Author Topic: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?  (Read 1342 times)

Offline nwalpineguide

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Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« on: December 11, 2019, 03:48:27 PM »
Digital tactics for late season migrating mule deer.

Analyzing your trail cam data in combination with pre-season scouting, hunches and inferences will inform you about which tree stand to hunt from.

Quality Deer Permits

Today, in regions such as north central Washington, many hunters like to hunt the barren hills where deer are more visible. Much of this typical mule deer ground is heavily hunted, especially during the general modern firearm rifle season. Spurred by this situation Iíve recently turned to pursuing trophy mule deer in transition habitat primarily consisting of dense timber and nearby brush. By applying for and then hunting late seasons when awarded a quality deer permit, I now find myself hunting almost exclusively from tree stands. These are located on or near migration trails that my digital camera confirms are good stand locations.

Quality deer hunts remain the gems theyíve always been and are tightly managed by WDFW providing excellent opportunities for the persistent, patient and determined, hunter. Washington game managers do this with lotteries and other bureaucratic instruments that are designed to limit hunting pressure when bucks are most vulnerable. And make no mistake, they're vulnerable while on migration which often coincides with peak rut about mid-November. That these quality hunts are offered is explanation enough that many areas arenít so hammered that no older age class bucks survive the annual gauntlet. In other words theyíre not all lost to hunters, cougars, wolves, bears, disease, vehicles and poachers.

Tree Stands, Trail Cameras & Migration Trails

I concede that itís frustratingly difficult to secure one of these coveted permits. Nevertheless itís worth the trouble putting in for them as well the seemingly interminable wait. My perspective on the situation is this; just because Iím confronted with not having a quality deer permit in my pocket more often than not, doesnít mean I canít scout, observe and learn what trophy bucks are up to between October and December. I do and several dedicated hunters I know do as well. Indeed, I just do it from a tree stand. Specifically tree stands with a trail camera attached to the tree my stand is attached to. These stands are located along well traveled migration trails. Fact is, I have several stands, along several trails since I donít want to limit myself to just one good location should I be awarded a coveted permit and a catastrophic natural disturbance Ė like flood - wild land or forest fire - occurs at one of my favored spots preventing me from accessing it.
Besides, I donít want to re-invent the wheel when I am awarded a permit and be rushed trying to figure out where to hunt, when to go and what to expect once there. In other words Iím setting the table for realistic expectations by planning,  organizing and acting well beforehand.

Of course, I admit that killing a Ďtrophy' mule deer buck these days in Washington State is a stupendous challenge, nearly impossible some would  have you believe. Make no mistake, the odds are dismal, yet I accept the challenge of those odds because once awarded that permit my odds change. This, because I can make my own luck now and surpass the odds of  killing a trophy buck better than the annual game harvest statistics indicate I should. On the  contrary, my luck in the field is no longer predicated on lotteries and other complicated tools the game department uses. It takes the form of simply being at the appropriate stand at the proper time.

Iíll get to that in a moment because itís key to the thesis Iíll support!

Letís discuss trail cameras and the critical data they provide a permit hunter. Iíll start with a definition of statistics: statistics is nothing more than the study of methods for collecting, organizing and analyzing data. Thatís it. Period!

Now, the most effective method Iíve found to collect trophy class mule deer data is with a trail camera situated at a tree stand site along or near a migration trail. That's where I've set up most if not all of my "data collection" devices! With one or more cameras placed at each of the various tree stand locations Iíve scouted, I capture images (data) with time and date information embedded. The real challenge is organizing the large amount of images and videos I capture each year, and subsequently interpret (analyze) it so I know exactly which days and times that the bucks are frequenting my stands. With that in hand I now have FACTS to inform my decision making and judgement about how to go about hunting with that permit and tag in my  pocket or backpack. I know exactly where to hunt, which days in November are the best to hunt, and most important - what time of the day to be there! Iíve transitioned from the old analog way of hunting by hunches and inference to the digital way of cold hard facts. You can too.

So what are the steps in the process that result in a big buck on the ground?
Well, firstly it begins in the spring when I recover my trail cams located at the various tree stand locations I utilize. I recover my trail cameras every spring and have for the last 10 years. That represents allot of data which requires hours of ruthless editing.

Bye the way, these cameras have soaked continually in coniferous forest habitat the previous fall and winter along those migration routes already mentioned. Thatís where my tree stands are located, right on migration routes that Iíve discovered hunting or scouting and that lead out of the Glacier Peak and Alpine Lakes Wilderness areas and into transition habitat in Chelan County. In addition, these tree stands are located near seral or mid successional brush habitats. These habitats consists of various maples, willow, alder, mahogany and serviceberry - deer food. Exactly the kind of  habitat that attracts does with fawns and sneaky outsized muley bucks that haven't gotten the memo about preferring open ridges and faces in mountain-sagebrush-steppe habitat with an occasional fir or lone ponderosa pine standing sentinel. Admittedly, the habitat type I hunt is closer to the summer home ranges of these bucks than their winter home ranges are. In terms of elevation, itís around 4,000 feet. Plus or minus 500 feet.

The next step in the process is to download the data from all my cameras and organize it on my computer for analysis. Once that is accomplished the data then shows how many bucks are appearing at which stands and the quality of the bucks. At the same time, the time and date these bucks are appearing is revealed. The time element being the most important because I can ignore the night images or videos for the most part and concentrate on which bucks are appearing during daylight hours. Itís the daylight hours data that are GOLD!
Reflecting upon this process; the previous six or seven months up until the time I download that camera data, itís really staggering to think while I'm at home 155 miles away from my tree stands all this data is being collected - and automatically.

To reiterate- this data will indicate the following: the best time of the day to hunt, the best days to hunt and which stands to hunt from. Besides those things, the trophy quality of the bucks that are frequenting my stands!

Trophy Buck Behavior

First, a little about buck behavior before I mention does. Iíve found over the last 20 years that some areas within both the Glacier Peak & Alpine Lakes Wildernesses, and certain areas just outside of them, have been a great classroom for my trophy mule deer hunting education. And Iíve found that during the late rifle permit season resident large antlered muley bucks are returning to their typical timbered coverts and are moving again at dawn and dusk, as well during midday. Likewise, migrating bucks, does and does with fawns are traveling worn trails that have been etched into the wilderness landscape for ages. In late autumn these deer begin migrating towards traditional winter ranges where theyíll wait out the ravages of winter until spring migration. In the spring theyíll reverse travel and most will head back towards the high summer pastures they call home in the wilderness. This type of travel is well known to savvy hunters and is quite predictable, especially in the late fall when post equinox storms drop significant amounts of snow at pass elevations and spur dramatic downward migrations.

Secondly, in the areas I am familiar with some pretty impressive mule deer bucks, both resident and migrant, eventually start showing up around the doe herds just prior to Halloween. To be fair I also see a few bucks immediately after the general rifle season ends in October. But Iím certain these are more likely to be resident than migrant. Iíve discovered that the more does in an area the better since a large group of them probably contain a couple that are nearing estrus. The result being more large antlered bucks moving in and spending significantly more time tending them than they normally do in late summer and early fall. Consequently, these bucks become more vulnerable. In addition, mature bucks simply travel more during this period. Not only are they consorting with the does nearing estrus, theyíre also traveling within and without their home ranges looking for where other scattered doe groups are located.

For what itís worth, my firm belief is that the weather, rut and migration are a tightly woven tapestry in the areas I hunt and they are not mutually exclusive functions. I rely on the assumption that a local dominant buck may be displaced by other bucks that have arrived from far away do to snow accumulation, the rut and migration. So I rattle antlers and scrape brush in the hope that Iím taking advantage of buck behavior. Migrating muley bucks are susceptible to antler rattling and brush scraping. Especially when they make large swings or circuits to test estrus does and hear what may be an interloper trying to consort with those does.

Lastly, during this period of the fall much buck wanderings also take him outside home range familiar to him, and subjects him to greater risk by permit hunters like myself. The result being greater odds of him making a mistake. For example, much of the terrain he's now covering heís only casually familiar with as he passes through it quickly twice each year. Itís been my experience that both the migration and rut act in a complex relationship pulling bucks along scouting, rutting and more importantly migration routes leading to me situated above them from a tree stand - especially when allot of snow has accumulated! The mistakes bucks make, such as traveling down a migration trail below my stand behind a group of does or crossing a small opening during daylight, provide me with more opportunities to kill him. I enjoy outsmarting these sophisticated bucks and typically ambush them along one of their doe scouting-rutting trails which in all likelihood, for this period of year, are also migration trails.

Digital Trail Cameras and what The Data Reveals

The period from generally the day after the October rifle season ends, until mid- December, is the most interesting and revealing about what the big bucks Iím after are doing. Halloween is about the time when big bucks in my area begin their pre rut search for doe groups near my stands, and they often make themselves visible during daylight hours. To emphasize, big bucks start showing up at my tree stand sites along the migration trails from just before Halloween, and they donít completely disappear until early or mid-December. Usually by mid- December there is two or three feet of snow on the ground where I hunt. Consequently very little animal activity occurs after that. I usually get one or two solitary bucks or does, belly deep in snow, between the 12th and 15th of December. Then itís OVER!


Repetition is the best way I know to learn something or become good doing something. Itís also a proven way to convey ideas in written form. So Iíll repeat a little of what I already mentioned and add a little more to what I already discussed about big buck habitat. Trophy bucks exist, they are not a figment of imagination. And they wander great distances during the late permit hunting season not solely because of migration. These are the bucks that are probably doing most of the breeding Ė bucks afflicted with one limiting factor that keeps drawing me back into the big timber lower down to hunt them - itís the rut. Period.

Accordingly Iíve begun using more and more trail cameras at my carefully chosen tree stand sites to collect data. The data from them I use to analyze when the best days, and more importantly what the best times during the day are for observing or killing the bucks that are showing up. Specifically from high in my tree stand.

Where I hunt, big bucks utilize small openings in coniferous forest near edge habitat. What biologist refer to as an ecotone. Edge habitats are places where a transition occurs between one plant community and another, say where lodgepole pines meet maples or alders. Or for example where mixed Douglas fir, mountain hemlock, grand fir and an occasional ponderosa pine forest meets open steppe, talus fields or meadow. Regardless, these edge habitats make for a mosaic within the greater coniferous forest and is preferred deer habitat. Whatís more, this time of year a bucks mortality is basically associated with two things, forage and as already mentioned the rut: they have to eat and they must breed does. Thatís what I capitalize on.

Bucks perform these functions in isolated pockets of habitat where they find solitude from disturbances. Both two legged and four. Iíve found that the key to taking advantage of this behavior is to place a tree stand in this type of habitat on or near a migration route. Nothing more.

By November, with permit in hand, I know Iíll be the only person occupying those openings!
« Last Edit: December 11, 2019, 06:25:20 PM by nwalpineguide »

Offline hunter399

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2019, 04:03:48 PM »
Did you copy and paste this off the WDFW site and post it here.I've been putting in for quailty permits for years still haven't seen one .Might as well think of it as a oil permit.
Best of luck to ya.I buy less and less permits every year I don't draw , So I'm trying to help ya maybe.
Two birds in the Bush is always better than one in the hand-that way you can always go to the Bush and hunt another day .conservation=Better hunting.
Wrote by hunter399

Offline Skyvalhunter

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2019, 04:59:31 PM »
That is true boots on the ground info people. He gets out there and spends more time in the hills than most dream about. Read and learn.

Offline nwalpineguide

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2019, 05:03:55 PM »
That is true boots on the ground info people. He gets out there and spends more time in the hills than most dream about. Read and learn.

Oh, bye the way Keith. You can use that inconveniently located cabin on the Chiwawa river whenever you like!
« Last Edit: December 11, 2019, 05:11:28 PM by nwalpineguide »

Offline PacificNWhunter

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2019, 07:41:24 PM »
Good info, thanks for posting.

Offline JakeLand

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2019, 04:43:06 AM »
Good read and some great information!  :tup:

Offline huntnphool

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2019, 06:16:58 AM »
 Good stuff. :tup:
The things that come to those who wait, may be the things left by those who got there first!

Offline boneaddict

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2019, 07:18:20 AM »

Offline wsmnut

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2019, 08:43:40 AM »

Belief is so often the death of reason.

Offline Wunderlich33

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2019, 11:15:13 AM »
Couldn't agree more... Great info!!!  Skyvalhunter and Rainier10 can confirm... we have tree stands on many migration routes been hunting this way for many years.

Offline gutsnthegrass

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2019, 12:15:38 PM »
I would love to see some of  the trail camera pics you talk about.  Love big muley bucks!

Offline Brushcrawler

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2019, 05:28:02 PM »
Great write up. Thanks for sharing your experience.
There is not enough wilderness left in the world, or in the hearts of men.

Offline nwalpineguide

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2019, 10:48:04 AM »
I would love to see some of  the trail camera pics you talk about.  Love big muley bucks!

Here are just a few and the camera units involved.


Offline MonstroMuley

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2019, 01:01:16 PM »
Great WriteUp Ö Thank You!  :tup:
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Offline snake

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Re: Tree Stand Tactics for Mulies?
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2020, 08:10:44 PM »
Great information. How often do you draw a tag and what weapon do you use out of your tree stands?


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