Value Mule Deer Hunting
One hunter has been dreaming of a quality mule deer hunt for decades. A working man with wife and two not-yet-in-school children at home, when he started researching trophy-class mule deer hunts he immediately got a bad case of sticker shock.
“Holy smokes!” he told a buddy. “First off, the best areas and hunts for top-end bucks in most places are governed by a tag draw system that requires years of preference points before you are even in the game. Then if you do draw, the hunting outfitters often want five-figure money to take you. Your other option if to purchase a landowner tag, but the prices for just the tag for mule deer hunts that would give you a good chance at taking a big deer cost several thousands of dollars. After a lot of research he figured his dream of a high-quality mule deer hunt was just that – a dream.”
That’s when he turned to a hunt booking agent. “I told him about the management mule deer option,” the booking agent said. “On these trips you are generally hunting the same area that you would if you were on a trophy muley hunt, so you get much of the same experience. There are two differences, though -- you are only allowed to shoot a management-type buck, and the cost is much, much less than the best trophy hunts out there.”
A management buck can be a big 3x3 or 3x4, a 4x4 that’s missing some points, a buck that’s old and over the hill -- whatever the outfitter or landowner wants culled from his herd and not permitted to breed. Generally speaking, these are not “pee-wee” bucks, just bucks with “something” that makes them undesirable to trophy hunters.
Obtaining a tag for a management-type mule deer hunt is dependent on the state in question. Most of the time you have to draw a tag through the general drawing program. Sometimes landowner tags are available, and sometimes these are sold to hunters for less than the amount charged those looking for trophy-class bucks. In any event, the landowner tag option makes it possible to decide to go hunting this year and be able to do so without waiting a year or three to draw. Individual outfitters and booking agents can help you sort through the process.
On this muley hunter’s hunt the booker hooked he and his partner up with a guy in Colorado. He offers “guide choice” management mule deer hunts on a ranch managed heavily for trophy bucks. There are two size classes of management deer so there is a $500 difference in price. He also offers very limited trophy hunts booked well in advance. Hunters must draw the tag but these mule deer hunters somehow drew with no bonus points; in this area two bonus points generally means you’ll draw a tag.
“We could not believe it when we got there,” the hunter said. “Everything about the operation was first-cabin, and there were mule deer and elk everywhere.
“The hunter’s partner just couldn’t seem to find a buck that made his hunting guide happy. What he did see were all kinds of elk, and when he asked if there was anyway possible he could shoot a management-type bull instead, the guide got him a tag and the hunter took his first-ever bull elk.”
That’s another bonus often encountered on management muley hunts – the chance to hunt other species at the same time. Depending on the state and season, these deer hunts can be combined with hunts for pronghorn or elk. There may be fall turkey hunting available, prairie dog hunting, upland hunting, or trout to catch. Because the hunting outfitters know the country and the local game herds to a large degree, they have often already identified bucks they believe need to be culled on a management hunt. That means it usually doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time to get the job done.
OK, let’s cut to the chase. What do these mule deer hunts cost? Are they really a bargain?
You decide. For example, if you want to take one of the monster bucks running around a Colorado ranch, expect to spend five figures. A management buck, however, will cost somewhere around $2500. Another outfitter in eastern Colorado charges $2500 for a 4-day, 2 hunters/1 guide management mule deer hunt with landowner tags available; the same outfit will charge you $6250 for a five-day trophy buck rifle hunt. Shop around, and you can find all sorts of management muley hunt “deals.” One outfitter in Wyoming sells his “trophy” mule deer hunts for $3995, but his management hunts run just $1995.
A few years ago one hunter was involved in a management-type hunt in a Colorado area known for producing some of the top bucks seen anywhere these days. Landowner tags in this area cost upwards of $8000, and the hunts themselves run several thousand dollars more, but he drew a tag in the regular state draw and the hunt cost a fraction of what a trophy-class hunt would cost. During the course of his five-day hunt he glassed up some real dandy bucks, two that he thought would gross-score somewhere near 200 Boone & Crockett points. The buck he ended up taking was an old warrior with a broken right G-4, no eye guards, and a thinnish rack. He was on the way downhill, but the muley hunter thought he was magnificent and, given all that he’d seen and experienced during the week, he came away thinking the hunt was a steal.
In the prevailing economy, we’re all looking to stretch our budgets as far as we can. Out West, a management mule deer hunt is a true bargain.