Understanding the Amazing Senses of Mule Deer
by Michael Burrell
The deer’s olfactory organs are nothing short of incredible. The gist is a mule deer can smell a thousand times stronger than you can and from farther than a half-mile away. The deer species are some of the best sniffers in the animal kingdom.
For me, the pinnacle of western hunting is to harvest a trophy mule deer. Now the definition of a trophy muley varies depending on your exposure to mule deer, as well as the area you’re hunting. It’ll have a different meaning for amateur hunters that hunt heavily hunted, general season areas vs. seasoned hunters with several large bucks under their belts and an Arizona Strip tag in their pocket.
But the one thing that varies little when hunting mature mule deer is their amazing senses. Successfully harvesting a mature buck all comes down to you outwitting a buck’s keen senses in order to get within shooting distance, whether you shoot a bow, muzzleloader, or rifle. To consistently get into the “zone” of mature bucks there are three major senses you’ll need to understand intimately…and outsmart…their sense of smell, sight, and hearing.
According to the late American Astronomer Carl Sagan, “You have to know the past to understand the present.” Over 10 years ago, the space probe Philae was launched from earth unnoticed by most, if not all mule deer hunters.
Think back on the past 10 years of mule deer and mule deer hunting. Probably most noteworthy are the advances in modern hunting equipment. Humans are incredibly adaptive and efficient predators. Necessity no longer drives our predatory instincts like it has since the beginning of man. We do not need to kill mule deer in order to survive; yet something inside each of us drives us to become better at it each and every year.
Laser range finders, improved optics, better bullet construction, and a better understanding of external ballistics by the common hunter has changed the landscape of modern mule deer hunting. From ATVs, GPS imaging, and advances in everything from outerwear, to boots, to apps on our phones, together they have taken us to the next level in hunting evolution.
Who knows what the next 10 years will bring.
On November 12, 2014, the space probe Philae achieved the first ever soft landing on a comet nucleus millions of miles away. That’s really something if you think about it. Man can land a piece of metal on a rock hurling through space, but we can’t tell you with any certainty where you should be hunting mule deer this year.
Mule deer hunters typically face three very different hunting periods in the fall, with each offering its own unique pros and cons. Generally the first period runs from mid August to mid September. The second runs from mid September to the end of October, with the third running the month of November. You may be hunting the same deer, but bucks seem to have different personalities to match these three unique time periods.
Weather is the biggest game changer as it affects feed, cover, hunter access, deer movement, and a myriad of other factors that will affect hunter success. Deer behavior, especially that of mature bucks changes drastically with each of the three time periods. Even non migratory deer will change their habits and behaviors throughout the fall. Understanding each period and adapting your hunting to match the season will help you harvest more mature bucks.