Coues Deer with a bow
Bowhunting Coues – some adventures in Jan 2002
by Amanda Moors
The following are excerpts from an article I wrote about my javelina hunt last year for JavelinaHunter.com. If you want to read the full hunt article, go to JavelinaHunter.com. It’s an excellent website for information on Javelina. Because the archery javelina and deer season in Arizona are the same, I occasionally hunted Coues with my bow during my javelina hunt. It was on day 2 and day 6 of my javelina hunt that I stalked Coues and the stories from those days are below.
Day 2 – Jan. 8, up and ready by first light. Still windy but warmer. After scouting yesterday I realized that the ridge I wanted to hunt was not really glassable if you are on the ridge. So I decided I better go up on the cliffs on the next ridge over and glass back. But since the path up to those cliffs is right where I saw a Whitetail (WT) buck hot on a doe a week ago, I figured I should glass it first. It was barely light out and still windy, but immediately I saw a group of WT on the juniper/grass slope leading to those cliffs. I could see at least three does feeding. Since this is right in the middle of the rut, I figured the buck must be there, so I got myself ready to stalk them. I was only 300 yards from them. I was wearing full camo and scent eliminator.
I had to cross an open area in order to get to the junipers that would provide cover for the stalk. The does were in the open, uphill from me and could have easily seen me cross that opening, but I waited until their heads were down.
As I moved closer, I could see the buck bedded under a juniper about 200 yards away. It was still barely light out. The scattered juniper and windy conditions made it fairly easy to slowly sneak within 60 yards of where the group had been. I had seen at least 4 does and 1 nice 4×4 (including eyeguards) buck. I kept stalking closer. I knew there were does all around, so I moved carefully. It was rocky soil with really dry grass, but there were enough of those larger rocks that I could use as “stepping stones” and thereby cut down the noise of my movements quite a bit. I could hear the buck grunting. A soft, weak, tending grunt. I figured I must be really close if I could hear that grunt.
I saw movement uphill about 40 yards from me. It was a doe walking by. I waited awhile, searching for deer wherever I could see through the junipers.
I was just about to move to another juniper right in front of me for a better view when I saw movement in front of that tree. A deer was walking straight toward me behind that tree – at about 10 yds. I tried to quickly and yet quietly nock an arrow and get my release attached to the string. I got it done just as the deer came around the juniper I was behind. It was a doe. She looked at me. She got nervous, but not enough to run away. She wasn’t sure what she saw. She stood broadside to me for several minutes at less than 10 yds. I kept trying to “force” antlers to show on her head, but to no avail. J
She lifted her foot as if to stamp in alarm, but then just set it down gently and moved a few yards away. And just stood there for another several minutes. I stayed frozen. Then she slowly moved back toward the main group of deer. I was hoping the buck would follow her trail and come right by me. It couldn’t have been a more perfect situation.
Coues Deer photo by Bob Campbell.
I stayed still for a long time, but no other deer showed up. Then I tried to look around and see if I could make out any deer in the fairly large grassy opening that was visible through the junipers. I saw one doe (45 yds) and after she moved so that her head was out of view, I moved into the open a little to get a better view of the area. As soon as I did, I made out two deer ears behind a small mesquite and the deer seemed to be looking right at me. My heart sank! I froze and hoped against hope that it wasn’t really looking at me. It seemed to stay still also, like a deer does when it sees something suspicious. But then it’s head started moving and I began to believe it didn’t see me. Slowly, I put up my binos and saw that it was the buck and it was facing me, but it was busy rubbing his scent and antlers on a small bush. Only part of his head was visible through the small tree he was behind. There was no cover between me and where he was. He was at about 60 yds. So I moved slowly back behind the juniper and tried to formulate a plan. How could I close the gap to him without cover? I started wondering if there wasn’t some way I could attract him to me instead of going to him. I was cursing the fact that all the local stores were out of deer grunt calls last week when I tried to buy one!!!! I thought about rubbing my arrow against the tree to sound like a buck rubbing his antlers. I thought about trying to imitate a grunt myself. I decided against all those options, figuring I just couldn’t make them sound authentic.
Instead, I worked on finding a way to sneak over there.
Eventually he moved out of view, but must have just moved a few feet to behind a juniper near him. So, I looked at an area just below him and noticed there was a slight depression in the land, like a shallow ditch. On the far side of the ditch was some prickly pear and agave, which could provide a little cover if I was in the ditch. I slowly, slowly, slowly moved to the ditch. Scanning for the does that I knew could be anywhere.
I made it to the ditch and peered through the prickly pear toward where he had been. Now I am 40 yds. from where I figured the buck was. I saw a doe coming out of the juniper where he must be. She didn’t see me and I squatted down out of view, trying to figure out a plan. I could wait there and hope they moved toward me, but I didn’t want to wait all day. Afterall, I was there for a pig hunt and it was getting to be after 9 am already. I slowly stood up and peered in her direction again. She was there, but moving away from me at a walk and then a slow trot. She was alerted to something and decided she should leave the area. She trotted away, uphill, taking the buck and a few other does with her. I was standing there, in the open, not wanting to move because I wasn’t sure they had spooked because of me. They moved about 100 yds away and turned and stared downhill toward me. One doe decided that there was nothing to be afraid of and she moved back downhill. But the buck didn’t go with her; he stayed with the same doe that spooked first. She must have been in estrus. We all stood still, staring at each other for a long time and then eventually the buck tired of that and started licking the doe. And eventually she relaxed and went back to feeding. They went behind some trees and I moved quickly to the spot where they had run from. The buck heard my movements and came back and looked in my direction. I tried to make a grunt, hoping to draw him down to me. He just looked at me curiously. Then the doe came out and stared also. I grunted some pathetic grunts, which, unfortunately, were not consistent in pitch, and they were smart enough to figure I was not a deer and they left over the hill.
Tired of being quiet and still for so long, I moved up hill, rather glad they had finally left. It was now about 10 am, 3 hours since I started this 300 yard stalk!! But, of course I was disappointed that such a perfect opportunity hadn’t resulted in me getting that deer.
I moved up to the cliffs and started glassing for javelina. Didn’t see any. It was getting really hot (over 70 degrees F already and hardly a cloud in the sky) and I was sure the pigs (and deer) were going to spend the day in thick cover to stay cool. I had planned to hunt all day, but I wasn’t in the mood to wait around in the heat all day. I decided to go home. It was an exciting morning and although I didn’t get my buck, I was thrilled to have gotten so close. Being able to hear him grunt up close was a learning experience. WT do different grunts. A social grunt, a dominant grunt and a special grunt when tending a doe. He was doing the tending grunt, it’s higher pitched and somewhat softer. If you want to hear the grunt, go to http://www.phantomcalls.com/gifs/call.html and listen to the three types of grunts.
That site shows a digital deer call made by Extreme Dimension wildlife calls. Seems like that unit would be really effective, but it costs over $200.
Went out with a friend to a new spot out toward Punkin Center. We started hiking up a ridge at first light. It was chilly, maybe in the 40’s. My friend didn’t have a javelina tag, but we both had archery deer tags. We got to a place where we could glass and split up so we could cover more country. I spotted a Coues deer doe and fawn. I glassed some great javelina habitat, but saw no pigs. But then I spotted a WT buck. He was actually pretty close (maybe 275 yards) and feeding undisturbed in a nice meadow with junipers scattered around it. So I went and got my buddy and we started to stalk this buck. It was a small buck, but since we hadn’t seen any pigs yet, this was a nice sidetrack. My friend stayed back and did some grunt calls and doe bleats, while I stalked slowly forward. I set up in some thick juniper and also did some buck grunts with my new grunt tube. I heard no response. But as far as I knew the buck was still there, it was impossible to see the whole flat. I moved farther ahead slowly. But he wasn’t there. Apparently he moved out of the area. I don’t think he spooked, I think he just fed out of there while we were coming up with a plan and making the stalk.
It was getting to be late morning and we moved back to our glassing spot. After a while, I spotted a group of WT a mile away. It was a herd of at least 6. And they were in a really open area of mesquite, juniper and grass. They were running all around, like they do when a buck is rutting. As my friend set up his scope to check the deer out I spotted another large herd, about 10 WT, running around on a different flat. They were in the wide open like the other deer and obviously a buck was chasing does. Even though my buddy had a good spotting scope, we couldn’t really tell what sex all the deer were so far away. It was about 11:30 and there were heat waves messing up the view. So we packed up our gear and headed over to get a closer view.
For those of you not familiar with Coues deer hunting, seeing a group of 6-10 deer is fairly unusual — and very exciting, especially when they are in the rut and hanging out in the wide open. Spotting Coues deer is generally difficult because they stay in thick brush a lot of the time. So I was pretty hyped-up as we headed over to get a better view.
We went down the hill and crossed a creek with perennial water, which in my mind partially accounted for the high number of deer here. Hiked up a steep brushy hill with lots of fresh javelina sign on it. And set up to glass. It was a cloudy day and it stayed much cooler (for which I was very thankful) than it had been for the last couple weeks. We found both groups of deer again and my buddy got the scope out to find a big buck. I was convinced there would be a HUGE buck in the area with those big deer groups. I was watching them with my binoculars and could see deer running all over the place but I couldn’t see antlers. “Look, that has to be a big buck, come on, tell me it’s a big buck!” “Nope, sorry, that’s a 2 point.” “What about that one that just ran the heck out of that doe??” “Nope, sorry, that’s a spike” Ah, crap! We went through several bucks, but no big ones. What the heck was going on here? I just couldn’t believe it. Where are the big boys that are supposed to be herding the does?
Well, it was about 1 pm and we kept glassing, hoping something new would show up. My buddy glassed up some mule deer bedded about 350 yards from us, but couldn’t see a buck. We glassed and glassed, no big bucks and no javelina.
I kept telling my friend that there was a big buck in there, it just had to be. To me, it felt like a magical Coues deer day. You just don’t often find Coues deer out in the wide open in the middle of the day and see them running around for hours that way. So I kept searching.
My buddy got up to go glass the other side of the mountain. As he was leaving I spotted a doe and a buck right behind her. This was a BIG buck! “Come back, come look at this buck – I think he’s a really good one.” So, grudgingly, my buddy came back and set up all the gear he had just packed up to check out my “big” buck. After looking at buck after buck and seeing small ones, I don’t think he was too happy to do this. And, of course, when he got set up to look at it, the buck was motionless behind a juniper. I had been keeping track of where he went, and I knew he had to be there, but my buddy couldn’t see him. Then the doe moved out in the open and I pointed her out. But the buck stayed hidden. “No really, he’s there, just wait….”
“Oh my God, that is a great buck!” my buddy said.
Finally, the buck had come out and my buddy, an avid trophy Coues deer hunter, saw him. I could see him pretty well even without the scope. “Oh my God!!!”
There are small bucks and there are large bucks, but this was an “Oh my God” buck. Neither of us could keep from having our jaws drop as we watched this buck. His rack was much wider than his ears and extremely tall. The mass was great and although we couldn’t quite get a good look at all the tines before he became hidden again, we could see he has some good tines. His neck was swollen and his rack was a reddish-brown. I am an official measurer for Boone and Crockett, so I know a little bit about how to judge a rack. And my friend is an excellent judge of Coues deer. This was at least a 115 inch buck if his left side didn’t have the much shorter tines it seemed to have. The Boone and Crockett measuring system rewards racks that have great mass and symmetry. This buck didn’t have great symmetry, but make no mistake, this was an awesome buck. For Coues deer, it takes 110 inches to get into Boone and Crockett and 65 inches to get into the Pope and Young Record Book. In fact, the World Record Pope and Young Typical Coues Deer scored 119 7/8 inches. This buck we were pursuing was that kind of buck.
“Oh my God!!”
Pope and Young World Record Typical Coues Deer – 119 7/8 inches. Killed by Jim Ryan in Mexico in 1999.
We came up with a plan and started to move closer. We got on a hillside about 250 yards from the deer, which were in the open, grassy flat. On the way over, my friend spotted a decent-sized buck, but the deer was already spooked by us and moved away. Now that we were closer we could see two bucks, one was the monster and one was a really nice one (about 90 inches). The Monster kept the other buck away from the doe, which was peacefully feeding along in the grassy flat. The Monster didn’t harass her, he just kept the other buck from her. Then my friend saw another buck, this one much smaller. But it was following the group as well. It was about 2:30 pm. We realized we couldn’t get down that hill without spooking the deer because it was too brushy. So we backtracked and circled around, intending to come out on the flat they were on. There were some junipers that we could use as cover right up to the deer.
We looped around and came into a higher flat. My buddy was ahead of me and motioned me to stop. There was a doe near a tree in front of him. She had seen us though and trotted off. We kept moving. We got to a slope we had to go down, but it would be impossible not to make noise. There was a lot of white oak and emory oak with leaves all over the ground that crunched as we walked. There was also thick manzanita to get through. Well, we just moved as quietly as possible.
Amazingly enough, we got through all that and onto the flat the deer were on. He glassed them up and said they were 70 yards ahead. We could see them periodically through the junipers. I noticed a doe walking toward us. We decided we couldn’t get any closer because some were feeding our way. So we quitely took off our packs and got set up. We got arrows nocked and he got out his grunt call.
He called a few times and we sat quietly, listening, waiting. Nothing. He called a few more times. Nothing. We waited quite a while, but decided they were not responding. My friend is a much better shot than I am, so I told him to go ahead and sneak in and I would hang back and continue to call occasionally.
He slipped off his shoes and started sneaking slowly forward. As he was moving I noticed a deer bedded and motioned him to stop. I showed him the deer, which we thought was a doe at the time, but after he left and I had a good look at it I could see it was a buck. It was the nice-sized one (about a 90-inch buck) that had been with the Monster.
I kept calling, but that buck didn’t even turn his head to look at me. I am sure he could hear me. I guess there were just so many deer in the area, he didn’t care. He knew where the doe in heat was and that was his main concern.
I couldn’t see my friend while he was sneaking. I just kept hoping things were going ok. I figured all was well as long as that bedded buck wasn’t alarmed.
So I stayed still, blindly waiting, hoping my buddy was going to get lucky.
Eventually the bedded buck got up and looked back and moved off. Then a doe moved by and The Monster was following her. “Oh my God!!!” I wish I had a picture of that buck.
They moved off, not really scared, just walking quickly. I think the doe wanted to feed somewhere else and of course the bucks followed.
I wasn’t sure my friend was in a position to see the deer leaving, so I started sneaking up and trying to find him to let him know.
I didn’t see my friend until most of the way toward where the deer went. As he moved toward me I could tell he was done with his stalk. I got up to him and he said, “You don’t even want to know what happened.” My heart sunk. I figured he wounded the buck or they spooked just before he could kill him. Then he told me the story.
He had pulled an excellent stalk (in his socks!). He had seen them leave and was following them. He put himself in good position to shoot. The Monster was feeding along at a little over 50 yards. The buck moved behind a juniper and my friend was ready to take him whenever he came out. But the smaller buck was between my friend and the big deer. And the small deer decided to walk directly toward my buddy. He came up to about 20 yards, feeding. My friend was determined not to shoot the smaller deer and wait for his chance at the big boy. He waited for the smaller buck to put his head down and then tried to draw his bow. But the little buck saw the movement and snapped his head up. So my friend is standing there, half-drawn, with The Monster moving out of the juniper at 52 yards. This is well within his shooting range for a good, clean, kill shot. He stood still for awhile, hoping the little buck would relax. But he never did and when he tried to draw completely, the little buck snorted and whirled around and The Monster bolted out of there with him.
I think my buddy’s exact words were “&!!!$%*&^%$#!%^&**!!”
What a heartbreak. But it was an exciting hunt. I told my buddy that it was kind of ironic; the little buck didn’t die because the Monster was there and the Monster didn’t die because the little buck was there.