So you want to hunt mule deer, and you want a way to put a tag in your pocket every year? While it seems something like that shouldn’t be possible, there are actually lots of opportunities out there for people to just pick up a tag and hunt, and some units with fairly good draw odds; even if you don’t carry that many points across the West or are just starting out. What it all comes down to is how scrappy you're willing to be, how hard you're willing to research, and what type of hunt you are looking for. Are you looking for over-the-counter options or easy-to-draw options, or do you want to spend time in the leftover draws and second-choice draw options? In all honestly, how to find these types of hunts every year is held in our Insider suite of research tools. Everything you need to research and plan is at your fingertips 24/7/365.
For a video walkthrough on some of my tips and strategies, you can watch the video above. Or keep reading for a little more in-depth information.
One of the biggest tools for researching and planning out your mule deer strategy each year is going to be our new tool called Hunt Planner. This tool will help you be more efficient at planning for hunts and also keeps all your research data organized. No more notepads getting lost, extra spreadsheets you have sprinkled across various parts of your computer, or headaches when trying to remember what units caught your eye during your research! Everything you need is always in one place at GOHUNT.
What can you do in Hunt Planner?
You can use this tool in multiple ways. For example, I could create a hunt plan called "2023 Mule Deer" and then do a state-by-state look at all the units/seasons I'm interested researching in one folder will all the states/units/seasons I've saved. Then start adding notes to each season on what I can realistically draw or plan for this year. Or I could break it down in an indivual state-by-state approach and create hunt plans called "2023 New Mexico Mule Deer" or "2023 Nevada Mule Deer."
What follows is my personal look at how I approach the draws each year when I'm trying to plan out which mule deer tags I'm hoping to land. This is where it pays off to have a multi-state application strategy approach, as I know when I might draw certain tags, and which years I might have too many mule deer tags in one year based on my point totals. But with some research, hard work, and the ability to hunt hard, I truly feel like I can have a quality hunt on tags that most people consider leftover or easy to draw for a reason. While that strategy might not work for everyone, as there are definitely years you might get burned on a tough hunt, at least you're out mule deer hunting. And you never know... there are giants that come of easy-to-draw, leftover units, or OTC units each year.
I’ve always been a huge promoter of the “hunt now, not later” strategy when it comes to mule deer.
After all, you only have so many years of your life to hunt; i.e. you can’t eat points, points don’t look good on the wall, and points don’t fill the freezer. What I mean by that is you’re only going to get older, so why sit on the sidelines building bonus points/preference points and seeing others hunt each and every year?
So would you rather hunt mule deer right now or wait for that “dream tag” that you may or may never draw? For me, I’m in the hunt right now plan almost 90% of the time. Now there are for sure states and units that I’m banking away points trying to draw at some point in my life, but I’m able to also get scrappy and put in the research to find hunts I can consistently do each year. I’d much rather do my research, lace up my boots to scout a mountain range (or maybe I don’t have time to travel to scout, so doing all of that scouting on my computer at home), and hunt mule deer each year.
I don’t carry/bank points in a sense (I do... but I burn them as often as possible), and yes, I fully know there are some people that like to poke fun at that, but it works for me, and I’m able to go on mule deer hunts every year because of it. Growing up, all I heard was you need a ton of points to hunt out West, and you should save your points for solid trophy hunts. Well, my entire life, I have done the exact opposite of that. I burn my points every chance I get. Yes, again, there are some states where I carry a lot of mule deer points. But I put that in my long-term strategy.
There are a lot of reasons I elect to only hunt mule deer. For one, they are hands down my favorite animal, and enjoy mule deer hunting so much. The adventure, the scenery, the challenge of hunting an old buck, and the mountains I get to explore; all lead up to a mule deer hunt as something I crave to do each year.
So I've dedicated my life to electing to hone my craft by just hunting mule deer, which I believe allows me to be more of a proficient hunter since I’m learning about mule deer each and every year. At the same time, when I’m picking up mule deer tags in different areas, I’m also learning about hunting mule deer in a variety of different terrain, seasons, and hunting techniques. If I go on a grueling hunt and there’s not much action, to me, that hunt is still a win since every day I’m on the mountain, I’m learning about mule deer and learning about my capabilities as a hunter. I've always said I'd rather kill a buck on the last day of the hunt rather than the first day since I want to learn more about the area and the deer in that area. While it might seem like a crazy thought, I enjoy the chase!
Sure, I do give up hunting elk just to hunt mule deer. It’s just what I prefer. But that doesn’t mean I don’t build points for elk or other species. One of these years, I’ll cash in some elk points and have an amazing few years of elk hunting since I have well into the high teens for points in almost all Western states.
Unlike elk, there are not a lot of over-the-counter opportunities for mule deer, so it takes a little more thought. I’ve been helping people put mule deer tags in their pockets for a very long time, and I’m happy to give people the information they need to put a plan in place to guide them on their adventure while at the same time keeping things a little under the hood (as it wouldn’t mean the same if I gave out exactly what units I look at). So it’s definitely a balancing act for me when it comes to talking about these opportunities.
In each section below, I have linked some previous articles I wrote that explain options for picking up tags on leftover draws. I will be creating new articles for 2023 before those opportunities open up.
A big change this year was limiting over-the-counter archery deer hunters to 2,890 non-permit tags. So that might have changed up the approach on how people look at that state when it comes to their OTC hunt, as it's now not a fallback option, and you'll have to plan out your Arizona archery hunt in advance to know if you want to try to pick up a tag on December 1. Again, this is where Filtering would come in handy. So well before the 2024 tags go on sale, you can already start making a plan for what unit in Arizona you want to hunt. Dive in and start saving several of those units in Hunt Planner. Then after you pick up a tag in the coming 2023 December sale date (for tags during the 2024 season), you'll be that far ahead in your research to find a unit to hunt.
Besides the OTC hunts, Arizona does have some other options for mule deer. If you're on Filtering 2.0 or our detailed Draw Odds page, you'll notice there are nine units with 30% odds or greater that you could potentially draw as a nonresident with zero points. If you have your Hunter Education and Loyalty Point, you will start at 2 points, and then you'd have 34 units at 30% draw odds or better. So you can keep that in mind when trying to find a unit to hunt more "regularly" in the state of Arizona. Or you could cough up Arizona as a long-term plan and shoot for the stars on the premium units. It again comes down to what you're looking for in a hunt.
Is there an opportunity in Colorado for mule deer for someone with little to no points each year? For sure. While the units that are available to draw with minimum points might not be the "dream units" that everyone thinks about when they want to hunt mule deer in Colorado, but there are still hunts a person could find some success on. So based on the criteria of a hunt you're looking for, you have some options. For example, at zero points, there are 21 units you could draw 100% for archery, roughly 25 units you could draw 100% for muzzleloader, 23 units 100% for second rifle, 19 units 100% for third rifle, nine units 100% for fourth rifle. There are also options in Colorado where you could pick up a mule deer tag as a second choice and thus build a point at the same time for a "dream hunt."
Then, later on in the year, you have another opportunity to pick up a tag if you didn't draw. Colorado has a Secondary Draw, Leftover Day, and a Reissue tag process. I have linked the 2022 articles I wrote, but once those dates get closer, again, like every year, I'll create an updated article with all the latest information.
While the December 1 tag sale date has come and gone, with the mule deer tags all sold out. There are still some options. Once a month, starting on April 20, 2023, is returned tag sale in Idaho for any tags that people turn back in.
So if there are any returned tags, they will be available once a month until September, and then it switches to the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Those tags are typically available at 10:00 a.m. MT on a Thursday. The list of available tags for that period will be made available two days before (on a Tuesday) the sale opens at 10:00 a.m. Remember, these are available online on a first-come, first-served basis, and they will sell out quickly! The same process is in place for picking up a tag as the December 1 tag sale. Learn more about how this process works here.
Usually, the 5th sale, which is the first few days of August, is when these turned-back tags can now be picked up by residents and nonresidents as a second tag.
There are some other options as well in Idaho. Several controlled deer hunts have great draw odds.
For example, a quick look in Filtering 2.0 shows the following:
If you’re already buying your hunting license, it’s a great option to also apply for a controlled hunt to make use of that hunting license.
Montana can be a great option as each year, you have a “chance” to pull a general deer tag with their draw process. A general deer tag allows you to hunt almost the entire state (118 Hunt Districts). Plus, if you don’t draw, there’s another chance to pick up a combination license during their Alternate List period. You just need to sign up and then wait until the application closes, and then the list is randomized. Then roughly in mid-July, you can start to track your number status by logging in to your MyFWP page. You can learn more about how this Alternate List application works here by checking out last year’s article.
Nebraska has some OTC mule deer opportunities but not a lot of public land per se. It’s an option to consider for a mule deer hunt.
While Nevada isn’t a state that is very kind to nonresidents (I truly wish it was the opposite, even if it meant my odds of getting a tag as a resident were worse); there are still some options a nonresident can look at when it comes to mule deer. For the most part, you need some points lately to pick up a tag, but you don’t need a ton of points if you just want to hunt. After the initial draw, there is a second draw in Nevada with an application period of roughly a week where some of these tags that didn't get applied for show up, and sometimes some of the tags that went undersubscribed for residents will now be available to nonresidents as well as residents. Do note you will lose your points if you pick up a tag in the second draw in Nevada.
Then there is the First Come, First Serve tag process in Nevada. In 2022 there was a total of 572 antlered mule deer tags that were up for grabs! Yes… 572. If you want to see how that tag process works, check out the article I wrote last year here.
For a random draw state, New Mexico does have some options to pull a mule deer with decent draw odds. Typically most hunters might be shooting for the stars and applying for "dream hunts" with a long wait. But there are actually hunts you have a good chance of drawing each year. In total, there are 15 archery units with 50% odds or better, 15 muzzleloader units with 50% odds or better, and five rifle units with 50% odds or better for mule deer.
Oregon is another option to look at when it comes to trying to hunt mule deer. At the time of publishing this article, we don’t have updated odds yet available, but as of the last odds we have published, there is a chance to draw nine rifle units with zero points at 100% odds, and there are 18 rifle units available with 100% odds if you have at least one point.
Besides the coveted limited entry hunts, Utah allows you to also build points for general season deer hunts. If you're just starting out, on the general season side of things, there are 14 archery units available with 70% odds or better at zero points, 12 muzzleloader units with 70% odds or better at zero points, and 10 rifle units with 70% odds or better at zero points. There's a plethora of other options available if you have a few points built up.
When it comes to Washington, this is a state that isn't on most nonresidents' radar when it comes to mule deer. in my opinion, that's probably due to this state being so far tucked up in the northwest corner of the states, and to drive there, you're passing up states that could be argued as a "better hunt". But for a person who just wants to hunt mule deer, there are 72 units to hunt mule deer on a general tag.
While there are some great hunts that do take some points to almost guarantee you a tag in Wyoming, keep in mind that if you apply, you always have a slim chance of pulling a tag in Wyoming, even if you don't meet the point break. So while the odds are steep if you don't have the points, there's always a chance to draw a mule deer tag.
If you jump into Filtering 2.0, you'll be able to find some hunts that you can go on this year. A quick look showed that there are six regions (32 hunt areas total) that have 50% draw odds or better on general hunts at zero points in the regular draw. And if you have one point, that opens the door to 11 regions (48 hunt areas total). If you look at the special draw, at zero points, you have 100% odds for 10 regions and three limited quota hunts. So there are options here.
While there is a small chance some mule deer tags slip into the leftover draw in Wyoming, each year, there are a handful of tags available. To see what was available in 2022, check out this article here.
There's definitely some other states and options to consider (California, Dakotas, etc) when looking at putting a mule deer tag in your pocket. But this should give you a great head start in how to plan out your mule deer hunts if you don't have a bunch of points.
There's no better time than now to start your research for the upcoming mule deer application season. From Filtering, to Draw Odds, all the way to Point Tracker and our newly released Hunt Planner; you have the tools you need to put your best application plan in place.
I hope this article lays out a decent plan for how to approach a multi-state strategy. While I covered a lot here, I tried to keep some items pretty vague, but I still hope this article helps you think outside the box when it comes to trying to hunt mule deer in the West.
At the end of the day, I love helping people chase their dreams. If that's going on their first western hunt for mule deer or if that's them trying to take the biggest mule deer of their life, I love inspiring someone and helping them achieve their goals. If that means they apply for a deer tag and I don't get a tag, so be it. That's a sacrifice I'm willing to make in order to offer others the opportunity and information to also experience something that has literally shaped how I live and pursue my life. I enjoy hunting, and I want others to appreciate the challenge and life-changing experiences as well.
Throughout GOHUNT Insider, we have research tools that will enable you to quickly and easily find the perfect hunt for any species. Whether you’re looking for your first Western hunt or you want to see the best way to use your points, Insider is your ticket to unlocking the West.
Each research tool on GOHUNT will allow you to find the perfect hunt. When you combine Draw Odds with Filtering 2.0 and GOHUNT's 3D maps... it is everything you need to gain an edge and become more successful.
Insider makes it easy to find tag opportunities by state, species, probability of draw odds success, and much more! Whether you have 0 points, max points, or any number of points for certain states, Insider gives you the information you need to plan a successful hunt. In addition to our research tools, all Insiders have access to GOHUNT Maps on the web and mobile app. It's the only complete and full package set of tools to help you find the hunt you want this year or to help you plan for hunts in the future.
If you're unfamiliar with Insider, you can learn more below.
Save unit seasons in Filtering
Compare seasons (up to three at a time)
Save the filter settings you used in Filtering 2.0 to find a great hunt and reference those filters you used to find a hunt at a later date
Add notes to your research folder under a season-level or hunt folder level
And much more!
Six archery controlled units have 100% draw odds
Two muzzleloader controlled units have 100%
Four rifle controlled units have 50% draw odds or better
Never lose track of units you want to further research
Can help decide what unit to apply for or what order to place your units when applying on a state's website