Mule Deer Hunting Ranches
If there was ever a game species that was highly sought after, it is the trophy mule deer. Hunting forums, Instagram (#muleycrazy, #muledeer), websites such as MonsterMuleys.com and publications such as Muley Crazy are devoted specifically to “monster” mule deer and are in a constant buzz. From Alberta to the Henry Mountains of Utah to Colorado and western Kansas, to the eastern Texas panhandle and far west Texas to the Arizona Strip and Kaibab Plateau, and south to the state of Sonora in Mexico, trophy mule deer are highly sought after for their rareness.
Monster muleys are purely an issue of supply and demand. Big, trophy mule deer are not in large supply in any of these areas, therefore when one is harvested it is truly an exceptional experience. Adding to the demand is the fact that just to acquire permits to pursue mule deer in some premier areas, especially in the western U.S., can take many years of unsuccessful applications before one is drawn. For those provinces and states where tags can be purchased over the counter, it becomes an issue of “standing in line” as booking these hunts with knowledgeable outfitters can mean being on a waiting list up to two and three years.
When it comes to management of, or harvest guidelines for consistently producing big mule deer, it does involve an active approach. The rule of thumb for desert mule deer is a harvest rate of roughly one buck per 8,000 – 10,000 acres due to environmental conditions and low population density. Unlike wetter environments that sustain regular rainfall and a plethora/diversity of vegetation, the meteorological aspects of the desert greatly limit the carrying capacity (deer per acre) of the desert habitat.
Harvest numbers can be improved upon to some degree. To do this, there is no better place to start than with proper habitat management, especially that related to techniques that maintain and/or increase production of beneficial native browse and forbs. In addition, steps should be taken to minimize or eliminate over-grazing by livestock, if not totally departing from livestock use of the rangeland altogether. A well-managed native habitat will respond very favorably in the form of vegetative growth (food & cover resources) for wildlife. An additional benefit is that a healthy native habitat can minimize the chance of invasive, less desirable plant species that are often introduced in the name of better forage resources for livestock, to enter the landscape.
Next, increasing the distribution of water resources across the rangeland via guzzlers and header dams provides more reliable drinking water resources in all directions; ideally one every half mile. Although desert mule deer can and will travel far for water, having it available in shorter distances simply reduces the negative impact that insufficient water resources may be having on that population. Animals that have minimal stresses have the best opportunity to live, successfully reproduce, and from the standpoint of antler growth…fulfill their genetic potential.
Finally, a supplemental feed program, like water adequately distributed across a property, allows the deer the opportunity to maintain “top-end” body condition throughout the year. Obviously, for desert mule deer, the summer months are the most environmentally stressful period of the year involving high temperatures and low moisture. This is also the time that does are dropping fawns and bucks are growing antlers. Therefore, providing a reliable high-quality supplemental food source in combination with adequate water resources and a flourishing native habitat allows the deer to cope with the summer conditions more comfortably.
Trophy mule deer are a product of age, genetics, and proper nutrition. Proper management of the food, water, and cover resources will provide the best opportunity for desert mule deer herds to maintain favorable body condition throughout the year. When peak physical body condition is able to be maintained, does will give birth to healthy fawns, which then have an exceptional opportunity to survive and grow into healthy adults, and bucks have the opportunity to express their true genetic potential in regards to antler growth. Judicial harvest at that point will allow for proper age structure to maintain a herd of trophy mule deer.
If you are searching for your own ranch to grow and pursue trophy desert mule deer and desert bighorn sheep, take a minute to look at our listing of Rancho Doljoca, a 41,000 acre ranch located in Sonora, Mexico just east of Kino Bay and the Gulf of California.