First Timer’s Tale of Coues Deer Hunting
By Marlon Giese
I think back on the times I have hunted deer and have some some pretty good stories from those expeditions. One particular story that always seems to be revived during hunting season, is from about 15 years ago while hunting Coues Whitetail in Arizona unit 24b.
I had hunted these little deer before, without much success. I had found that they were so difficult to find, it really was a challenging hunt. Anything I would see was 500 yards or more and running away.
This year I would have extra help however. My father-in-law (Leigh) and my brother-in-law (Nelson) were along to try to get their first coues deer. Nelson is an accomplished hunter who was visiting with family for the Christmas holidays. Leigh just wanted to get his first deer since moving to Arizona. I felt we had pretty good chances since there were more of us to try to “drive” the deer down out of the canyons where we would be hunting.
Leigh and I lived close enough to the hunt area so we could drive 45 minutes each way and hunt until dark then a short drive home. So the 3 of us began our hunt and saw little or nothing on day 1. Then on day 2 we met up with some other hunters during our “lunch break”. This meeting was pure chance and it turned out to be one of the best things that happened that hunting season.
These guys were just sitting on the road about ½ to ¾ mile from the mountain we had been hiking all morning and the previous day. They recognized us from seeing us hike all over the mountainside. They showed us that using binoculars and spotting scopes, they could glass up the mountain slopes and crevices to spot deer. Then they would evaluate the potential for a stalk and formulate a plan. Using this procedure, they spotted deer where we never would have. Anyway, they showed us in a few minutes how you have to look for pieces and parts of deer. Look where they might be, and don’t expect to see a whole deer. They also were helpful by giving us a lessons on the virtues of good optics and patience while glassing. We were using binoculars, but we had been pretty much looking for a whole deer standing out in the open.
After about 30 minutes they showed us a good sized forkie they had been watching. We all looked it over in their spotting scope and could not believe they spotted it at more than ¾ mile away! They shared with us their stalk plan and they invited us to tag along in case something else was jumped up along the way.
Our new friends had given us great information and lots of help. We felt we didn’t want to crowd them since they were so generous with their information. So we decided we would parallel them up the mountain and come in from the opposite side they were stalking from. It seemed like a good plan for everyone, so after chatting a while longer, we all headed off. Leigh and I headed off on a parallel path up the mountain while Nelson decided to follow along with the hunters a while. Nelson planned to wait for them to get in position and watch for other deer when they took their shot.
About 90 minutes later, we had hiked at least 2 miles to be sure we stayed out of sight while trying to get a little higher on the slope than where the deer was bedded. We were on a fairly steep slope of loose shale, rocks, and broken brush cover. Leigh and I were about 25 yards apart as we moved toward the place where the deer bedded down. We talked about it and were pretty sure we were close to the place we saw the deer so we should slow down our hiking until we heard the shot. Then, out of nowhere, a shot rang out, and then silence. We estimated the shot was taken only about 400 yards from us to a spot we guessed was just around the ridge in a small draw from us about 100 – 150 yards.
We watched the area around us to see if any deer would break cover and run. Using binoculars and our naked eyes we didn’t see anything for 15 minutes or so. We were surprised nothing had run out of the draw, but decided that anything in the area was probably scared out uphill where we couldn’t see it. Thinking we could help them get the deer out, and wanting to satisfy our curiosity, Well, we started to hike toward the edge of the draw where there was a large rock outcropping. Here we thought we could see the end result of the stalk.
We had gone no more than 50 yards and as we came to the edge of the draw, we were surprised when a big 3 point buck jumped up from the far side of the rocks and bolted straight downhill between us. He was only 10 feet from me when he jumped up and started running!
I raised my rifle and out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Leigh raising his rifle too. I quickly found the deer in my scope, but found at that range, you cannot see much else in the scope. I was concerned since I couldn’t see exactly where Leigh was. I knew he was a little downhill and about 30-40 yards from me when the buck jumped up, so I had to wait until I was SURE that deer was well downhill and clear of him before I shot. I held off on the shot for quite a while, and the buck was now 100 plus yards downhill and moving like a rocket. Since Leigh was in a better position for a shot and I was clear of his firing line almost as soon as the deer jumped up, it surprised me that he had not taken a shot by now, but I could wait no longer.
I took my first shot with the deer at about 150 yards running straight away. A low percentage shot, but Buck Fever was in high gear, and you guessed it, I missed. I racked in another round in my lever action Winchester 30-30, and fired again with no result. The buck is at about 250 yards now and Leigh still has not fired a shot? I loaded another round breathed deep and held over about 12 inches and fired again.
The deer went down to his knees! I breathed a sigh of relief, looked up from the scope just in time to see him get up and head for the brushy wash about 50 yards farther downhill. I chambered a final round and placed it about 12 inches over his back and fired again, but I was pretty sure it missed also.
Well all the while I was shooting, I kept thinking if I missed, that Leigh would get it. I couldn’t believe he had not taken even one shot! We stared at each other and he eventually broke out in a smile and started laughing. I had just missed a deer that I almost could have lassoed, or knocked down with my barrel, and here he was laughing. As I walked downhill toward Leigh we heard a shot from the general direction that the buck was running, about 800 yards away. I thought, “great, someone got him ” I was sure I had hit him, and felt bad that someone else would be getting him after I had drawn first blood.
I got over to Leigh and asked him what was so funny? I also asked why didn’t he shoot at the deer? His laughter slowed a bit as he told me what had happened!
He said “I did shoot, well I tried to anyway. I raised the gun and found the buck in the scope and pulled the trigger but “CLICK” No shot. It turns out, the gun safety was on. Then I flipped the safety off, and found the buck in the scope, pulled the trigger, and “CLICK” again nothing happened. I pulled the bolt open and looked to find my 30-06 had nothing the chamber. Then I tried to hurry and push the bolt forward, but before I knew it I had the strap from my binoculars tangled up in the bolt so it wouldn’t close, and now it was stuck! I finally got it untangled and pulled the bolt back, ejecting a live shell. I still had 2 shells in the magazine, so I pushed the bolt forward and started to raise the gun just in time to see the buck head into the brush at the bottom of the ravine.” I started laughing because we both just couldn’t believe our bad luck. Leigh said “Tim Conway couldn’t have done a hunter parody any better than what I did today”
After a minute or so we decided to head down the ridge to where I saw the deer go down. I was sure I hit him, the way he folded up and hit the ground. I hoped we would find him down in the ravine. I hoped that the shots we heard were from someone shooting at a different buck, but in any case I had to look.
We got down to the spot where he went down and found nothing, we went down the ravine a ways and found more of the same, Nothing. Well we decided to follow the ravine down to the road and try to find the buck or push something else out. We figured all the shooting, we were done for the day as we had only 2 hours to get back to the road.
We found that hiking IN ravines is a mistake. Thick overgrowth and no visibility made our hike out really tough. We made it out and got to the truck to find a hunter approach saying someone up the road needed help to get a nice buck out of a canyon next to the road. Just as we started to head that way, another truck was coming down the road. We waited until it got down to us and saw Nelson in the back end. He had been given a ride back down the road after someone helped him get his buck out of the canyon! So it turns out that after we jumped the buck and missed it, that it had ran down the ravine and broke out of it just 150 yards from the road where Nelson had stopped to glass and watch the other hunters stalk the forkie.
We all looked at the buck laying in the bed of the truck and said what a nice rack it had! Nelson said” Yeah, that is what I thought too! And then I picked his head up to see this” He pointed to the left side of the rack where the forward antler was broke off. We all were disappointed somewhat and then as we looked at it closely we could see a half round gray mark at the point of the break. It was a lead scar from a bullet!
I immediately concluded that I had hit the deer in the antler with my 3rd shot. It really went down hard, so we looked over the front legs and saw freshly torn up scrapes at the knees and shins. I felt good and bad! I had ruined the rack which we estimated would have a 105-110 scoring.
We decided to spend the last part of daylight hiking up and looking for the shot off tine. Leigh and I headed out toward the ridge where this all started. We didn’t have a lot of time and we were quite tired, but we just had to look. We talked about how unlikely it was that we could find it since a bullet striking an antler cold throw the piece a long way in any direction. The area was broken cover, lots of low brush and some openings with loose rocks and shale. It would not be easy but we were going to look.
We got to the spot and I marked the place I thought the buck had gone to his knees. Within 10 yards or so of the spot is what I guessed. Leigh looked to the right and I looked to the left. We worked our way out in wider arcs from the estimated point of impact and continued scouring the ground and bushes for 30 minutes or so. We were tired and I was about to give up. We were running out of time. I looked at Leigh and could see he was even more tired than I was. He was near the spot we started looking and had his head down. Just standing there as if he was resting. He called me over after a minute or so and said, “It’s getting late, and we are both beat. I didn’t think we would find it, but I came along anyway. We have looked all over the hillside and found nothing. I don’t have any more energy, so I stopped here a minute ago, and decided all I could do was pray that we find it. I bowed my head and prayed that God would help us find the lost antler. I opened my eyes, and was still looking down…” He pointed to his feet saying “Look!” There at the tip of his toe was an antler. About 5-6 inches long, laying right out in the open, only 10 feet from where we started looking!
We could not believe it! Here it was. It had to be the one. It was fractured and slightly splintered at the break, but we could see the ½ circle lead mark where the bullet had hit the antler.
We quickly started down the mountain taking a different route to try to save time getting back to the road. We emerged from the brush, at the truck just a few minutes after sunset. We went to Nelson, Showed him the antler and pieced it together on the bucks rack. What a shame it was ruined. I gave the antler piece to Nelson and we laughed about it.
I told him that the more I thought about it, It was such a hike down that mountain, I didn’t want to kill a deer up there. I told him my “REAL” plan was to heard the buck toward the road and Nelson could shoot it so that packing it out would be easier. I Told them, “it takes a crack shot to hit the particular side antler so the Buck would tilt his head to the right and head the way I wanted him to go. Somehow, I have had a tough time selling that part of the story. Anyway, “that’s my story and I am Sticking to it!
Later that week, Nelson boxed and wrapped up the broken antler. He gave it to me as a Christmas present. He thanked me for my “help”, and said I earned that much at least.