Out here in the west, the prize deer are without a doubt the mule deer. If you get lucky enough to draw a tag in one of the choice zones (as my partner did finally), you are in for a treat and a challenge.

Here are six tips to maximize your chances:

Get in shape

Mule deer are extreme mountaineers and love to be in steep, rocky terrain where they can get a good vantage point. Often you will find them bedded down against a cliff or hiding in a pocket near cover. Be prepared to navigate steep, loose areas and elevations above 10,000 feet. Wearing the proper footwear is essential up there.

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The hotter the higher

Late in the fall when the temperatures soar, these big animals seek cooler climate. While the smaller bucks are more resilient (and not as wise) to temperature, you can bet that the big ones are hiding in a cool, shady spot near peaks or crags. I like to imagine where I’d bed down if I was a big buck. Also imagine a spot where you would have a good vantage point for predators.

Water is essential

It’s usually a pretty safe bet that where there’s water, there will be game. In higher elevations, water is more scarce but there are seeps and springs that stay around all year. Look for spots that have more dense vegetation and you’ll probably find a water source and a place for a buck to hide.

Get a good pair of optics

Glassing is one of the best ways to locate mule deer. Considering that much of the terrain where they are is above the tree-line, you’ll find a lot of open country. Deer have amazing senses and can locate a predator from a long distance. If you just walk out in the open, you’re giving yourself away. Good optics are well worth the price in mulie country.

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Work from top to bottom

I’ve jumped a lot of mulies while coming down a hill (usually during the off-season) and it’s scared the heck out of me every time. If you can get to a ridge top, work your way along and glass often. If you see a spot below that looks good, you are less likely to be seen if you decide to stalk. Be mindful of the wind direction. If it’s blowing your scent downhill, save your legs.

Be patient

Big mule deer are incredibly smart and keen to hunters. Sometimes the sheer size and openness of the country seems overwhelming. Work smart, have a plan and be prepared to wait and glass for hours. Remember, you’ll have to do a lot of hiking to get to a prime spot and one mistake can leave you with an unpunched tag. The guys that fill them are the ones who work for it and take their time.

Photo credit: Wikimedia