6 tactics for hunting mule deer bucks in the rut
The mule deer rut is heating up in the West! The video above we released on our YouTube channel the first part of November, I dove into some hot tips for connecting with bucks in the late season. So be sure to keep checking out our YouTube channel for tips and techniques. If video is not your thing or you want a little more detail, the below article is for you.
On to the good stuff! There's a ton of different tactics for hunting the rut/late season, but here are six of the ones that can exponentially increase your success.
1. Find the does, find the bucks
Love is in the air in the mule deer world. So if you find the does, eventually bucks will show up. You could sit on doe groups and wait, or another great strategy is to run around and keep checking out all the doe groups you can find so you have backup plans. Note: really take your glass and look at areas around where the does are at. A lot of the time you might catch a buck bedded in some cover near the does. Even during the rut, some bucks still like to be a little secretive when it comes to showing themselves in the open.
Back in 2018, every morning I would check on a group of does and only small bucks were with them. It wasn't until later in the hunt that a true giant finally showed up and I was able to capitalize on my biggest buck to date. So checking on that group of does each day paid off in a huge way.
2. Research backwards
It is well known that on later season hunts under ideal conditions, you should seek out migration corridors as that is where deer will start moving into once heavy snowfall blankets the mountains or the hint of the rut hits the air.
But what happens if you look at those migrations routes backwards? What do you see? If you take note of a migration route, you’ll see that they start from a higher elevation and move downward. So, if you happen to have a chance at mild weather, you can use this to your advantage and hunt above the “typical” migration corridor.
What do mature deer do if they sense pressure from hunters and, at the same time, have all their nutritional requirements at higher elevations? They head to those so-called “unusual places.” What I mean by this is if mature mule deer sense pressure from hunters in late October and early November, why would they want to move to lower elevations where there are more hunters, more commotion and an increased chance that they will get shot? If higher elevations still have the nutritional requirements as well as safety, then a giant buck will not risk moving into the firing range. This is what I believe also happened on my 2018 Colorado hunt. So I never let "elevation" determine where I will focus my efforts. I will always search for bucks at higher elevations where some people might avoid due to cold temperatures or difficulty accessing with a truck or atv. Searching out all the zones where a buck could be will eventually put you in the spot with the most deer activity.
Also, a key part in this stage and sort of tip number three is using hunter pressure to your advantage. If you see large groups of hunters in one area, that is a great opportunity to move to areas on the fringe. This is where deer are going to get pushed into. Lots of hunters might be hunting in a spot due to easy access and so you just need to start figuring out ways to out hunt other hunters.
3. Get away from the crowds
As mentioned above, you need to get away from the crowds. So getting away from easy to access spots where people will hunt out of their truck or atv.
Barriers of entry are huge for this. If there is a trailhead and surrounding the trailhead is a bunch of terrain that is harder to hike in, most people are probably going to avoid that area and hike further in along the trail. But you can use this to your advantage and possibly hunt some closer areas that are not fun to get into.
4. Hunt near private land borders
If you are in a mountain area, the later in the season the greater chance that deer have started to migrate down, and that means they might start to congregate on private lands. So a great strategy is to focus on some of the public lands near private to either catch bucks coming off private or moving to a private land spot. This tactic can be kind of frustrating at times as it could be a game of patience. But with patience can come success!
Even if the area you are hunting doesn't have a ton of high elevations, hunting near private lands can still be a great tactic. You'd be surprised at how many people avoid the small accessible sections of public land near big sections of private because they feel that all the deer might just get sucked to private.
Private lands are also deer sanctuaries because deer there start to know they are safe. But it's the rut and you just never know if a buck will come into the area and push a bunch of deer back to public land.
5. Glass and glass some more!
You can't hunt bucks you can't see. So always utilize your optics and try to dig up a buck that might still be hanging out in thick timber or brush. Put yourself in an area that you can cover a lot of country, especially near areas that some people might not want to hunt in due to thick terrain or lack of roads. The more time you spend behind your optics, the greater the chance you will pick up deer and learn where the deer like to hang out during the rut. Also if there is snow on the ground I really like to glass up tracks and then try to see what direction they are headed. Then I will either use my 12 power binoculars or a spotting scope and dissect the timber or brush to find bedded deer. Or I will hike closer and try to ambush the area by finding a spot I can look into it from higher up and be close to the action. That will put you in striking distance and allow you to potentially find hidden pockets that might have been tough to glass from further away.
6. Think outside the box
I've always said that if you want to be more successful at mule deer hunting, you need to think outside the box. Sometimes to get away from people that might involve grabbing a tent and a stove and backpacking out. A lot of people aren't going to want to do that. You've probably heard me say it before, but if you always do what 95% of the hunters do, then you will have success like 95% of the hunters do. If you want to take a buck that maybe 5% or less of the hunters take, then you need to be thinking outside the box and do what other hunters aren't willing to do. Having a solid plan and a great mindset will put you in the right position for success on a big rutting mule deer.
If you've got any questions, leave a comment below and I will get back to you. There's a ton of different ways to kill a buck in the rut or on late-season hunts. These are just a few of the techniques I utilize each year and they have worked wonders for me. Best of luck the rest of the season!