• Wed. May 11th, 2022

How to hunt big mule deer in November

ByMary M. Ward

Nov 3, 2021

If there is a Western Mule Deer tag in your wallet, you’ve gone on a big hunt this month. November is one of my favorite times to hunt muleys with a rifle or archery gear. To sweeten the pot, it doesn’t matter if your tag is for the mountains of the west, the cedar-strewn foothills, the bottoms of rivers lined with stems or the rolling prairie, November is a win, as long as you have a good idea where to find males in these different areas and how to hunt them effectively. So let’s break it down.

Muley Bucks Mountain

The rut is on in mid-November so you can expect to find some good muley bucks at any elevation where the does are. Cavan Images / Getty

November in the western mountains can be mild or miserable in terms of the weather. The good news: You’re going to find horny males anyway. If snow hits the high county, the does will move to lower elevations. This makes your job a lot easier, as dark skin is easy to spot on a white blanket dotted with a brush of silver tipped sage. Let your optics do the work. Mature males will begin to gather harems by the second week of November. Large groups of does are easy to spot, and when you find them, a good buck will be nearby. In the first week of November, the wise old bullies may not have a harem, but will begin to spend more time on their feet.

If the weather doesn’t hit the mountains in your hunting region, don’t panic. The deer may not be as low as they would be if the weather was bad, but they will be crowded into thickets of aspen and pine trees that end in the grasslands of the lowlands. If these meadows are crossed by a stream or two, so much the better. The big key to hunting mountain mule deer in November – weapon or bow – is spending time behind quality glass. The dollars will be in motion and they will be visible. I like to spend several days scouting before my hunt, dropping pins on my Hunt Stand app, and then staring from every location for hours on end, that’s how you’ll find shooting money.

Mule deer from the foothills and canyon country

The author glasses for mule deer
The western foothills / canyon country is vast, offering mule deer plenty of places to hide. Your job is to find a beautiful habitat, locate water and food sources, and display a climax with good optics. Jace bauserman

Much of the West is dotted with hills dotted with cedars and steep canyons. Mule deer love this country. The problem: It’s big, expansive, and most cedar pockets are super-thick. Some say the same about mountains, but mountain muleys are much easier to locate than foothills / canyon males. The reason is that the foothills and canyons lie in pockets along thousands of miles of open plains-like landscape. Deer are often not concentrated as they are in the mountains. Pick the wrong patch of cedar trees or a canyon that doesn’t have puddles, and you might not see a single deer on your hunt.

The key to killing in these landscapes in November is to stay mobile. Use digital and convenient tracking to locate areas with good coverage, at least one water source, and plenty of food. If you find a gnarled canyon that gives way to thick pockets of cedar, jump on your digital scouting app and look for possible water sources. In the West, these sources can be ponds, storage tanks or small gourmets. If the area looks dry it probably is, then move to a more promising area. Once you find one, get a vantage point of a hill or plateau and see what happens over the course of an evening. Pay special attention to suede brush edged canyon cuts.

Ag Land and River Bottom Bucks

Author and bride with mule deer
The author’s wife caught this muley buck in early November last year, still chasing a poplar stream bottom bordered by rubbing. Jace bauserman

At the start of the month, the grain crops can throw a curve ball at you. Mule deer love corn and maze fields, and they’re not afraid to reside there until a John Deere knocks over the stalks. If you show up for your hunt and the grain harvest is still there, don’t worry. The key will be to find open pastures, meadows, CRPs and the like that are near these fields. These areas are without a doubt my favorite for hunting November mule deer and the crops are yet to come. Bucks will begin to feel the urge to sniffle. This will force them to leave the standing crops and enter more open ground in the early morning and evening. Don’t be afraid to drive peripheral roads and glass from the vehicle.

If the crops are exhausted, you are in the chips. If you have permission to hunt agricultural fields, it is obvious. The does will move from cover fields to agricultural fields in the morning and evening, and the males, both dominant and satellite, will be in tow. If you can’t chase agricultural fields directly, focus on CRP fields with deep swells and pastures bordered by dry coves and irregular marshes. Old, weed-strewn farms and rows of weed-lined fences that seem to swallow old corrals are great places to find a buck or three.

One place that farmland muley hunters often overlook is the bottoms of rivers and streams. Yes, this is the traditional white tail land, but a waterway is a waterway, and any river, stream, ditch, or stream will channel the movement of animals. I took some of my best archery mule deer by putting the wind in my face and sliding along a creek bottom lined with poplar trees. I have also had great success sitting at the edge of a waterway with a good spotter, observing the movement of mule deer, then hanging up a tree stand and playing the waiting game.

Plains mule deer

Hunting goggles for mule deer
The prairies of the west may seem devoid of game at first glance. However, animals know how to use the most subtle cover or break of land. Jace bauserman

The West is home to millions of acres of national grassland and BLM land that can’t seem to hide a chip. However, if you start delving into these areas, you will find them rich in games. One evening several moons ago as I hunted the National Grasslands of Buffalo Gap in South Dakota, I observed 37 mule deer, nine deer, four antelopes and six coyotes in an evening drink session . It seemed that every eroded cut, dried up stream, or patch of cacti contained animals. This is a great lesson. Just because the landscape doesn’t seem to contain game, doesn’t mean it’s a ghost town. Observe the region well with aerial imagery. Make sure to pin any terrain or cover like heavy sage patches, a cactus, a dried up stream, a willow-lined pond, an eroded shore in a hill, and the list goes on. Once the appropriate land is located, look for water. Food, as the meadows disappear, is never much of a problem. The key is to find a good blanket near the water. Do it and you will find a mule deer.

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