Best States to Hunt Mule Deer

Indigenous to western North America, mule deer are found west of the 100th meridian from 23 degrees to 60 degrees N. Much larger than whitetail deer, a buck mule deer can weigh between 130 and 280 pounds. Its name is derived from having large ears that resemble that of a mule’s. 

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Considering only the number of hunters who pursue mule deer, they are not as popular as whitetails, but given their size and the ruggedness of the terrain in which they live, mule deer are widely regarded as an ultimate North American trophy. With that in mind, we’ve researched and compiled a handful of western states that offer some of the best mule deer hunting opportunities available. 

map of the US with western states highlighted that are good for mule deer hunting

Best All-Around State for Mule Deer Hunting: Colorado

When we asked our partners at Boone and Crocket Club (B&C) about stand-out states for hunting mule deer, we got a quick answer about how stellar the Centennial State is for both typical and non-typical mule deer harvests.

Looking over the last 10+ years of data collected as part of B&C’s Big Game Records Live! feature, we see that Colorado stands head and shoulders above all other states. Since 2010, B&C has recorded 172 typical mule deer trophies from Colorado. The second-closest state in the U.S. is Utah with 57 records (Saskatchewan has more but the province only issues tags to residents). When combined with non-typical harvests, Colorado stands at 222 records. That’s an average of 20 record mule deer per year over the last 11 seasons, and the World’s record typical was taken in 1972, scoring a 226 4/8.

Colorado is a top state for mule deer, in large part, because of the size of the deer population there. An estimated 400,000 to 450,000 mule deer inhabit the state. Colorado operates on a preference point system, so it’s a top place to start applying and building points if you want to go after a nice muley buck.

Colorado Toprut Hot Tip

There are no General (Over-the-Counter) deer tags in Colorado. To obtain a deer license in Colorado you must go through either the Primary or Secondary draws, or potentially get one through the leftover process. Toprut can help you find units you can realistically draw with zero or few points and know how many points you may need to collect for units holding trophy bucks.

Draw Deadline: First Tuesday in April

Take a closer look at Colorado:

Mule deer male in the brush

Best State for Ample Places to Hunt: Utah

As noted above, Utah is second in the U.S. for the number of typical mule deer taken since 2010, but something else that helps the Beehive State stand out is how much of the state offers great hunting opportunities. 

While it can be a lot harder to draw a non-resident mule deer tag than in other states for the most coveted districts (we’re looking at you, Henry Mountains), Utah has a lot of mule deer all over the state, and with those come opportunities to find them in any district. Nearly 320,000 mule deer live there, so if you do get a tag and the weather cooperates you might just be in for a mule deer hunt of a lifetime. 

Utah also happens to be the headquarters for the Mule Deer Foundation, an organization dedicated to ensuring the conservation of mule deer, black-tailed deer, and their habitat. 

Utah Toprut Hot Tip

Utah has two separate and distinct drawings for Mule Deer: Limited-Entry and General. The Limited-Entry hunts are managed for more mature bucks overall but typically are also more difficult to draw. The General hunts are available in a different group of units and generally provide for more draw opportunities. The two drawings work a little differently, so be sure to check the resources on Toprut to better understand your options.

Draw Deadline: Last week of April

Take a closer look at Utah:

Hunter with mule deer antlers in hand

Best State for Trophy Mule Deer: Wyoming

Four of the top 20 B&C mule deer of all time were harvested in Wyoming. Since 2010, the Cowboy State ranks 3rd in the U.S. for the number of typical mule deer records in B&C’s books. 

Wyoming operates on a point system, but some hunts can be drawn without any points. Additionally, hunters in Wyoming should know that federally designated wilderness areas are off-limits to non-resident big game hunters unless they hire a licensed outfitter. But if you’re looking for lots of public land to roam, the western half of Wyoming is where you’ll want to start scouting

Still, many good tracts of private land in Wyoming are accessible as Walk-In Hunting Areas. onX Hunt has a Layer that highlights Walk-In areas, which you can read more about here. Because of these areas and the state’s Hunter Management Areas, you can get access to mule deer in every unit and region in Wyoming.

Wyoming Toprut Hot Tip

In addition to unit-specific draw hunts for Mule Deer, Wyoming also offers General deer tags that are valid for a group of units inside of 17 larger defined regions. The General deer tags are over-the-counter for residents but are only issued via drawing for nonresidents. Toprut can help you find, research, and compare the latest draw odds for both General deer tags and unit-specific hunts.

Draw Deadline: End of May

Take a closer look at Wyoming:

Hunter stalking a mule deer in an Idaho field

Best State for New Mule Deer Hunters: Idaho

With just over a quarter-million mule deer in the Gem State and millions of acres of public land on which to chase them, Idaho is a top destination for any dedicated mule deer hunter. Moreover, Idaho does not operate on a points system, so there’s always a chance of drawing a great tag the first year you apply. And should you find yourself in Idaho on opening day, you might find a big buck, given that one-quarter of the 20 all-time records for typicals came from Idaho. That means there are good genetics and quality habitat for monster muleys. 

With all this promising information don’t think hunting in Idaho is a sure thing, though. The terrain where hunters find mule deer ranges from dry, high-desert foothills to rugged, mountainous alpine zones, all of which take serious effort to cover, so make sure your fitness level matches the challenge. 

Idaho Toprut Hot Tip

Idaho deer hunters have the option of a “Regular” season tag or a “White-tailed deer.” The regular season tag allows hunters the option of both mule deer and white-tailed deer, but typically only during October (pre-rut most of the time). A “White-tailed deer” tag limits hunters to harvesting only whitetails but offers a longer and later season during prime time in November. If you’re willing to hunt only whitetails, this may be a better option for anyone looking for a mid-rut or longer hunting window.

Draw Deadline: Early June

Take a closer look at Idaho:

Hunter in hunter's orange with a rifle walking through mist to find a mule deer

Best State for Building Up Points: Nevada

Like most of the best mule deer hunting states covered so far, Nevada operates on a point system for its best tags, but what the Silver State has going for it, in addition to a number four spot for record typical mule deer in the US taken since 2010, is the chance of drawing one of the many mid-tier regions for big muleys in a matter of a few short years of applying. 

In Nevada, you won’t find the massive herds happening elsewhere. The total population is only around 92,000 animals, but Nevada wildlife officials are doing good work managing what they’ve got, so connecting to a very nice mule deer buck is even more of an opportunity here. The new world record with a bow for a mule deer was set in this state in 2016, so maybe now is the time to make sure your bow is sighted in.

Nevada Toprut Hot Tip

Although the aridness of the region limits the overall deer population, Nevada offers some quality opportunities to hunt trophy Mule Deer in some stunning desert landscapes. Additionally, there are Nevada deer seasons available beginning in August and extending into late December in some areas. Explore your options on Toprut to find a hunt that works best for your hunt calendar.

Draw Deadline: Early May

Take a closer look at Nevada:

Best State for Archery Hunting Mule Deer: Arizona

If you’re a bow hunter looking for a muley, the Grand Canyon State should grab your attention. As for licensing and seasons, Arizona is generous with both, even to non-residents. Archery tags are available over-the-counter, and there are at least three seasons for mule deer per year in most units that cover multiple biological patterns (think hunting summer range and rut). 

Arizona is a hot, dry place, and recent droughts have had their impacts on the overall mule deer population, which hovers between 85,000 and 100,000 animals. 

In the mule deer hunting world, Arizona has earned a nickname for regions 13A and 13B, which is called the “Arizona Strip.” Much like the Vegas Strip in nearby Nevada, hunters might hit the jackpot should they draw a rifle tag or book an outfitter in this 5,074 square mile section of northwestern Arizona. They say it is not uncommon to see several 230+ bucks come off the “Arizona Strip” in a normal year.

“When most fall hunting seasons have wrapped up, the mule deer and Coues deer hit peak rut in December and January in the state of Arizona. Grab your bow and an over-the-counter tag and hunt big deer in the deserts of Arizona during the so-called ‘off-months’ of Dec/Jan.” Steven Drake, Anyone’s Hunt

Arizona Toprut Hot Tip

The Arizona Strip in the northwest part of the state is famous for its trophy Mule Deer genetics and is one of the premier hunt experiences in all of North America. Although those tags can be very difficult to draw, the Arizona draw system does make it possible for even the first-time applier to get lucky. Find out more about how Arizona’s draw system works on Toprut.

Draw Deadline: First week in June

Take a closer look at Arizona:

Typical vs. Non-Typical Mule Deer

In the family of Cervidae (hoofed ruminant mammals) that live in North America, which include all species of deer and elk, records of legal harvest, and more specifically to be part of Boone and Crockett Club’s data, deer must fall under typical or non-typical status.

Just as it sounds, a typical antler set on a deer or elk would be symmetrical, and antler points would occur in “typical” locations where points are found, technically referred to as points G1, G2, G3, etc. In the West, antlered game are sized according to the number of points on each antler: a 6×6 mule deer would have six points on each antler. In the South and Midwest, a deer would be called a “12-point.” As they say, it’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other. They mean the same thing. 

Non-typical antler sets can be freakishly abnormal looking, have an uneven number of points, and those points can be in all shapes, sizes, and directions. The current world record for a non-typical mule deer is known as “The Broder Buck,” taken by Ed Broder in Alberta, Canada, in 1926. This rack had 43 points, 21 points on one antler and 22 on the other, and it scored a 355 2/8. 

What should be kept in mind about typical vs. non-typical bucks is that abnormal antler growth indicates some kind of stressor to that animal. It may have been an injury during a fight, low levels of testosterone due to malnutrition or food scarcity, or even disease. In fact, when experts are considering areas with the best quality management indicators present, they are looking at how many typical bucks are present. 

Ryan Newhouse

Though raised hunting squirrels and whitetails in the South, Ryan Newhouse has spent nearly the last two decades chasing Western big game in Montana and writing professionally about his travels and the craft beers he’s consumed along the way. He loves camping, fishing, boating, and teaching his two kids the art of building campfires and playing the ukulele. And yes, he’s related to Sewell Newhouse, inventor of the steel animal traps.