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My first harvest of a Coues whitetail had been far harder than expected (see “Hunting the Grey Ghost”), but after a couple of days of recovery at home, well, maybe more like a month, I found myself itching to further abuse my body and try my hand at it again. I had harvested my New Mexico buck in January, but there was still Arizona. Now, wouldn’t that just be a neat trick to harvest two of these mighty midgets in one year with my trusty Alpine bow!
I made a call to a good friend of mine who has a ranch near Wilcox, Arizona. He had a solid population of Coues on his ranch and had offered a hunt opportunity there the year before. After talking to him for about an hour, a second Coues hunt of the year was all lined up. All I had to do was to draw the tag. However, there would be an additional hitch to this hunt.
The Arizona archery hunt runs the same time as our New Mexico bow hunt, during the first part of January. If I really wanted to try to get two Coues in the same calendar year, I was going to have to draw a November rifle tag and hunt with a bow during a rifle hunt. On public land, this would have been completely crazy. However, on private land it just might work. The rancher told me that he would only allow three other hunters who were applying for public tags on the ranch if they drew and that in any given year he had never seen more than two hunters actually draw a tag. I decided it was worth a shot and filed my application. I really was not that worried about trying to take a Coues with a bow during the rifle hunt, because I would have my secret weapons – Dead Down Wind and my HECS STEALTHSCREEN and my successes had been piling up using those two products.
A couple of months later I got great news. I had drawn a tag and would get my chance. I contacted the rancher and arranged to meet with him in late July for a weekend at the ranch so he could show me around. I had never hunted on this ranch and needed to do some recon work. The rancher, a hunter himself, did not need an excuse to go run around for a weekend looking for deer and helping me strategize my hunt. He also told me that there would only be one other hunter on the ranch during that hunt because none of the other hunters had drawn. I made my first trip to Arizona not having any idea what I had got myself into.
I arrived at the ranch and we headed out. Of course, I came equipped with all of my trail cameras. I figured that we could get them up on some of the water holes on the ranch and come back in about a month for some further scouting and picture viewing. We headed to the south end of the ranch and placed them on a number of water holes the rancher had seen good bucks around the previous year. The country was far rougher than I had expected. The mountains had steep cliffs, brushy draws and an abundance of rattlesnakes. The water holes were few and far between so each one had plenty of deer sign. All in all, I the trip built my anticipation for the fall hunt.
I went back to the ranch in mid August and ran the cameras. While I expected to have quite a few pictures, over 600! I could hardly wait to get back to the house and look at all of the pictures. This hunt might just be easier than the last one? Yeah right!
I had hundreds of pictures of Coues deer and every other manner of critter you could think of. Right off that would sound like a good deal but there were some critters that had me highly concerned.
Each camera had at least one picture of a mountain lion (some many more) and I would have never believed how many different bears were hitting those water holes if I had not seen the pictures with my own eyes! My initial thought was that this was far too many big predators for the big bucks to chance coming into these water holes. There were some 90” plus bucks on the cameras but they were few and far between. A little rain and they might not hit the waters at all. All I could do now was to wait for the next trip in October and see if things changed.
October, the temperatures were still over 100 degrees each day, the snakes still out in full force and the big predators still dominated the water holes. I started to think I might be better served to move some of my cameras to possible feeding areas but there was feed everywhere. Water was going to have to be the focus no matter what the cameras showed a month before the hunt. All I could do was pray that things would cool off a bit before the hunt and scatter those predators. There were good bucks on the cameras but based on the number of deer I was seeing in the pictures, I knew there were more and bigger bucks around somewhere.
As mid November rolled around, the weather had not changed much, save for the nights cooling off. Daytime temperatures were still approaching 100 degrees and I knew before I headed over for the hunt that the big predators were still going to be dominating the water holes. The hunt was an eight day hunt of which I was going to be able to hunt six days. All I had was the water holes to get started but with the current heat wave I did not let that dampen my spirits. It was time to put my game face on and get to work.
I arrived at the ranch about noon the day before the hunt and ran the trail cameras. Once back at the cabin I had the chance to look through all of the pictures. I had decided that I would look for the water hole with the largest bucks in the past week and start in that area.
When I started reviewing the pictures I noticed that the first part of November had seen a significant number of larger bucks at the water holes in the early mornings but for some reason they had stopped hitting them about a week before I got there. I also noticed that with the exception of one water hole, the big predator numbers had dropped significantly. This was good news! It appeared the deer movements were back to moon patterns and not as influenced by the bears and lions! That would be a big help!
One of the water holes is particular had a number of 90” plus bucks that had been hitting it for the past month. One of these bucks was an impressive and wide 8 point buck. I decided that this water hole would be “home” for the next few days.
I left the cameras out and planned to check them through the hunt to make sure I wasn’t missing a big boy somewhere else. I put the laptop away and started spinning my VPA Broadheads on my Gold Tip arrows. The morning would come soon enough and with it the opportunity to do something I had never heard of anyone doing before, harvesting two Coues bucks with a bow in a single year.
Opening morning was a brisk reminder of what the desert is all about. An hour before sun up saw temperatures not too far above freezing. This is always a reminder of two things. First, once that sun hits the ground and starts warming things up, the critters will be moving around to enjoy the warmth. Second, by mid-day all of us (the critters and I) would be wishing it was night time again so we could escape the 100 degree temperatures. I made my way to the blind, teeth chattering, and got set up for opening day in Arizona!
As the sun came up and its warm rays began to touch the tops of the canopy through the canyon, life started to spring forward. Within an hour of daylight, I had my first sighting at the water hole. A nice 80” buck came in from the north. Time for the first major decision of the hunt; shoot or don’t shoot? A buck this size is a record book qualifier if taken with a bow. I knew there were plenty of bigger bucks on the ranch, and I still had a lot of time to hunt. However, as those of us that hunt these magnificent creatures know, one opportunity may be all you get. He was cautiously getting closer and closer.
I started to raise my bow but that little voice inside of me said “stop”. I put it back down and watched him come in, drink and head back to where he came. There was a lot of time left and hopefully my patience would pay off. He would be the largest buck I saw on opening day.
I had almost 100 deer into that water hole that day. A number of smaller bucks but nothing that would approach my New Mexico buck from January. The moon cycle was going to make things tougher each day as we were approaching the full moon. Maybe this hunt was going to be a little tougher than I had expected. Maybe I should have taken that first buck.
Day 2 and 3 were almost carbon copies of the first day. Plenty of deer coming into the water hole, but no big bucks. I decided that I needed to change my strategy. By mid afternoon it was time to check the trail cameras and see what was going on at the other waters. I headed to each camera, switching out the cards before driving back to the cabin for a look. Just as I had expected, plenty of does during the day, but all of the good bucks were watering about 2:00 in the morning. Time to switch things up!
Day 4 and 5 had me beating the brush. I worked draws, glassed and still hunted throughout the day. I found a couple of good bucks bedded below bluffs that could have been harvested with a firearm, but not with my bow. I was almost out of time, having only one day left to hunt. I needed some Divine intervention if I was going to harvest my second Coues of the year. I pulled all of the cards again late on the fifth day. Maybe something would be different.
Back at the cabin I looked through the pictures. Same deer, same times, same everything. I had one day left to hunt and needed to get that tag filled. Time for the second major decision – how to spend the last day of the hunt?
After much thought, I decided that I would go back to my original blind and pray for some help. If I could not get a big buck from the blind at least I could harvest a smaller buck and put some meat in the freezer. After spending $450 on that tag, it was important to not return home empty handed.
Day 6 felt almost like a “do-over”. I headed to the blind about an hour before dawn with my teeth chattering again. The only difference in this morning was that my definition of a trophy buck was different. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
I climbed in the blind determined to fill my tag with the first buck I saw. I had not spent a single day in this blind without seeing a number of smaller bucks, so I was not too worried about getting my task completed. As dark gave way to light, I sat up and got ready to finish up another hunt.
The first group of deer that came in had two small bucks in it. Both very small fork horned bucks. Now, I had committed myself to harvesting “the first buck I saw”, but I could not harvest either one of these young bucks. They had too many years left for me to take them out of the pool now.
The morning continued the same way with young buck after young buck coming in for a drink. Before I knew it half the day was gone. I had passed up on over 20 bucks and was almost out of time.
I went about an hour without a single deer coming into the water hole. Reality started to set in as I remembered that I had not seen very many deer after noon the first three days in the blind. My quest seemed doomed as I laid my bow down and started to think back over all of the bucks I had passed up. Maybe I should have shot that very first buck I had seen…maybe?
About that time I noticed some movement in the distance on the ranch road that came into the water hole from the east. I lifted my binoculars to see what it was. I could not believe my eyes as I saw a tremendous 10 point Coues walking right up the road to the water hole. No way was he just going to come straight in with no cover like that. He was about 400 yards off headed my way and I was at his mercy. All I could do was watch, hope and pray that he would keep coming. I lost sight of him at about 100 yards a few seconds as he dropped off on the road into the bottom of the arroyo that was between him and me. He popped up on the other side and came in. Time to get ready.
When he cleared the cover at about 80 yards he suddenly stopped, looked back over his shoulder and in a flash disappeared into an oak stand a few yards away. I glassed the oaks and could find no sign of him. What in the heck? What could have made him run off so quickly when he was so close? A quick scan of the same road provided the answer as I watched 5 coyotes running up the road to the water hole. Within a few seconds, they were standing at the water, my buck long gone and my opportunities fading fast. The only thought in my mind, PAYBACK TIME!
I raised my bow and drew. There was a small dirt bank between the blind and the coyotes. Not big enough to keep me from getting a shot at a deer but plenty to protect them. I was not going to be denied my vengeance so I unzipped the blind and started crawling over to the edge of the bank. I had good cover and knew with my HECS and Dead Down Wind on that I would have no problem getting into a spot for a shot at one of these mangy mongrels. One of them had to pay for costing me my big buck!
Just as I got to the edge of the bank and the brush I spotted the tops of their backs casually headed off in the direction my buck had left. Not only had they run my buck off, they were going to escape unharmed as well. Feeling rather dejected I started to stand up and walk back to the blind. Just as I did, that little voice in me said “look around before you stand up”. I looked to the south, then to the east and saw nothing. The west was where the blind was located and there was no path into the water hole from the direction. All that left was the north but could not see without crawling a few feet so off I went.
As I reached the other side of the bank and brush pile to get a better look I saw movement in the brush. I was lower than the blind was set so I was going to have to wait until whatever it was came out to get a better look. I decided to get into shooting position just in case. I got to my knees and just as I drew my bow the deer stepped out; a familiar deer, my buck from the first morning!
He cleared the brush by a couple of yards and stopped broadsided. I placed the 40 yard pin right in the pocket and released the arrow without hesitation. A loud thump confirmed a good hit. The buck bolted forward out of sight into the brush. God had rewarded my patience and my effort by returning that opening morning buck to me!
Almost six days of uneventful hunting and then all of this at once. Not too surprising, as I have learned with the HECS and Dead Down Wind in my arsenal to expect the unexpected. While I still had to recover him, I knew he would not go far. That knowledge was comforting and I was sure the rest of the day would be smooth and quiet. Ha, I had no idea what was still left!
I made my way back to the blind, grabbed my gear and started trailing the buck. A solid blood trail led me right to him less than 60 yards from where I had shot him. Remember that road? What a blessing to only have to drag him about 30 yards to a road! I headed for my Jeep and within 15 minutes had shot, recovered and loaded my buck. There was a gorgeous spot on top of the mountain that would make a great picture. I was off to properly preserve his memory and get him cleaned out. That decision might have been better left unmade, or at least, maybe I should have taken my HECS off and changed clothes.
I reached the spot, pulled out the camera and the tripod and took a number of pictures. All went as planned and it was time to get to field dressing, quartering and getting him loaded for the trip back to New Mexico. I grabbed my knives and went to work. Now, remember all of those “big predators” I had been seeing on the trail cameras? Well, I had found it interesting that I had not seen one of them at any time while I was hunting. I was still getting pictures of bears on cameras on tanks that I did not hunt, but had not seen a single one. That was about to change!
Just as I finished skinning the deer the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. I looked up to see a small young bear staring right at me at about 100 yards. I guess the smell had brought him in and he looked pretty hungry. Maybe he had not seen, smelled or sensed me and I knew he could not have missed that shiny red Jeep right behind me but he could certainly smell the buck. I stood up and yelled at him to scare him off. Yeah right, a little yelling was not going to separate him from the meal he had his eyes on, after all, the Dead Down Wind and HECS made me nothing more than a noisy bush. This was about to get interesting.
I threw rocks, yelled, made “loud scary” noises and generally did everything I could do to get him to leave but he was having none of it. After a few minutes of this I decided I would be best served to make quick work of this field dressing job and get out of there.
I removed the front and hind legs, got the back straps and neck meat off and everything edible into my ice chest. The head and hide were placed in a heavy plastic bag and added to it. All that left was the rib cage which I was not taking. I drug it a little ways and then tossed it about 20 yards away from me toward the bear. I walked back to the Jeep at a normal pace, never taking my eyes off of him. He danced back and forth, patiently waiting for my departure, or so I thought. I got back to the vehicle and started loading everything. It was easy to load the small items and keep my eyes on him. The ice chest was going to be a different story.
I could not have had my eyes off of him for more than 10 seconds as I loaded that ice chest. As soon as I had it in the vehicle, I looked back toward the bear and in that short time, he had made it all of the way to the rib cage, picked it up, whirled around and headed for the canyon. He did all that without me hearing a thing!
I briefly saw him running and watched him disappear with his take in his mouth. If that had been a bigger bear I would have never taken my eyes off of him but I was not so sure I should have thought a little different about this little fellow either! Through all of that, I never even took a single picture of him.
I drove back to the cabin, gathered my gear, retrieved my cameras and blinds and headed for home. It was an enjoyable trip reliving all of the memories of the hunt (with the air conditioner on full blast, of course). God had provided once again, and my quest to harvest two Coues in one year with a bow had been completed. While this buck was not near as big as my New Mexico buck, he was a good mature buck, and the “additional” memories from this hunt were sure to be some that I would not soon forget. Maybe next year I need to look at a bear hunt on that ranch? Might be a good plan, if my body has recovered from the two Coues hunts by then!
God Bless each of you as you enjoy the wonderful outdoors that He so graciously provided for us. May He keep your arrows flying straight and your freezers full.
Remember to hunt and scout scent free: Dead Down Wind
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