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Holiday traditions: Hunting mule deer in the rut

Thanksgiving week was finally here. Earlier in the year my dad, my brother Bryce, my dad’s friend Steve King and his son Bubba all drew general season buck tags for Montana. As the season progressed, I decided to give up my special draw permit in Montana to join them on the hunt. It was a tough decision since I drew one of the best tags in the state, but family hunts means a lot to me and I don’t get to hunt with my family very often.

I jumped on a plane and made my way to Montana. We arrived late in the afternoon and dropped our gear off in the hotel and headed out for a quick afternoon of glassing. With the cold wind and temperatures, we decided to stay in the vehicle and glass from a distance. The wind had the deer holding tight to cover, so we only managed to glass up a few does and some small bucks. We ended the evening by marking some waypoints on the GPS of areas to check out in the morning, and made our way back to the hotel.

Arriving at hunting location
As soon as the sun broke over the horizon, we were spotting bucks pushing does into a large basin. The rut was in full swing, but we still hadn’t found a quality buck.

Dad crossing the stream
Around 9 a.m. we spotted a quality buck that was pushing around a herd of six does — Steve instantly knew this was the buck he wanted to go after. We had a hard time keeping the spotting scope steady as we watched where they would bed, but finally, they bedded down in a small pocket below a finger ridge to avoid the large gusts of wind. We devised a plan and hiked down a steep cliff band and worked our way across a river. Unfortunately we had to leave young Bubba back at the truck since this was going to be a long hike.

Setting up for the shot
Since I made the decision to position us above the buck, I knew that all we had to do was climb the steep bank, relocate the buck and setup for the shot. After cresting the ridge, I spotted the buck below us and signaled for my dad and Steve to get ready behind a rock. After settling the rifle, Steve squeezed off a shot, putting the buck down. 

High fives after the shot
My dad, Bryce and Steve shared a round of high-fives shortly after the shot.

Hiking down to the buck
We all carefully picked our way off of the steep and slippery hill down to the buck.

Steve King and my dad with the buck

Group photo with Steve's buck
This is Steve’s second mule deer, and hunting with him always brings tons of laughs. 

Packing mule deer meat
With heavy packs, we carefully navigated the ravines until we found an area on the partially frozen river that was safe enough to cross.

Selfie while packing out a mule deer buck
It was nice having four guys on the hunt because we had a 2 mile packout.

Glassing for mule deer
The next morning, we moved 10 miles to the south in hope of finding unpressured deer. This is an area that has been great to me in years past.

Dad carrying the spotting scope
We only located a few small herds early in the morning. After putting on a few extra layers we grabbed our gear and hiked further up the ridge to a new glassing location.

Glassing for mule deer in the cold
After hiking half a mile north, I set up the spotting scope and started picking apart groups of deer I saw across the canyon. While glassing, Bryce noticed a small group of deer to the north of us. Quickly, we put the spotting scope on him, he was a large framed 4x4 that would gross in the mid-160s. The problem with the stalk would be navigating the large amount of does and bucks below him.

We quickly descended the hill we were glassing on, and picked our way through the junipers. As we neared the buck’s location, a doe that we didn’t see blew out of the junipers and ran over a small rise toward the buck. The herd that we found the big buck in was spooked, so we had to spend the next hour looking for the herd in a tangled mess of junipers in the coulees on the other side. 

Bryce setting up for the shot
After glassing over the terrain, we finally located the buck and all the does. The herd was now made up of 26 does and fawns, and 5 smaller bucks. We decided to backup and sneak around the herd from above after picking out a large juniper tree as a landmark on the top of the hill. We made our way to the landmark and Bryce and I peeked over the hill and found the buck rutting a doe below us. Bryce setup for the 160 yard shot and squeezed the trigger.

Buck wedged against tree
Immediately, the buck fell to the ground and does and bucks spooked out of the coulee and started running in every direction. A few shots later, and the buck tumbled down a small cut and wedged its rack against a tree. 

Cutting out the tag
We sat around telling the story of the stalk while I captured a bunch of photos. My brother owes a lot to my dad for letting him have first chance at this buck. My dad was more excited that Bryce got the deer, since he has plenty of nice bucks mounted on his wall. 

Bryce's Montana mule deer
This is Bryce's largest buck to date. Another year filled with great hunting memories with my brother and dad. 

Bryce Miller with his Montana mule deer
This is Bryce’s second mule deer buck in just as many years. He will now have two large mule deer mounts in his house back in Minnesota.

Bullet with mule deer buck

Bryce and dad with the mule deer buck
It was great being on the stalk with my brother and dad. Getting to bounce around stalking techniques and ideas with each other is something I cherish.

Preparing the deer
After a round of photos, we began processing his deer. We had to make quick work of it though, because while we were on our stalk, 12-year-old Bubba was also successful at harvesting a buck only a mile south of us.

Bubba with his Montana mule deer
Bubba was all smiles as we made our way over to his deer. He passed up a buck earlier that morning because he wanted a larger deer so I would proud of him. Either way I would have been happy for him, but I couldn't help having a large smile on my face after I heard that. 

All of the group with Bubba's deer
After Steve, Bryce and Bubba had their deer, it was time to focus on getting my dad a buck. 

Rainstorm turned to ice
We spent the next three days looking for a quality buck and battled more high winds, rainstorms and snow storms.

Crossing small stream
The last day we went on an 8 mile hike and located 30 bucks and over 150 does. None of the bucks were old enough for my dad to pull the trigger on. 

Montana scenery
My dad is the type of hunter who is happy just being on the hunt and seeing others harvest. In the end, he passed up everything and decided to let the bucks grow up another year. This was a fantastic week of hunting with my family and helping Steve and his son Bubba harvest their bucks. I am already looking forward to the next time when I can hunt with them. Giving up my special draw tag was a hard decision, but I am very happy that I got to enjoy this hunt and help create memories with a great group of people.

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