In flat farm country climb to the top of a haystack, tractor, or barn for a better view of the surrounding crops.
“We’ve killed some real gaggers in and around agriculture,” says Alberta outfitter Billy Franklin of Silver Sage Outfitters. Gagger is Canadian for a BIG muley buck and Franklin’s hunting areas are certainly home to some dandies. I’m talking bucks that score 170 and up. Hunting in and around alfalfa and corn have produced some exceptional bucks for Franklin’s archery clients in the months of September and October.
The last two years in a row I’ve managed to tag big bucks while hunting with guide Shaun Steidel. Shaun and I located my September 1999 buck in a herd of 13 bucks leaving an alfalfa field at first light. We followed the herd of bucks until they bedded out in some rolling terrain on the prairie. By stalking into the wind and waiting for the bedded 12-point to stand I got a 30-yard shot later that afternoon. My September 2000 Alberta buck—a wide, perfect 4x4 in fuzzy velvet—was discovered late in the afternoon bedded in a knee-high alfalfa field. By crawling down a shallow rut in the deep alfalfa I managed to get a 42-yard shot in the last minutes of shooting light.
Mule deer are every bit as opportunistic as whitetails when it comes to visiting man-made groceries. I’ve seen muleys visit alfalfa, corn, milo, wheat and even chili pepper fields in locales like Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Alberta. Hunting around agriculture can be a good tactic in both early and late season depending on the availability of native feed.
The classic scenario for hunting mule deer involves snow-capped mountains, wide basins and little oxygen. Hunting high country muleys is a great way to get away from the crowds, but typically it involves lots of work. You will either be carrying your camp on your back or else you’ll need a string of horses and pack mules to get you to unspoiled country. Early season mountain hunts can be combined with elk in some locations, which makes the hunt twice as much fun.
The author in a simple mountain backpack camp. Such Spartan camps are typical when carrying everything on your back at high elevations.
Basic strategy for a high-country hunt involves hiking to a good vantage point before light in the morning. At the first hint of light you start dissecting the surrounding basins and slopes with binoculars and spotting scopes. Once a suitable buck is located, it’s usually a good decision to watch the buck until he beds for the day and then execute a careful stalk. Taking off your boots and stalking in sock feet for the last 100 yards is always a good idea. Don’t forget to keep track of non-target deer that might be bedded near your buck. Unseen does and dink bucks are probably the biggest reason for stalks to blow apart. Colorado’s steep Rocky Mountains immediately come to mind when I think of a classic mountain mule deer hunt, but other states like Idaho, Wyoming and Montana can fit the classic backpack or horseback hunt at high elevations for wide-racked bucks as well.
The government’s CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) was first implemented over a decade ago to encourage farmers to put highly erodable fields back into native pasture. The program not only benefited the land, but also wildlife. On my family’s ranch in the Texas Panhandle we put some of our farmland into CRP back in 1988. Since then I’ve seen mule deer use these grassy fields for travel corridors to reach distant agriculture, I’ve seen them feed on weeds growing in the grasses, and I’ve seen them use the fields for bedding cover. I’ve shot two dandy 4x4 bucks in CRP fields and seen dozens of others cross the fields and bed in them.
Like farmland, the land around CRP fields is usually flat so finding a high vantage point to glass the fields can be tough. I either climb into the back of my pickup and glass from the top of the cab of the truck or climb onto a barn or windmill tower to give me a bird’s eye view. First and last light are the best times to catch muleys crossing CRP corridors. If you find a buck that beds in the grass it’s usually a simple matter of getting the wind right and crawling to him to get a shot. I know of other hunters who have scored on CRP muleys in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.
Next: Tactics For Ground Blinds, Treestands, Waterholes