Muzzleloader Deer: 8 Ways To Win The Wide-Open West

Amazing country. Two species to chase. There's lots to love about a western hunt adventure when packing a smokepole.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

Amazing country. Two species to chase. There’s lots to love about a western hunt adventure when packing a smokepole.

MuzzleBucks1 900

Many muzzleloader deer hunters have acquired a comfort zone for hunting whitetails in their common range, but there’s a whole world of deer hunting west of the Mississippi. Not only does the view differ, but you can pursue both whitetails and mule deer depending on regulations. If the West is calling you for a muzzleloader deer hunt you can use these guidelines for a smoke-filled ending to venison success.

MuzzleBucks8 900

TIP ONE: DON’T BE PICKY. Should you focus on whitetails or mule deer? As mentioned, both species inhabit nearly every state west of the Mississippi in various subspecies platforms. Some states require you to identify your target species while others allow you to hunt either on the same license, such as Montana and certain license choices in Wyoming. If your license is flexible you need to be flexible. Hunting either species gives you options, and especially if one hunt is not transpiring well. Plus, you can even make a plan to hunt whitetails at dawn and dusk. During the midday hours you can spot and stalk mule deer. Make the most of your hunt by hunting both species if possible.

MuzzleBucks7 900

TIP TWO: MAP OUT YOUR ATTACK. It’s easier than ever to scout from home, but while hunting the West you have options for both private- and public-land hunting. You likely already know the benefits of using the full-featured HuntStand app, but it offers even more advantages as you look for public access and ownership information. You can view ownership and defined boundaries right on the screen as you scout from home, or get your first look at a potential property firsthand. You can also see the size of the parcel and if it looks inviting find the owner, and begin knocking on doors.

Editor’s Note: Need a HuntStand upgrade? For a limited time you can Save 20% on HuntStand Pro when purchased on Just use code BLACKFRIDAY20 at checkout. Offer ends Friday, November 29.

TIP THREE: MUZZLELOADER FAN FRIENDLY. As you research opportunities, don’t worry if there is no specific muzzleloader season. Some states still haven’t adopted “muzzleloader-only” seasons in the West. For example, Kansas, Colorado and South Dakota have muzzleloader seasons, but they don’t overlap during the rut. Montana doesn’t have a separate muzzleloader season, and Wyoming has very limited seasons. If the state you desire to hunt doesn’t have a separate season, yet you wish to hunt with your smokepole, don’t stop your muzzleloader plans. The aforementioned states and others offer plenty of opportunities to hunt with a muzzleloader during the regular firearm season, with the advantage of pre-rut and rut hunts. The bottom line? You can still be successful even with your muzzleloader in the West.

MuzzleBucks3 900TIP FOUR: PREPARE FOR THE LONG SHOT. With the possibility of a 200-yard or longer shot presenting itself in the big open spaces of the West, you’ll want to make sure your muzzleloader is up to the task. Practice to consistently hit a deer-sized target from 150 to 200 yards or longer to increase your Western chances. Most modern inline muzzleloaders should produce a 2- to 3-inch group at 100 yards or better. If you double the distance, you need to keep that group within a 7-inch or less circumference to cleanly take a deer at 200 yards, or beyond.  Experts stress that 1,000 foot-pounds of energy is recommended to cleanly kill most big game. Do the math and ensure your load and projectile will deliver that powerful punch at your practiced, extreme distance.

MuzzleBucks6 900

TIP FIVE: BE READY TO GET MOBILE. Spot and stalk could be your game, so don’t ignore it if you haven’t practiced the trade. Although either species pattern in the open country or forested mountains, sometimes both whitetails and mule deer vary their travel—and being mobile helps you close the distance once you spot a buck. Getting to high ground near an attraction point like a neighboring agricultural field is a must. Hit those locations at dawn or in the afternoons, and scan with a quality binocular to spot any signs of deer activity. Your next move may be easy if the terrain is rugged, but be prepared for a crawling finish to get your shot. Crawling on your knees or belly gives you a low profile to creep closer, and once you reach shooting range you’re able to go to a prone shooting position without effort. Leather gloves, knee pads and elbow pads are a bonus—and these sometimes-overlooked accessories can make or break a hunt.

MuzzleBucks4 900

TIP SIX: DON’T FORGET EASTERN TACTICS. Even if spot-and-stalk is the preferred hunting tactic of Western deer hunters you can be flexible. Stands do work and once you have a general hunting location established you’ll need to consider whether a treestand, or ground blind has greater benefits. Don’t get too cozy with either contraption. You can also use high bluffs, ridges and steep banks that can supply you with a sniper perch that doesn’t require setup and hiking with a bulky contraption. Look for funnels and pinch points leading to fields that attract both species into a travel pattern. In forested regions look for saddles and ridges that can also coordinate the travel plans of Western deer.

MuzzleBucks5 900

TIP SEVEN: TAKE YOUR CALLING GAME WEST. One thing you’ll discover if you hunt the rut period is that Western whitetails, and even mule deer, love to run to calls. Use your calls to draw deer out of a wooded backdrop or a brushy canyon. You can also use them to pull deer across the fence from private to public parcels. The tried-and-true sounds of rattling, grunts, bleats and wheezes work ideally in the openness of the West, and by incorporating them into a still-hunt you can cover ground and be assured you’re not passing by hidden deer.

MuzzleBucks2 900

TIP EIGHT: PAY ATTENTION TO WESTERN FARMING. Crops such as wheat, sunflowers, alfalfa, sugar beets, corn, soybeans and others have made their way into the West as common crops. Any of these could be a major attraction for whitetails and mule deer tired of dry shrubbery. The crops may sit on private land, but rugged, publicly-owned parcels could adjoin those fields, giving you a chance to ambush a passerby. As you scour for croplands be on the lookout for natural food as well, including mast-producing crops. Acorns are common, particularly in foothill locations. Scrub oak accounts for the majority of the mast-crop attraction and deer seek out this nutrition due to its high fat potential.

Muzzleloader deer success is possible in the grand backdrop of the West, but you need to be adaptable and change to meet the demands of your chosen region. Are you ready for adventure? Then it might be time to pack up and enjoy a muzzleloader hunt in a fresh, exciting new venue.



HuntStand is the #1 hunting and land management app in the country. It combines advanced mapping tools with powerful map layers to allow users to create and share the best hunting maps possible.