I wrote this series to help you decide where you should be applying based on your ability to dedicate the time it takes to hunt big mule deer successfully. As I wrote in the last post, October 15th-27th is typically the toughest time to kill a big mule deer, unless it’s opening day or it snows. I plan very few hunts during that time. I’m usually home resting up for what may be the best month to kill a big mule deer: November.
November will be your toughest month to draw a rifle tag. If there is an OTC rifle hunt going on at this time, big bucks will be few as they just can’t get the age on them to grow big antlers. I’m not against rut hunts at all–we hunt every other big game species during the rut–we just have to manage pressure through tags. This means you better be lucky in the draw, or have at least a few points. (I expect rut hunt opportunity to continue to decline as weapons get better, just saying.)
When recommending how to hunt the 11th month, I divide November into two parts:
- Early November (roughly the 1st through the 10th) and
- Mid-to-late November (roughly the 11th through the 30th.)
Let’s cover the first 10 days of the month in this post.
From about the southern border of Colorado to the southern Canadian border, bucks will be rutting by this time. Now I’m not talking dumb-in-the-rut, but they are exhibiting rutting behavior. Most hunters aren’t perceptive enough to even notice it, but the big bucks will be checking does starting around the 27th of October, give or take a few days. Not every big buck will be around the does, but they won’t be far.
If you want to find single guys on Friday night, you go where the ladies are. The principle is the same for big mule deer. Find does near secure cover where few hunters can harass them. It doesn’t have to be eight miles from the truck, but that does help. When the does are calm, you might catch a big buck around them in the first and last minutes of legal shooting light (don’t sleep in or leave early!)
I make sure I know exactly where several doe groups are during these dates and check on them in the twilight hours. During the day, if I’m still out, I’ll hunt the cover near those does. If it snows, my eyes are glued to the ground (checking for big tracks) and the optics, but I’m looking in and near the thick cover. Bucks in the cover can be very hard to judge, as shown by the lead photo in this post.
This video shows a three-year old buck (lab aged) that I killed in 2017 in the last minutes of legal shooting light on the last day (November 8th). I found him simply because I was hunting an area where I’d seen secure does and big tracks. I was on private property and hunting pressure was low, but naturally he was still very near the cover.
I’ve killed at least three of my very best (and oldest bucks) at this time using these tactics.
You’ll still find lone bucks or bucks together that aren’t chasing does in early November, but don’t fool yourself that the rut hasn’t begun. Otherwise, you’ll be off on some nasty peak thinking “the big bucks are still high!” I say they’ll be high only if the does are high.
Many hunters think the young bucks rut first. That is likely because most deer herds have a lot of young bucks that are easily seen, compared to the older bucks that aren’t so visible. It’s been my experience that the oldest and biggest bucks rut first. They are at the top of the pecking order and have spent months establishing that dominance. They aren’t gonna let those young bucks breed those does first. No way.
As a guideline, if your unit has at least 20 bucks per 100 does, you can be confident that there will be some big bucks around. Just get out there and find those secure does and know that the big bucks are nearby, no matter what the naysayers say.
There maybe exceptions to my observations, but as I’ve said for years on this blog,
“You can’t have consistent success hoping for an exception.”
Next time, let’s talk about probably the best time to kill a giant buck: Mid-to-late November
In the meantime, check out goHunt.com. They specialize in hunting information for the DIY hunter. I use their draw odds calculator a lot this time of year and feel it has the most to offer. Learn more here:
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