Article and Photos by: Clint Casper
In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing better than hunting high country mule deer! The sights, sounds, experiences and lifestyle that encompasses high country mule deer hunting is something that has stole my heart, from the very beginning! I absolutely love everything that comes before, during and after these bowhunts and I want to break down a few tips I've learned over the years to make YOU more successful.
So you want to mule deer hunt in the high country? That's awesome and extremely exciting, BUT I'm going to hit you all with the brutal truth- IT'S TOUGH! Not that I want to discourage anyone, by any means, but being realistic before going on a hunt like this is extremely important. Are you physically in good enough shape to endure the high elevations and brutal climbs, up and down the mountains? Are you mentally tough enough to go days on end with no service, or without seeing game? Will you be able to grind it out for hours and days, looking for that one opportunity to finally present itself? Are your woodsmanship and marksman skills up to par? Are you able to embrace the "suck" while still enjoying the grind and process that comes with this style of hunt? Being realistic with yourself before a hunt like this is crucial because it takes a ton of TIME, PLANNING, EFFORT AND WILL POWER! Make sure you're ready, mentally and physically and I promise you that if you're expectations are in line, you'll have a much better hunt!
Location. Location. Location.
I cannot stress enough how important LOCATION is for hunting high country mule deer. For one, not every hunting unit in your determined state, has a ton of high country. Also it is very important to look at high country that will hold mule deer! Not all high country is created equal and the ones that catch my attention all possess a few critical elements. Food (Subalpine willows are key), water, sparse timber patches, master vantage points (we'll discuss later) rocky patches AND hidden basins are all key characteristics for myself when choosing a location. Find a unit and spots that have most of this criteria and I'll guarantee you that mule deer will be present!
Prepare to be unprepared
When hunting high country mule deer, a smart hunter will be as prepared as he can be possibly be, BUT also ready for the unprepared moments as well! Maybe other hunters move into your area forcing the deer to live way up in the rocks! Maybe the weather is treacherous and there is half a foot of snow up high. (it's happened to me before) Maybe water is scarce, or lighting is so bad each night that you have to find new spots to camp! My moral of the story here is be mentally ready for everything and anything on a high country mule deer hunt, but also realize that the unexpected and the unprepared scenario will probably take place! Rarely do our plans always work! Be ready for the unprepared. Honestly, the adventure and unknown are what makes these bowhunts so fun and adventurous!
Trust your Glass
If i had one tool, in my toolbox, that I rely heavily on and would put my money on when it comes right down to it is my ability to trust in my glass and use it effectively! Glassing is beyond critical, when it comes to finding mule deer AND hunting mule deer. My game plan for scouting on the hunt is solely based off of what I'm seeing behind the glass each day! Finding mule deer can typically be one of the hardest tasks, when it comes to hunting them, because spot and stalk hunting relies heavily on seeing the animal before it sees you! No matter what unit I'm looking at I'm always marking the master vantage points in each spot. These vantage points will allow a hunter to sit a top one spot and glass around for hours on end without looking at the same country twice! Multiple basins, drainages, hillsides and ridges can be glassed from these spots and they are certainly valuable beyond words! Getting to these spots before daylight and spending the next few hours using your spotter, or binos on a tripod will ensure that you cover tons if country with your eyes and not your legs! It would take days to hike into and scout the country that your eyes can cover behind the glass in a few hours! Whether its scouting to find deer, or mapping out the stalk on a buck you've watched for days, glassing is what makes the world go round! Be efficient with this tool and you'll be a much more successful mule deer hunter in the high country!
Note: See Clint's article on glassing here.
Embrace the Grind
Mule Deer hunting is awesome! I absolutely love everything that comes with it, including the GRIND! To be successful at mule deer hunting in the high country, it is going to take WORK! Those who learn to embrace the journey and the grind that comes with it will eventually be those who are the small percentage of successful hunters on the mountain! I learned very quickly that the successful, high country hunters all have one thing in common- they aren't afraid of struggles that come from this type of hunt AND they learn to embrace and enjoy the pain and suffering! The grind is part of it! Long days, short nights, barely any good sleep, lower calories than normal, bad weather, difficult situations each and every day, etc. These are all things that come with high country hunting, BUT its what makes this style of mule deer hunting so fun and intriguing! Those who are successful consistently embrace the tough times and weather the storms, knowing that this is part of the process! The toughness factor and the gritty part of mule deer hunting in the high country is what makes it so awesome and rewarding! For me, there is nothing better than eventually finding success in the high country, after all your dues have been paid!
For more information, listen to the East Meets West Hunt podcast with Clint Casper on hunting mule deer.