May 26 , 2015
PART I – BIOLOGICAL/ENVIRONMENT PERSPECTIVES I honestly believe that most Mountain Hunters consider taking a Boone and Crockett mule deer to be the most difficult trophy to successfully harvest in North America today! There are a myriad of complicated factors that lead me to make such a bold statement. Please note that it is not my intent in this article to discuss specific points as to why I believe this remark to be true. I’m not a wildlife biologist nor do I work for any organization conducting research on mule deer. I do, however, know that there are countless articles and theories that have been written regarding the decline of our mule deer herds. Those arguments range from urban growth and over-hunting to a labyrinth of environmental issues. For now, I’ll leave those discussions to others. Hopefully, we may see a comprehensive article submitted to Altitude Outdoors in the near future that will discuss those specific arguments and contentions. I am convinced that Mountain Hunters share a common vision of seeing a day in our future when the restoration of our mule deer herds becomes a reality. Perhaps it is just a dream but how would it be to see our mule deer once again attain the healthy, robust populations we witnessed during the glory days that occurred in the middle of the past century? Returning to those “good old days” where there were plenty of diverse, quality hunting opportunities available to harvest a trophy buck is a specter that many die hard “mule deer aficionado’s” would hike into hell and back for without flinching if that would solve the problem. Just like many of you, I have been a die-hard mule deer hunter most of my life, captivated and obsessed with the adrenalin rush and majesty of seeing a world-class buck! Please take a minute to visit some of the posts/videos in the Deer Hunter section here on Altitude Outdoors and you will undoubtedly catch “buck fever” as you experience symptoms of the incurable “Muley Mania” that has infected many of us. I consider myself to be well educated when it comes to understanding mule deer behavior as my knowledge base was developed and then expanded exponentially through countless hours/years spent in the field pursuing trophy caliber bucks. Growing up and living in what I view as the “heartland” of some of the greatest high desert mule deer country in the western United States, I have had the unique privilege/ opportunity to study the habits of mule deer, (“Odocileus hemionus”) out on the mountain for the past 5 decades. My respect and love for big old muleys has grown infinitely over this expanse of time as I have personally witnessed their innate intelligence and uncanny ability to survive the perils of nature, predators, hunters and the encroachment of civilization upon their winter and summer ranges. Just like the majority of you, I’m a Mountain Hunter who enjoys getting away from the mayhem of crowded hunting areas. This personal inclination led me to the exploration of extremely isolated high desert terrain where I didn't have to contend with a lot of hunters; in country that was home to some great, genetically superior bucks. True, the desert terrain where I spend my time hunting doesn't support large populations of mule deer like may be in found in some higher alpine regions of the west, but these locations have given me the opportunity to hunt what I consider to be massive antlered, trophy bucks. As hunters, each one of us appreciates different antler characteristics in mule deer. Personally, I get my “adrenalin rush” from hunting big bucks that pack thick, massive antlers. It’s my opinion that the “burly bucks” that live in high desert climates such as the Arizona Strip and Henry Mountains tend to promote and aggregate more density in their antler growth than in other geographic mule deer inhabited regions. I realize that there are exceptions to every rule and “my hypothesis” may not always hold true. In fact, I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me in regards to this statement. With this said please allow me to explain and discuss specific criteria that may give validity to biological and environmental elements that I believe influence the phenomenal antler growth exhibited by many desert mule deer bucks. I would ask you to remember that as I express my thoughts regarding these premises that although biologists have made tremendous advances in their understanding of wildlife science they may still not always have definitive answers as to why particular events occur with wild animals interacting in nature. Thus, we must sometimes formulate an opinion based on personal speculation. Perhaps that is just Mother Nature’s way of continuing to challenge man’s intellect. To back up my “personal hypothesis” I've collected hundreds of shed antlers over the years from various high desert regions and compared them with mule deer antlers from higher alpine locations. What I have noticed is that there is generally more mass associated with the antlers that were shed by high desert bucks. Genetically speaking, certain characteristics exhibited in antlers are common to a specific geographic location.
We know, substantiated through scientific data, that the habitat and feed available to mule deer as well as genetics are huge contributors in their antler growth. The quality and quantity of prime deer vegetation must be highly accessible for a buck to produce the mass and growth that constitutes a giant set of trophy antlers. In the high desert terrain and biomes I speak of there are large quantities of serviceberry, snowberry, bitterbrush, oak, and big sagebrush that are well documented as being prime habitat for mule deer. These regions are also very highly mineralized. I say this because many of the available water sources have a strong mineralized taste and smell that indicates to me higher concentrations of sulfate, phosphate and calcium, all of which play vital roles in the development and production of abnormal antler growth in mule deer. I have also noticed that in some years the oak and pinion trees in these areas are heavy with acorns and pine nuts. This unique combination of factors with an abundance of different grasses and forbes provides the perfect formula for a high desert buck to achieve unbelievable antler growth, regeneration, repair, and the storage of fat reserves necessary for optimum health.
THE MAJESTY OF A GIANT HIGH DESERT MULEY CAN CAPTIVATE THE SOUL OF A MOUNTAIN HUNTERIn Part I of this article I have addressed my thoughts in regards to the biological and environmental factors that I believe contribute to the generation of more mass and growth in the antlers of high desert bucks. I know there will be those who don’t agree with the perspectives I’ve presented. Please know that I do respect the views of each one of you as I recognize that I definitely don’t have all the answers. I admire so much the dedication, relentless desire and ever evolving hunting skills that many of you possess to pursue and harvest world-class mule deer, one of the most exhilarating challenges I can think of. There are indeed some incredible mule deer hunters out there, dedicated male and female Mountain Hunters who work tirelessly to hone their skills but have helped to revolutionize the knowledge base that is now available in reference to trophy mule deer. In Part II of this article I will offer a few of my personal perspectives and tactics on how to successfully hunt a high desert buck. It’s my hope that sharing thoughts with one another will benefit all of us.