Mule deer what to look for?

Joined
Jan 9, 2024
Messages
15
So if you were giving suggestions to a new guy with zero experience going to the the Idaho panhandle to target and hunt mule deer (or a black bear if the right opportunity presented itself) in October what would you tell him? This trip isn't as much about my success rate as it is a learning experience and adventure on how to hunt out west. I do want to be successful but ive been hunting long enough to know the odds. Ive been accumulating WY preference points for several years for elk, pronghorn and mule deer still a few years out before my big dream trip. This trip in 2024 to Idaho is going to be dipping my toes in before I try to swim. Im not interested in guided hunts even though that might be smarter for a first time. Let's assume we're friends and you like me! What kind of elevation should I be looking at to find mule deer that time of year. Is there a certain type of browse or food source? Topographical maps do you look for saddles and areas between food and cover for glassing? Like if all you had was a map where do you start for thinking this might have deer or probably won't have deer? Is there a certain post or a book I should read? I haven't found with this info (Ive been searching). I don't want your spots or honey hole. I just need general knowledge. I know the odds are not in my favor, but chance favors the prepared man.
 

Firestone

WKR
Joined
Feb 8, 2017
Messages
611
Location
Northwest Montana
It's gonna be tough, not an easy time of the year to hunt mature deer in that part of the state. Most mature deer are taken with local knowledge and a shit ton of persistence. I dont know what units your planning on hunting but If you could push the hunt into November it would help you out a little.
 
OP
smartin8788
Joined
Jan 9, 2024
Messages
15
It's gonna be tough, not an easy time of the year to hunt mature deer in that part of the state. Most mature deer are taken with local knowledge and a shit ton of persistence. I dont know what units your planning on hunting but If you could push the hunt into November it would help you out a little.
Well I could go in November. I Just have to be home Nov 17-19th I have preference points and pretty much a guarantee draw in a zone here at home where I've already brushed with a booner whitetail that as of December had made it and likely made it through season. I'm pretty persistent I've been hunting that buck for 3 years.
 
OP
smartin8788
Joined
Jan 9, 2024
Messages
15
Depending how far north you're going, you'll probably only see whitetail in the panhandle.
I'm at the very bottom of the panhandle where it starts to widen out centrally located. Not sure how much info I can honestly give on location per rules. I would shoot a whitetail if it was 155+. I dunno bout whitetail deer that big in Idaho or not but I'm really gonna be picky on quality that far from home.
 

westslopelaker

Lil-Rokslider
Joined
May 4, 2019
Messages
240
Location
Western Colorado
October is a somewhat tough hunt for bucks. They have moved from their summer haunts and they're not rutting yet. In Colorado, where I'm from and hunt, the muleys are usually bonus encounters while hunting elk in October. I've seen them in the aspen and sage interface most often.
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2022
Messages
1,209
Location
Western Montana
I only post this because in the past people have posted about hunting in October (during the “Any Weapon General Season”) for mule deer in the IP…

Units 1,2,3,4a,5,6 are WT Oct 10 - Dec 1.
WT or Mule deer Nov 1 - Nov 14.

Units 4,7,9 are WT Oct 10 - Oct 31.
WT or Mule deer Nov 1 - Nov 9.

Guys are waiting in line for hours for an Idaho tag and then just buying whatever is available when they finally get in the que. Not saying this is your situation, but double check. You don’t want to be “that guy”. Good luck.
 
OP
smartin8788
Joined
Jan 9, 2024
Messages
15
I only post this because in the past people have posted about hunting in October (during the “Any Weapon General Season”) for mule deer in the IP…

Units 1,2,3,4a,5,6 are WT Oct 10 - Dec 1.
WT or Mule deer Nov 1 - Nov 14.

Units 4,7,9 are WT Oct 10 - Oct 31.
WT or Mule deer Nov 1 - Nov 9.

Guys are waiting in line for hours for an Idaho tag and then just buying whatever is available when they finally get in the que. Not saying this is your situation, but double check. You don’t want to be “that guy”. Good luck.
I'm definitely in the "that guy" category unfortunately. I have some ideas on what I can do to change my luck and chances. I plan to apply for the controlled hunts. Then if im drawn I can change my tag if I'm not mistaken. I definitely didn't pick the best zone although it is none of the ones you have listed. It has a very high WT density according to my research. I looked into returning the tag that's a no go. I did wait a long time and all the units I had on my list of like 12 units were gone so I just threw a dart (big mistake). Now I just gotta do the best I can with my lemons. For me the best learning experiences in life have come at a heavy price with some heartache involved. But I'm hard headed I keep trying rather than give up.
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2022
Messages
1,209
Location
Western Montana
I understand. You’re officially south of the “Panhandle” then. I lived 8 years in the Lolo Zone. If you’re from Orofino, you’re a Maniac, not a Panhandler! That’s local vernacular.

And yes, if you draw a Controlled Hunt, you turn in your general tag.

It’s all about mindset. Just remember, a bad day of hunting is better than ANY day at work.
 

TaperPin

WKR
Joined
Jul 12, 2023
Messages
2,082
You don’t need great odds or big numbers of deer scattered all over the place.

Have you ever watched a kid fly fishing in a little weird stream in a city park and thought he’s never going to catch anything, only to watch him catch a big brown? He didn’t need the average number of fish to be large, or lots of big fish - the kid learned to fish tiny pockets. In bad hunt areas, or areas with a lot of competition, I’ve done well hunting pockets for mule deer.

Old deer don’t need the best feed, or a giant mountain - some reclusive deer find small spots where they are left alone, maybe even as tiny as a few football fields in area, and they might be the only living animal in that spot, and that’s ok with them all summer and fall until snow pushes them out. You could be hunting farm land and think every deer in the valley comes out to eat in the fields, but out of view there could be a small draw with an old deer that doesn’t come out in legal shooting light, or just eats crap out his little draw. Just like some old people don’t enjoy walking a lot.

The oldest deer I’ve ever seen lived here - there are campgrounds left off the busy two lane blacktop road, established hiking trails to the left and right. This finger to right of the curve in the road is relatively difficult to access - the road has no shoulder and is cut into the hillside. Parking at the campground is close, but it doesn’t feel like hunting if you have to dodge cars and walk up the busy bend to find a section that can be walked up, so nobody does it - hikers don’t do it, and hunters don’t do it. I didn’t find a single fresh track, other than the ones with the deer standing in them and he didn’t move around much - his hooves were also quite overgrown from this sedentary lifestyle. There is a small hidden pond to the right of the highway just off the photo, so the old deer had crappy food, a place for water, no does or even other bucks for company, but also no mountain lions - an old folks home just for him.

7CD1FA7B-2A16-470E-84B6-35DD031DB611.jpeg


In the future if you want to learn about mule deer just go to the best mule deer area outside of the rifle season and consider it a scouting trip. Get up in the mountains and glass all day until it’s too dark to see, repeat for a week. You’ll get to know the deer that do the same thing, come out in the same places, and the more days you glass the more deer will appear that you just didn’t see, but have been there all along.

Many of your assumptions will be wrong - many older deer don’t hang out with does and fawns. Many barren mountain sides will actually hold a number of bedded deer. Many deer beds in rough country will have been used for hundreds of years and look it. Many bedding areas have well defined game trails going and coming from the area.
 

Justin_Tree

Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Feb 24, 2018
Messages
112
I have never hunted that part of Idaho but from my research, I believe that part of the state is thick with timber. If I was in your shoes i would be looking for any old burns. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see anything and be in your desired area at daylight and stick it out till dark. I’ve killed more bucks on the last day than I have the first. Be persistent and enjoy the journey. Good luck
 

bergie

Lil-Rokslider
Joined
Jul 15, 2023
Messages
121
Location
IDAHO
I'm at the very bottom of the panhandle where it starts to widen out centrally located. Not sure how much info I can honestly give on location per rules. I would shoot a whitetail if it was 155+. I dunno bout whitetail deer that big in Idaho or not but I'm really gonna be picky on quality that far from home.
We have some whitetail that big but they don't live in the same places as the mule deer. If you are interested in finding a muley then I would focus on that and ignore 95% of the whitetail habitat you come across. If you want to shoot a 120" whitetail, we have plenty of them. The 150"+ exist and are shot every year they are much fewer and farther between than some of the midwestern states.
 
OP
smartin8788
Joined
Jan 9, 2024
Messages
15
We have some whitetail that big but they don't live in the same places as the mule deer. If you are interested in finding a muley then I would focus on that and ignore 95% of the whitetail habitat you come across. If you want to shoot a 120" whitetail, we have plenty of them. The 150"+ exist and are shot every year they are much fewer and farther between than some of the midwestern states.
👍
I will focus on the mule deer. 150 inch deer are here, but a Mule deer are not. I had triplet calves this year on my farm 1 in 105,000 odds (they all survived). I shot a 150+ buck this season on a public land hunt when they said they weren't there that size. The biologist aged him 4-1/2 and scored as the best rack scored on any quota hunt off that WMA this year. I 100% believe that the odds can be defied. Not bragging just saying I like the advice, I really appreciate it. I will plan like I had intended to targeting mule deer habitat.
 

bpurtz

WKR
Joined
Jan 22, 2016
Messages
480
If you are committed to October, push it until the last week and hunt the highest elevation you can. If you can adjust to November 10th or so then look for doe at any elevation. Good luck!
 

Huntnnw

WKR
Joined
May 25, 2015
Messages
447
Location
Rockford,WA
If you are committed to October, push it until the last week and hunt the highest elevation you can. If you can adjust to November 10th or so then look for doe at any elevation. Good luck!
I hunt that country he's hunting alot! and I had that mindset years ago and I learned something. Scout and try to kill your target buck the first few days of the opener as the bucks are high and can be patterned somewhat. I passed multiple bucks hoping for those last 3 days of that tag and a big buck would show. I thought the snow was going to stay away it snowed about 7-8" during the week I left a few days later and all the snow melted by the time I got there, and those deer pushed out and I saw 1 deer in the high country in 4 days. They get really hard to hunt in that country when they move from the high country as most of it is heavily forested and brushy with almost no glassing opportunities and you pretty much have to still hunt and anyone whos hiked the timber in this country knows that nightmare it is. Years have passed since learning of this and these deer seem to just move out late october snow or no snow. The other issue with waiting till later is this country doesnt have a ton of roads and getting access can be impossible . Its a crap shoot year to year with weather. Ive been snowed out after opening day and had to pull camps, to 65 and sunny and below 0 on the opener.
 
Joined
Mar 27, 2019
Messages
390
Location
Lyon County, NV
If you're looking at having a good experience, learning, and filling your tag on a decent buck (rather than hunting big bucks exclusively), here's a big-timber formula you might consider:

1) E-scouting: Get OnX maps, and look for logging cuts (patches of cleared timber), and burns about 2-4 years old. Big timber isn't great for feed growth - feed needs sunlight, and dense timber doesn't get much on the forest floor. Logging cuts and burns provide this sunlight, and generate the young, fresh feed muleys need. Cuts and burns are deer magnets in dense timber. You get a similar effect at the edge of tree lines when you get into higher altitudes. Hunt the edges, hunt the cuts, hunt the burns.

2) Cut sign: Once you find some likely places, cruise the dirt roads that run their perimeters next to the tree line, looking for deer tracks, especially buck tracks. If no roads, walk the treelines - you'll find game trails leading right out of them. When you find them, look for routes of travel between feed and bedding. The more heavily traveled, the better. You're looking for a route that has several distinct sets of tracks of different individuals, not a lone doe wandering around with a fawn or yearling. Cutting sign like this is critical in saving days of time glassing areas. Dismiss entirely any notions of getting into that timber and hunting it. Unless you're at an elite level, you're just not going to get into that timber and hunt them in their beds - plan on an ambush hunt while they move their regular routes to and from feed. Also, don't worry about finding their water sources - muleys quite often go for days at a time without water, but they feed every single day in a race to survive the winter. The less heat and direct desert sunlight they're exposed to, and the more green around them, the longer muleys go without watering. Focus on finding their routes to and from food, and the feed sources they browse. The closer you are to their bedding area, the more likely you are to see them coming home in the morning, and leaving to eat in the evening.

3) Set up your hide: Once you find a good travel route, scout out a place to set up a hide overlooking this route somewhere - know the prevailing wind directions, try to keep the sun at your back, don't skyline yourself, make sure you can shoot from different angles and directions in it. Once you find a good spot or two, scout your approach routes to your hide that will keep you clear of those travel paths - both visually and your scent. You don't want to be stomping through their feeding areas or their bedding areas on the way to your hide. You want to be virtually non-existent to them in every way in how you approach and sit in your hide, and how you leave it to go back to camp. Know the wind directions cold, and have a couple of routes to get into your hide when wind is coming from different directions. To really do this right you need to know where they're bedding and where they're feeding, before selecting a hide site.

4) Arrive early: Be in place at least an hour before sunrise, and plan on staying until it's so dark you need a flashlight to get out. October deer tend to stay put hard during daylight hours, especially during really hot weather. Your best chance of catching one on the move is probably going to be in the first 15 minutes of legal shoot light, but you want to be well settled in long before that. As to staying late, even if you go past legal shoot light, you may very well still learn something by observing any deer movement after that - there's often another half hour or so past legal shoot times where your binos will gather enough light to let you comfortably observe what's going on in your area. The better the quality of your glass, the better you can see in dim conditions.

5) Be still, be silent, be scentless: It's hard to describe just how sensitive a muley's eyes are to movement, but if you pretended it was an AI-powered surveillance robot out there that locked its focus onto any movement at all, you might start getting an idea of how sensitive it really is. Even seasoned mule deer hunters underestimate this, in large part because the buck freezes or escapes long before they see it (they tend to freeze in areas trafficked by people, and move to escape in areas where people are less common), and have no idea how many deer they just alerted - they just keep moving on, clueless, thinking everything's fine because they didn't see any deer. If you absolutely have to move, try to move no faster than 10% as fast as you normally would. Even then that's too fast, but you get the idea. So go to extra length in your hide to set it up to be comfortable for hours of virtual non-movement, and for you to be as concealed as possible. As to silence, they're called mule deer because of the radar-dish mule ears they wield - they will hear a zipper or food wrapper 10x or even 100x farther than a human can, depending on conditions. The more out-of-place from normal the sound is, the more they'll alert on it. As to scentless, you'll never, ever be scentless - this is just shorthand for saying "you must play the wind". Always know the direction of the wind, at all times, and always keep the wind in your face. Because of this, you may need to have a couple of hides to play the wind properly, if the prevailing wind isn't consistent. If you have much altitude between your hide and the spot you're observing, also know how thermals carry scent when things heat up and cool down.

6) Glass: Glassing from the hide is important, but it's not the same ballgame as how you glass desert muleys, or in hunting truly big bucks - this formula is for a good hunt and filling your tag, not so much about finding a monster. That's a very different hunt. But you should be glassing all day until you know the area cold. As part of this process, be using your range finder to mark out and memorize various distances to landmarks across your area of observation (unique trees, rocks, points in the treeline, etc). You want to know on sight how far a buck is, and you'll have plenty of time to do that your first day in the hide. It's still a good idea to use the rangefinder when a buck pops out, but sometimes your time might be limited, and this can give you a kind of backup edge. It's also a great way to keep your mind active and sharp while observing as well.

That's the best short-version of how to hunt timber deer that I can offer. It's an entirely different animal from hunting desert muleys, but it's been successful for me when I've had to hunt forested land. Hunt the edges, keep the wind in your face, don't skyline yourself, go sloooow, and try to keep the sun at your back. You do all that, you've got a decent chance of success.

Someone who's active on here with a killer track record of forested Idaho muleys is @Dioni A . Maybe he has some extra tips he might be willing to share.
 
OP
smartin8788
Joined
Jan 9, 2024
Messages
15
If you're looking at having a good experience, learning, and filling your tag on a decent buck (rather than hunting big bucks exclusively), here's a big-timber formula you might consider:

1) E-scouting: Get OnX maps, and look for logging cuts (patches of cleared timber), and burns about 2-4 years old. Big timber isn't great for feed growth - feed needs sunlight, and dense timber doesn't get much on the forest floor. Logging cuts and burns provide this sunlight, and generate the young, fresh feed muleys need. Cuts and burns are deer magnets in dense timber. You get a similar effect at the edge of tree lines when you get into higher altitudes. Hunt the edges, hunt the cuts, hunt the burns.

2) Cut sign: Once you find some likely places, cruise the dirt roads that run their perimeters next to the tree line, looking for deer tracks, especially buck tracks. If no roads, walk the treelines - you'll find game trails leading right out of them. When you find them, look for routes of travel between feed and bedding. The more heavily traveled, the better. You're looking for a route that has several distinct sets of tracks of different individuals, not a lone doe wandering around with a fawn or yearling. Cutting sign like this is critical in saving days of time glassing areas. Dismiss entirely any notions of getting into that timber and hunting it. Unless you're at an elite level, you're just not going to get into that timber and hunt them in their beds - plan on an ambush hunt while they move their regular routes to and from feed. Also, don't worry about finding their water sources - muleys quite often go for days at a time without water, but they feed every single day in a race to survive the winter. The less heat and direct desert sunlight they're exposed to, and the more green around them, the longer muleys go without watering. Focus on finding their routes to and from food, and the feed sources they browse. The closer you are to their bedding area, the more likely you are to see them coming home in the morning, and leaving to eat in the evening.

3) Set up your hide: Once you find a good travel route, scout out a place to set up a hide overlooking this route somewhere - know the prevailing wind directions, try to keep the sun at your back, don't skyline yourself, make sure you can shoot from different angles and directions in it. Once you find a good spot or two, scout your approach routes to your hide that will keep you clear of those travel paths - both visually and your scent. You don't want to be stomping through their feeding areas or their bedding areas on the way to your hide. You want to be virtually non-existent to them in every way in how you approach and sit in your hide, and how you leave it to go back to camp. Know the wind directions cold, and have a couple of routes to get into your hide when wind is coming from different directions. To really do this right you need to know where they're bedding and where they're feeding, before selecting a hide site.

4) Arrive early: Be in place at least an hour before sunrise, and plan on staying until it's so dark you need a flashlight to get out. October deer tend to stay put hard during daylight hours, especially during really hot weather. Your best chance of catching one on the move is probably going to be in the first 15 minutes of legal shoot light, but you want to be well settled in long before that. As to staying late, even if you go past legal shoot light, you may very well still learn something by observing any deer movement after that - there's often another half hour or so past legal shoot times where your binos will gather enough light to let you comfortably observe what's going on in your area. The better the quality of your glass, the better you can see in dim conditions.

5) Be still, be silent, be scentless: It's hard to describe just how sensitive a muley's eyes are to movement, but if you pretended it was an AI-powered surveillance robot out there that locked its focus onto any movement at all, you might start getting an idea of how sensitive it really is. Even seasoned mule deer hunters underestimate this, in large part because the buck freezes or escapes long before they see it (they tend to freeze in areas trafficked by people, and move to escape in areas where people are less common), and have no idea how many deer they just alerted - they just keep moving on, clueless, thinking everything's fine because they didn't see any deer. If you absolutely have to move, try to move no faster than 10% as fast as you normally would. Even then that's too fast, but you get the idea. So go to extra length in your hide to set it up to be comfortable for hours of virtual non-movement, and for you to be as concealed as possible. As to silence, they're called mule deer because of the radar-dish mule ears they wield - they will hear a zipper or food wrapper 10x or even 100x farther than a human can, depending on conditions. The more out-of-place from normal the sound is, the more they'll alert on it. As to scentless, you'll never, ever be scentless - this is just shorthand for saying "you must play the wind". Always know the direction of the wind, at all times, and always keep the wind in your face. Because of this, you may need to have a couple of hides to play the wind properly, if the prevailing wind isn't consistent. If you have much altitude between your hide and the spot you're observing, also know how thermals carry scent when things heat up and cool down.

6) Glass: Glassing from the hide is important, but it's not the same ballgame as how you glass desert muleys, or in hunting truly big bucks - this formula is for a good hunt and filling your tag, not so much about finding a monster. That's a very different hunt. But you should be glassing all day until you know the area cold. As part of this process, be using your range finder to mark out and memorize various distances to landmarks across your area of observation (unique trees, rocks, points in the treeline, etc). You want to know on sight how far a buck is, and you'll have plenty of time to do that your first day in the hide. It's still a good idea to use the rangefinder when a buck pops out, but sometimes your time might be limited, and this can give you a kind of backup edge. It's also a great way to keep your mind active and sharp while observing as well.

That's the best short-version of how to hunt timber deer that I can offer. It's an entirely different animal from hunting desert muleys, but it's been successful for me when I've had to hunt forested land. Hunt the edges, keep the wind in your face, don't skyline yourself, go sloooow, and try to keep the sun at your back. You do all that, you've got a decent chance of success.

Someone who's active on here with a killer track record of forested Idaho muleys is @Dioni A . Maybe he has some extra tips he might be willing to share.
Wow, I really appreciate the effort you put into writing that. Sounds like great advice. Thank you. 👍
 
Joined
Oct 18, 2014
Messages
35
Location
Idaho
Sounds like you will be hunting in some thick country. I would start as high in elevation as you can get to and incrementally get lower in elevation until you start finding sign or seeing deer. Start e-scouting and find edge habitat and focus there. You're probably not going to be able to glass far in that country so your tactics should be to still hunt or do an ambush hunt and sit. I like to glass long distances so still hunting and ambush hunts are hard for me unless there is a lot of sign or I have seen some nice bucks in an area.
 

nick21

FNG
Joined
Mar 23, 2024
Messages
14
If you are committed to October, push it until the last week and hunt the highest elevation you can. If you can adjust to November 10th or so then look for doe at any elevation. Good luck!
The Rut, the great equalizer. Those big bucks are big for a reason.
 
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