When most people think of Big Mule Deer in Arizona they think of the Arizona Strip (Units 13A & 13B), the Kaibab (Units 12AW & 12AE) & Unit 12B. These units are known for great genetics, but these popular mule deer areas typically take multiple decades to draw or LOTTERY winning type luck to obtain a mule deer tag!
Arizona Mule Deer units south of the Grand Canyon hold some GREAT opportunity to hunt desert & rocky mountain mule deer without waiting decades, in fact some hunts can be drawn the first year you apply. If you hunt with US, trophy quality mule deer of 160-180 inches is extremely doable & occasionally, some of these areas will hold mule deer bucks in the 190 inch plus range!
Check-out the video below of EPO client/hunter, Ian Chappel, taking his first mule deer, while hunting with us in 2016!
It was day three of Brad’s six day Arizona archery mule deer hunt. We had glassed and Brad had stalked the same mule deer buck twice, during the first two days of his guided mule deer hunt. We estimated the mule deer buck to be over 180 inches, but after some close calls, the mule deer had moved into some less desirable glassing and stalking terrain, so we decided to try a new piece of country.
Within just a few minutes, I had located two different groups of does that each had rutting mule deer bucks. Patiently, we watched the groups of deer as some smaller bucks pushed the does around. We kept glassing as a large mule deer buck got up and moved into view to check the does. With all the mule deer rutting activity, we decided to see if we could get closer. We carefully laid out an approach route and 45 minutes later we were creeping up to our marker bush.
The timing could not have been better, we didn’t even have time to get excited or an arrow nocked as the big mule deer was pushing the smaller 24” 3 x 3 right toward us and away from the does. The bucks were preoccupied with the does on their mind and didn’t notice as Brad nocked an arrow. Then, as we sat frozen behind the little bush the bucks passed by 30 yards from us.
I gave out a “BLAT” and Brad let his arrow fly.
It was now nearly noon the next cold and crisp day. We had been searching for any sign of the big mule deer buck all morning. The light skiff of snow which covered any tracks or deer sign was now melted. Brad’s arrow had hit just a little farther back than he wanted it to. I knew Brad was getting discouraged and we were both starting to have doubts about recovering his mule deer buck. We decided to split up and Brad was up high on the ridge glassing and looking for any sign of the buck, while I continued searching for the bucks tracks.
The tight and rocky ground made it hard to track, even before the snow hit. I had trailed the buck for 2 1/2 miles the evening before and it was now extremely slow. I patiently scrubbed the ground back-and-forth back-and-forth trying to see any hint of the buck’s last tracks. Then…. there it was, a set of hardly visible tracks that had been snowed on.
The tracking pace now had picked up. 20 minutes later I was pretty sure it had to be the buck’s tracks but still had my doubts. Finally, I found the bed that he had laid in and there was a small amount of dry blood. With my eyes glued to the ground looking for any part of his tracks, I nearly tripped over the big old mule deer buck. He was DOWN!
As we approached Jeff’s last day Arizona Strip Mule Deer, I couldn’t help but feel anxiety. Jeff was a very accomplished mule deer hunter. He had taken well over 30+ trophy mule deer, from Mexico to Wyoming. I had yet to see the buck as he was buried in the cliff rose, so I had no idea how big he was…
The cliff rose was tall and the rutting deer were scattered. As a guide, you have to read people and you have to quickly analyze what skills the hunter has. I knew it was going to be quick, so as the buck trotted out, I called to him and he stopped. Jeff, being as handy as they come with a rifle, made a quick decision and the buck jumped lunging forward.
As we walked toward the buck’s last location, we could see Jeff’s Arizona Strip Mule Deer Buck was down.
Lee quickly got to our location and then Jeff made a statement that I will never forget:
“I have never seen guides work together like you guys. You guys never gave up.” Jeff Vaughn
As the Arizona Strip Mule Deer Hunts were winding down, hunters and other outfitters started to pull out. Unit 13A was a tough hunt, with very FEW 200″ bucks found prior to the hunt, most guides knew it was going to be hard to kill a 200″ mule deer and to top it off, a big winter storm was set to arrive on the last day.
Lee, Pat, Jeff & I were all committed to seeing Jeff’s hunt to the very end.
10 days of scouting…
I arrived in Unit 13A a full 10 days prior to the hunt start date. My goal was to pound as much country as possible and to not waste any time during my Arizona Strip Scouting efforts. I was able to find multiple different groups of does and a few decent bucks. The rut wasn’t quite turned on, but we knew the bucks would start moving soon.
Lee & I often talk about why we like the general hunts on the Arizona Strip better than the archery hunts and quite frankly, it’s because you can’t just rely on trail cameras. You have to actually have some mule deer hunting skills. You have to be willing to not see deer for days and then get up and do it all over again.
Passing on a number of Arizona Strip Mule Deer…
We saw and passed on a number of Arizona Strip Bucks. We literally hunted ALL day, every day. We flat pounded the country and over that time period the EPO camp grew very close. We became a small hunting family, which had a lot of fun, worked our asses off and we got a big last day strip buck on the ground!
If you get a chance, check-out Jeff’s Arizona Mule Deer Hunt on film: 20days