Master Mule Deer Stalking
Skilled hunter and guide Terry Scott offers up his best advice on how to track down a big mule deer this season.
August 24, 2009
I've hunted with many guides over the years, but none has been more skilled or meticulous than Terry Scott. He outfits for huge mule deer in the Red Deer Valley of Alberta. Last September, we glassed six bucks that were all in velvet a mile away. Before we went after them, Terry decided to test me. He showed me how to crawl through standing alfalfa, and then though brush using rocks and other objects for cover. We finally made it to within 50 yards of a target he'd hidden in the grass. He explained where the "bedded buck" was and told me how to rise with my bow and make a quick, clean kill. I followed his instructions and center-punched the target. Terry was pleased, as he knew he was hunting with someone he could coach.
"If you simulate your stalk and shoot quickly and accurately you'll have a shot," he said.
We didn't get one of those velvet bucks (more on that later), but I did learn some cool tricks for stalking open-country deer.
Pin Them Down
At sunup, you should glass bucks as they move off fields. Watch them for 30 minutes or three hours or as long it takes for the deer to bed down on a grassy hillside or in a copse of trees. "Sometimes a buck group will stop, but get back up and move to another spot where the visibility and wind are better for them," Terry says. "They might do it two or three times."
See and Control
When they bed, it's not time to charge off; instead, pick apart the terrain and cover between you and the bucks with your binocular and spotting scope. Look for does and small bucks-Terry calls them "spoilers"-that might blow your stalk. Plan a circuitous route that will take you around any spoilers and let you watch your target buck(s) as much as you can. If a doe walks into view, you can stop, back out and circle.
Let the Wind Settle
The early-morning wind in open country is finicky. As Terry glasses bucks and plans a stalk, he lets the sun rise and the wind settle and blow mostly in one direction before starting the stalk. "I rarely take off until the wind gets steady, that's the only way you can reliably stay downwind of a big buck and any spoilers out there," he says.
Wind is Good
A steady midday wind is good because it sways and bends standing wheat, alfalfa or grass and covers your moves. Terry wears a brown and green ghillie suit. It blends perfectly with the early fall cover and the fabric strips move against the grass and in the breeze for maximum concealment.
Stalk and Close
When you get started, take off and go quickly. Use draws and the backs of hills for cover, but remember to sneak where you can see what's going on. If you're rifle hunting, crawl the last 50 yards or so through the grass, get a prone rest and make it happen. But when you're bowhunting, the last 200 yards are the toughest. In terrain that looks flat as a pool table, how can you close to within 40 yards of a band of big-eyed bucks? "Look for the lowest depression in the ground-a swale that might be only a foot deep-and get in it," says Terry. That foot and the 2 feet of swaying grass above it give you enough cover.
Learn the "Worm Crawl"
Here is the master's coolest trick: Lie flat on your belly in a low spot, and rest your bow on your back without nocking an arrow. Put all your weight on your elbows, and pull your body forward. Inchworm like that to a bush or hill lip. Stop, set an arrow, zap a buck with your rangefinder, rise to your knees and shoot fast.
But be ready for anything along the way. As Terry and I inched close to those six bucks last September, they suddenly stood up. The biggest 4x4 ran at us! I grabbed the bow off my back and nocked an arrow as Terry hissed, "24 yards." I knelt, drew and shot an inch over its back. The 180-class velvet giant trotted away. (For info on hunting giant mule deer with Terry Scott, contact Jim Riley at 651-233-8140; firstname.lastname@example.org.)