Our good friend Mark B. drew his dream Arizona Mule Deer tag in Unit 13B in 2016. The EPO crew scouted & hunted harder, which turned up several great strip bucks. After 4 days of hunting hard, they looked over this BIG heavy typical & decided it was time to pull the trigger.
So what are the best Arizona Mule Deer Units or Hunts for 2015?
As many of you know Arizona is completely a draw state for the best rifle mule deer hunts. If you are a resident you have a shot at any of the best mule deer units, because 80% of the tags will be awarded in the 2nd pass or random draw. If you are a non-resident you are currently limited because only 10% of the best mule deer tags are awarded to non-residents and this percentage is typically met in the max bonus point pass. The max bonus point pass is where 20% of the top mule deer tags are awarded and you must have max bonus points to be eligible for this draw. Basically, that takes 10+ years of applying to reach those max bonus point numbers.
With that said, here is our list without thought to bonus points or the draw process:
Best Arizona Rifle Mule Deer Hunts:
Unit 13B (Strip) November Mule Deer– Best genetics and age class in the state. The majority of 13B has received good precipitation this spring, which will equal great nutrition for antler growth.
Unit 13A (Strip) November Mule Deer– Great genetics and age class, but less deer habitat than 13B. 13A has actually received better precipitation than 13B this spring and is also a full blown rut hunt (starts a week after 13B). If there was more deer habitat, it would be our #1.
12AW (Kaibab) Late November Mule Deer– Solid Genetics with lots of deer. Age class isn’t as good as the strip. This hunt is a full blown rut hunt and with the good spring rain, the bucks should reach their potential this year.
12AE (Kaibab) Late November Mule Deer-basically the same as 12AW, just not quite as many deer or as much country to hunt.
honorable mentions: 12B late, 12BW late, 8 late & 17B late
Best Arizona Archery Mule Deer Hunts:
Unit 13B Archery Mule Deer-Best genetics and age class in the state. The majority of 13B has received good precipitation this spring, which will equal great nutrition for antler growth. If you it’s dry during the hunt, hunters and guides camp on water and tend to take bigger bucks.
Unit 13A Archery Mule Deer-Great genetics and age class, but less deer habitat. 13A has actually received better precipitation than 13B this spring, so antler growth will be the best in the state. 13A has 5 more archery tags than 13B, but some of the big bucks that rut on the Grand Canyon National Park and in 13B often summer in 13A.
Early Over-the-Counter Central Arizona Mule Deer Units– Mule Deer densities are similar to the strip, but the age class and genetics are not as good. Some of the bigger bucks will expose themselves while chasing grass feed from the monsoon season.
Late Rut Over-the-Counter Arizona Mule Deer Units– The mule deer rut for deer south of the Grand Canyon typically goes from mid-December to late-January. Mule Deer living in the higher country, which is located North of the Mogollon Rim tend to rut a little sooner. Desert Mule Deer located South and West of the Mogollon Rim tend to rut harder after Christmas through late January.
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