Finding Success on General Season Rifle Deer Hunts
Braving the “pumpkin patch”, aka, hunting public land in October, can be an overwhelming experience for many. It can seem as though there are blaze orange articles of clothing on every hunt-able ridge top, at least, that’s how it has always seemed to me growing up in Utah. I have now hunted general season mule deer in several states over the years and it seems about the same for every other state I have been to as well.
Despite the difficulties that come with general season deer hunting, there are also a lot of positives in my opinion as well. I have taken a number of respectable bucks on general season hunts including my biggest buck to date. With so many hunters out and about, it can give someone that knows the ins and outs of hunting in October an advantage.
Here are 7 tips that I live by when hunting general season mule deer:
1. Have a pre-hunt checklist
Making sure all your gear is dialed before you leave for your hunt is crucial to you going out with confidence, and not coming home early because of an error. Your pre-hunt checklist might look something like this:
- Shoot my rifle and check my zero
- Make sure my rangefinder has a fresh battery
- Set up my tent
- Check all my gear for any damage
- Create a packlist and ensure you have everything
I have been on hunts where a rangefinder battery dies, crucial gear fails, or a rifle scope is off - it can be the difference between tagging a big buck or having to head home and get tag soup.
2. Can’t kill them from the couch
Don’t let the overwhelming feeling of the hunt itself keep you from going out. Yes, you will run into people. Yes, you might not get a buck. Yes, hunting can be uncomfortable at times. Don’t let these “what-if’s”, or “might-not’s”, and other negative thoughts keep you from getting out and having fun on a hunt. Hunting is so much more than just shooting a deer. Plus, you can’t find a big buck from your couch! Go get some exercise, fresh air, and go in with a good attitude.
3. Hunt the weekdays
I’ve found over the years that the casual hunter generally hunts the weekends and maybe another day on top of that. I’m not saying to skip the weekend, because the more you are out the better chances you will have of laying eyes on a big buck. What I am saying is that you must carve out time from work and make sure you hunt the weekdays. I guarantee that you will see much less pressure and have a better experience during the work week.
Here is a general season mule deer buck I took while hunting the middle of the week.
4. Get off the road
Some of you may not like me saying this, but if you want a mature buck you are going to have to put in the work. Hop on a map and find roadless areas. Once a buck is pressured it’s going to dive into a low-pressure hole to avoid people. Hop out of your vehicle, get away from camp, and go for a hike. That, or backpack into an area so you can conserve energy and don’t have to hike in and out every day.
5. Stay out longer
This is a hard task, because as many of you know there’s not many things better than hitting up the local diner for lunch or taking a midday mountain nap. This time of year cooler temps, higher pressure, and biological wiring keep bucks on their feet longer and have them moving throughout the day. The longer time you spend behind the glass, the greater opportunity you will have to find a mature buck.
I have had some of my best luck this time of year finding bucks in the middle of the day. Whether it’s a buck getting bumped by other hunters, a buck cruising for does, or simply one that is hungry - glassing in the middle of the day is much more effective this time of year than earlier on.
Don't let the nature of the general season rifle deer hunt scare you! Focus on having fun, learning something new, and put these tips and tactics to use to help you find a mature buck.