Where Should I Hunt My First Mule Deer?

If you are looking to hunt your first mule deer, it is likely because either you are brand new to hunting and you happen to live in an area where this species is readily available, or maybe you are looking to expand your hunting footprint from the midwest and east coast of the country and again, deer hunting is a passion for many and Mule deer is a species that with not much effort you can plan a hunt as early as the following fall once your decision has been made. In this article we will cover the most readily available options to consider when looking to check the box on your first muley. 

Some places you can just buy a tag.

Mule Deer

There are a few states that have over-the-counter options when looking to hunt mule deer. This is as simple as purchasing a permit and/or hunting license; these opportunities can be found in Idaho, Arizona, Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington. My Personal opinion on the two stand outs in this list are actually on the poor side of things. Hunting in Oregon and Washington can be quite difficult states be it the terrain, or overall lack of management these states historically have very low success rates year over year and unless you happen to live in one of these states and have lots of time to scout close to home. Arizona only allows hunters who are choosing to hunt with archery equipment to hunt mule deer with an over-the-counter permit in September, Late December, or late January. Between the velvet early season hunts when the bucks are the most patternable of the year or the rut hunts later in the year, these are some excellent hunts that have and do produce some excellent bucks each year in a number of units. Idaho and Nebraska have both rifle and archery over-the-counter hunts that you could consider, and overall have some excellent hunts with surprisingly high success rates for over-the-counter hunts. 

You should try for a really good tag.

This being said, when looking to plan a first time hunt, unless this is something you see yourself doing every year or multiple times a year moving forward, you may want to consider a hunt that has a higher success rate, and often even a higher age class. The best place to find these types of hunts are states that require a draw process in order to have the opportunity to hunt. Now there are some pitfalls to this plan, and often without some understanding of how these states’ draw processes work you may be in for a much longer wait than you are expecting for your first hunt. Because of how the draw works for Arizona, Nevada, Montana, and Limited Entry deer in Utah often these applications can take 10+ years for an above average hunt more often than not. So if you are looking for a nice hunt and don’t want to wait a long time we need to focus on states that we can expect a sooner than later finish line. Where we will find these options are going to be Colorado, Wyoming, General Deer in Montana, General Deer in Utah, and South Dakota. 

Mule Deer Wyoming
Mule Deer in Wyoming

Which state to go hunting your first mule deer.

So let’s go over each of these states and how they work so you can get a better understanding on where you will find the hunt you are looking for:

  • Colorado: There are 4 rifle seasons in the bulk of Colorado, there are a couple of expectations to this say on the eastern plains or even some above timberline hunts in September when the bucks are still in the velvet. As a general rule most of the units do not offer mule deer hunting during the 1st rifle season and other don’t have a 4th season which is the latest and most sought after hunts in the state typically as they are often in the heart of the rut and have few tags issued so there are not as many other hunters in the field. The long and short of Colorado is this. It may take 10+ years to hunt a fourth season hunt in any particular unit and that exact same unit may only take a point or two, even other it takes 0 points to draw the 2nd or 3rd rifle season. These are still great hunts, and can offer the hunter a great chance to be successful and hunting top shelf areas in much less time as long as you are willing to hunt outside of the rut, which you should they are still great hunts and great bucks are taken every year and especially good when the weather cooperates. 
  • Wyoming: Wyoming has many areas of the state that are managed by a region of units instead of unit specific type permits. Often these regions are much easier to draw and still offer excellent hunting. There are also areas with large amounts of private property that are easy to draw, and have outstanding age class of deer. If you know you are going to go with a guide one way or the other Wyoming may be the best place to consider as you will get access to privately managed herds and usually a very high success experience. These hunts can be drawn in 0-3 years depending on what style of hunt you are looking for. 
  • Montana: Montana manages their state with both Special Permit areas as well as General areas. These general areas can be productive for both the DIY hunter and especially for hunters looking to book with an outfitter and access private property. Hunters should expect to draw the first or second year they apply for these general deer permits, and with Rut rifle dates these are a real strong choice for hunters wanting to dip their toe into hunting mule deer. 
  • Utah: Utah like Montana manages their deer hunting into two categories, they call them Limited Entry Units and General Deer hunts. The limited entry hunts can take as many as 20+ years to draw depending on which hunt you are looking at. This being said the General Deer hunts can be drawn with as little as 0-6 points depending on which unit and what weapon you are looking to hunt with. There are desert hunts, above timberline style hunts, and really everything in between. There are some guided hunts offered in these general units and they can be outstanding, but overall Utah along with Colorado is probably the states I would consider most when looking to hunt without securing a guide.
  • South Dakota: This state goes under the radar for the most part, and is one of the best kept secrets for mule deer hunting in the country. With only a point or two there are many different units that have excellent public land hunting opportunities. The permit you draw is typically good for either mule deer or whitetail and there are a number of above average bucks taken all over the western side of the state each year. The other awesome thing about South Dakota is if you apply correctly then you could end up either with two deer permits in your pocket when you go, or you could plan it so that you have a deer tag each year, you would simply be alternating units each year that you hunt. 

Make a plan and follow it.

mule deer

Planning your first mule deer hunt is very exciting, there are a number of options to consider, and all of them have pro’s and con’s attached to why you would lock in on one area or the other. Hopefully this article sheds some light on all of the options that exist, and can narrow your search a little faster. With a little planning and a small investment into applications each year, you could have more mule deer options to consider each year than you ever dreamed of. 

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