Finding New Big Buck Country
Finding new country for big bucks is easier than ever. It's written 100 times in various books, talked about on dozens of podcasts, and seen all over social media posts, forums, and websites of big bucks roaming public land with OTC opportunities. Then WHY IS IT STILL SO HARD FOR A LOT OF US TO FIND THEM AND STILL HAVE YET TO SEE FOR OURSELVES FIRST HAND?
Over the past 3-4 years I struggled with this and easily beat myself up trying to find them. As mentioned above I read the books, listened to the podcasts, pick the brains of many, and stomped the woods, and covered the country with my spotter still having yet to find truly good mule deer on public land.
To make a long story short, I never gave up, thought outside the box, changed old ways and the light bulb clicked... I FINALLY FOUND BIG MULE DEER!
Here are a few things I can share to overcoming odds, old habits, and the changes I needed to make to finding true big bucks.
NUMBER 1: GET RID OF OLD HABITS:
Do not quit so soon, update your glass and train your eyes to pick them up, and stop wasting time watching the wrong bucks. These were old habits of mine.
1. Do not quit so soon! I would say over 50% of mule deer hunters (still) leave the country to head back to camp before the big boys come out. Over the past two years, I decided to prepare to walk back to camp in the dark. I would bring more food, water, and warm clothes just to stick around longer and glass until dark. You will be surprised on how much more movement you see and the caliber of bucks that come out in the last 45-30 minutes of light! I did this for a handful of places and it held true for a select number of spots. Don't get me wrong, I walked back in the dark kicking dirt having not seen anything (thinking I wasted my time). But for those nights that did hold true, I was walking back on cloud nine.
2. Update your glass and train your eyes to look through them (binoculars and spotter) for hours on end trying to find anything that resembled a mule deer. This takes a few things to get correctly.
a. A tripod is so key I cannot stress it enough. It is amazing that a lot of people still use their arms resting on the knee, nothing at all, or at best - using a trekking pole (which everyone should have). It relieves the stress of your eyes from all the shakiness if you were to be without a tripod, allowing you to glass longer and pick up movement easier.
b. Have an adapter for both your binoculars and spotter so you can inner-changed them efficiently and easily. It will give you the confidence to glass quicker, with little down time swapping parts. Less effort means more time for glassing.
c. Building eye stamina and endurance looking through glass. It's seriously a thing. I know guys that complain they cannot keep glassing because of eye strain. Just like any training, it takes time, practice, and doing it properly. They are either using the incorrect glass (which is also a thing), not using a tripod, and or simply just have not built up the "eye stamina".
d. Look for hidden clues. Big buck do not get big by hanging out in the wide open and stand broadside all day long like 2-3 year old small bucks. Look for a white face of a mule deer, big ears, and a rack sticking out of the cover as if he was bedded down (most of them all are). Look for rump of butt and tail flicker under a tree or along the rocks. I glassed up a buck one time just by the tail flicker what looked to be a rock under a tree. My eyes didn't leave it until I confirmed it was a deer and the tail flicker gave it away.
Another tip which should have its own paragraph is change angles of glassing the terrain your spending time on. Top down glassing is best first of all. Most bucks sit high and face down. You will be less detected and they are easier to spot if the bucks are below you.
3. Stop wasting time watching small bucks. This is probably my biggest factor I had to overcome. Time is valuable and limited when it comes to scouting or hunting, don't waist it on watching the wrong deer. I regret spending so much time watching 150-160 inch bucks when I did find them. Once I found a group of small bucks I used to watch them my entire time (what not to do). There may or may not be a bigger buck lurking around near them but you will never know if you keep watching the wrong bucks. Usually if a big buck is not within the group he might be above, below, or tucked into the timber nearby so this is where you really need to keep the priorities straight and focus on what you have not seen yet, an old white ghost!
NUMBER 2: CHANGES I NEEDED TO MAKE
Make more time or both scouting and hunting, invest in better gear to keep me in their neck of the woods, stay mentally tough, and find tough country to get into.
1. Make more time for scouting and hunting. I used to be a weekend warrior and only hunted deer when the season opened. I also hunted off a road with country I could see from the road with only 2-3 days. Your hunt for big buck should start in July-September. They tend to stay out in the open when in velvet and do not timber up until October. Even so, they do not move far. So, spot them in the summer and early fall and you will have a good inclination where they will be in October.
a. Give yourself enough time 4-5 to 7 days during the season to get back on a big deer or find one if you have not already. Most successful big buck hunters spent 10-20 days hunting deer during in a single season (counting scouting) when they first started killing big bucks. Once you have fine-tuned this it takes a lot less effort and time.
2. Invest in gear that will get you where you need and keep you comfortable in deer country, so you don't have to constantly hike in and out. Few investments I made: Dirtbike, Ultralight tipi tent & stove, water filter, good pack, sleeping pad, durable boots, trekking poles, and few other minor things.
3. Mental Toughness. Stick it out even when you feel like giving up. Stick it out the full duration you planned on. Get up early like you did the first day and stick it out until the end like you did the first night. Even to the small stuff like glassing a bit longer, a bit further, or in a weird spot. Hiking back up to the top and glassing that other section you didn't spend a lot of time with. Put your eye back on the glass and pick out that heavy timber spot once more.
In October 2019 two of us glassed a mountain-side for about 5 hours with zero luck. We had seen deer on that face the day before so we were not giving up. On the 5th hour one of the bucks randomly appeared out of thin air. We switched an angle about 40 yard and poof the other buck appeared in the timber bedded down. We just needed one to show up and Dan picked out the other one, it was magic. My hunting partner killed that bigger buck an hour later. (See below)
4. Look at topo maps and find tough country to get into (doesn't have to be far) just hard to cover and or glass. Small pockets with the right water, cover, topography, rim rock, or patches of north facing brush can hold big deer, you cannot underestimate it.
a. Stay quit and move slowly periodically glassing when entering new country
b. Don't walk into the country you feel the deer might be using, your scent goes everywhere, they will slip out without you even knowing.
c. I prefer to use a different canyon to walk in from and peak over into the canyon or area that I want to glass.
d. Glass the route you want to take to forecast any other animals you might disturb while getting to your glass or camp spot.
All these changed did not happen for me overnight, they took time and years to get right. There are a ton of other factors that will help anyone to find big bucks, most of which I already knew, had been told before, or was already doing. The information above were main factors that I felt might help most of those that are wanting to start (new) or start over in finding new big buck country.
A few other honorable mentions that helped contribute to finding big buck country came from the books below.
FAVORITE TIP: What is the best time to glass other than morning and evening? You nailed it!!! Mid-day 11-1PM. While most guys are eating lunch, or taking a midday nap I started to pick up my glassing a little more intensely and I was shocked how much movement I witnessed during this time. Big bucks will re-bedding or other deer will round a tree to re-position in the shade or get a mid-day snack and their cover can be blown. Spend a little more time during this period glassing and you might just get eyes on a shooter buck.
BUCKS I FOUND IN 2019 (July-September). Of course most of the time I saw big deer was first light and last light (pictures did not turn out), so the rare footage I got was just time in the field never leaving my glass and mid-day (heading to different bedding spot) ; ).
In summary, big bucks take time and effort to find compared to your average 3-4 year old deer. Class of deer differ depending what state your hunting and region but I truly feel big bucks can be found anywhere. 5-8+ year old mule deer learn from mistakes and get wise for a reason. It's up to us as hunters who like to hunt big mule deer to do the same. 175-200 inch deer are hard to come by but once you find one or several in an area you are likely going to have a repeat experience years to come. Good luck to all those out there that want to start finding new big buck country.