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The Return of the Mountain Mule Deer

According to the late American Astronomer Carl Sagan, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” Over 10 years ago, the space probe Philae was launched from earth unnoticed by most, if not all mule deer hunters.

hi69 md pkendall 01Think back on the past 10 years of mule deer and mule deer hunting. Probably most noteworthy are the advances in modern hunting equipment. Humans are incredibly adaptive and efficient predators. Necessity no longer drives our predatory instincts like it has since the beginning of man. We do not need to kill mule deer in order to survive; yet something inside each of us drives us to become better at it each and every year.

Laser range finders, improved optics, better bullet construction, and a better understanding of external ballistics by the common hunter has changed the landscape of modern mule deer hunting. From ATVs, GPS imaging, and advances in everything from outerwear, to boots, to apps on our phones, together they have taken us to the next level in hunting evolution.

Who knows what the next 10 years will bring.

On November 12, 2014, the space probe Philae achieved the first ever soft landing on a comet nucleus millions of miles away. That’s really something if you think about it. Man can land a piece of metal on a rock hurling through space, but we can’t tell you with any certainty where you should be hunting mule deer this year.

Starting around November 29, 2007, a massive winter storm pounded much of the Intermountain West with freezing cold temperatures and huge amounts of snow. For over a week it dumped snow all over mountain mule deer country. When all was said and done on December 5th, the storm had unloaded nearly four feet of snow on Colorado’s Wolf Creek Pass. The storm is credited with over 245,000 power outages and at least 16 human fatalities. The entire winter of 2007, was unmerciful across much of the Rocky Mountains and Wasatch mountain ranges, with the epicenter of destruction right in the heart of some of the best mule deer country in the world—Colorado.

Mule deer live in the most amazing, mountainous country on this planet. The high country is harsh and unforgiving. The winters are uncertain, and the spring and summer rains can be finicky. A growing number of problems seem to be continually eating away at mule deer populations as a whole, especially those that call the high mountains home; most of which, and perhaps the biggest controlling factor is just that—the weather.

It seems that this hunting season has started to bare the fruits of several years of favorable weather patterns for the mountain mule deer. Stories and pictures of Intermountain bucks have made a bit of a comeback it seems. Timberline basins that were nearly void of summer velvet following the winter of 2007, are once again called home by bachelor groups.

The historic, high country of western Wyoming produced some incredible deer the last few couple years. Regions G and H are once again fueling the imagination of hardcore hunters looking for early-season hunts in the alpine. Options are fairly limited in Wyoming for serious trophy mule deer hunters; with the recent success in the high country and limited-trophy potential in other areas, plan on using more and more preference points in these units. Now the deer and antelope application deadline for nonresidents in Wyoming will be in late May. This will be a huge advantage for hunters wanting to wait and see how Mother Nature treats the cowboy state this winter before applying.

Idaho didn’t miss out on the action this past season. Southeast Idaho produced several bucks reminiscent of the good old days; even areas that haven’t historically been producers, offered up some gems in the last two years.

Arguably, Utah’s new, smaller hunting units, started under the infamous “Option 2,” played some part in perhaps the most successful Utah general hunt in almost a decade. Weather definitely has played the bigger role in the beehive state, but under the current management plan, wildlife officials are better able to micromanage smaller units. Capitalizing on this, in 2015, Utah added several new hunts. A late muzzleloader hunt is held on six units that are currently over on buck-to-doe ratios. The six units are-Chalk Creek/East Canyon/Morgan-South Rich (Unit 4/5/6), and Kamas (Unit 7) in northern Utah; Nine Mile (Unit 11) in east-central Utah; and Southwest Desert (Unit 20), Zion (Unit 29) and the Pine Valley (Unit 30).  This  muzzleloader hunt is a limited-entry hunt, so you’ll lose your limited-entry bonus points if you draw a permit.

hi69 md pkendall 04Another change in Utah will allow a small number of deer hunters to hunt all three seasons on the limited-entry or premium limited-entry unit they draw a permit for. Only around three percent of the limited-entry and premium limited-entry deer permits offered is available for this  opportunity.

Never, ever, to be outdone, Colorado continues be the power house of trophy mountain mule deer. Like a centerfold, Brett Ross’ 42”, 17x18, 308 4/8s buck stirs feelings and emotions deep in a mule deer-hunter’s gut. The heavens can break the mold after this buck, as he’s as perfect as a mule deer buck could ever hope to be. A true testament to the power of Colorado is its ability to produce a buck of this size not far from the epicenter of a storm that wiped out entire mule deer herds in 2007.

Weather will make or break mule deer populations and hunting opportunities. This year has kind to the high country of the West. If you’re sitting on a pocket full of bonus or preference points, think seriously about using them now. If the past has taught us anything, it’s that nothing last forever.