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First Successful Mule Deer Hunt- Southern NM

I harvested my first mule deer ever on Monday morning.  I grew up in lower SC hunting whitetails, doing a lot of dog hunting and "still hunting" which in SC means sitting in a tree stand usually over a corn pile (which is completely legal and even encouraged by Game and Fish there) vice the "slow stalk" meaning given to the term in the rest of the country.  I had previously hunted mule deer in Unit 34 and 30 of NM with no success, so I decided to try something new.  I talked to a member here who regularly hunted Unit 30.  He had a region he usually went to that kept him reasonably clear of the hordes of hunters who descend on the National Forest.  I followed his advice and drove out there a couple times to ride around and glass and get the lay of the land.  No luck on getting away from the hunters... gobs of them were riding the roads and trails in trucks or UTVs.

The first morning of the drawn tag hunt, the first rifle hunt of the area, my buddy and I rode out before dark the 7 miles from his RV camper to the area we were going to hunt.  We parked the truck and walked another mile and a half.  At sunrise, we started glassing the hill on the far side of the canyon pretty hard.  Around 8:30 AM I spotted a small pair of bucks grazing between 1000 and 1200 yards away.  Too far for my rangefinder, but I ranged some nearer objects that looked about halfway between us and them.  We watched them for 30 minutes through the spotting scope and some 15X binoculars until they laid down.  I gave them another 15 minutes then dropped down  the next gulley over and worked my way across the canyon. 

As I was coming up the far side, I saw a truck heading towards them on the hill.  I flagged them down and asked  them if they would wait 15 minutes so I could try and get a shot on these two.  They agreed and I headed towards the deer, texting my buddy who was keeping an eye on them.  No response on the phone as he had fallen asleep.  I managed to come out just above them on the ridge line, resulting in the wind blowing directly on them.  I'd showered and used scent control that morning, but the hike over had worked up a little stink and at 25 yards, I saw the little one, a 3 point so barely legal you'd swear it still had spots popped up and bounded out of sight, presenting only its ass to me.  A few seconds later I saw the bigger one, a small 5 or 6 point headed across the next ridge line on the same side of the canyon I was, roughly 200 yards away.  He was hauling the mail, presenting only a tail shot (I believe that's referred to as a Texas heart shot?).  He dropped over the ridge line and I decided to walk in his direction. 

Two ridgelines and 20 minutes later, a buck popped up at 80 yards and went sideways on me.  I got my rifle up but he was low enough that only his head and horns were presenting.  I'm not one to take a moving head shot on a deer at 80 yards but I ran over to try  and see him as he went up the far side of the gulley to cross the next ridge and he had disappeared.

We didn't see any bucks the following day, but tried to sit the lake in the evening.  It had rained a lot the previous few months and last week, but we were out of ideas for the evening hunt.  After sitting there for 30 minutes, a truck pulled up and two old farts sat directly on the lake with their rifles.  We decided to move onward to try and glass the canyon at dusk but no luck.

My buddy didn't wake up the next morning so I headed off alone.  I parked about a mile from the lake  (really a 1 acre pond) and walked to it, glassing it at sunrise but no luck.  After just a few minutes of shootable daylight I headed to the south to try and glass across the southern canyon.  I bumped out a hundred yards on a ridgeline extending southward into the canyon and started glassing.  After about 15 minutes I heard stones rattling in the gulley next to the ridge.  I swung over and glassed and spotted a small buck at 200 yards. 

It's Day 3, I haven't had any chances at a bigger buck, only two more days in the hunt.  It's either shoot or risk going home to an empty freezer.  I grabbed the rifle, went prone, and popped it in the shoulder.  It dropped instantly.  I went over to it and saw it was still breathing and tried to lift its head.  I'd left my .22 pistol home that morning, which I had taken the previous two mornings, so I shot it right behind the head, blowing a huge hole and actually cracking the skull plate to put it down.

I had grown up on a dog hunting club and cleaning deer had always been a team effort.  Once I got old enough to drive, I typically just drove the deer whole to the meat processor and payed the extra $30 for them to skin it.  My recent hunting experiences had usually been with friends or occasionally with a guide.  So... great!  I'm in the woods and have to gut and load the critter by myself.  I'd purchased a "Butt Out" tool recently so I brought up youtube on how to use it then gut a deer.  Wow!  That looks easy!  I put on my latex gloves and went to town.  10 minutes later, the guts were neatly out of the critter and I'd rolled it to get the blood pooling in the cavity out.  Not that hard!

I retrieved my ATV and drove it cross country over the hill about 400 yards to where I'd downed the deer.  I loaded it right up onto the back of the ATV and drove it down to camp then packed it in the giant 150 qt ice chest I'd purchased.  Perfect fit!
 

My buddy and I drove home then I went over to my guy who processes my meat.  They weren't home so I hung it, brought up a Youtube video on how to skin deer, and went to town.  40 minutes later, it was hanging in the closet.  I know some people can skin one in 10 or 15 minutes but for a first time solo attempt, it went really well.  I was quite pleased with myself.  I called the meat processor yesterday and told his wife I'd come over and skin any deer they have brought in this weekend for them so I can practice and get better.

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Congradulations on your first

Congradulations on your first mulie, and it doesn't look like you did too bad of a job with the rest of it either. 

One thing that you will find with skinning a animal is that the skin will come off a lot easier if the body is still warm and not iced down.  Where I hunt the weather is usually quite cool and we don't bother with a cooler and ice unless we are hunting pronghorns.  Then we will skin them first and then place them into the cooler with the ice. 

You also might want to check the regulations for the area that you are hunting before putting down a animal with a .22Lr.  In most western states it is illegal to do it with that small of a caliber, and if you do use one to put tha animal down it must be a claiber that is legal to hunt with. 

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Thanks for feedback

Critter wrote:

Congradulations on your first mulie, and it doesn't look like you did too bad of a job with the rest of it either. 

One thing that you will find with skinning a animal is that the skin will come off a lot easier if the body is still warm and not iced down.  Where I hunt the weather is usually quite cool and we don't bother with a cooler and ice unless we are hunting pronghorns.  Then we will skin them first and then place them into the cooler with the ice. 

You also might want to check the regulations for the area that you are hunting before putting down a animal with a .22Lr.  In most western states it is illegal to do it with that small of a caliber, and if you do use one to put tha animal down it must be a claiber that is legal to hunt with. 

Thanks for the feedback Critter.  I'd heard that getting Muleys cooled ASAP was important due to the already very gamey quality of the meat but maybe that's just just rural legend.  I understand what you're saying about the use of .22LR but surely a game warden would apply common sense?  The deer was downed with .270WSM but my .22 would have been just as humane and less chance of meat damage for the mercy shot. 

I guess I could have skinned it out when I got back to camp before putting it on ice... but I didn't have a hanging rack.  I guess I could have done it on a tarp?  Question for you... if I put a skinned deer on ice, should the ice be in bags or is it ok for the deer to soak in the icewater?

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Game wardens usually don't

Game wardens usually don't have much leway when it comes to how a animal was dispatched in the field.  While some would possibly look the other way others would dig out the ticket book along with confinscating the meat and weapon to boot, so it just isn't worth it.  Now if you were packing a .357 mag, .41 mag, .44 mag or anyother firearm that was legal to hunt with nothing would be said.  Even if you are bow hunting you can not shoot a downed animal with a pistol. 

The big thing about the meat is to get it cooled as soon as possible.  Even if it is warm during the day and cool at night the deer will do just fine hanging in a tree to cool off properly with a good game bag around it to keep the flies off of it.  Placing it in a cooler is fine also but I would have the ice in solid plastic bags or frozen gallon milk jugs to keep the water off of the meat, and with the drain plug on the cooler pulled.  All I have ever done with both mule deer and elk is to just skin them as soon as possible and hang them in a tree while I am in camp, which can be up to a week.  Now if I plan on having a butcher take care of the meat and they are close I will get the meat to them as soon as possible, but I usually butcher my own meat. 

SGM
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Congratulations on your first

Congratulations on your first mule deer. You are right about cooling an animal as soon as possible but if you skin them out first they will cool faster as the heat can leave the body cavity in all directions.

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Good feedback folks!

SGM wrote:

Congratulations on your first mule deer. You are right about cooling an animal as soon as possible but if you skin them out first they will cool faster as the heat can leave the body cavity in all directions.

 

Ah!  That makes sense!  Lesson learned! 

I'm hoping to get some more practice soon!  I've got a cow elk tag coming up in two weeks. 

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If you think that the deer

If you think that the deer was fun wait until you get a elk onto the ground. 

I will usually gut it right where it lays, just like a deer.  I'll then skin one side up to the back where I can start working on the legs and back.  First I'll take the front legs off and then using the skinned hide as a tarp I'll roll it over onto the hide and do the same thing to the other side.  I'll then cut the hinds off and then split them into two pieces.  Cut the neck off at the start of the front shoulders and then cut the ribs a couple of inches below the back bone. 

Now you will have two front shoulders, two hind quarters, the back with both backstraps and tenderloins, the lower ribs, and the neck to put into game bags and start to pack out.  If any of the pieces are too large just cut them to where you can handle them.  I have packed out a whole bull elk in as few as 6 pieces and as many as 8.  Cows usually come out in 4-6 depending on their size.

To cool the meat while you are cutting it up place the pieces up on sticks where air can get around the whole piece or better yet hang it in a bush or tree in the shade.

Has anyone ever told you that the fun is over with a elk after you pull the trigger and they are on the ground? 

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Good luck with the elk hunt

Good luck with the elk hunt and like Critter said, you have not had fun gutting and packing until you have done an elk or two. I butcher elk similar to how Critter described and hang in a tree as soon as I take off each quarter until time to pack out. As for the loose meat I like to put it in a bag and lay on log so the air gets to all side. If you just throw all the loose meat in a bag there will be meat that never gets to cool properly and can spoil. Also if you do hit a bone be sure to clean that area well cutting any bone fragments out and any blood shocked meat or it can also spoil quickly. I understand moose are even more fun than elk but have yet had the pleasure

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upcoming elk hunt

I've previously filled a cow tag but I had a very experienced fellow guiding me and we simply gutted it, loaded it on the truck then later boned it out.  Boning it out was a pain and, to be truthful, I wish we had simply quartered it.  If we get one this trip, I'd like to actually keep the meat on the ribs and try smoking the ribs in a drum smoker. 

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Great first mulie! Congrats!

Great first mulie! Congrats!

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Congrats !

Congrats on a great first muley and getting it done !

Quinton