Rok Blog

The place to connect with the DIY hunting world. Robby covers techniques, gear, hot topics- everything you need to become a better mule deer hunter.

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Bucks I've Taken After Hard Winters

Bucks I've Taken After Hard Winters

Winterkill is one of the wildcards a mule deer hunter has to contend with.  You can't predict it nor can you ignore it.  It will affect you at some point. 

Just today, I read one Oregon study that showed 32% mortality on adult does in Baker County!  Adult does are usually the last to tip over so I can only guess how many bucks they lost.

As I've said in previous posts, unless the winterkill is catastrophic, you can still expect big bucks to be available come fall. Let's take a look at some of the bucks I've taken in the years following bad winters.  Because I lab-age all my bucks, I know exactly how old they were when winter's grim reaper showed up.  

Anecdotal Evidence

Anecdotal evidence simply means "based on or consisting of reports or observations of usually unscientific observers." These reports can be all over the place depending on who you're asking.  I can only share my own anecdotal evidence based on decades of hunting experience and let you draw your own conclusions.

As I wrote in my book Hunting Big Mule Deer the winter of '92/'93 was the worst I've lived through.  Success rates on deer plummeted almost West-wide.  When success rates drop, many deer hunters either quit or expend much less effort.  While it was very tough hunting the following fall, a few big bucks were still killed by the serious hunters I knew.  I even managed to turn over a 180" buck.

1994-1996 was even better for some really big deer (although success rates stayed low because the deer population struggled to rebound) as those prime-age bucks that made it through the tough winter had another two years on them. 

I killed the biggest buck of my life in 1996.  Lab aging proved that he was 5.5 years old and was born in June 1991.  Doing the math, he entered the winter of 1992 as a 1.5-year-old buck.  The generation below him likely experienced near 100% mortality, yet he survived and went on to grow fantastic antlers.  I first found him in 1995 when he was in the 190's as a 4-year old but exploded to over 230" by 1996.

This 230" buck survived one of the hardest winters in the last 30 years.

In 2008, after a very intense winter not unlike the one we just experienced, I hunted hard for a week during the early rut.  I saw just a few bucks where I'd seen dozens in the year prior.  On the second to last day, I found this buck bedded with a doe.  He was heavy with an inline so I didn't hesitate.  The lab aged him at five years old

I took this five-year old buck the fall after the very intense winter of 2007/2008

In 2014, I killed a very large-bodied 8-year old buck. Lab aging proved that he was born in 2006 (a low fawn production year) and lived through two hard winters: 2007/2008 as a 1.5-year old and 2010/2011 as a 4.5-year old.  

I estimated this 8-year old buck's live weight at over 300lbs.  He lived through two very hard winters.

In 2015, I took a 187" buck that lab-aged at seven years old.  He was born in 2008, another low fawn production year, and lived through the 2010/2011 winter as a 2.5-year old.

A 7-year old buck that lived through the 2010/2011 winter as a 2.5 year-old.

Finally, I killed a buck in early November 2016. He had no fat left on his rump despite being taken very early in the rut.  His molars were very worn.  The taxidermist estimated that he was at least eight years old.  I've learned lab-aging is the only accurate way to tell and wouldn't you know it, he was six years old.  While I can't explain his tooth wear or low body fat, I do know that he was born in 2010.  He went into the very hard winter of 2010/2011 as a six-month old fawn.  Data by Idaho Fish and Game showed that we experienced heavy fawn losses that year, yet he made it through.

This buck was one of the few surviving fawns after the winter of 2010/2011

My point in all this? While we'll certainly have a tougher fall in some units, don't think that we've lost all the big bucks for years to come.  I predict that even in the hardest hit areas, a few really big bucks will be available to the persistent hunter, both this year and in the following years.  As for me, I'll hunt in some winterkill units, but I'm spreading my risk out by applying for some hunts where winter wasn't so tough.  You might consider the same.

Next time, let's talk about the hot topic of exactly where to hunt this fall.  There's some surprising research on the subject that I'll share.

Question: have you ever taken a good buck after a hard winter?

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Read about essential tactics for mule deer hunting in my book, Hunting Big Mule Deer

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What Really Happens to Big Bucks After Hard Winters

What Really Happens to Big Bucks After Hard Winters

I've been blogging on the winter's effects on mule deer since January.  With near-record snow totals in parts of the West, this was a timely subject.  Now that spring is taking hold and the worst should be behind us, I thought we'd move to the subject of what to expect come fall.  If you're just joining in, see these previous posts to understand where winter had the most impacts: Bad Winter? Now What? and Hard Winter—Spring Update (and podcasts!)

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Hard Winter—Spring Update (and podcasts!)

Hard Winter—Spring Update (and podcasts!)

Back in January, I wrote about the current winter's impact to mule deer across the West here Bad Winter? Now What? I've also done a few podcasts with Avery Adventures (more on that below).

While conditions did somewhat improve shortly after that post, it may have been "too little, too late" for some mule deer. As a big buck hunter, you need to pay close attention to winterkill. I certainly do.  It can affect everything from big buck numbers, your ability to draw a license, and even where big bucks will show up in your unit come fall. 

Recent Comments
Nino Ripepi
Thanks for taking the time to summarize winterkill throughout the west and letting readers know what you found out from multiple s... Read More
Monday, 27 March 2017 11:36
Robby Denning
Nino, thanks for pointing that out. My blog was getting a little long, so I left out Colorado till next post. But since you brough... Read More
Monday, 27 March 2017 12:18
Zach Benedict
As always, great stuff Robby. Thanks for putting in the time and efforts to educate us.
Monday, 27 March 2017 11:59
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Bad Winter? Now What?

Bad Winter? Now What?

If you're a big buck hunter, you're probably a weather freak, too.  After all, terminal weather conditions usually have the biggest impact on your hunt.  Consider, too, that long-term weather patterns also affect your hunt even though it may be months away.  Drought, fire, and hard winters all can have a negative effect on your upcoming seasons. 

Recent Comments
Nate
Good article Robby. I'll be hunting a northern Utah unit this fall as it's home so hopefully the current feeding program helps a f... Read More
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 12:26
Robby Denning
Nate, yes, you and I are kinda in the bullseye right now of a hard winter. Glad to see Utah helping those struggling deer and I s... Read More
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:56
Mike Peterson
Robby we have taken a big hit up here also... I am sure the whitetail are struggling big time. The worst part this area up here ... Read More
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 15:57
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Winners! Vortex Scope, Huntin' Fool, & Hunting Big Mule Deer Book

Winners! Vortex Scope, Huntin' Fool, & Hunting Big Mule Deer Book

 

Let's do this!

First, thank you for following this project to completion: A Season of Hunting Big Mule Deer.  I truly hope you learned something that will help you take the best buck of your life.

Now let's giveaway the Vortex Viper 3-9x40mm, the 1-year membership to The Huntin' Fool, and a copy of my book, Hunting Big Mule Deer

I used Random.org's random number generator to draw from the qualified entries (including those of you who were blocked by the system but emailed me your entries.)

1st Place: Vortex Viper goes to Josh Weeks

2nd Place: Huntin' Fool Membership goes to Brian Bitter

3rd Place: Hunting Big Mule Deer Book goes to Gentry Distefano

I need each of you to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to claim your entry.  Feel free to post up in the comments below.

You have 10 days (January 21st) to claim your prize or I'll redraw from the qualified entries.

Thanks again.  I'll be posting this year on research, gear, and more information related to mule deer hunting.  If you've never done so, sign up for the Rok Blog upper right at "Rok Blog Sign-Up" to receive email notification when I post.

Thanks and God bless your hunting.

For more tips & tactics, check out my book, Hunting Big Mule Deer

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Recent Comments
Josh Weeks
No way, I can't believe I won! I was thinking how I really need to upgrade from the $60 BSA scope I have been using for the last 6... Read More
Tuesday, 10 January 2017 13:52
Gibson Kuenzi
Glad to see this go to a guy who needs it! Congratulations!
Wednesday, 11 January 2017 17:50
Gentry Distefano
Awesome!! I am excited to receive the book so I can learn some new tips!! Thank you!
Wednesday, 11 January 2017 11:19
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