First Mule Deer - 2020 NM Blackpowder Hunt

Chase

Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2015
Messages
30
Location
Norman, OK
Took a while to get around to posting, but wanted to share my 2020 mule deer success in NM. Several HT members shared information that really helped me get started on this hunt and I've messaged or texted with them since the hunt - what a great community.

Drove 8.5 hours out on a Thursday at the beginning of October, with the hunt set to open on Saturday. Arrived with just enough daylight to set up my travel trailer and get dinner made before my cousin arrived from Rio Rancho, NM to tag along with me. He's a head football coach, so hunting season is usually pretty tough for him. Because of Covid shutting down NM high school sports, he and I got to hunt together several times this fall - making the best out of it.

IMG_3430.jpg
There's a great campground on BLM just off the main highway on the south side of the unit. It made a great home base to head out from each day.

We spent all day Friday scouting, mostly from the truck. Saw lots of elk, but only a couple of doe mule deer crossing the highway at noon! As several on HT had warned me, even though the unit appears to have many access points, most of them pass through private at some point and are almost all gated and locked at those points. I ended up popping a tire late in the afternoon Friday on some extremely rocky Forest Service roads so our evening glassing was blown. Thankfully I had the right equipment with me to change it and we were ready for the next day. If I draw this unit again at some point, a side-by-side would be a must just to save truck wear and tear and be able to access more of the trailheads.

IMG_3417.jpg

Picture doesn't really do justice to how rough those roads were in places.

Anyway, the main conclusion from scouting was that sign in the mountains was sparse and everything was dry, so we decided to start out low and close to the river.

IMG_3424.jpg

Spent the first morning glassing private land by the river hoping to catch deer moving back on public up in the foothills - no luck. Walked around the area during mid-morning and found some deer and elk sign, but not enough to be excited about our prospects in this spot. We decided to go somewhere else for the afternoon and hope for something with more sign.

We drove about 45 minutes west from our morning spot to start looking for an evening hunt. There was a road that went to some higher elevation water holes that I wanted to try. Unfortunately, only a few miles in on the Forest Service road, it became clear we weren't going any further without a lift kit or a side by side, and walking wasn't a realistic option considering the distances involved. As we were turning around, we passed back by a dry water hole a couple hundred yards away from the broken windmill that once fed it. Something made me turn off the road and drive towards the windmill, and as we rounded a juniper there was a group of deer watering at a small trough 150 yards away at 2:00 in the afternoon. Turns out the windmill had been converted to a solar panel pump and now only filled two small troughs. The deer left but there were at least two small, legal bucks in the group. I was bummed thinking I had missed my chance.

We decided to walk a couple small ridges in the direction the deer went, and although we never spotted the deer, we found plenty of sign and food to make us think we needed to stay in the area.

We went back to the water trough about 4:00 and sat until dark. It was one of the best sits on water I've ever had. We saw everything you could ask for, except a legal buck. A flock of tom turkeys, 2 groups of deer (only spikes with them and gotta have a fork to be legal), and a herd of 17 elk came in and stayed for 30 minutes! The herd had 2 spikes, 4 smaller bulls, and a good solid 6x6 who waited until the very end to come in. Two of the smaller bulls sparred for 10 minutes. It was an awesome evening.

IMG_3429.jpg A couple of spikes and one of the smaller bulls as they first came in.
 

Chase

Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2015
Messages
30
Location
Norman, OK
The next morning, we hunted close to the river again with no luck. With our mid-morning time we went and hiked out some new ridges and glassed into some big canyons in a different part of the unit, but overall sign was really scarce. I did sneak up on a javelina at a water tank up on top of a ridge. The guy running cattle in there must have had a heck of a pump to push water all the way up that ridge via poly line, but it definitely was the only water around.

IMG_3496.JPG

We went back to the camper and grabbed a quick lunch and then headed back to the water hole from the previous day. A big cold front was supposed to arrive that evening bringing significant snow and ice, so we were feeling some pressure to get it done and get out of there before we got snowed in. To top it off, the wind picked up around noon and was blowing 30+ mph by the time we made it to our water hole for the evening sit. The wind was swirling terribly where we were sitting, so I don't think either of us had high hopes for that evening, but it was the only area we had been to with heavy sign so we stuck it out. Starting about 4:00, one group of deer kept coming in and out of view just enough to keep our hopes up, but only two spikes were with that group.

It had been about 30 minutes since the last sighting when my cousin semi-whispered "Buck! Buck!" I eased into position and leveled up on my rest with my muzzleloader and saw two legal bucks just putting their heads down to drink from a tiny mud puddle where one trough spilled over a bit. They were right at 80 yards and when I fired the bigger buck's head was down, directly in line with me so that my shot hit the top of his neck and would have been directly in line with top of his heart had it continued on. He dropped on the spot and my cousin and I jumped up. I don't know who was more excited, but it definitely made it extra special to have him there for the hunt, but also the shot. My hand still hurts thinking about how hard we high-fived. I reloaded and we walked up on the deer, but he never twitched.

IMG_3459.jpg
The buck turned out to be a nice, heavy 3x3.

IMG_3494.JPG
Also had to take one obligatory "buck in the truck" photo to send to our sons back home.

I had set out to shoot the first legal buck I saw and I surely didn't expect to get such a nice buck. I couldn't have been happier with the result. We got the deer dressed and were able to drive right up to him. Loaded him up and got back to camper just in time for the cold front to hit with full force. Within 30 minutes of sunrise the next day we were both on the road, but there was already a good deal of sleet and it was quickly turning to snow. My 8.5 hour drive took me over 13 hours. The roads were wet for the entire drive and the temperature never rose above freezing. More than once my trailer began to slide, but thankfully I was always going slow enough to recover. It would be fine with me if I never have to make another drive like that. Ultimately I made it home safely to my family just ahead of the worst of the ice storm that wrecked most of Oklahoma in early October. Definitely a hunt to remember!
 

F250

Well-known member
Joined
Dec 9, 2011
Messages
999
Location
Vermont
Well written and a great story. Thank you for sharing. I once again find it refreshing to hear hunters just having fun, and not be concerned about the tape measure !
 

EatWhatYouReap

New member
Joined
Jan 9, 2021
Messages
25
The next morning, we hunted close to the river again with no luck. With our mid-morning time we went and hiked out some new ridges and glassed into some big canyons in a different part of the unit, but overall sign was really scarce. I did sneak up on a javelina at a water tank up on top of a ridge. The guy running cattle in there must have had a heck of a pump to push water all the way up that ridge via poly line, but it definitely was the only water around.

View attachment 168962

We went back to the camper and grabbed a quick lunch and then headed back to the water hole from the previous day. A big cold front was supposed to arrive that evening bringing significant snow and ice, so we were feeling some pressure to get it done and get out of there before we got snowed in. To top it off, the wind picked up around noon and was blowing 30+ mph by the time we made it to our water hole for the evening sit. The wind was swirling terribly where we were sitting, so I don't think either of us had high hopes for that evening, but it was the only area we had been to with heavy sign so we stuck it out. Starting about 4:00, one group of deer kept coming in and out of view just enough to keep our hopes up, but only two spikes were with that group.

It had been about 30 minutes since the last sighting when my cousin semi-whispered "Buck! Buck!" I eased into position and leveled up on my rest with my muzzleloader and saw two legal bucks just putting their heads down to drink from a tiny mud puddle where one trough spilled over a bit. They were right at 80 yards and when I fired the bigger buck's head was down, directly in line with me so that my shot hit the top of his neck and would have been directly in line with top of his heart had it continued on. He dropped on the spot and my cousin and I jumped up. I don't know who was more excited, but it definitely made it extra special to have him there for the hunt, but also the shot. My hand still hurts thinking about how hard we high-fived. I reloaded and we walked up on the deer, but he never twitched.

View attachment 168963
The buck turned out to be a nice, heavy 3x3.

View attachment 168964
Also had to take one obligatory "buck in the truck" photo to send to our sons back home.

I had set out to shoot the first legal buck I saw and I surely didn't expect to get such a nice buck. I couldn't have been happier with the result. We got the deer dressed and were able to drive right up to him. Loaded him up and got back to camper just in time for the cold front to hit with full force. Within 30 minutes of sunrise the next day we were both on the road, but there was already a good deal of sleet and it was quickly turning to snow. My 8.5 hour drive took me over 13 hours. The roads were wet for the entire drive and the temperature never rose above freezing. More than once my trailer began to slide, but thankfully I was always going slow enough to recover. It would be fine with me if I never have to make another drive like that. Ultimately I made it home safely to my family just ahead of the worst of the ice storm that wrecked most of Oklahoma in early October. Definitely a hunt to remember!
Nice congrats!
 
SITKA Gear

Forum statistics

Threads
94,087
Messages
1,397,054
Members
29,510
Latest member
fkalisz
Top