It was interesting, I recently saw a post on a hunting message board asking where people would go if they could hunt mule deer anywhere in North America. The list, of course, included the Paunsaugunt and Henry Mountains in Utah, the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, the east slopes of the Colorado Rockies and New Mexico. And, while all of these are definite “must dos” for any serious mule deer hunter, it seemed to me that there was one glaring omission, the Canadian province of Alberta.
Alberta has quietly become one of North America’s premier destinations for big trophy bucks. Only a short 20 years ago it was rare to see a 4×4 muley in this western province, let alone a trophy buck, but in 1991 the government undertook an intensive management program that saw most management units in south-eastern portion of Alberta go on limited-entry draw for resident hunters. Previously, mule deer were on a general season and a three-point minimum rule was in effect, and the majority of deer were being killed as two-year olds. With the reduced hunting pressure, the superior genetics in these bucks were allowed to reveal themselves and by the mid 1990s, Alberta was kicking out bucks that hadn’t been seen since Ed Broder shot the world record non-typical mule deer back in 1926. With the success the draw units were enjoying, the government followed by placing several more of the wildlife management units, scattered throughout the province, on draw. The result has been hunters killing more trophy bucks than ever before.
While mule deer can be found throughout Alberta, it is the southeastern portion of the province that is the most consistent producer of big bucks. This does not mean that other areas are not giving up big bucks too, as they are, it was just that bucks is the south-eastern region were the first to receive protection through the limited entry draw.
Alberta residents are issued approximately 90% of the permits in most management units through a limited-entry draw. The permit allows them to harvest any antlered buck. Non-residents are not required to draw a tag but must hunt with a licensed outfitter that is allocated tags in that area. Hunts typically range from $3,000 to $5,000 and can be combined with whitetail deer, elk, antelope and moose, depending on the area hunted. Alberta has a quirky law that only permits hunting on Thursday, Friday and Saturday in many of the southern zones, so hunts is these areas typically only last three days. In western and northern units, hunts are usually six days in duration. Unfortunately the price varies little and with the limited number of non-resident permits available most outfitters book up quickly.
The majority of hunting is conducted on private ranches in the deep coulees along creeks and rivers. While this is flat prairie country, the rugged terrain along these river bottoms provides ample cover for big bucks. The archery season begins in early September and lasts until the end of October. The rifle season runs through the month of November and coincides with the mule deer rut, which typically occurs during the first couple weeks of the season. Most of the hunting is spot and stalk and the abundance of deer and variety of terrain ensures that hunters of all physical abilities have a good chance of taking a decent buck.
How big are the bucks in Alberta? Plenty big! While Alberta’s mule deer don’t typically get the extreme width of their southern cousins, they grow tall and heavy. The opportunity to harvest a 170-plus muley is very real and each year bucks grossing close to 200 points are taken. The current Alberta record for typical mule deer is 206 0/8. Alberta is also known for producing a large number of non-typical bucks, including the number-one Boone and Crockett deer.
Canada gun owners have had some draconian gun laws forced upon them but they have little effect on visiting hunters other than a permit must be obtained prior to bringing your gun into the country. Outfitters should handle all of the paperwork for you and it is advisable to get these permits in place well before your hunt dates. For more information on hunting mule deer in Alberta, contact the Alberta Professional Outfitters Society, http://www.apos.ab.ca.