunting

  • Boots: When stalking deer, it is important to be as quiet as possible. I have taken my boots off and stalked in my sock successfully before, but with cacti and thistle prevalent where I hunt, this is just not doable. Therefore I wear lightweight boots made for stalking to close the final distance to within bow range. They have saved my feet and helped me to be much more stealthy.

    The Best boots for spot and stalk hunting can be found here:
    Cabelas Silent Stalkers

    Another cheaper option is to put Safari Sneakers on over your boots.  Check them out here: Safari Sneakers

  • For all other gear needed to take down big game, be sure to check the menu on the right hand side of this page. The above list of gear is just the basics that will help you to become a successful spot and stalk deer hunter. Only after you spot and stalk deer hunt a few times will you know exactly what works best for you.


Experience: Now Go Learn For Yourself

You can read a hundred books and still not know everything about bowhunting mule deer.  The best teacher is experience, and even after years of mule deer bow hunting, you will still have a lot to learn.  Hopefully you can take something from this article and use it to your advantage and hopefully you can experience the thrill that only an elite amount of hunters have had the opportunity to have.

Feel free to send pictures to ArtifactOutfitters@gmail.com of your hunting experiences and a short story for us to place on this web page.

Bow Hunting Mule Deer

This buck was bedded as the author peared over the cliff edge. The rangefinder said he was 37 yards away, but to compensate for the angel by aiming for 25 yards. Thinking that seemed like a little too much compensation, Chris aimed for 30; should have listened to the rangefinder. The buck was hit high in the lungs and ran behind a cliff. Chris could see the buck and could here the buck breathing hard. Nearly 10 minutes later the buck jumped out wobbling. One more arrow through the heart and the buck was down. Had he'd aimed for 25 yards, the shot would have been a perfect lung shot. Luckily it all worked out. Moral of the story: Trust your range finder!


More Useful Articles:

Spot and Stalk Deer Hunting: How to Master the Biggest Thrill of Hunting

How to Start Deer Hunting: Start Your Own Family Tradition

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By |2018-12-06T12:49:18+00:00July 11th, 2011|Uncategorized|7 Comments

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