Back for More - Coues Deer Part I

Chasing around those little desert whitetails earlier this year was so fun that we just had to go back for more! All four in our group drew fall rifle Coues deer tags, so early December found us back in sunny southern Arizona.

Coues deer hunt
                                   Almost there...triple towing gave us the extra vehicle we needed


It was pitch dark and snowing heavily when we left home the day after Thanksgiving and we encountered tense white knuckle driving most of the way through Utah. Parts of Arizona weren’t any better. At times we’d hit a stretch of road where we thought we’d finally arrived for good in sunny Arizona, only to drive on further and again face snow packed roads. Finally after nineteen hours of driving we pulled into camp, even though the trip should have only taken about twelve and a half hours. We found ourselves a relatively flat spot in the hard packed sand, which provided ample room for our 5th wheel trailer. Backing the trailer parallel to the thorny brush, we had our camping spot for the next week. As quickly as possible we leveled the trailer, rearranged our gear and hopped into bed.

It was still dark when we awoke after only a few hours of sleep, we were definitely excited to get out chasing deer! It had sprinkled a little bit over night, but now the clouds had parted and the stars shone brightly on a moonless morning. We made our way up the basin to the west of camp, scratching our way through the stubborn brush along the way. There was a dusting of snow capping the upper reaches of the mountains above, but we remained just below the snowline. It wasn’t long before the weather warmed up past 40 degrees, a pleasant change from the below freezing conditions of Utah. Just after 10:30 a.m. we spotted our first Coues deer, a doe, feeding across the steep mountainside in front of us. The intermittent clumps of brush that speckled the relatively bare hillside didn’t appear to provide enough cover to hide a deer. But after another hour and a half of glassing, we turned up four more whitetail does. Those little gray ghosts are incredibly cagey as they can wander a few yards and completely disappear as they blend into what looks like almost open terrain.

 Coues deer hunting AZ  hunting Coues deer Arizona whitetails

                       Headed up to the snow line                                Our first Sonoran whitetail deer of the hunt spotted

We spent the rest of the afternoon hunting, seeing a couple more does and one pertinacious javelina that scampered past us a few yards ahead. There was no way to predict that in this exact spot, a month later, javelina would attack and bloody our buddy’s bird hunting dog.

The next morning only two of us would hunt while the others remained at camp to begin fixing the broken down truck. The night before, as we pulled into camp, the transmission overheated. Now major repairs were needed. First the burnt oil would be drained, then the cracked flex plate replaced, along with a new oil filter and gasket, and finally fresh transmission fluid would be added. I’ll spare sharing the details here, but know that the logistics of getting replacement parts, needed tools, etc. was challenging.

By noon we had only seen a couple of deer, so Carson and I decided to head back to camp to check on the truck progress. As we reached camp, the guys were anxiously scrambling about and stuffing shotgun shells into their pockets. “Grab your shotguns, we saw quail!” they said. We wasted no time switching out our rifles for shotguns and joined the sprint toward the rocky outcropping situated near camp. Zigzagging our way through prickly brush and cactus, a flock of Gambles quail, with a constitution to run rather than hold, was spotted ahead scurrying across one of the many small sandy washes that commonly cut their way throughout the area. Vigorously forging ahead we hustled until the birds flushed and erupted into the air. A barrage of shots rang out as several ground-dwellers fell to the earth. The majority of the quail momentarily escaped to the boulders beyond, but we were in hot pursuit. We spent the next hour listening for the unique three syllable gathering call of the quail, then boulder-hopped toward their hiding places; occasionally jump shooting a few of the stragglers during our short expedition.

 Coues deer hunt AZ Sonoran desert  Gambles quail Sonoran desert Arizona

 Transmission issues...the beginning of a lot of work        Gambles quail after a bit of boulder hopping above camp

The following morning we sat glassing for deer, when after spotting a few does feeding 1000 yards off, Mark located the first buck of our hunt! Unaware of our presence the 6 point buck lazily fed across a slope on a completely different bluff than the one we’d been watching. In no time we had closed the distance and now crested the small rise before us. Nothing but short grass and a few small cacti separated us from the deer, so a 450+ yard shot would be in order.

Carson was first up, he took steady aim and fired, “high”, we exclaimed as the buck whirled and disappeared from his sight. However, the buck hadn’t completely vanished as I could see the buck standing a ways away and it was unsure of what had just transpired. Switching places, I steadied the gun and also squeezed off a shot. “High”, someone said as I could see a plume of dust forming over the back of the buck. Nervously the buck began his escape. About 75 yards into his flight another buck joined him from where, we had no idea. Dallas now took his turn, but to no avail. Dumbfoundedly we gawked and finally lost sight of the 6 point buck as he and his only slightly smaller companion crested the ridge and vanished. It wouldn’t be until later that we would confirm that our 6.5 Creedmoor was shooting 12 - 15 inches high at 400 yards.

Disgust and bewilderment was the topic of conversation for the next several minutes, when almost as a joke I began to glass a half mile up the ridge and spotted a heavy framed buck. Only the buck’s head and neck were visible on the skyline, so it was impossible to tell whether the buck was bedded or was still standing after having fed directly over the hill. Stunned, we crouched and quickly made a plan to backtrack and circle closer to the buck. It seemed doubtful that the buck would remain exposed on the ridge, but we still had to give it a try and needed to cut the distance in half. Ten minutes later we peeked around the last of the rocks that concealed our position. Dallas spotted the buck, it hadn’t moved. Lying prone Dallas set up for the shot, taking minutes to get absolutely comfortable and steady. He gave us the signal, he was ready. At the crack of the gunfire, pieces of rock exploded near the buck, the buck whirled and was gone, a clean miss!

Only minutes before we couldn’t believe our good fortune to get another opportunity at a deer, we all were elated – but now the tables had turned, we sat stunned, completely dejected. Dallas was no doubt upset. He literally was ready to throw our rifle to the ground -- more than a few choice words were muttered. At this point we started to question the accuracy of the scope, but still not yet convinced that human error wasn’t to blame, we shrugged it off. At that point we begged the deer gods to give us another chance; we all confirmed that we’d each shoot a spike buck given the chance because it seemed as if we were quickly running out of time.

 hunting Coues deer AZ 6.5 Creedmoor  Coues deer gray ghost

                    Carson has a bedded buck spotted at 320 yards                       Made a great shot on his first whitetail

A solid five minutes had passed since the missed shot. All of our gear (spotting scopes, shooting sticks, hoodies, etc.) had been neatly placed back into our backpacks. Disheartened, we planned our decent. Just as we began to move, an overwhelming feeling of disbelief for what had just happened caused me to glance back to where we’d last seen the buck. I threw up my binos – no more than a few seconds had passed when stunned, I watched as the heavy horned buck strolled right back to where it was previously! “The buck is back!” I exclaimed. The group not fully comprehending my words caused me to repeat myself two more times until either I was taken seriously or my remarks were fully realized. Each took turn verifying the buck’s return. This time Dallas chose to hook up and around so that he had a broadside view of the buck; which would present a much larger target than the forward facing shot again available. Now settled into the cliffs above, Dallas squeezed off a shot at 390 yards, the buck dropped from sight.

Before celebrating the moment, with some amount of uncertainty, we kept our eyes focused on the general area, not daring to lower our binoculars. Seconds later another deer was spotted, bedded, 70 yards below the heavy horned buck’s location. Unbelievable! Taking a closer look with the spotting scope we could see antlers glinting in the sunlight, it was a spike. Without hesitation Carson took Mark’s Creedmoor, dialed it for 320 yards and with a single shot he smoked the buck in its bed! Unreal, we went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs within minutes! Again we gathered our gear, but this time we would be eagerly ascending the mountain as opposed to descending. We made quick work of the bucks, loaded the mostly boneless meat into our packs and headed back to the truck. An interesting discovery, albeit rather concerning, was that Dallas’ bullet struck the buck in the head. Had the buck not been in a quartering away position the shot would have again sailed high, completely missing the intended vital organs. Dallas was now certain the scope calibration was off. He had spent considerable time taking aim and was able to rest both the forestock and the butt of the gun on a rock outcropping, giving him a dead rest, and still shot high.

"To Be Continued..."

Gray ghost Coues deer whitetail bucks packing out
                                    All loaded up with a couple of bucks...a Coues deer double!