A DAY TO REMEMBER
(A BOWHUNT FOR ARIZONA’S COUES WHITETAIL)
By Mark Hanson
The small spike left the doe he had been following up the ridge and angled in behind me. The young buck walked right over two large scrapes located just fifteen yards to the left of my tree stand. Instead, he proceeded to a small juniper sapling twenty-four yards behind my tree stand and began licking the over hanging limb. Carefully, I turned keeping the buck over my left shoulder as the he walked in behind the stand. At the base of the little sapling was a scrape less than six inches in diameter! If the buck hadn’t gone to it, I would have never known it was there.
I had positioned my tree stand to allow for a good shot towards the two large scrapes and from that position, I could also cover several trails crossing the top of the ridge line above me. The doe cooperated just fine and stayed right on the trail. I had slowly eased up to a standing position when I first saw the two deer heading up the ridge. Even though I had no intention of shooting a buck this small, it was fun to pretend he was the one I wanted. I slowly turned my head back around to check on the doe’s whereabouts and sure enough, she was right on the trail about seven yards in front of my stand. As I looked back at the spike, I received an adrenaline rush that I’m sure must have shaken the whole tree! Walking up stiff legged, to back down the spike, was a very impressive three-point buck with long eye guards!
My confidence was high when I awoke in the morning only to immediately realize that once again I had managed to sleep in an extra thirty minutes. I had already taken several World record whitetail and a couple of dozen trophy bull elk in my dreams that night and I must have wasted to much time getting the last one dressed out! No time to waste now! The area in which I had chosen to hunt Coues whitetail is about an hour and forty-five minutes from my home, so I grabbed my pack, insulated coveralls, my bow and hit the road.
Arizona’s Coues country includes some fairly diverse terrain. They can be found starting at elevations around twenty-five hundred feet, then on up to nine and even ten thousand feet! Predominately, they inhabit the southeastern portion of the state on up to Mogollon Rim country of central Arizona. I prefer to hunt this elusive whitetail at an elevation that is just breaking into the more thickly vegetated areas just above what I call high desert. This elevation includes a lot of live oak, mansanita, and PJ (pine and juniper). The key is it’s thick! As a bowhunter, that’s something I try to use to my advantage.
Typical Arizona hunters, as in a lot of western states, tend to prefer the spot and stalk method of hunting due to the abundance of open terrain, but I usually prefer to hunt them from a treestand. I learned a lot about the habits of eastern whitetail when I hunted them during my younger days in east Texas. The Coues may be different from eastern whitetail but it’s still a whitetail. One of the things I learned at an early age was that whitetail prefer to stay near, or pass through on a daily basis, areas of transition. That is, whether it’s the break between hardwood creek bottoms and the pine covered higher ground of east Texas, or the break between the open high desert and thicker vegetation of the higher elevations, it still hold true. Many times this can be directly related to feeding and bedding areas, but it’s a zone they’ll likely be passing through! Doing some armchair scouting, with a good topo map, one can find many “transition” areas and travel zones to check out, but you still have to do the leg work during pre-season to find that PERFECT location!
I also prefer to do my Coues whitetail hunting during the late archery season that begins in the middle of December and lasts until the end of January. Not only is the rut in full swing, it’s right after the end of the general rifle deer hunts. (Except for a December late whitetail only rifle hunt that runs concurrently with the bowhunt) This can really help a patient Bowhunter. By the time this hunt starts, the rifle hunters have pushed a lot of game a little higher up into the thick stuff where guess who is patiently waiting!
As I left the truck that morning, my confidence had been tempered a little because of my late start. I prefer to arrive at my stand location well before daylight and I usually plan to stay all day. I know, due to past experience, that Coues whitetail will move quite a lot during the day, especially during the early afternoon. That’s the time I was looking forward to today. I had no idea what a great day it would be!
I climbed over the first hill and proceeded across a saddle towards another hill that would connect with the ridge where my stand was located. The saddle is thick with pine and live oak. There is also an old fence line that runs between the two hills. I was following the fence line through the saddle when I began hearing a deep purring sound. Purr…Purr…Purr. I just couldn’t seem to pinpoint where it was coming from. I knew exactly what was making the sound and I didn’t like not being able to see it. Mountain lions are common in many areas of Arizona and this one was close! I nocked an arrow and then I saw him. Standing not twenty-five yards in front of me was a big cat! We stared at each other for brief second and then as began to lift my bow he turned and walked out of sight into the manzanita. Wow! I didn’t get to use my lion tag but there was plenty of excitement!
I continued on a couple a hundred yards further and walked right into a pair of javelina having a quite a fight. I had already ended my javelina season the weekend before with a nice boar, so taking care not to spook them, I moved on down the ridge to my stand.
I hadn’t been in my stand five minutes when I noticed a very young spike heading straight at me. Then I realized what he was doing. He was trailing me! The little buck followed my exact trail right to my tree and then proceeded past for about fifteen yards. There he stopped and circled around few times looking for my trail. Finally he gave up and headed back the way he had come.
Things slowed down until about ten o’clock when another small two-point buck crossed the ridge near me. About half an hour later I spied another deer cross the ridge below, but I was unable to tell what it was. I hadn’t seen anything for quite awhile until the doe and spike made they’re way towards me.
The big buck reached up and began licking and chewing on the tip of the juniper sapling. Ever so slowly, I started to raise my bow. As I began my draw, the small spike heard something and turned to look in my direction. I froze in a half drawn position for what seemed like forever until the spike turned back to face the big buck. I made it to full draw, but still I had to hold. The sapling was right in front of the buck’s kill zone. After another eternity, he pulled down on the sapling and took half a step forward. That’s all the clearance my ACC needed! As I released, I knew the shot was true. The buck tried to crouch but he wasn’t fast enough. The 100 gr. “Thunderhead” did its job in seconds! The big deer ran 10 yards head long into a clump of live oak and was down! I tried to settle myself down without much success. I watched the doe and spike nervously exit the area. After waiting twenty minutes, I climbed down from my stand and carefully approached the down buck. What a nice buck he was indeed. He was very symmetrical with good length on his tines. Later, when I had him officially scored, he grossed 90 1/8 P&Y points. It was really a day to remember!