It's a Coues Thing...

It has been three years in a row now that we’ve gone after Coues deer. “It’s a Coues thing, you wouldn’t understand…” as the saying goes…unless you’ve chased after the little gray ghosts yourself.

When we applied for tags in Arizona this past year, I wasn’t so sure that we’d draw a tag but wow was I excited when I found out that we had! Like always, planning a trip between work and school is a struggle but we made it happen. We had grand ideas of bagging our deer early so that we could spend several days hunting predators and quail. But as they say, “there are no guarantees when hunting” so it isn’t that surprising that it took until our very last day to fill our remaining deer tag. Even so, we were surprised at the difficulty of finding bucks. Especially since any legal buck (except for a spike) was on our menu this year.

 unusual heart on rock while hiking

One of those unusual things you see while hiking

After a thirteen hour drive, we pulled into what looked like the perfect camp spot, one we found using Google maps. However, the ticket stuck to our trailer window the next day let us know that camping within 400 yards of water (a stock pond) on state property was prohibited, oops. Tired from a long day driving, we organized our things and prepared for an early morning adventure.

 Coues deer hunting Sonoran desert

     Dallas setting waypoint at stock pond that's a mile west

Morning came and we set out on a route that we had preplanned, again using Google maps. Right off the bat we saw a doe and fawn, a great start to the day no doubt. At 8:00 a.m. we spotted a herd of eight Coues deer, but the only antlered deer was a spike so we continued on. Around noon we spotted another group of deer that had just watered at a never-before-seen stock pond and now they traveled westward into the less mountainous part of the desert. We couldn’t be sure, but we thought we saw a glint of antlers as the six deer bounded off. After watching for about a mile we finally lost track of them as they melded into the cover of a far off butte. We spent the rest of the day moving from drainage to drainage only to see a couple more does and a few javelina. That night after the mandatory moving of camp, we made a plan to hike toward the stock pond from the west in hopes of finding the herd we’d seen earlier in the day.

 javelina collared peccary skunk pig  ocotillo cactus coues deer hunting

          Far off pic of a couple of javelina                                  Rise overlooking stock pond a mile away

The morning’s excursion was long and difficult. We had to go a couple of miles out of our way to skirt private property. Not only that, we had to fight catclaw and cactus along the way so what looked like a relatively easy hike, wasn’t. Just before noon we had traveled as far eastward as we had planned. We were sitting on a small rise overlooking the same stock pond as yesterday but from the opposite side still about a mile away. And just like clockwork, we spotted a group of deer heading our way from their noontime watering hole. We caught glimpses of them as they made their way toward us and finally got a good look at them once they passed 150 yards below, but no buck was among them. We ended the day with 10 ½ miles underfoot. While we did see a band of coatimundis and a few quail, we never saw another deer.

 Catclaw in the Sonoran desert

Unforgiving desert terrain, catclaw was the worst

The next day we decided to hunt a mile and a half further to the south of where we hunted on day one. As we approached the base of a small mountain, Dallas spotted a doe. We watched her for several minutes until the little gray ghost seemed to vanish into the nothingness of the hillside. After fifteen minutes of continued glassing, we decided to continue up to the top of the mountain to see what lay beyond. We hadn’t gone more than 50 yards when five deer popped out of nowhere and pranced up the mountain side, their white tails waving like a flag of surrender. No bucks were in the group; we soldiered on.

 Coues deer hunting hiking up mountain

                     Hiking to the top of mountain ahead

After topping out, we again glassed but saw nothing so we moved to the next drainage. Just as we crested the ridge, Carson, who was first up to shoot, spotted three deer below us. I quickly put the binoculars to my face as Carson and Dallas slung off their backpacks; to which they had their guns strapped. “There’s a shooter buck” I said. Focused solely on the deer, I whipped out my camcorder and quickly had them in the viewfinder and began recording.

 Coues deer buck white tail waving

Center and lower left, 2 of the 3 deer and one's a shooter

Without taking my eyes off the deer, I asked “are you going to shoot Carson?” And literally before I finished saying his name, the blast from the 6.5 Creedmoor echoed across the canyon as the buck dropped! Carson was ecstatic! And to add to the moment, I had captured the entire event on film!

 whitetail coues deer buck  packing out Coues deer buck

           Carson with his 6-pointer whitetail buck                               The boys loaded up and packing out

Another long day came to a close. Besides the one lone spike buck that we saw while packing out Carson’s deer, we never saw another deer all day long. So the plan for tomorrow would be to hunt a completely different part of the mountain range.

 i went hunting coues deer

                            Excited to explore new territory

It was early morning; our spirits were high as we trudged along the winding canyon bottom and into new territory. About 2 miles in we spotted the first Coues deer of the day, both does. Motivated by the sight of deer, the 1000 ft. climb to the top of our destination peak wasn’t as hard as expected. Just on the other side of the mountaintop, we perched ourselves onto a rocky outcropping and began to glass, it was 9:20 a.m. Within two minutes of reaching this spot, Dallas spotted a deer moving down the opposite side of the basin, a buck! Within seconds Dallas had his gun resting upon the backpack which sat nestled within the rocks. By the time Dallas squeezed off a shot, the deer had already moved three quarters of the way down the hillside but began slowing as it neared the bottom. I barely had eyes on the buck when the roar of the gun filled my ears. The buck tipped over 285 yards away!

 hunting Coues deer  Coues deer hunting

                    Getting steady and taking aim                                                  Buck is in his sights

We reached the buck in short order and began to quarter the deer, excited that we had the rest of the day to search for another buck. But even though we slogged along for 9 ½ miles, we never spotted another deer. By the time we reached the truck it was pitch dark. However, despite being totally exhausted, we couldn’t have been more excited to have bagged another deer!

 i went hunting coues deer

            Dallas's 8-pointer buck, unique coloring on feet of the mature Coues deer

                              To be continued...