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. 

Best States for Mule Deer Hunting

Colorado: Best All-Around State for Mule Deer Hunting

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.

Take a closer look at Colorado:

Utah: Best State for Ample Places to Hunt

Utah: Best State for Ample Places to Hunt

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 that 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. 

Take a closer look at Utah:

Wyoming: Best State for Trophy Mule Deer

Wyoming: Best State for Trophy Mule Deer

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.

Take a closer look at Wyoming:

Idaho: Best State for New Mule Deer Hunters

Idaho: Best State for New Mule Deer Hunters

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. 

Take a closer look at Idaho:

Nevada: Best State for Building Up Points

Nevada: Best State for Building Up Points

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.

Take a closer look at Nevada:

Arizona: Best State for Archery Hunting Mule Deer

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

Take a closer look at Arizona:

Understanding 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. 

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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.