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Best Places for Hunting Western Mule Deer

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family’s small farm in central Minnesota, where I nervously waited for November whitetails to step in front of my quivering slug gun. Back at the farmhouse, mounted racks from white-tailed bucks adorned the dining room walls.

My great uncle had claimed the Midwestern bone trophies over decades as a deer hunter, but I was even more captivated by the forked antlers on the wall that came from a different type of deer. I would prod my hero for stories about these mysterious mule deer, and for years I dreamed of tagging a muley of my own.

Finally, my first opportunity came to chase the iconic deer of the West. My adventure took place in the Sandhills of Nebraska, and after long days of spotting and stalking in subzero temperatures, I was blessed to kill a mature muley buck.

Now he will find a place on my wall—not just for my own pleasure, but to inspire others to chase the handsome beasts across the great wide open.

Mule deer are a struggling North American big-game species. Great organizations such as the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) and the National Deer Alliance continue to address the issues that impact the dwindling future of mule deer, but they can’t do it without widespread public support.

That means you. Before you prepare to squeeze a trigger, consider dropping a shilling in the hat for muleys, or at least show up when it’s time to cast a ballot or raise your hand when decisions are being made that impact the species.

If you’re ready to travel out of state to hunt muleys, read on. I met with the hunt-planning gurus from Cabela’s T.A.G.S. to identify six of the top states for nonresident mule deer hunters. I also chatted with several other experts to collect useful details that should help you plan your next hunt. Each state has something unique to offer, so pay attention.

Arizona

5.AZMuley_2General Season: yes

Point System: bonus point system

Application Fee/Terms: non-float state; $15/species application fee + $160 hunt/fish combo license (nonrefundable); $315 for deer permit if drawn

Application Deadline: early June

Results Posted: early August

Arizona continually makes headlines with giant muley bucks harvested in the Arizona Strip and the Kaibab Plateau. Trouble is, drawing a tag in these coveted areas ranges from extremely difficult to almost impossible. But if you’re willing to do your homework and patiently accumulate bonus points, you could find yourself hunting some of the biggest bucks in the country.

“Since 2012, nobody has drawn a mule deer tag in the Arizona Strip [units 13A and 13B] with less than 15 points,” explained Eric Pawlak, manager of Cabela’s T.A.G.S. “You do have a chance of drawing a tag to hunt the Kaibab [units 12A and 12B]—especially if you’re a bowhunter.

"In 2014, 550 archery tags were distributed for this area, with a season that runs from late August to mid-September. The odds of drawing with zero points were 25 percent for 2014, and with just three points you were guaranteed to draw.

"Draw odds are also fair for hunters who apply for the early rifle season [Oct. 23-Nov. 1 approx.], but I’ll warn you: Early hunts on the Kaibab are extremely tough because of high hunting pressure and lack of rut activity. The late rifle season is generally when most big deer are killed, but again, you typically need a lot of points to draw a tag.”

Pawlak also warned that while it’s easier to get a muley tag in units south of the Grand Canyon, you shouldn’t expect to encounter the class of Arizona bucks that have caught your attention on magazine covers.

Miles Moretti, president of the Mule Deer Foundation, also showed optimism for Kaibab hunters. “After all the rain last year and more rain this year, things are looking good,” he said, pointing to the significant influence that moisture has on deer health and antler growth. “I’m expecting some nice bucks to be killed there this year.”

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