Mule Deer Rut Hunt Rundown
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.