2016 Montana Mule Deer Hunt
I assumed that waiting to hunt Montana in mid November would put me in primetime for some cold weather and rutting bucks. Well The bucks were definitely in the rut, but it was hotter than it was for early season bowhunting.
I set up at a range in North Dakota on my way to make sure I was sighted in. I bought a new type of bullet and was thinking about switching from my old trusty Remington CoreLokt 130gr bullets to Winchester Deer Season XP also in 130gr. After putting a few of each downrange my CoreLokt’s were hitting closer to center, but they were not grouping very well. My Deer Season XP’s were hitting 5 inches high at 100 but with four shots in a group the size of a golf ball I decided to switch to Winchester this season.
I waited to leave for North Dakota so I would be able to drive through some of the country that I might be hunting, and possibly find some of the main areas the deer are moving through. It was just before sunset and I started seeing deer all over. Most of the deer I saw were in small groups of does and bucks. After a few more miles of seeing small groups of deer and small bucks I came across a group of deer right off the road with a really nice buck.
The first morning Mark, his brother Joel and I took off early for my first day of mule deer hunting for the year. We spent the first hour of the morning glassing of some coulees from the road. Then after not seeing many deer (at least nothing worth going after) we found a good looking coulee to walk down.
There wasn’t much deer sign to be found, but it only took 20 minutes of walking to find a medium sized 3x3 buck standing by himself on the side of a hill. I walked up within 100 yards of him to see if he had a big brother with him, but he seemed to be alone, so we kept walking. We stopped to glass another half mile up the coulee and must have been upwind of a buck that caught our wind and bolted.
This was the hottest weather I have ever spot-and-stalk hunting in by far, which was especially weird being that it was late November in Montana and I’ve had years of blizzards, below 0, snowy and windy. So stripping down to a t-shirt and still sweating was a different experience.
We decided to try a different area on the second day looking for more secluded area that may hold bigger deer.
After a few minutes of glassing we saw a few groups of does way off, but since most groups of does had a buck with them, we spent some extra time glassing, looking for antlers. We drove a walked a little further up and spotted two more deer feeding on the side of a hill close to 800 yards away. I only watched these deer for a few seconds when one of the deer lifted its head up, along with a huge rack of antlers shining in the sun. It was still a ways away, but as soon as I saw him I new that was a buck I wanted to go after. He seemed to be 4x4 with kickers that was 2 feet wide. After a few minutes he decided to bed down right were he was. We were still able to see the top of his antlers as his doe fed out in front of him.
They were in a very tough spont to get up on, and we only had two options for getting closer. One was dropping down into the draw below them, or circling all the way around the back of the hill, which would be nearly a mile or more of walking.
After waying the pros and cons of each path we decided to take the draw below them that would leave us exposed for the first couple hundred yards, but allow us to take more of a direct path. We just popped over the first ridge on our stalk and noticed that the bedded buck was now standing. We couldn’t believe the buck had noticed us, but didn’t know why he would be getting jumpy, then, the doe walked back over the ridge with the moster buck right behind her.
We walked down towards them to see if they would have bedded down on the backside of the ridge, but when we got closer we heard a strange noise. We looked over and saw two hunters that had set up camp 400 yards from where those deer were. They seemed to be tearing down camp and must have scared those deer out of the area.
There are many variables that can ruin your hunt, some you can control and some you cannot. This was one of the latter. Anything that ruins a stalk, especially on a big mature mule can leave a pit in your stomach, but that is part of hunting and what makes finding a big mature mule deer extra special.
We went further down in to the hunting area past where the other hunters were camping, and after glassing for a few hours and only seeing a handful of deer we decided to go on a hike, which is usually the best way to hunt, but it was over 70 degrees and sunny, only a few minutes in I was soaked in sweat.
Mark, Joel and I all split up and went down separate coulees. We were in the area that the big buck from the morning stock may have ran off to, so I was hoping to run into him again. I walked down the bottom of the coullee and after a few hundred yards I looked over in some thick brush a a nice 4x4 was standing 25 yards from me staring right at me. If I hadn’t just seen an even bigger buck that morning I would have shot this buck, but because I was extra picky, and the fact that I could only see the bucks head and neck I decided to pass him up. After a few minutes of staring at each other he took off along with a doe that I never noticed was with him.
On our third morning of hunting we hunting a small chunk of state land that looked like it wouldn’t get much hunting pressure. It had a few really nice looking draws that we could walk down the bottom of and glass. It didn’t take long before we found a group of muleys running across the top of one of the hills. We walked a little further and looked up to see two hunters walking across the top of the hill and towards where the group of deer were.
By this day I was looking for anything bigger than a forkhorn. This was somehow becoming harder than I thought it would be.
After getting pushed out of land that we thought for sure no other hunters would be we headed back towards the land we saw a few bucks the first morning. On our way there we spotted two small bucks in a coulee not far off the road. We decided to make a stalk.
We just started walking around the top of the coulee they were standing and the smaller buck ran up to the top, spotted us and ran away. I didn’t know if the other buck new we there so I jogged up to the top of the coulee and looked down. The bigger buck was gone. Mark and Joel had walked further up the coulee and must have spotted him as they waved me over. I ran over, but just as I got there Joel said he saw the buck run off. Fooled once again.
On our way back we decided to hunt some land I had hunted a few years ago. As we drove through the main road next to the Block Management Area we started seeing tons of animals. Pheasants, mule deer, and whitetails covered the landscape.
Today was my last day of hunting mule deer and I was looking for anything with antlers.
I hit the road early to find good deep coulee to make an all day hike on. I had just gotten into public land when a deer ran out in front of me. It was not a big buck, but he passed my antler criteria I had decided on earlier. I quickly grabbed my gun and extended the bipod. The buck was with a group of deer, but he was the last in the bunch. He stopped roughly 100 yards from me and turned back. I was surrounded by tall grass and wouldn’t be able to make a laying down shot. I extended my bipod legs so I could shoot sitting down. I quickly settled my crosshairs right behind his front leg and pulled the trigger. It all happened extremely fast. The buck ran a few yards and tipped over.