Mule Deer Rut Hunt Rundown

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While writing my last entry on easy hunts, I felt that doing a late season or mule deer rut hunt was just too large of a topic to cover in a single paragraph. There are many aspects to mule deer rut hunting, especially as a trophy hunt, but here I wanted to focus on finding those mid to late November and early December hunts for an easier hunt.

Three aspects make these hunts a higher success opportunity. One is the seeking phase of the rut. Bucks will be more actively looking for does, and therefore on the move a little more, increasing their visibility. Two, they tend to congregate in areas of increased visibility during the rut, as winter ranges are not usually heavily timbered. Three, there are simply more deer in a smaller area.  All of these factors combine to typically increase success by 10 to 20% (sometimes much, much more) in a unit from say a mid October Colorado 2nd season hunt to a mid November 4th season hunt.

This will not be about trophy hunting specifically, but just finding hunts that will up your odds on mule deer.  Your opportunity to kill an older buck is usually highest during these later seasons, but there are just going to be a lot more deer in a smaller area, giving you the opportunity to be selective.  So let’s confine this entry to finding those later season opportunities to simply get into more deer, not as a trophy hunting method.  So this is neither a meat hunt, nor a trophy hunt article, as the meat hunters prefer to not shoot bucks in the rut.  That’s personally never bothered me, but if you can taste the difference, then this probably isn’t a tactic for you.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s focus on upping your odds of success on mule deer by hunting in the later seasons.  Here in Colorado, the latest mule deer buck seasons for the western half of the state is what we call 4th season.  The eastern plains have a December season, but public land is severely limited, so you’ll need to choose your spots wisely, even around the National Grasslands.  Tags are also extremely limited, so it can take several preference points for most of the better units.  This is why I find 3rd season to be a good compromise, as I can draw a lot of good units with 0 to 2 points, and still get in on some migratory and rutting deer.

In Wyoming, most units have mid October seasons, but since nearly every unit has a different season, I’ll just throw out a handful of the later one hunts for you to think about.  For starters, you have the Region A tag, which is through late November in the Black Hills country, which is also Wyoming’s highest deer density.  Up near Cody you have several units which extend their seasons extend into mid November, and plenty of BLM and lower Forest Service to hunt them on.

Montana has no special late season mule deer buck hunts that I know of, but their general season goes until Thanksgiving anyway.  So taking advantage of the later hunts here is as simple as drawing the deer license, and hunting a later season near some good winter range.  Some of the better deer country up there is along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, and most of those units do not require a separate special drawing.

Utah has very little for the hunter looking to take advantage of a later hunt.  Basically, you only have the La Sal-Delores Triangle late buck hunt in late November through early December if you exclude the muzzleloader options.  And good luck drawing that hunt.

Nevada offers some later season options not just to get at migrating mule deer, but also for wintering bucks.  Some of the units, such as 15, 21, 81, 194 and 196 have a practically unheard of late December to early January buck hunt.  I’m not sure of the rationale for these hunts, but nevertheless, this is an opportunity to get bucks on their wintering grounds.

Idaho has quite a few later season hunts available.  There’s practically nothing available with a general tag, unless you are whitetail hunting, and since this is a muley-focused article, I’ll stick to them.  Idaho’s controlled hunts are the way to go if you’re trying to get in on the mule deer rut, but there’s quite a large selection, so narrowing it down is a little difficult.  So, sticking to areas with good low elevation access and decent deer densities, you’ll find units on the west end of the Tetons, around Rexburg and Driggs to be good options.  Other interesting late hunts include the Southwest, in the Owyhee country, and even along the Snake River in units 22 or 31.  One nice thing for nonresidents is that Idaho does not presently use a preference system, so you won’t ever feel like you have no shot at a license if you haven’t been applying for the last 20 years.

In New Mexico, there is very little available past early November in the northern half of the state, except for youth hunts.  However, in the southern half of the state, where the rut and migration comes a little later, there are some seasons that go into December and even January (unit 32).

California has a few special hunts outside of the regular seasons, most of which have abysmal success rates.  Probably the most famous of these is the X9B Gooddale Buck Hunt in December, going after migrating deer coming out of the Eastern Sierras.  The Anderson Flat and Kern River hunts are other high success propositions on public land for late season deer hunters.

Like most of the Western States, Oregon’s deer seasons occur in early to mid October.  However, the White River, Hood and Mt. Emily units have late November hunts that you can take advantage of.  But the draw odds are pretty steep on all of these.

Washington has no true late season mule deer hunts in November on the general tag, but they do have a few whitetail hunts.  Since we are sticking to mulies, let’s just focus on the controlled hunts.  Of their controlled hunts, there’s quite a large selection of muley tags available, and it would be impossible to really go over them all.  In Eastern Washington, there’s a pretty extensive selection of late season hunts in quality areas.  I’ll have to admit that I don’t know Washington deer hunting well enough at this time to make any kind of recommendation, and none of those tags are being drawn with less than four points.

Arizona has an extensive selection of units with November and December hunts.  But if you stick with some of the known hot spots in Northern Arizona, like 13A or 13B, you’ll find that the regular rifle season hunts already occur in mid November.

So there’s most of your options for a later season hunt in the 11 western states.  Many of these are difficult to draw, but extremely popular due to the chance of getting at both migrating and rutting deer.


niceshot_smitty's picture

that was a great read.  I

that was a great read.  I would like to say that the rut in northern New Mexico is around the last week of November tell middle of December where i live.  All the bucks are back together by the 1st of the year.  The southern part of the state the rut is middle of December tell the middle to end of January.  there are some good hunting down south if you like to hunt with a bow. 

hunter25's picture

Great article! The fourth

Great article! The fourth season is my absolute favorite if and when I finally have enough points to draw one close to home. I hunt in 444 and the last time I drew it took 3 points but it was definately worth it. It looks like it may only take 2 points this last year as they upped the tags from 10 to 25. I thought I might even have a chance woth one point but it didn't happen. Thwe only thing I don't like is there is only a two day gap between the third and fourth now that thwy added the 2 extra days so the animals don't have much time to settle down. Also I usually apply second choice for the third but they didn't issue any of those this year. Good thing I applied for the second for the first time ever. I would like mto find out if they are going to do it the same way next year though.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

First of all, HOLY MOLY!!!! 

First of all, HOLY MOLY!!!!  Where is that last photo from?  Is it a stock photo, or did you or someone you know take the photo?  That thing is a beast!!!!

Thanks for another great article!  Always fun reading your stuff and learning some ins and outs of western hunting.  I seriously will re-read all of these articles when preparing for a hunt next fall.  I did see one thing that interested me.  You say that the rut in Colorado can line up with the second season?  That's a great thing.  I didn't expect to have a chance at hunting during the rut while I was there.  I knew the elk would pretty much be over, but I did not even think about the mule deer.

Out here in California, our rifle opener was Saturday.  One of my buddies got a nice 3x2, which he said was closely following a doe.  I think it's pre-rut, but a cold snap may kick things into high gear!

Thanks again for the article!

The Western Hunter's picture

I took that photo

I took it locally about two weeks ago, but it was almost totally dark and the camera was struggling.  He was in a group of 3 or four other bucks, one of which is pretty nice too, but not quite that big.

Ca_Vermonster's picture

Thanks!  I would fall over if

Thanks!  I would fall over if I saw that one.... lol

Retired2hunt's picture

  I am a little disappointed


I am a little disappointed Mark as I thought you were going to give me the same large learning curve for my home state of hunting as you have done in the past... and I don't think you did provide that this time.  I was looking for you to provide specific GMU's for me to look at for 3rd rifle season.  Instead you are going to make me do some of my own homework to review those 0 to 2 preference point units and make me decide on my own.  That is okay as I truly like the scouting of areas as much as the hunting of them.  You just didn't provide the learning curve "cheat code" that I was expecting from your article as I have advanced on from your other articles.

But all of that is okay.  Right now I am not interested in the other 10 western states but will use your advice later when I am ready to venture outside of Colorado for other success involving late season Mule Deer.

What I do appreciate is that your info is based on harvest period and getting into more deer - not on a trophy and not on meat alone... but on harvest.

Thanks for your vast information and a focus that is not one-sided.  I will use your advice to assist me and my new hunting partner in harvesting deer later in the season.





numbnutz's picture

Great Article. I would like

Great Article. I would like to add in Oregon the #1 late season rut hunt for Mulies is the Metolious unit. For a resisdent it will take 13 points to draw the tag. The bag limit is one deer and the season runs right through the rut. A hunter has a great chance of scoring a 180" buck or bigger. That unit has produced some very nice bucks recently however the most record book animals come out of that unit durning the general archery hunt in Sept. With all the late hunts Oregon offers the draw odds are pretty steep and will take years to draw. I'll have to check but I think they only issue 10 tags for those hunts each. But if you can hold out for a tag the potential to take a great buck is great. I have been building my points for the Metolious tag and just hunting on an OTC archery tag, I can still have a great rut hunt for blacktails on the west side of the state. Thanks for the article Mark. I love reading your stuff.