Cross Canyon Coues 2012
Cross Canyon Coues
Diamond Outfitters of Arizona
This hunting story actually starts in 1986, no that’s no typo, 1986. I was at basketball practice at the Phoenix Rosenswieg Boys and Girls Club when this punk lanky blonde kid with Coke bottle glasses set a back screen on me that accidentally (he claimed) sent me flying face first across the court. Being the tough 11-year old I was, I immediately got up and pushed him down. Apparently this type of retaliation is frowned upon in 5th grade hoops as I was immediately benched by my coach for the rest of practice. Move on one year and guess who was sitting next to me to start the junior high? There he was, the same punk lanky kid with the Coke bottle glasses only this time he was wearing an Elmer Fudd shirt that made some sort of reference to hunting. His name is Greg. We recognized each other for sure (I’m certain he was terrified). Seeing how it was that I was being raised in a somewhat liberal anti-gun household, I was more intrigued about the hunting shirt than resuming our on-court battle shenanigans. We talked a little bit and started hanging out…guess where…on the junior high basketball court.
When October came he told me he would be missing some school because he was going deer hunting in the mountains with his Dad and neighbors. Missing school to hunt? Ummmm where do I sign up for this? A short time after his return I started inviting myself to go on four-wheeling trips with him and his Dad Jerry in his old Ford Bronco. It was a blast and it was with these two that I was introduced to hunting and Ford 4×4’s. (Later Greg and Jerry were responsible in a roundabout way for me meeting my wife but that is a whole different story). Fast forward 25 years to today. Greg and I are like brothers that are also the best of friends. I say that because we love each other like brothers and occasionally (though less frequently these days) we argue like brothers. His Dad is a man I have an infinite amount of respect and admiration for. I look up to him tremendously and he has been a great influence on me over the years. For the past 25 years hardly ever does a week go by in which Greg and I don’t speak. Even when Greg was deployed to Bosnia in the late 90’s we wrote letters back and forth. He wrote from his foxhole and I wrote from my dorm room at the University of Arizona.
Well when the 2012 deer draw results came out in July I was not surprised to learn I didn’t draw the strip rifle tag. Neither did Greg or his Dad or our high school buddy Clint. As usual we decided to apply for a leftover tag. Greg and his Dad have continued to hunt the same mountain year after year for mulies or Coues deer. However, in the 25 years I have known them I had somehow never been to this mountain with them to hunt. I was tickled when I learned we drew the leftover tag all on the same application and that we would be heading down there together after all these years. To me this hunt would take place on hallowed ground and I slept little in the days leading up to our hunt. Greg and Jerry made it to my home in Tucson the Wednesday before the season opened. They went down early to set up camp and scout and I would pick up Clint from the airport Thursday night. Clint arrived Thursday night around midnight and we still had a 3 hour drive to the hunting area and only 6 hours before daylight and the season opened. We knew we were in for a sleepless night. The drive into camp was not impressive in the dark. However, when the sun began to rise and I saw how deep in the mountains we were and the scenery was breathtaking. Greg and Jerry had glassed up some shooters on Thursday and they seemed more interested in seeing if they could get Clint and I on these bucks rather than harvesting them for themselves. Clint and I were happy to oblige should the opportunity present itself.
The glassing on opening morning was gorgeous. The bucks however stayed hidden that morning and only does provided any eye-candy in the Swarovski 15×56’s. Knowing we had all week to hunt I was totally unconcerned. We went back to camp at noon, stocked up on Gatorade and sandwiches and headed back out. As it was hot and dry we dropped Clint off at one water hole, Jerry at another and Greg and I would climb a very large mountain that had a “secret” water hole. After about an hour climb and close to 800 feet elevation change we found the water hole was dry. However we knew there was a lot of water in the area so we were not too concerned about the dry tank. As a matter of fact a few minutes later after finding it, we watched three does go and play in the dry tank bed. Seeing as how we didn’t have doe tags we moved on to another high point. This time a shorter 15 minute walk and maybe 200 feet elevation change brought us to a glassing area where we could literally glass for miles. After only a few moments Greg said “I got a buck Dan and I think it is one of the two from yesterday”. I was pumped the first buck of the day we glassed was a shooter! The sun however was beginning to do down fast. Greg ranged him at close to 700 yards and said “he is all yours”. I glassed to a little knob where I thought we could get into position for a shot that would cut the distance in half. We hustled down the shale side slope and when we got into position the buck was gone. After what seemed like forever with the sun setting behind us Greg said “I got him”. He had moved another 200 yards and was 400 yards almost straight below us. I tried and tried but could not find an ethical shot in those low light conditions even with a 14 power Leupold variable scope. Greg and I were tired and frustrated but the hunt for the day was over. I felt good knowing we didn’t take a risky shot that could have pushed him out of the area.
Having not slept at all the night prior (thanks to Clint’s delayed flight and all night drive) I slept like a caterpillar in a cocoon all night. All I remember about the first night of our hunt was Greg’s T-bone steak and potato supper and going to bed. Next thing I knew Jerry was waking us up (just like old times I thought to myself) and gloriously the next day of our hunt had arrived. All four of us headed out to the same area we left the buck the night before. It took longer than any of us thought it would to glass up the buck yet shortly after 9:00 there he was working a ridge about a mile away and sometime overnight he picked up a doe escort. We watched him cross the ridge and go into a bedding area. He set up a perfect approach for us with one exception; the shot if he presented one would be between 400 and 500 yards. I shoot a 300 WSM with hand loaded super hot 165 grain Nosler Partitians. I know exactly where it shoots, and the energy and ballistic coefficients all the way to 1,000 yards. I have an aftermarket target turret from Leupold that they installed for me and I shoot it year round. I know my rifle and given a good rest and time to set up I can ethically kill at deer at incredible distances.
Convinced this buck was bedded for the day we left the area to go eat lunch. While eating we even decided to take a few confidence building rifle shots in the middle of the day. Greg went first. Initially unpleased with his results, he paused to let me shoot. One shot at 300 yards and one shot at 500 yards and I was ready to go. Then Greg totally out shot me with his last shot actually shattering a very small rock he targeted at just over 500 yards. Knowing that both the hunters and the rifles were up to the challenge me, Clint and Greg began the long hike up the canyon in the afternoon sun. Jerry was hunting a lower water hole. When air temps are in the 80’s and there is no wind, the pants and long sleeve desert camo shirt can be brutally uncomfortable. We packed lots of water and up we went. Our first two or three vantage points and glassing set ups did not uncover the deer nor the tree we bedded them in. If you have hunted large mountain ranges you know what I mean when I say it all looks different when you get there from what it looked like in the glass from the bottom. Well after a few additional walks we found the tree the buck was under and I could see his doe above it. With all the sneaking around we did the shot would be just under 400 yards.
When you are waiting to shoot a bedded animal, I refer to it as baby-sitting. We baby-sat this buck for hours, occasionally seeing the shadow of him chewing his cud. As the day grew on we got more and more excited for the “inevitable” opportunity the evening would surely bring. As the evening shadows nestled on our hill, Clint picked up the movement of several does and fawns above our shooter. Though Greg and I could not see them from our vantage point, I got on the gun and Greg got on the Swarovski’s to help me call the shot. As it got darker and darker we saw no movement from our tree anymore. The buck we had babysat since 9:00 a.m. had given three above average hunters with way above average optics the slip. “Typical” I grumbled to myself. I so badly wanted to provide the fireworks Clint and Greg had wanted to see take place that evening up on that gorgeous mountain. After a long hike back to the truck the only two remaining Coors Lights could have easily let to fisticuffs. Thank goodness there was two Pepsi’s as well. As we enjoyed the refreshments and waited for Jerry we replayed the days hunt in our minds. We all tried to convince one another we had done everything right, the buck just simply didn’t cooperate. When Jerry arrived I hollered “well, where is your buck” to which he promptly retorted “at the water hole”! This quick response from Jerry yielded an excited “REALLY??!!” response from the three of us. He said “well I missed one coming down the hill”. Clint, Greg and I were really happy that Jerry took the first shot of the trip. We all wanted him to get a buck. Although I would put him in any mountain hunting competition with someone 30 years his junior, at 70 years old he would be in the Coues hunting elite if he got one…at least in my mind. Jerry asked for a beer and we had to sneak him the last remaining Pepsi. He gave us a stark “what the” look and then he finally drank it.
At camp we were tired and I was starved. The afternoons MRE of meatballs, snack bread, cheese pretzels and coffee had worn off hours earlier. Greg lit the campfire and announced “tonight’s dinner is an all meat eating event”. He got no complaints from any of us. A short while later the four of us consumed four packages of Costco chicken wings flame broiled on the camp fire after marinating in Texas Pete’s Hot Sauce all afternoon. Ironically when he first started to cook I think we all thought that it was way too much food….it wasn’t. As Greg and I finished cleaning up camp, Clint went to rack out in the Kodiak. I am not exaggerating when I tell you he was snoring away in less than 3 minutes. Somewhat jealous of his slumber I slipped away into my tent to get some much needed shut eye myself. The third morning Jerry woke us up and it was markedly cooler, almost cold even. The coffee (mostly hot water with lots of grounds in it) helped warm me up and got me moving. Greg announced that he was going to spend the day hunting with his pops for old times’ sake and that Clint and I would be on our own. Clint said he had a place picked out from his opening day’s evening hunt and we needed to start a moderate hike up the mountains in the dark. As night gave way to day break we crested the mountain top in time to see the sunrise. “Thank you Lord” I said out loud as the birds began to sing. As we came around the corner I saw a spot we could glass for miles. I thought this would be the spot to spend the next couple of hours and maybe longer. Just as I thought Clint and I would be slowing down, Clint moved down the ridge at a blitzing pace (a move I later referred to as the “Urlacher maneuver” in honor of Clint’s beloved Chicago Bears). Befuddled but not overly concerned, I followed about 15 yards behind him. Just as the slope started going downhill I could hear the unmistakable sound of fleeting hooves. In less than 5 seconds Clint shouldered his rifle and got on the buck and fired. A huge white cloud of dust exploded from right behind the deer, the buck ran and a second shot lit up the morning daybreak right under the buck. A third round echoed through the canyon and both Clint and I thought it was a good hit. In fact, we both thought the buck went down behind a mesquite tree.
After a very brief celebration I reminded Clint it was still very early and that since his buck wasn’t going anywhere (and we had already climbed to the top of the world) we should just stay where we were and keep hunting for another hour or so. Clint agreed (which surprised me given how bad I would have wanted to put my hands on my own buck) to glass for me and I thought maybe we’d spend only an hour or so as to not take too much advantage of his generosity. Shortly after the shooting Clint spotted a doe and I spotted two bucks on the opposite ridge unaffected by the earlier barrage of lead. I thought the bucks I saw were probably the same ones Jerry had shot at the evening prior. As they prepared to go on the other side of the mountain I ranged them at 762 yards. That would be quite a poke I thought to myself. After an hour went by we walked down the hill 200 yards to where Clint’s buck should be. There was no buck, no hair, no blood and no positive sign of any kind. We spun circles looking for Clint’s prize as we both had seen the buck fall. Later we learned the bucks “fall” was his going under the range fence. All three shots were clean misses. We were both pretty disappointed and it was getting hot. It would have been great for Clint to get a buck before returning to Maryland. Clint kind of collapsed under a tree and said he needed a break. I told him I needed one too but would go another two hundred yards to find a shade tree and a spot to glass some new country. Clint agreed to go with me although he didn’t get up overly fast. We ended up moving closer to half a mile and set up in an oak tree for what I thought would be the rest of the afternoon. After enjoying our crackers, candy bars, apples and Gatorade I started to glass again. After 20 minutes or so I told Clint “I think we should get out of this spot”. He asked “why” and I told him that from this vantage point it would be a “two day hike” to get a deer out. He looked around convinced at my logic and disappointed we had to give up such a nice shade tree. Before moving Clint said go check back on our original ridge which was exactly what I was thinking as well. Only three or four minutes into the glassing effort I found two bucks bedded down under a tree. It took several minutes but I finally was able to get the range finder to tell me 492 yards. I thought one of the two bucks was a shooter for me or Clint. I went back to the tree where Clint was resting and I told him “I am going hot pickle” which means in Clint speak that I was going to shoot something. Excitedly he joined me on the ridge. In fact he expertly set up right next to me with the Swarovski’s so that he could call my shot. He asked me to tell him before I was going to shoot and I told him it would be at least 20 minutes before I would be ready to shoot at that range with all the rocks and cactus around me. (I think he thought I was exaggerating). As I made a makeshift bench rest for the prone position shot we noticed Greg and Jerry driving back on the road they went in on. Clint and I briefly discussed what they may have been doing before I resumed getting set up “sniper-style”. After what was closer to 25 minutes of waiting for the “perfect” set up for my nearly 500 yard shot I started deep breathing and focusing. I asked Clint one last time if he was sure he didn’t want the deer (since I had all week to hunt). He said he really wanted to see me shoot it. Then I dialed in 32 clicks on my turret for the range and wind. Thanks to Clint’s positioning I asked him to zoom my scope all the way out. Once he did that I quickly found the shooter, still bedded and fully exposed broadside. I asked him to zoom me back in all the way and when he did everything looked perfect. I asked him if he was ready and shortly after he said yes I slowed my breathing down and gently began squeezing the trigger so that the rifle would surprise me when it went off. The mountain erupted and I knew the shot was true. The bullet echoed down the canyon for several seconds…music to any hunter’s ear. Clint hollered, “oh my gosh just high and the buck is up and moving!” I could see the dust where the buck had been bedded and instantly it hit me I did not account for the down-hill angle thus the (albeit barley) high miss. The buck had no idea where the shot came from and he presented this time quartering away. Instinctively I zoomed out my scope and found the buck again. He had gone downhill some more and barely increased the distance. I fired and Clint screamed “you smoked him” and then said “wait I think you missed, yeah he bucked but it looks like a miss”. The buck only moved another ten yards and I was confused. I took a moment to recover from the first two shots, discuss with Clint what had happened and reload the rifle since I only had one more in the chamber. After a brief discussion I was behind the scope again. The buck was in the sun trying to determine where the danger was. I rushed this shot, I know I did, because I yanked the trigger. Clint said “low and left” and the deer are moving up the hill. When the buck stopped I fired again and again I rushed the shot inexplicably except for my concern he was going to go over the mountain pass. Again I took a brief break to talk with Clint who was doing a great job of being my “fire traffic controller”. During this shorter break I reloaded the rifle and unfortunately the bigger buck went behind an oak tree almost on the skyline below us where he could escape over the top. I could not see the bigger buck, only the smaller buck. Clint assured me the bigger buck was still on our side and said “Dan just find the lone century plant on top”. I said “I got it”, then he said “forty yards down and thirty yards right”. Almost instantly I found the tree but not the deer. My heart started pounding. I found this strange since I was totally relaxed during the first four shots. I took this moment while the buck was hidden to range the green tree. It took several attempts before it responded the range was now 817 yards. It was at this moment Clint asked me if I could still see the smaller buck. I said “yes I see him and your green tree”. Clint said that “the little buck is going right to him. He will show you where the big buck is”. At this point I knew I would only have one more shot at this deer. I started doing the ballistic math in my head on my rifle and hand loaded ammunition. Even with 32 clicks I knew I would have to aim two feet high….yikes. Knowing this was an incredible distance relaxed me somehow. Just as I was relaxed years earlier on a bull elk in Colorado I harvested with one shot at 695 yards with a 300 Ultra. About that time Clint yelled “hear he comes Dan, he is out and in the wide open!” I quickly found the buck with Clint’s missile like precision guidance. I laid the crosshairs on the bucks shoulder and then slowly, delicately, raised the crosshair another two feet high. I took three calculated deep breaths and slowly touched the trigger with only the very tip of my finger and waited, and waited and waited. Finally the gun reported into my shoulder. In the recoil I couldn’t see the deer in my scope any more. There was no need. Instantly Clint yelled, and I mean yelled, YOU GOT HIM! Simultaneously he slapped me on the back in between my shoulder blades with the power of a jack hammer. (I still have a handprint there four days later). Surprised to learn of my shot and still seeing stars from the collision between Clint’s hand and my back I asked “really, I really got him?” Excitedly Clint responded “dude I have only seen a deer drop like that on TV, you got him and he in dead in his tracks”. It took us about 25 minutes to get where the buck expired and about another 25 minutes for us to cape and quarter him for the long pack out. He is a terrific Coues deer buck. He is a four by four main frame with a split eye guard (an 11 pointer for you Midwesterners) with dark chocolate antlers. We haven’t taped him yet, but he has great beams and that split eye guard makes him a unique and special trophy.
We were excited to learn that when Jerry and Greg moved the truck they actually moved into a position to hear all the shooting. That made the experience even better that in some remote fashion they were on the mountain with us. That night I wrapped my buck’s tenderloin’s in bacon and cooked them over hot coals in camp with potatoes ‘o Brien for supper. It was a great way to end a fantastic day! To top off the hunt, the next day before 7:00 a.m. Greg was in back camp early with a 6+ year old heavy three by three he sniped at almost 500 yards with one shot at 6:30. The rest of that morning was spent cleaning up camp and making a plan for next year. I really want to thank Greg and Jerry from the bottom of my heart for sharing with me this special mountain. After 25 years of hearing stories about this place setting foot in it was very surreal. Getting a buck from “their” mountain that will be on my wall for generations to come makes this one of the most fun hunts that I have ever been on. I also want to thank Clint for being my eye in the sky. I could have never got a second shot(or 3rd, or 4th or 5th) without his guidance and direction. Also, I want to thank all of the guides at Diamond Outfitters of Arizona. What a group of Coues guiding talent, I am infinitely grateful for all that you have taught me. Lastly I want to thank my wife Terri for her love, support, patience and all the help while I am in the field and my beautiful children Joshua and Rebecca for inspiring me in everything I do.