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My Mule Deer Hunt

Mule deer hunting is one of my favorite big game pursuits.

I grew up hunting whitetail with my bow back east and moved to Utah just over 10 years ago. In Utah, I was initially obsessed with getting big velvet mule deer with my bow. I’m happy to say that I’ve harvested a few of which I’m very proud.

The author demonstrates how to hunt mule deer using her Springfield Model 2020 chambered in 6.5 PRC.

In recent years I started expanding my hunting season and added rifle hunts to the line-up. Rifle hunts offer a new set of challenges, including later seasons and different skills and tactics. And let’s face it: rifle shooting is a fun skill to exercise leading up to your hunt.

New Tool for Mule Deer Hunting

In 2023, I finally got my hands on the Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint chambered in 6.5 PRC. When deciding what I wanted my Waypoint chambered in, I was most interested in long-range accuracy, velocity and knockdown power. The 6.5 PRC bullet offers a nearly 200 foot per second (fps) velocity advantage over the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge. It also provides low recoil, repeatable accuracy and long-range performance.

In this photo, the author shows us the results of sighting in her bolt-action rifle for an upcoming mule deer hunt. She stands next to a steel target on the shooting range. It shows two impacts in the bullseye — impressive considering the high winds she was dealing with.
The Springfield Armory Model 2020 line of rifles has proved to be quite accurate and reliable in the field.

When sighting in the Waypoint in high winds, I was able to get a 5” group at a target 1,000 yards away. Unbelievable! This was before I had an anti-cant device on my scope as well, so I was a believer in this rifle after those shots!

Living and hunting in Utah, we have a ton of vast mountain ranges and wide open spaces. It is not uncommon to have to take a long-range shot at an elk or a deer. Because of this possibility, I really enjoy studying the ballistics of rounds, velocity and different yardages, and practicing with my rifle to ensure the most ethical and practical shot on the hunt.

In this photo, the author shows us the impact points of here 1000 yard shots with Springfield Model 2020 rifle. The steel shows all rounds landed very close to center of the target with a group size of about 5". For a long range target, this is extremely good — roughly 1/2 MOA.
With a Leupold 4-24x scope mounted to her Model 2020 in 6.5 PRC, the author was able to get this 5″ group at 1,000 yards — even with significant crosswinds.

I zeroed my 6.5 PRC at 300 yards. For my optic, I picked the Leupold 4-24x scope with the FireDot duplex reticle. After 300 yards, I simply dial the scope to the proper setting based on the yardage and my MOA chart. I was really impressed with how accurate the Waypoint was right out of the box. My 300 yard shots were directly on top of each other, as well as my 500 and 800 yard shots.

[Don’t miss Wayne Van Zwoll’s article on selecting the best scope for deer hunting.]

Being able to trust your firearm is worth everything when you take it out on a hunt. Most of us hunters spend a ton of time and money prepping for a big game hunt. If you do this, the least you can do is go out there knowing that when you’re ready to pull the trigger, you and your rifle are prepared for a perfect shot in the heat of the moment.

[Be sure to read Sean Utley’s Springfield Waypoint review for more information on these bolt-action rifles.]

Pursuing Mule Deer in the Field

The hunts that I had planned for 2023 made for the busiest season that I had yet. I had to guide elk hunts for my outfitter service throughout different parts of the season. Scattered in between, I had an out-of-state archery elk tag and a Utah rifle deer tag. I lease a large ranch in Utah and my deer tag was for the unit that the ranch is in. I had been watching bucks and scouting all summer and fall to prepare for my late October rifle deer hunt. I went to sight my Waypoint during the summer and practiced consistently leading up to my deer hunt. To be honest, I was more confident in my Waypoint rifle than any other hunting rifle I’ve used in the past.

Here we see a spectacular landscape 
 photo from the author's mule deer hunt in Utah. A red and orange sky creates a warm glow over the land.
Bridget can attest to the fact that a mule deer hunt in Utah offers breathtaking views and vistas.

I was watching a couple giant bucks that I really wanted to harvest this year. Unfortunately, the one that I wanted most disappeared in September. That left a couple up-and-comer bucks that I wanted to let grow and save for future clients. There are a handful of 160”-plus deer in the unit that I’d like to see next year, and I think they’d likely be mid-170” class deer or larger by the 2024 season.

With that in mind, I hunted hard throughout the Utah rifle hunt until I found the right buck to take. There was a nice 4 point mule deer tempting me every day, but the truth is he was young and needed a year or two to mature. As an avid deer hunter, I always want to take a 5-year-old buck or older in hopes of harvesting a mature buck that has already gotten his genes out there for years. Or, I want to take a buck that is old and on the downhill, and likely not rutting does any longer. The goal is to not take young bucks who haven’t reached their prime yet. Depending on the situation, it can also be good to eliminate poor genetics from your land if you’re trying to manage an area for big deer on future hunts.

A steady shot is always important when hunting. Here we see the author's shooting position on here mule deer hunting with the Springfield Model 2020.
Accuracy helps ensure the ethical harvesting of a game animal. The use of a bipod and a berm helped the author make a perfect shot on a buck.

After hunting day after day and passing up young deer and up-and-comers, I spotted a 3×3 mule deer alongside some does. This buck had a large mature body and mature frame to his antlers. I’d describe this buck as having poor genetics for this area and being the largest that he was ever going to be.

Here we see the successful conclusion to a mule deer hunt. The Springfield Model 2020 rifle is shown in front of a large buck the author shot and killed. It will feed her for many weeks to come.
The result of the author’s hard work was this buck. It will stock the freezer with many nutritious — and tasty — meals.

Because of this and mainly wanting a mature buck, I decided to put a stalk on him. I used the red rock terrain and bushes to sneak and stalk from 1,000 yards to 286 yards. I placed my rifle on a dirt mound and made it steady with its bipod. I laid down and set up for the shot. The buck turned broadside and I was able to make the perfect shot. He dropped immediately.

[Want to improve your deer stalks? Read Wayne Van Zwoll’s article on how to hunt the wind.]

This was my first kill with my Waypoint, and hopefully the first of many! I couldn’t be happier with how the gun performed in the field. It’s so lightweight and easy to carry. Knowing that when I pulled the trigger I was going to have an accurate shot was the icing on the cake.

Final Thoughts on the Deer Hunt with the Model 2020

I would highly recommend the Springfield Armory Waypoint Model 2020 in 6.5 PRC to any big game hunter. The velocity and ballistics with this rifle and round work extremely well for hunting deer, elk, caribou and even moose at long ranges! Besides big game, I am really excited to take it on some predator hunts as well.

If you want to book a deer hunt with me as your guide, contact me through my hunting outfitter business: Dixie Top Outfitters. The 2024 deer season is going to be loaded with giant bucks and I can’t wait to hunt them and get my clients on them this coming fall!

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