The Greatest Mule Deer Hunter Part 1

Mule deer

The mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) is a deer indigenous to western North America ; it is named for its ears, which are large like those

My name is Matt Anderson and I was lucky to have been born into a family of mule deer hunters in Montana. My dad, Rick Anderson, is one of the very best mule deer hunters in the world and this blog is my way of sharing some of his experiences with all of you. When my dad started hunting at age 12 in eastern Montana, deer populations were at an all-time high. Some of the stories that I will be relating seem far-fetched, especially by today’s standards, but I swear to you, they are completely true.

Mule Deer Hunting

My dad was the second oldest son of seven kids crammed into a tiny shack in a tiny dot of a town in the middle of nowhere Montana. There were six boys and only one girl. The boys pretty much ran wild for most of their early lives, especially my dad and his older brother, Joe. They became very accomplished hunters from an early age as, more often than not, the food that the family ate came from what the boys could kill. There is a large creek running through part of the town and much time was spent hunting rabbits, squirrels, and even pheasants with their .22s. He says he got pretty good at wing-shooting pheasants with his rifle.

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Back in the fall of 1952, when my dad first started hunting, he and his brother Joe had no vehicle to get out to the forest to hunt. They would walk from town several miles up into the National Forest and hunt. If they got a deer, they would have to drag it all the way back to town, as they had no way of getting it home otherwise. My dad said that they used to do odd jobs around town to get enough money to buy some ammo for their rifles and then they would head up into the hills after some deer. The deer population at this time and place was such that each of them was allowed two buck tags and several doe tags and they always managed to fill their tags. They would leave town with a box of shells in each front pocket of their jeans and quite often they would be out of shells when they got back home. Those boys were pretty wild by anyone’s standards. The rifles they used had no sights other than the iron sights and they missed a lot of the time. Buck fever also played a major role in their extreme shell usage as the sheer quantity of huge mule bucks in the area would cause them to lose their minds.

At age 13, my dad, his brother Joe, and two friends hiked from their home to Cook Mountain. It was a distance of about 7 miles. They popped over a big ridge and right below them jumped a big buck running straight away from them. My dad was shooting a .30-30 Winchester and nailed him right in the spine just above the hind quarters, which put him down. The buck was a 25” wide good solid four point (western count). They quartered the buck and carried him back to town on their backs. It was probably a 15 mile round trip on foot but they were young and tough. From a very early age, the desire to hunt was overwhelming.

Eastern Montana is a dry land for much of the year and so you hunt deer and antelope according to where the water source is. Most of the land that near the water is private land and most ranchers will not let you on to hunt. There is a lot of public land where my dad grew up hunting and where I myself learned to hunt but the limiting factor is water. Every day the deer will pretty much follow the same pattern: at night they come down to the streams and rivers, which are generally bordered by hayfields, and drink and feed, at dawn they will head back up into the rugged hills and find a place to bed down for the day, feeding as they go, in the evening they head back down toward the water and good feed. It is not uncommon for the deer to walk 6 miles one way to where they will bed down from the water source. A good method of hunting the deer, knowing this pattern, is to start on a high ridge and work your way down it, glassing as you go in the early part of the day. And then in the evening, do the opposite, starting low and working your way up, trying to catch the deer traveling to and from their bedding areas. This has served my family well over the years and plays a big part in the success that my dad has had over the years.

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My dad, Rick, has killed a buck in 61 consecutive seasons. All but three or four of those bucks have been mule deer. The whitetail population has been growing nicely in the area, but it has primarily been mule deer that my dad has spent a lifetime chasing. When you factor in the years where it was legal to take multiple bucks, Rick has killed upwards of 80 mule deer bucks and something like 120 does. He has to his credit around eight different bucks that are over 30″ wide, most have been lost to posterity but we do have a couple left. 30″ wide is the magic number for mule deer hunters and most people go a lifetime and never get one. All of my uncles on both sides of my family grew up in the same area at the same time and only one of them has killed a buck bigger than 30″ wide. He has only taken one buck that would make the record book, a perfectly symmetrical four-point (western count) that would have scored around 195″. Sadly, this rack was lost is a barn fire many years ago and before it could be entered. The biggest buck my dad has ever killed was taken in Colorado in the late 1960’s and is 34″ wide with 8 points on each side and bases well over six inches in diameter. He scores around 215 B&C and is a bit shy of making the record book. I will tell the story of a lot of individual hunts including this biggest buck in subsequent posts. I just wanted you to understand why I think my dad is the greatest mule deer hunter that has ever lived. I hope you have enjoyed this first post and come back for more!

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Matt Anderson

About the Author:

I grew up hunting in Eastern Montana, primarily mule deer. I have a passion for skull mounts and I love spending time in the outdoors. I am located in Wisconsin.
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