Backpacking for Mule Deer

Have you dreamed for years of hunting for mulies with a backpack with a tent and backpack? It has been said that it’s not the sheep hunt that is the greatest part of the adventure, it’s where bighorn sheep live. The same goes for true wilderness mule deer hunts. Mule deer thrive in some of the most beautiful,uninhabited areas in the world. Just seeing these majestic creatures and the country they live in is worth the effort to get to them. With that said, here is some advice to make your first backcountry mule deer hunt a success.

Get in shape! I’m not talking about walking to the end of the block once a day or playing a game of basketball once a month. To truly enjoy your mule deer hunt, you want to be in the best shape possible. I understand, depending on your age, that may not be possible, so if that’s the case, shoot for the best shape you’ve been in for the last ten years. The big thing here is to do everything you can. My workout is jogging two to three times a week. I start out walking and jogging about four months before the trip and by the time trip arrives, my goal is to be able to jog for an hour straight. I find this easier than trying to give distances. If you can maintain a jogging pace for an hour, you should be capable of climbing the mountains required for backcountry mule deer hunting. I also swim, lift weights, and hike with a loaded pack (around 30 lbs) in between. All of these are great for getting your body and muscles in tone for hunting.

Pull out your favorite rifle and shoot it. If you pay the money for the tags or outfitter, get in shape, but don’t practice with your rifle, you aren’t ready to go mule deer hunting. The best case would be to shoot the rifle once a week at ranges out to 250 yards. You need to know the amount of bullet drop at different distances. Start out at the range at 200 yards with a steady mechanical rest. Test different types of ammunition until you find what your gun likes and stick with it. I use Winchester 130 grain Ballistic Silvertips in 270, but each rifle shoots differently and you need to find the load that performs the best. Once you know where your rifle shoots on the bench, try using shooting sticks, prone position, over your pack and other positions you will encounter in the field. You won’t have a bench in the high country and even if you’re a perfect marksman on the bench, that doesn’t make you a great shot in a hunting situation. You will also want to study up on distances at different angles. Most shots at mule deer are long distance and at an angle and hunters have a tendency to shoot over deer. Get out and practice some shots downhill and uphill. You’ll be amazed at the difference a major angle makes. I also recommend you buy a laser rangefinder and use it at your practice sessions. It is also helpful to learn to judge mule deer in the field. The hunting videos by Mossback Outfitters titled Mulies Gone Wild are an excellent tool for judging big bucks. They give you the B&C or P&Y score after you have seen footage of the bucks on the hoof.

Buy the best gear your wife will allow. There are some great products on the market today. Look for the lightest sturdiest material for your clothing and backpack items. I will not go into each item, but a few I recommend are: strong, sturdy hiking boots – I use Lowa Sheephunter boots, an internal pack – I use a North Face pack, but there are lots on the market, wool socks – I use Smartwool, and light packable rain gear – I use Browning. If you are hunting with an outfitter, he has the experience to tell you what you need. Buy the best binoculars you can! I personally use Leica 8-12×42 because of their strength and weight, but there are lots of quality optics on the market. I’ll say it again, spend all the money you can.

Lastly, watch some great Hunting Videos on the topic. These will get your blood pumping and get you excited to make your trip of a lifetime. They will help motivate you to get your body in the condition to find that mule deer of a lifetime.

– David Dukat

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