Patrick Meitin has degrees in journalism and range and wildlife management. He’s been an outdoor writer, specializing in bowhunting, for more than 20 years. An expert with both traditional and modern archery equipment, Meitin lives in northern Idaho with his wife, Gwyn, and their two Labrador retrievers.
Bowhunting Early Season, High-Country Mule Deer
Right now and in the weeks ahead, bowhunters are headed to the high country in search of velvet-antlered mule deer. During early bow seasons, the biggest Rocky Mountain mule deer inhabit the highest timberline elevations. Such open habitat makes long-range glassing extremely rewarding, but also adds a high degree of challenge to stalking endeavors.
Arriving with a high-objective, 10-power glass puts you ahead of the game, models in the 10x40 to 10x50 class best suited to these vast landscapes. A spotting scope is also invaluable, saving your legs while sizing up distant bucks or inspecting a far-away blob.
Alpine habitat quickly teaches you to use binoculars efficiently. Random sweeps will net few sightings, while systematic approaches assure you miss fewer animals. This is especially important when glassing great distances or seeking tightly bedded bucks. Movement is especially telling, but hunters should also seek shiny spots, patches of off color or horizontal back lines in verticle trees.
Finding a big buck is only the first step. Planning your stalk is second -- slipping into range and taking your shot dead last. To plan a sensible plan of approach, you'll need to assess wind direction and potential "wind traps," places where prevailing wind direction might change due to shade or terrain. Mountain breezes are dictated by temperature. Cool air flows downhill (normally early and late in the day, or in heavily shaded areas). Warm air flows uphill (such as a sunny hillside or heat-absorbing rock slides). Planning stalks also means avoiding obviously noisy ground, open places that could give you away from afar, or prohibitively thick and noisy brush.
Most importantly before setting out, earmark key landmarks to help you locate your chosen target once again, especially if that buck occupies tight cover or when circling widely.
Stalking is always a matter of timing. A traveling or feeding buck might require instant action and quick thinking. Spotting an early morning buck in relatively open terrain might invite more patience. I like to allow morning bucks to bed when I'm assured of keeping track of them, eliminating a bit of guesswork. During early seasons this normally occurs by 10 a.m., but I give them more time still, and watch them closely. Around noon, bucks normally rise, stretch and chose a new bed. Only after a buck selects his second bed do I proceed, assured he'll likely stay put several hours.
Stalking is an art form. It's part patientce, part thinking on your feet; keeping constant tabs on wind, always choosing the quietest ground for each step and avoiding the urge to rush. I normally don a pair of "stalking slippers" to quieten my steps. On more challenging ground, I may remove my boots altogether and proceed in wool socks.
Getting within range of a buck is one thing; getting a clean shot is another. Don't push things once in range; be willing to sit tight and await developments. Press the issue and you'll blow it. Wait for that buck to rise from his bed on his own and you'll be presented a calm, stationary target.
The shooting is up to you.