How to glass and hunt muleys in thick timber?

ForwardFlight

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Jul 2, 2022
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I have been scouting and e-scouting for several months now in preparation for our first ever Mule Deer hunt. I have put boots on ground for 3 separate days dedicated to scouting in our Mule Deer unit and covered the 3 main areas I e-scouted. Out of all the time I put into dropping points on my maps for glassing points, possible bedding/feeding areas and camp areas while we are out there, I would say 90% of my work proved to be a waste upon arriving and hiking through the areas due to timber.

The hunt is 3rd rifle and the areas I chose were in the few spots of public, 7000' to 9000' feet in elevation, the furthest away from roads/trails we can get, with what looked on the maps to be mixed timber/open areas. However, the timber was much thicker that GoHunt/Google Earth/OnX showed. The highest glassing points I could get to were still surrounded by tall pines that blocked my view and even through what small windows I had, the areas I could glass on opposite ridges or basins were all covered in timber so thick, I can't see the ground.

Glassing is stressed so much for most western hunts, mule deer especially, and I get it. The last thing I want to do is sit or walk through the woods waiting for the chance that we happen upon a deer. But if the terrain is covered in THICK timber, how do you glass or change your strategy to successfully tag a good buck?

Looking forward to learning from the knowledge and experience the members of this forum have to offer.
**I am still e-scouting more of the unit (much smaller areas left and much closer to roads/civilization) to go back and scout but this is still a topic that isn't covered in the books, courses, articles, podcasts and videos.
 

AZ_Hunter_2000

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If the terrain and vegetation do not lend itself to glassing where you will be hunting, then do not glass. Get over the fact that "gospel" can be wrong under various circumstances.

You had boots on the ground. What did you see and what did you not see? Did you see any deer? If yes, were they the right species? Did you see any deer sign? Was it fresh? Was it old? What potential food and water sources did you find? Did you see any scrapes and/or rubs? New-is? Old?

Are you a novice hunter or do you have some hunting experience? If you have experience, is there anything from your previous hunting experiences that can be (legally and/or ethically) applied to where you will be hunting? Hint: if you have ever hunted, then the answer is yes.
 

Newtosavage

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Google earth has a tilt view you can use to get an idea of what you might be able to see from any particular spot. It does help in selecting vantage points, but only if you're looking into areas that aren't covered in thick timber.

What I'd say is that your scouting paid off. You eliminated a bunch of areas you can't hunt by simply glassing until you see what you want. So now you know you need to change your approach which is much better than if you learned that on day three of your hunt.
 
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ForwardFlight

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If the terrain and vegetation do not lend itself to glassing where you will be hunting, then do not glass. Get over the fact that "gospel" can be wrong under various circumstances.

You had boots on the ground. What did you see and what did you not see? Did you see any deer? If yes, were they the right species? Did you see any deer sign? Was it fresh? Was it old? What potential food and water sources did you find? Did you see any scrapes and/or rubs? New-is? Old?

Are you a novice hunter or do you have some hunting experience? If you have experience, is there anything from your previous hunting experiences that can be (legally and/or ethically) applied to where you will be hunting? Hint: if you have ever hunted, then the answer is yes.

One successful pronghorn hunt and one unsuccessful first rifle elk hunt (just got back). Other than that, I am a new hunter.
I did find a game trail or two with older deer sign. No rubs and no water. I'm still learning the food sources and only saw some smaller browse in the one area that I actually checked off as a possibility.

My main question or point of discussion, is without glassing, how do people hunt Mule Deer in areas in thick timber? How does the strategy change?
 
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ForwardFlight

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Google earth has a tilt view you can use to get an idea of what you might be able to see from any particular spot. It does help in selecting vantage points, but only if you're looking into areas that aren't covered in thick timber.

What I'd say is that your scouting paid off. You eliminated a bunch of areas you can't hunt by simply glassing until you see what you want. So now you know you need to change your approach which is much better than if you learned that on day three of your hunt.
Yeah, Google Earth had a better imagery and I did use the 3D function to give me an idea of which points would actually give me a good vantage. The only thing it couldnt show me was how much the views were blocked by trees.

You are right in a glass half full. At least I know the areas that I shouldn't spend my time at. Because I definitely did waste the first 3 days in a bad area during the Elk hunt I just got back from.
 

AZ_Hunter_2000

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One successful pronghorn hunt and one unsuccessful first rifle elk hunt (just got back). Other than that, I am a new hunter.
I did find a game trail or two with older deer sign. No rubs and no water. I'm still learning the food sources and only saw some smaller browse in the one area that I actually checked off as a possibility.

My main question or point of discussion, is without glassing, how do people hunt Mule Deer in areas in thick timber? How does the strategy change?
If this comes across as harsh, I do want to apologize up front...

Learn to find (generic) animals under various conditions and stop fixating a specific species. Are you going to start from scratch when you want to hunt elk or black bear in similar country? Are you going to get mad when the experts's round peg does not fit in a specific reality's square hole? Or are you going to learn some commonalities that tend to be true for all animals and learn to apply them to the real world?

What do animals need? They need food, water, and security. If the terrain does not lend itself to you getting visuals on the target species from a distance, then you need to find evidence that they are there by inference (or straight up dumb luck). Fresh poop? Awesome. Can you tell what they are eating? If so, go find that food source(s). Fresh tracks? They may lead you to a bedding and/or feeding area(s). Correct species? Any fresh scapes or rubs? These types of things will let you know if you are in the right area or not. Do be aware that a spot can be "hot" today and ice cold tomorrow and vice versa (black bears taught me that).

Here is an example...
This year I've been hunting black bear in AZ with the wife-mandated directive to only shoot a big mature boar (specifically non-color phased). I've been in areas that have been awesome for glassing. I've been in areas that I can literally only see feet. In those areas with limited visibility, it's been boots on the ground. I'm looking at the ground for tracks and see how fresh they are. I'm looking at the ground for poop and to see how fresh it is, its volume, and its girth. I also look to see what is in it. I then look for those food sources while I am hitting the trails. I also look for beds and get an idea on when they were last used. I also look up when hitting the trails. I am looking for animals, hair, various food sources and their ripeness. This approach lets me know if there are black bear, whitetail, mule deer, elk, mountain lion, javelina, etc in the area. If there is nothing there that I find, then I know that I need to check other areas. My general approach is the same no matter what I am going after. On a related note, even when glassing I use my same glassing process no matter what I am going after.

From there you have to figure out potential ambush spot(s), potential ways to entice the desired animal to come to you, figure out their patterns, etc.
 

Steve300xcw

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My main question or point of discussion, is without glassing, how do people hunt Mule Deer in areas in thick timber? How does the strategy change?

I mainly hunt blacktail. That said I keep binoculars in the top of my pack, not on my chest. Rifle in my hand and just cover ground. Damn near about what a guy would be doing chasing grouse/quail.

Get to a spot that you can glass..do it... sometimes it's not a bad idea to put the glass down and just watch everything.
 

ntrlbrnhunter

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When you say/refer to thick timber are you talking like thick evergreen forests you can’t see 200 ft in? If so… you’re in the completely wrong terrain for 3rd season Colorado Muleys....

I’m going to say, for 3rd season you need to hunt where the deer are, and the masses of deer can’t eat in thick dark timber. Does are cramming all the food they can for winter and the bucks will be with does.

Think Sage brush, oak brush, more open country, aspens etc. that is where the feed is.
 

Newtosavage

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When you say/refer to thick timber are you talking like thick evergreen forests you can’t see 200 ft in? If so… you’re in the completely wrong terrain for 3rd season Colorado Muleys....

I’m going to say, for 3rd season you need to hunt where the deer are, and the masses of deer can’t eat in thick dark timber. Does are cramming all the food they can for winter and the bucks will be with does.

Think Sage brush, oak brush, more open country, aspens etc. that is where the feed is.
This ^^^ You need to find where the sage and aspen meet in whatever unit you're in.
 

Hnthrdr

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Dollars to donuts I know where you are hunting, I will pm. I will be there during 3rd as well, it is a tough hunt man, not a lot of glassing to be had
 

highcountrymuley

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What a few guys up said. I walked timber for five years as a newbie western hunter before it sank in that mule deer don't hang out there. They exist on transition areas, edges of cover and open areas where food grows. Aspen groves, brush, sage, mahogany, etc. They like rocks! It's bc thats where the browsey bushes grow. You hear of timber bucks but it Is near impossible to see shoot kill one before he is gone. I've seen a few but they were running away in a flash! Watch the edge areas rather than walk through timber. Muleys are not elk.
 

TheGDog

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Apart from food and water... also pay attention to the other things concerning COMFORT that you notice as you travel thru the area.

Such as "OH wow, when I rounded that corner on this hot day, boy this breeze felt nice!" If it feels nice to you, it'll feel nice to them. Yes? You enjoyed it. Why wouldn't they also enjoy it?

Or also, you're travelling thru an area and it's booty-cold with strong winds, but then you notice that in certain ravines or washes... they get you down and out of that wind and it's actually much warmer in there because that sunshine still comes thru, but since it's nestled down in that ravine or wash... it's out of the wind's path.

So take those observations... and contemplate them in terms of that mantra "Hunt the Edge"... and think to yourself if this would make this spot an area they'd likely go to for some relief from the elements. Where would they come in from in order to come to here, and remain unseen as best as possible? Or is this location tactically a bad choice for them due to lack of cover so they would only use it as a travel corridor?

Or other things like you're trodding along in the initial parts of the hike-in up some dirt forestry road... and so like... you happen to notice at certain spots, it's much more evident that the deer are climbing up on this side of the road... crossing here... and continuing to go on up over there. So ask yourself why is that? What is it about this particular spot that would make them use it a lot like that? What's the attraction on either side of this road? Is this a lower spot (saddle) at which to cross so they expend less energy? Less brush to meander around and thru whilst climbing up?

Even in places with thicker timber, you can usually find SOME kind of higher spots within there. The viewable radius will likely be much smaller and not "ridge-to-ridge", but it'll at least help.

TrailCams. If you can, go back in there and key spots and slap a cam on it.
 

Wapiti1

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Old growth forest has no food. Or not a lot of food. Edges and openings have food. They don't need to be large, but they need to allow in sunlight. Edges usually have brush like mahogany, oak, bitterbrush, etc. Openings will have grass and shrubs. Deer eat anything, but there will be preferred food for a time of year. 3rd season, it will be shrubs like mahogany and bitter brush. Grass will be eaten, but it is dry and has lost most of it's value.

That said, by third season, the does will be at least halfway down any migration corridor and may be just above winter range. The bucks will be with them, or at least traveling around that level. Does will be with the food.

Jeremy
 
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ForwardFlight

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Jul 2, 2022
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All of these posts are full of solid info. Same information that i've been reading and learning about all year. What @ntrlbrnhunter said just reinforces all that, i'm in the wrong terrain for muleys. I'm gonna have to reevalute the public in the unit and try to find edges and openings. I've covered quite a bit of the open public so far so i'm really hoping the areas I head to next will have what I need.

I appreciate all your guys help as usual. Definitely glad I found this platform. In the days of Facebook, I miss forums and the better communities they hold.
 

Rich M

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Sounds like you’ll have to resort to eastern style hunting.

Wear your boots out finding fresh sign. Then slow down and hunt.
 

dingle

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Aug 2, 2018
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The most important thing is to make sure there is not an open season for mule deer. I always see bomber bucks in the timber when I don't have a valid tag.
Trudat. Had one walk 6' past me and a friend midday napping under heavy spruce during an October elk hunt, then initiate a staring contest and front hoof stomp session at 20' before huffing away. And don't get me started on that Schwarzenegger buck beelining across a park into firs while we were setting up for another elk overwatch. Then the year a 9x nontypical blundered right through a neighboring camp two days after elk opener... come to think of it, maybe I've been hunting the wrong species that unit all along
 

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