Calling Mule Deer

Calling Mule Deer

Story and Photos by: Larry Weishuhn

Mule deer bucks with massive beams, long-tines and spreads approaching thirty or more inches take my breath away.

Taking such a mature, big-antlered mule deer buck in today’s world is one of the most difficult hunting objectives to accomplish. As a friend recently said, “Even where there are a lot of big mule deer bucks, there are not many!” The challenge is worthy the effort, the journey every bit as important as attaining the goal. I love hunting mule deer!

During a recent hunting season I spent a week on the Hargrove Ranch ( located in the southern Panhandle of Texas looking for a mature buck. I have hunted this property for the past two years for whitetails rather than mule deer. Doing so, we encountered a fair number of mule deer in the sand and shin oak portion of the spacious ranch. During those whitetail hunts, we only occasionally glassed the deep and steep rugged breaks of the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River canyon, prime desert mule deer habitat.

Interestingly, mule deer which live in the lower Panhandle of Texas, south of Lubbock, primarily are there because of an unscheduled release dating back to the 1950’s. Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission biologists were moving desert mule deer from the Trans Pecos ecological region to the upper Texas Panhandle to supplement the resident herds. En route, the truck transporting mule deer broke down near Snyder. Fearing for the health of the confined deer, there was little to do than open the gates. From that initial unintended release, mule deer in the area flourished. In ensuing years, there was likely a natural infusion of mule deer which roamed eastward from New Mexico, and southward from the Upper Texas Panhandle.

As a wildlife biologist, years ago, I spent time on Texas’ Black Gap Wildlife Management Area adjoining the Big Bend National Park, trying to collect mule deer does for a variety of research we were involved in at the time. While on one of those “collection trips” I crawled to the cusp of a brushy canyon where I spotted a distant coyote.

As a youngster, I had become enthralled with calling predators and always carried a mouth-blown Burnham Brothers Long Range Jackrabbit Call with me whenever I was in the field. I reached into my pocket, pulled out the call and started blowing short blasts to imitate the plaintive squalls of a dying rabbit. Immediately three mule deer does charged out of a nearby draw and ran directly toward me. I shot the largest when she stopped ten yards away. The other two started to leave. I again started calling, doing my best to imitate a life-threatened rabbit. Both does stopped, turned and started toward me. Behind them came five more does and two bucks. I put my .257 Roberts loaded with Hornady handloads to good use and shot two more does.

I could hardly believe mule deer had responded to the sounds of a dying rabbit. I had no idea why, but the fact remained, they had!

Since then, I have used the same Burnham Brothers Call and more recently a Burnham Brothers C-3 mouth blown call, to call in a lot of mule deer from the mountains and plains of Canada to the high chaparral of western Mexico. About seventy-five percent of the times I have tried to call-in mule deer with a mouth-blown predator call, I have been successful.

During a recent hunt on the Hargrove Ranch, I was joined by Trijicon’s Josh Lyall. Josh, like me, was looking for a mule deer. I was also to film an episode for “Trijicon’s World of Sports Afield.”   

My guide, ranch manager Craig Archer and I spent considerable time glassing the red sandstone canyons and badland breaks of the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River which traverses the ranch. We spotted a great number of mule deer, does, fawns and bucks, albeit mostly youngsters. The second evening of the hunt we found ourselves on a peninsula that jutted into the breaks, a perfect place to call mule deer. A few moments later, I started blowing the plaintive sounds which had in the past attracted mule deer.

Fifteen deer, including three impressive bucks, came running toward us. They stopped ten yards distant of where we were secreted behind a dead cedar. Two bucks were nice, the biggest a 5x5. Initially, I was tempted, but then looked beyond his rack and decided he was a youngster. Given a chance to mature, he would, in a year or two, produce truly impressive antlers.

By the time I quit calling, we had twenty-seven mule deer milling around us, none farther than twenty-five yards away. Ten minutes after I quit calling, the deer drifted away. We headed to another part of the ranch in hopes of finding an older buck. As we were leaving the area, we met Josh and his guide, David Archer. We told them about the bucks we had called in. They headed in that direction. Fifteen minutes later we heard a shot, then received a text and photo of Josh with a 5x5 with a 25-inch spread.

Later that afternoon we stopped on the cusp of a brushy canyon. I started calling my predator call. Eight does and fawns charged in. They stopped, stared, then walked to within thirty yards.

An hour later we spotted a long-tined five by five, close to the bottom of the canyon. He had extremely long front tines, deep back forks and for a mule deer, very long brow tines. I called to him, but unfortunately he paid me no attention. He was the only mule deer I called to during the trip that did not come at a run to investigate.

When the buck did not respond, we tried to stalk closer. As luck would have it, he simply disappeared, never to be seen again, even though we later returned several times to that immediate area.

The following day we called in several more mule deer, does, fawns and young bucks. We also spent much time glassing the areas where before the season opened, Craig had seen four big, double-forked mule deer. Apparently now, they were hiding!

As the day was coming to an end, we headed to a large wheat field on the edge of the ranch’s property. There, we spotted thirty-seven mule deer including numerous bucks, two of which based on body size were certainly mature. We stopped fifty yards off of field’s edge. I started calling. Immediately deer responded, running directly toward us. In less than a minute, all thirty-seven deer were milling around us; does, fawns and seven bucks, less than 50-yards away. The biggest of the bucks was a sizeable 3x3. I was sorely tempted! After watching him a full three minutes, I decided to pass him. Although big of body, I suspected he might in the future produce a much bigger rack. I switched to watch another buck. He had a very nice 5x5 rack, about 22-inches wide. The more I looked at him, the more I knew he lacked maturity. After the deer drifted away, we headed to camp.

The last two days of my hunt, David Archer was my guide, Craig’s brother and the ranch’s head guide. Craig had ranch business to attend to. Mid-day, having called in numerous does, fawns and young bucks, David and I put a stalk on an impressive antlered buck, one we had spotted at a great distance. Unfortunately, the buck did a disappearing act.

With the season coming to a close, we headed where previously I had called up several deer including a very long-tined 3x2, the same area where before the beginning of the season Craig had seen a very long tined, 28-inch wide 3x3. We hoped he would respond to my call or we could possibly spot him and then do a stalk. But it was not to be.

During my hunt on the Hargrove I called in over one hundred mule deer with my mouth-blown Burnham Brothers predator call, but did not end up harvesting one.

Before leaving, I booked a hunt for the following year. I will be back, call in hand, again and again!

Posted in Tips & Tactics