There’s a thrill that comes from hunting mule deer. The mountains, the scenery, and the solitude are all part of it, and so is the act of searching for these animals in their own environment.
It’s the effort that you put in before the hunt, though, that will help you find that big buck. There are several things you can do before the season starts to tip the odds in your favor. Below are three of my favorite methods to scout in order to find big bucks on opening day.
If you want to see a great buck on opening day, you need to know everything you can about the terrain where the bucks live. Having found your glassing points and done some long-distance glassing prior to your hunt will pay huge dividends. Spending time at your glassing spots beforehand will help you figure out which spots offer the widest viewing range, which will put you in the best shooting positions, which will allow quick access to backup ridges where bucks could be hiding, and can even help you decide where to locate your camp.
When you’ve found your top spots, look for a buck’s possible escape routes, and where possible hunter pressure might come from. Study the topography and learn where deer might end up if they cross a ridgeline or enter a drainage—then see if you can find a way to access those areas. Perhaps most importantly, you need to learn what this buck does throughout the day and how he moves through the terrain. This is where boots on the ground scouting comes into play.
To set yourself up for success, scouting out those hard to get to places will mean you could have a buck to yourself on opening day. To do that, it’s beneficial to scout out areas that have a barrier of entry.
With the gear available today, going further into the mountains is a lot easier. No longer does sheer distance mean that you’ll be getting away from people. But, if you add steep slopes to the equation, especially right from an access point, that instantly cuts down on the number of people that will be willing to hunt it. Add to that steep slope a bunch of deadfall and some distance, and now you’re looking at a place that is worth scouting out. This tactic will not only get you away from the crowds, but it’ll also be the type of place an old buck will like to hang out for that same reason.
Just because you scouted out a particular buck a few weeks before the season doesn’t always mean he will be there come opening day. Once the hunt opens, staying mobile and moving around to some of your backup spots in that general area gives you greater opportunity to locate him. Plus, you never know what you might find when you start to dig through backup spots, as another solid deer could emerge.
If there’s one thing that can greatly improve your chance at taking the buck of a lifetime, it is scouting. While I love hunting as many days as possible (each day you are learning something which can be applied to future hunts), it means something special to find the buck you’ve been scouting on opening day. It means you have done your homework and have put in some sweat equity. Finding that buck on opening day takes a little discipline, knowledge of mule deer and the habitat they live in, and ultimately, a little luck.