When field judging deer, a different set of criteria has to be used for mule deer and whitetails. However, even then, not all mule deer can be field judged in the same way. Stephen says that the mule deer in Texas, Mexico and other desert regions are different than those found in the high country and western mule deer hunting meccas. These southern mule deer are much further behind in antler development than their high country and western counterparts. Hunters need to understand that not only are mule deer in southern country behind in antler development, but they also will be smaller bodied as well. Western mule deer are known for their big 200+ pound bodies, however southern mule deer living in desert conditions won’t generally grow to that size. For that reason, Stephen explains why it is so important for hunters to understand the area they are hunting and the characteristics of the animals that inhabit that terrain so they have realistic expectations going in. As a result, hunters will better be able to field judge the animals that step in front of them when they know the norms for the region they are hunting.
Hunters also have to match their gear to the game and terrain they are hunting. In the wide open country that he guides hunters, Stephen says that long shots are a requirement. The ability to shoot accurately at 500-600 yards is a necessity. Hunting western Texas and Mexico, the mule deer are spread out in very vast, wide open country. Having a capable caliber in this environment is important. Stephen says his go-to rifle cartridge is the 6.5 PRC - it’s a solid load, fast, flat shooting and has a good long range capacity.
To find early season muleys, you can often apply the three-quarters rule which essentially says that bucks will bed ¾ of the way up a hill or ridge. This enables them to take advantage of the thermals that carry scent up from valley bottoms and gives them an easy escape route over the top of the ridge if they see or smell something coming. If you are on your feet, stalking mule deer, you should avoid walking these bottoms so as not to be winded. Stephen says that hunters have to be patient. Instead of pounding a foot trail, hunters need to sit and glass. Go to areas you know hold mature deer and wait it out. Because deer aren’t moving much during the daylight hours, hunters will have to be patient and willing to sit all day long and hope that a muley slips up and gives them an opportunity. Stephen says that finding a water source is ideal. In Texas, Mexico and other desert like terrain that he frequently hunts, water is scarce. As a result, water holes are few and far between so if a hunter can identify a water hole with fresh tracks it will greatly improve their odds of success. The deer won’t necessarily live on the water hole because all the other wildlife in the area, including predators, will use that same water source. However, they will be in the general area coming to water once a day and that will make them more patternable.
Whitetail and mule deer differ in many ways. Whitetails are very resilient animals and tend to be difficult to bring down. However, Stephen says that mule deer seem to lack that same intense will to live that whitetails have. Some of that he attributes to pressure, especially in Texas and Mexico. Where there are whitetails, there is hunting pressure and they have become accustomed to fighting for their survival. However, mule deer often inhabit far less pressured country. When mule deer hunting, you can get deep in the backcountry where mule deer seldom experience heavy pressure. That lack of human interaction often allows hunters to get away with more than they could in a highly pressured public unit in Colorado. The mule deer in unpressured areas tend to be more curious and will often stick around until they can figure out what the activity is - often by then it’s too late and hunters can take advantage of that curiosity.
Finally, Stephen will talk about this season of “West of Texas” on Sportsman Channel, Mondays at 8:00 p.m. ET. This season is something new and completely different, Stephen says. It’s all about telling stories, not just about harvesting big animals. Stephen says this season will focus on getting back to the roots of hunting, highlight the places they are hunting, put a spotlight on what truly drives them as hunters, and more. It will be the story of the hunt and what it took to make it to the finish line.