Life is full of buzzwords and catchphrases. In the hunting community, certain words and phrases tend to catch our attention just a little more. We hear a lot about “backcountry” and “high country” mule deer hunting. These two phrases grab our attention and pull us in with visions quaking aspen at 10,000 feet dancing in our heads.
The fact is, mule deer live in all kinds of habitats and at varying elevations, not just the backcountry and high country. You can find some other overlooked habitat types for awesome DIY public land mule deer hunting.
The vegetation in these habitat types includes sagebrush, bitterbrush, cliffrose, mountain mahogany, and pinyon and juniper woodlands.
“Low country” hunts can be just as exciting, are overlooked, and provide unique opportunities and challenges. What we characterize as the low country is sagebrush and mountain brush habitat types. The vegetation in these habitat types includes sagebrush, bitterbrush, cliffrose, mountain mahogany, and pinyon and juniper woodlands. These habitat types occur at elevations below conifer/aspen communities, are often water-limited, open, and warmer.
Low Country Tactics
Here are some tactics and strategies – common and uncommon – for hunting low country mule deer.
Water is life no matter where you hunt, we all know this. The more scarce water becomes, the closer life clings to it. This isn’t some super top-secret strategy about water, finding water is no secret to mule deer hunting. In the low country though, water is often more limited. Deer won’t stray too far from a good water source, natural or man-made. Water sources can be streams, springs, seeps, holes in rocks, guzzlers, and livestock ponds and troughs.
Finding water doesn’t necessarily mean you can sit on it and kill though. In our opinion water sources in the low country get visitation more often during the night than compared to higher elevation water sources. This is for a couple of reasons.
- When fewer water sources exist, the risk of predation at water increases. Big bucks are aware of this and visit only when necessary.
- It’s often hot in the low country. Bucks conserve energy during the day, and since they likely have to travel further for water, they do so under darkness when it is cool (obviously this applies to warmer weather hunts).
All considered if you know where the water is you know the bucks are in the zip code.
The low country can have a lot more roads. It makes sense. The vegetation and topography is more conducive to road making, legal and illegal. Stay off roads, even if it is only by a few hundred yards. Some of these low country mule deer areas feel like they have a road on every ridge. Try walking the brushy bottoms below ridges just out of sight.
A few years ago we hunted an area littered with roads. Our strategy was to park way at the bottom and walk up the mountain in these bottoms. Hunting this way we saw a lot of bucks. We ended up killing a buck in one of these bottoms right underneath a road where several ATV’s passed by just out of sight.
Much of the low country is open with vegetation shorter than yourself. When crossing ridges, make sure you are not the tallest feature on the skyline. These open country mule deer can see you skylining yourself on a ridge from miles away. Having a keen awareness of danger on ridges is a survival adaptation for all big game, but especially low country mule deer. When crossing a ridge or high spot either find a patch of trees or rocks taller than yourself to hide your outline or find a depression or saddle.
Trail cams are great for finding and patterning deer, we all know this. For this article we suggest a different purpose for trail cams.
Deer densities in the low country can be fewer. Setting a few trail cameras to have pictures of bucks is motivation to keep looking. It is kinda like fishing. When you’re on the lake and you see the fish are jumping, it is easy to keep on fishing even though you aren’t catching any. You see the fish, so you keep trying. Get a few pictures of bucks on camera and when you think no deer can be found, look at those pics and keep going. It’s the buck version of the fish jumping – pull out your phone, see the bucks, and keep trying.
Have a pair of stalking shoes in your pack. Low country ground is hard, rocky, prickly, and dry. It is extremely difficult to move silently in this terrain. Having a good pair of stalking shoes can make a huge difference between a blown stalk and a shot opportunity.
We carry RimRok Stalkers on all our low country hunts. What we do is drop our pack, put RimRok Stalkers in our pocket or under our belt, and get to within a couple of hundred yards of our intended buck. Then we leave our boots and put on the RimRoks for the final stalk.
Mule deer hunting in the low country can be a game of checkers. Out West, the land ownership boundaries look like a literal checkerboard at times. You have to know where you are, where you can go, and how to get from point A to B without trespassing.
Having an app with hunting maps is a must. Download BaseMap. It has all the land ownership boundaries, clearest resolution of any phone mapping app out today, has super cool 3D Google maps, and several other hunt based layers.
Do what no one else wants to do in the low country, stay out all day. Staying out all day is tougher in the low country because of several factors like heat, boredom, and easier access to roads for a quick trip to camp.
The cooler full of beer or coke back at camp can wait, you have a buck to kill.
Resist those temptations. The cooler full of beer or coke back at camp can wait, you have a buck to kill.
Mule deer also key in on the absence of human activity. When the hum of ATV’s stops mid-day in the low country, deer will feed out. Stay and put yourself in opportunities way. We have killed mid-day in the low country several times.
As discussed earlier, hunting the low country can be hot, mundane, and not always the most action-packed type of hunting. A trick we have found to keep things fun and also keep us hunting all day is to pack a special treat. Because hunting the low country frequently means you are hunting out of a base camp near a road, you have the ability to pack items you wouldn’t even think of packing miles into the backcountry.
Take a special treat for lunch. One thing we have done is put a favorite drink right next to the ice block in the cooler the night before so it is ice cold. Then the next morning, tuck it deep into your puffy or hoody to insulate it. Not only does that cold drink taste better on the hill, use it as motivation and something to look forward to while you grind it out all day looking for a big buck.