A simple answer here would be to just say, hit the unit with the highest success rate. And in this case, that's unit 37. Success rates are an indication of access to game, but can be inflated by private land hunting. Not much more than 13% separates 37 from the lowest success unit in 18.
It's never as simple as just going over the numbers, and a subjective recommendation with limited perspective isn't always very useful either. For me, terrain and landownership patterns play a big role in deciding when to hunt and where to hunt for deer and elk. There is a ton of public land to hunt here, but not a ton along the major rivers and agricultural fields where your deer densities will be highest. So, that brings up another decision you're gong to have to make, in terms of deciding which unit works best for you: HOW do you want to hunt them?
Are you planning on glassing ridges with some openings? Are you hoping to creep in alongside a public/private land boundary where the deer are concentrated? Do you want to ambush them on high mountain trails in the timber? Are you going to still hunt the big timber, or aspen stands? Are you going to gamble on the weather holding out so you can glass the high country basins?
If I remember right, you were a whitetail hunter from the midwest orginally? Does that mean you'd be more comfortable trying an ambush type approach? You tell me.
Also, is this going to be a deer only hunt, or are you going to add a leftover cow tag?
Anyway, you've got four different units you can hunt: 18, 28, 37, 371. You've also got a 37/371 1st rifle bull tag if I remember right. So I can understand not wanting to have to scout more units than those two.
Or are you just wanting to focus on the elk scouting, and hoping you find a good pocket of deer in 1st season to come back to the next week?
It sounds like you've at least been out there recently, so you should know there's a tremendous mix of high, alpine country, dark timber-mostly beetle killed, agricultural country along the rivers, and dry BLM canyons. There are also a few large stands of aspens, pinyon-juniper, scrub oaks and the usual middle elevation habitat types. Lastly, there is also quite a bit of logging activity to remove the dead timber, which is creating artificial openings in some places and therefore creating better deer habitat.
In 37 and 371, you have a ton of ground you can hunt deer in, but not a lot of it is huntable, the way I like to hunt in 2nd season. There's just a staggering amount of high mountain country and the surrounding dark timber that I have a difficult time deer hunting in. You may not, maybe you're good at picking a good stand location, or sitting on a deer trail.
For me, I'd probably avoid the larger mountains and the dark timber in favor of some of the foothills and drier canyons and BLM country and also check out available public lands where I can get close to deer concentrations. I wouldn't care what unit it was in, as long as it's legal in one of the four available units. And since there isn't a huge separation in success rates, I'd focus on finding the kind of huntable ground (for my style) that I just mentioned. Another alternative, especially if I was going to be elk hunting also, would be to take a closer look at the logged areas. Maybe find one that's about 2-4 years old (the forest service can help you with that) that has some good regrowth in it.
Most hunters in 2nd season are going to be elk hunting and tromping around the timber, so you shouldn't have too much pressure on those smaller parcels of public land at lower elevations, but there likely will be quite a few people sitting around the cuts if it's not too far from a driveable road. Gates close off access to many of those timber cuttings so, that can help a little bit.
Some of the areas that I'd immediately cross off the list would be anything south of I70 in unit 37. All that Breckenridge country is going to make for tough deer hunting and there isn't even much for logging activity. Along those same lines, I'd pretty much cross off anything in the Eagle's Nest Wilderness, Ptarmigan Peak Wilderness, Byers Peak and Vazquez Peak Wilderness Areas. Those are all dark timber or high mountain basins, neither of which I'd target for a second season hunt. Of course there are deer in there, just not the way I want to hunt them. I'd forget about the Fraser Experimental Forest unless you were interested in sitting logged areas, but most of it is still heavy timber.
So what's that leave you? Foothills of the Gore Range, Williams Fork Mountains, and Vazquez Mountain where you can find logged country and some open foothills. Some small public parcels or narrow access points where you can slip around the private lands along the Blue River and Williams Fork. Some of the dry canyons and hills and small mountains along the Colorado River near Hot Sulphur, Granby and Parshall, where you can also slip behind some irrigated agriculture. The BLM also comes quite close to Tabernash along the Fraser River. Some of the Troublesome Creek Country (on the east side, west of it is unit 181), and the East Fork Canyons. Parts of Willow Creek, etc, etc, etc.
I could go on, but that should give you an indication of the kind of country that I'm looking for when deer hunting units like those.
I tend to agree. There are deer and elk high up in the timber in those units, but some of that higher dark timber and high mountain terrain can be a real pain for hunting mulies during rifle season. I prefere to hunt Mule Deer in other types of terrain. Keep in mind that in late October on the higher mountain ridges both sides of Hwy 9 you're rolling the dice as to how well the weather will hold, it can be good or bad. If a heavy snow storm comes in, and you're far away from a road high up, there is no way you will be able to get out fast enough, so be prepared for that. Up high that time of year, just don't get so far in that you can't get out quickly is all I'm suggesting.
One more thing I thought I'd add is that the success rate numbers can be very misleading even in a unit that is mostly public lands. You have to take a few notes out of the season and make a few observations. These numbers don't mean that there are or aren't game in there, it just means that only a certain % of hunters filled their tags. There could be a great many reasons for this. Just take a look at the terrain in these areas, look at the terrain where the game are likely to take refuge. Is it difficult to get in and out of? How far to those areas from the nearest access point? How hard are most of the hunters in this until hunting? Who are you competing with in these units? Personally I take a look at a lot of hunter everywhere I go i.e. sportmans events, shows, seminars, sporting goods shops, gun shops, shooting ranges, and best of all when standing in line for OTC or left-over tags. A good majority of hunters today I notice are an older aging crowd, but young or old, from my observation a good many hunters don't appear to me to be in the best of shape physically. Not to be too critical, but I see an awful lot of out of shape and overweight to obese hunters and it makes me wonder just how far away from a road or the truck these guys really get when they hunt? Or how hard they really hunt? This is one reason I don't place too much emphisis on these success percentage rates when selecting a game unit. Plus there are just a whole lot more things available to look at in a GMU that tell you a whole lot more that just the previous years success rate.
I learned this the hard way last year. If you're hunting in an area with lots of bear activity, it's a great idea to stash your food and water up in a tree. I like to wrap everything in a tarp and tie it between two trees. Don't just tie it up in one tree but tie it in between two trees at least 15 feet in the air. I thought I had my backpacking camp's food supply stashed pretty well last year. I returned to camp during the first weekend of archery to find all my food destroyed. Make sure...