Why Mule Deer Hunting is the Pinnacle of Western Big Game

Jan 21, 2021 | Mule Deer Hunting | 1 comment

Western big game hunters are incredibly blessed with the opportunity to pursue many different species—each with their own allure and challenges. Ask 10 different hunters what animal embodies the pinnacle of western big game hunting and you will get 10 varying answers. Some will argue the mighty bull elk, others might argue an impressive bighorn ram. Both impressive in their own right, but nothing epitomizes western big game hunting more than a true trophy class mule deer. Let me explain.


As the years go on, a trophy class mule deer has become harder and harder to come by. Loss of winter range, modern technology, increasing popularity, and unfortunately declining numbers across the West all play a role in the increasingly difficult task of hunting trophy mule deer.

Before I go any further two issues need to be addressed. First, what exactly constitutes a “trophy class” mule deer? Short answer, it is whatever you want it to be. For some, a trophy may be a 4-point regardless of size. For others, a buck must have a Boone and Crockett Score of 200+ inches of antler. For me, age is the trophy. Everyone, myself included, wants that giant set of antlers to memorialize every aspect of the hunt. However, for the average public land hunter, the challenge in locating and harvesting a 5+ year old mature buck is no doubt a trophy regardless of the inches of antler the buck adorns on top of his head.

Second, despite good intentions, trophy hunting is frowned upon and misunderstood by many. The hunt is encapsulated by the trophy, but the trophy is a small sliver of why we hunt. The memories made, the lean organic protein provided, and a closeness with God experiencing His creation are all embodied in the trophy regardless of prowess and size.

BaseMap Tip: BaseMap’s Hunt Research package is a powerful tool when planning for your upcoming big-game hunts. Use it in conjunction with BaseMap PRO on Desktop to filter units and find which units hold trophy quality animals. In addition, Hunt Research gives you unit specific season dates for each individual weapon season, an approximate amount of points it takes to draw the unit, and the percentage of public land in the unit to name a few of its features.


Colton Heward, the author of this article, showing off his recently harvested mule deer buck to his son.
Flipping through old hunting photos of my grandfather tells a story rich in the tradition of hunting mule deer. This tradition was passed down to my father who has now passed it on to me. Now as a father myself, I daydream about the opportunity and responsibility I will have to pass our hunting heritage on to my own children—especially that of mule deer hunting. The tradition of stories told, meals cooked, and memories made in deer camp simply cannot be replaced.

The equipment we use has changed dramatically from our great grandfathers time to now, but the basics remain the same. The history and nostalgia of mule deer hunting across the West only adds to the enchantment of a true trophy class buck.

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Anyone who has hunted trophy mule deer can attest to the craftiness of an old mature buck. Their uncanny ability to survive on heavily hunted areas leaves nothing but respect and admiration for such an incredible animal. Stop and think for a moment what a buck must survive to reach maturity—relentless predators, brutal winters, drought, vehicles, diseases, and hunters. When the stars align, and your bullet or arrow find their mark, it is a humbling experience to hang your tag on a mature trophy class buck.

Tie in outside factors of difficult tag acquisition, modern hunting technology, and the increasing associated costs to hunt and the challenge can often seem insurmountable. It is in this challenge that the fire is lit for many hunters to pursue trophy-class mule deer.


It is no secret that mule deer numbers are declining across the West. As hunters, we have a tremendous responsibility to give back to the animals we pursue. Drastic efforts have been taken on behalf of mule deer in several states that have dramatically improved the overall deer herd in those areas. These projects include building overpasses on heavily traveled areas, animal transplants to struggling herds, and studies of migration routes to name a few. Get involved with state and local organizations. We cannot sit idle and hope that we will still have the opportunity to hunt mule deer in the future that we now enjoy.

Pinnacle of Western Big Game Hunting

I have been fortunate to hunt a multitude of different species from Alaska to Africa. Yet, my true passion always falls back on the pursuit of trophy class mule deer. In my biased opinion, the nostalgia and tradition of mule deer hunting combined with the challenge of locating and harvesting a trophy buck, is what makes a trophy class mule deer the pinnacle of western big game hunting.
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1 Comment

  1. Informative and helpful as I at seventy years have seen the decline in monster bucks and appritiate the explanation of why to those that haven’t hunted as much .

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