High Country Velvet Mule Deer Hunting Report
This Outfitter operates in south central Idaho in the Sawtooth Wilderness and the Sawtooth National Forest, where they have exclusive guiding access and special-use permits from the US Forest Service. This is very remote, rugged country. They hunt 225 square miles of wilderness here at elevations of 5,000 to 10,000 feet. This is where he produces trophy velvet mule deer with 25-30 inch spreads every year.
I have been chasing mulies for years, and this velvet mule deer hunt is a phenomenal find. It is a first-rate, high-quality experience any way you look at it. I will be going back.”
I hunted with them this past August during an early-season velvet mule deer hunt and took a mule deer buck that green scored close to 200 B&C, and I saw but could not get on a buck that would have scored another 15 to 20. That buck was higher, wider and had a 14-inch sword point on one side of his rack. I lost him after an all-morning stalk in the timber. Fifteen minutes later, I spotted the buck I eventually killed. I also saw a third buck that was larger still. In total, I saw 15 bucks in a day and a half.
Although their area is public land, the remoteness and difficult access means there is virtually no resident hunting or other pressure. The Sawtooth Mountains are very steep and only hunters who are physically fit should attempt this particular hunt. In fact, he screens all of his hunters to make sure they are able to endure the rigors of this trip. If a hunter doesn’t measure up physically, he will not book him.
This Outfitter is the real deal. He is a very capable guide, horseman and outfitter. He goes beyond what you would expect. He even allowed me to go out and scout with him pre-season. It was a tough trip, mind you, without any luxuries and requiring a lot of hard riding and hiking, but he provided all the equipment, and the experience of scouting for your own animal in the area you’re going to hunt is very rewarding.
This is not a weather-dependent or migration mule deer hunt, as evidenced by the quality of deer found during the early season. They pre-scout the area for trophy resident bucks. Hunts begin with a nine to 15-mile horseback ride from his lodge up into the range where you set up a tent camp. From there, you ride out each day two to three miles to your hunt area, where you dismount and proceed to spot and stalk on foot.
The early-season velvet mule deer hunt has several advantages. First of all, the deer are still in their red summer coats then and are easy to see. Also, this is when the deer are putting on weight and fat for the coming winter, so they spend more time in the open feeding. That usually gives you more time to see the animals and size them up. Because they have not begun to produce the additional testosterone that causes their antlers to finish hardening, they are also less wary and if spooked they don’t run as far as they do later in the season.
Their success rate for mule deer hunts is about 50 percent, but that’s because this hunt is geared towards serious mule deer hunters. The shot opportunity for any mule deer buck is about 95 percent, but their clients usually pass on non-trophy animals (thus the 50 percent success rate). Last season, a hunter took a 199 gross velvet buck on the early season hunt. Another hunter recently took a 200-inch buck. These are exceptional trophies. The average buck taken on these hunts scores 180 to 185, and each year two or three hunters take a buck with 28 to 30-inch spread. A few lucky clients have shot bucks with up to 35-inch spreads.
This Outfitter hires only quality guides. These are not mere ranch hands who have seen deer around. I have hunted enough to recognize competence and experience levels in guides. He takes pains to ensure his guides are first rate. My guide was Cory Glauner (of Outdoors International) , who used hand-held 15×60 Docter binoculars to spot for deer. Glauner is an experienced and accomplished hunter. I was fortunate to have both Cory and George on my hunt, they are both exceptional.
by Larry Barnes
Originally Published in the Oct. 2005 Hunting Report