By Michael Bodenchuk, Correspondent(Editor's Note: A truly big mule deer buck is, arguably, one of the world's most difficult trophies to acquire. Today, in the Mountain West, you won't find the buck of a lifetime behind every tree, but mule deer hunts remain a great opportunity to reconnect with one of the defining trophies of North American hunting.
We asked Correspondent Michael Bodenchuk to dig out the current status of mule deer populations in each of the western states and provinces and give you the facts you need to decide where to focus your efforts. We also asked him to identify some hunt opportunities to look at for 2014-not necessarily hunts for record book animals (which can get very pricey), but quality hunts with reasonable expectations of a quality buck. If your focus is on trophies that rank high in the record books, we have some recommendations for that, too.
This month, we cover the core states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Look for two more installments in coming months. By the time show season rolls around, you'll have the real skinny on mule deer throughout their range.)
The "good old days" of mule deer hunting occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s when trophy deer were available in nearly every state within mule deer range. Today, trophy mule deer areas are well known and the odds of drawing one of the few nonresident public draw permits are often in the same category as bighorn sheep draw odds. However, the latest surveys show that populations are still robust and mule deer hunts remain widely available, both as outfitted opportunities and do-it-yourself. Colorado
: With the highest mule deer population (currently estimated at 408,000), one of the highest hunter success rates (about 44 percent overall) and the widest possible range of permits, Colorado has to be considered the top mule deer state in the nation. Colorado offers designated archery and muzzleloader hunts, three different rifle seasons, private land tags and, new for 2013, even an early, high-country rifle hunt. Public mule deer permits are regulated through the draw (regulations available in late February with the drawing deadline in early April; http://www.wildlife.state.co.us/