Colorado Archery Mule Deer 2021 - Timing?

Brendan

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Drew my first mule deer tag in a lower point unit in west-central colorado. Have been hunting Elk yearly since 2014, but this is my first time targeting mule deer. Have an archery bear tag in my pocket as well. The unit is not OTC for Elk, but does contain a large Wilderness area which I'd I'm sure will be crowded. There are outfitters that operate in the unit for Elk, unsure about deer, need to research that more but I wouldn't be surprised.

I'm aware the season dates sort of suck this year, but it is what it is. Season opens Thursday September 2nd, which is leading into Labor Day weekend. I'm sure there will be 4 days of higher than average crowds Friday the 3rd through Monday the 6th.

Current plan is to be in Colorado on August 29th at the latest, acclimate for a couple days at altitude, and hike in a day or two before the season. Current plan is to make this an extended backpack trip.

Based on the season dates - would you plan differently? Or be there early and give it hell? Looking at the maps of the Wilderness, it looks like a lot of basins and drainages have trails - avoid them completely? Target those without a trail and outside the Wilderness? First mule deer hunt, so I'm not going to be picky.
 

3forks

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Does your unit have an early rifle season, or are you planning on an above timberline hunt specifically?
 

Jimss

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There generally are low deer populations in most wilderness type areas in Colo. Be prepared to cover lots of country with eyes and boot leather. In regard to timing, bucks change into an entirely different animal once they shed their velvet. They often move down into the trees and biggest bucks may seem like they disappear into thin air once the fluffy stuff is gone! Get into shape and be prepared for a marathon type hunt!
 
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Brendan

Brendan

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Does your unit have an early rifle season, or are you planning on an above timberline hunt specifically?

Pretty sure the earliest rifle season is end of October. But, There is a 9/11 - 9/19 Muzzy season for deer. My tag is only valid September archery.

I've never had an issue with the physical aspect of an Elk hunt, and have had to pack out 3 bulls solo. But, this will be my first time doing a lot of glassing. Have 10x42's, tripod, pan head, and a nice spotter that will be great for glassing and not so great to carry.

There is a good amount of public outside the wilderness area as well, and a couple forest roads that get reasonably far back.
 

3forks

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There generally are low deer populations in most wilderness type areas in Colo. Be prepared to cover lots of country with eyes and boot leather. In regard to timing, bucks change into an entirely different animal once they shed their velvet. They often move down into the trees and biggest bucks may seem like they disappear into thin air once the fluffy stuff is gone! Get into shape and be prepared for a marathon type hunt!
I agree with this.

I don’t think the high country hunts for mulies are as good as they used to be, and like Jimss said - once they rub their velvet, and the frost hits the high country, many bucks move out of the high basins.

Also, there are a lot of units in the general area you (Brendan) mention where the majority of deer don’t spend their summers above timberline.
 
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Brendan

Brendan

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Let me ask a terrain question for everyone, or for some comments on my approach.

Where I'm going, you start with your open basins up high, giving way into darker timber and mixed pines everywhere from looking very thick, to spotty and open in certain areas with open hillsides here and there, with aspens below that, and then getting down towards the valley floor it looks like open / dry sagebrush if I had to guess.

My plan was to start with the higher vantages where I could watch the open basins, but also the timber below. If I'm not seeing anything, start rotating lower, avoiding the real thick stuff that I can't glass at all, moving down to the lower areas of mixed aspen, open hillsides, and spots of darker timber, again - areas I can glass into and make a stalk if I see something.

But then again, there's more terrain up high than I could conceivably cover during my trip too.

I would anticipate running into Elk Hunters in the thicker stuff as I get lower.
 

3forks

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You don‘t say how much time your extended backpacking trip will be, but unless you have a chance to locate some lower elevation bucks and try and pattern them as a plan B - I’d stick to the timberline terrain where you have a better glassing opportunities.

It’s definitely possible to pattern bucks in the sage, but it takes a lot of time and is similar to hunting antelope. As you can imagine, you won’t see a ton of bucks while driving the roads. Those big sage hills have a lot of terrain features that the deer use, and since glassing from a higher vantage point isn’t as easy, you kind of have to hunt the terrain features you find. Some ridges or draws you may find some does, others forties, and others you may find a group of bucks. It’s very time consuming.

A lot of deer and elk are living in and around ranches and hay fields on the valley floor. You can hunt the edges of ranches, and try to make a play on the deer and elk moving into the sage hills to bed, but you won’t be alone you do that.
 
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Brendan

Brendan

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You don‘t say how much time your extended backpacking trip will be, but unless you have a chance to locate some lower elevation bucks and try and pattern them as a plan B - I’d stick to the timberline terrain where you have a better glassing opportunities.

It’s definitely possible to pattern bucks in the sage, but it takes a lot of time and is similar to hunting antelope. As you can imagine, you won’t see a ton of bucks while driving the roads. Those big sage hills have a lot of terrain features that the deer use, and since glassing from a higher vantage point isn’t as easy, you kind of have to hunt the terrain features you find. Some ridges or draws you may find some does, others forties, and others you may find a group of bucks. It’s very time consuming.

A lot of deer and elk are living in and around ranches and hay fields on the valley floor. You can hunt the edges of ranches, and try to make a play on the deer and elk moving into the sage hills to bed, but you won’t be alone you do that.

I have up to 10 days. I could backpack in for that much time if I think that's what's going to give me the best chance and it sounds like alpine and the timberline is the place start.

But beyond that, I wasn't really thinking of the valley floors and intercepting deer coming off Ag fields (not really looking for that) but a couple people have commented they often run into more deer lower, or that deer don't always summer up in the alpine in certain areas. So was trying to have a backup plan between the alpine areas and the valley floor.

It'll be fun regardless. And, Bear tag is a bonus too as I've never hunted them either.
 

Jimss

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Cover lots of country with glass and boots is the name of the game! If you aren’t finding deer in one area move on to the next. Deer are scattered over miles and miles of country early. If you can figure out the slopes, aspect, terrain food, water where you tend to find bucks you’ll have less country to cover by eliminating country where you aren’t finding them. It may take several years to figure this out. The more time you are willing to spend in muley country the more you will learn.
 

Trumpkin The Dwarf

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There will be deer up high. They generally stay above timberline till the velvet is gone unless it's a major drought and they can't get enough food. Find buckbrush and water sources in basins on google earth, and just make a list of basins to check. The deer will have certain basins they prefer every year. Once you find a few basins they like you can go back year after year and expect to find bucks in the general vicinity.

The season dates are fine. Not many guys can hang for more than 6-7 days in the backcountry anyways, and there will be bucks still in velvet at the end of your hunt. Some trails don't get much use, and sometimes the bucks stay just out of sight of the trails. At the end of the day, you gotta go and give it the old college try. We can't make it happen for you, but I can nearly guarantee that you'll love the experience if you bust your ass the whole trip.
 

robby denning

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I've never had an issue with the physical aspect of an Elk hunt, and have had to pack out 3 bulls solo. But, this will be my first time doing a lot of glassing. Have 10x42's, tripod, pan head, and a nice spotter that will be great for glassing and not so great to carry.

You’ll do fine. Always seemed like I hiked more back when I hunted elk.

Don’t hesitate to take a break if you start getting burned out. It’s better than quitting. Even if it cost you a day or two

Good luck Brendan!


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ColoradoV

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With the total and complete debacle that was the last 5 year fair to say things have looked better in Colorado for archery deer.

Yea the season dates are new the worst in the country for high country mulies. Only have the thank the old and I mean old “elk only” cba to thank for that as deer hunters lost the best 5 days of the season this year.. Thanks CBA!!!

Crowding during the early season is real and with the shortened early season pushes muzzy/rifle right on top of the archery seasons.. In places you will have 2 days - yep 2 days before the 1000 yd shots start flying and the deer totally leave the high basins.

In reality these early archery hunts are getting degraded to the point by crowding and reducing the applicable season to where most are a site seeing experience more than a deer hunt.. So get up high and have fun but don’t set expectations too high as if you luck into a good buck it might not be as good of luck as you think.. Or it is fair to say others will have as well and plan on most every basin will have at has at least one group of hunters in it.. Things get competitive out there now lol.

As has been mentioned if you don’t get it done in the first few days the hunt gets exponentially harder each day. Add in that every archery deer hunter hunts the opening week (elk hunters spread out over a month) and archery deer hunting in Colorado has turned into what it is..
 

Marble

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The bucks will stay at our above tree line until weather, rut or people push them out. If people push them out, they just move to an adjacent drainage and do the same thing until weather, people or the rut happens.

If you can find them and put them to bed, then you have a chance at killing one.

Follow your plan and listen to the what the positive optimists here have to say.

If you think you can, or you can't, your right.

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Jalenweyker

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Im in the exact same boat as you, i to was planning to be in colorado himing in the 29th and glass as much country as i can them couple days before seasone and try to make it happen in the first day or two, and kind of figuring it might take hanging in there late into the following week for deer to hopefully start acting normal again after the holiday in spots you seen them the few days before the season. But thats all untested theory from me. Good luck
 

robby denning

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Im in the exact same boat as you, i to was planning to be in colorado himing in the 29th and glass as much country as i can them couple days before seasone and try to make it happen in the first day or two, and kind of figuring it might take hanging in there late into the following week for deer to hopefully start acting normal again after the holiday in spots you seen them the few days before the season. But thats all untested theory from me. Good luck

It’s good theory, and it put you in the mountains at a good time to be hunting. So you can’t go wrong there. Even if any given day might suck.


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Brendan

Brendan

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Still watching all the input - thanks everyone. I'm committed to going and enjoying myself, even if it ends up being 10 days of backpacking around the high country (Unless of course Arizona comes through with a hail mary shot at a tag...)

I'd be pretty excited to shoot a decent black bear as well, as I've never hunted them either.

Getting the tag was like a switch getting thrown, 12 weeks to get ready...
 

fightthenoise

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I drew Utah (late August) and Colorado so I’ll be hunting after muzzleloader. I figure it’s not ideal but adapt & overcome. The deer will be around, just gotta figure it out. It’ll be fun regardless.
 
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