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.