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YoungHuntr

Two for two on AZ Coues, including my first- Perfect end to a great season

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Bit of a long story on this belated hunt report from the beginning of November, read at your own peril. I thought of trying to trim it down, but that wouldn't do justice to what this deer and this hunt mean to me. If you want to skip the soliloquoy and get to the coues hunting report, go to the first bolded section. Or skip to the second bolded section for the titular story. 

My first taste of big game hunting was with my grandfather and uncles, going down south to the border of Arizona and Mexico each year to chase coues deer. I started going long before I could actually hunt them myself, but it was more than hunting- riding around in our family jeep with my grandfather, waiting anxiously for steak night and his handmade dutch oven cobbler. It was a time of year I looked forward to more than anything, gathering with friends and family and enjoying the outdoors. My grandfather was an amazing man, and he taught me a lot during those times in the deer woods, lessons that would continue to ring true and help me in my life for years to come. Among those was the simple truth that hunting wasn't about a kill- it was about time spent with family in the outdoors, away from the stresses of everyday life. It was a lesson I wholeheartedly believed in, and one of the reasons I prioritized our yearly deer hunting trips despite the fact that my hunting partner, my uncle took a more billy goat approach to hunting coues- moving around a lot, glassing little, and trying to kick something up. I didn't mind this approach, despite knowing it would have been beneficial to let our eyes do the walking- these trips were about family, and killing a deer was secondary to that.  

Over the next decade I diversified my hunting exploits, chasing elk and archery hunting deer. As I grew older and could drive, I augmented family trips with extra days in the field chasing coues by myself. During these times I tried to hone my hunting skills, with some success- I found and shot at two good bucks during two different seasons, missing both- the first due to user error estimating range, the other due to unfortunate equipment failure. One could say I had a tumultuous start to my hunting career- I also dealt with multiple bad circumstances that led to me failing to recover two elk over three years that I had hit. Each mistake and circumstance was a valuable lesson, but I might have given up or been driven crazy if I hadn't been able to talk to my grandfather about each one and remember that hunting wasn't about a kill. 

Fast forward a decade from my initial experiences hunting coues, and a lot has changed. I live in Colorado now, and work full time as a nurse in a level 1 trauma center ICU. It's a stressful, but incredibly rewarding job, and one of the perks is it affords me the opportunity to hunt and enjoy the outdoors now more than ever. A lot has changed in the interim- I've had multiple successes with big game, my first coming with my bow, spot and stalk on desert mule deer not far from my hometown of Coolidge, Arizona. It was great to realize success on a deer hunt, but it just punctuated that lesson my grandfather taught me- though I enjoyed the experience and certainly enjoyed the venison, it hadn't changed how I felt about hunting or myself- truly the kill was unimportant in the grand scheme of things. My grandfather had passed before I took my first deer, and hunting, both yearly with my family and by myself, was one of the ways I remembered him and some of the best memories of my childhood. 

I took my second deer, a Wyoming whitetail doe, just last year. This season, my first full year in Colorado, I had multiple hunts planned, and each one was a blast. I backpacked above treeline for seven full days in the mountains of southwestern Colorado, chasing deer and elk with my muzzle loader. Never have I had a more magnificent or grandiose backdrop to a hunt, the amazing and rugged Rocky Mountains framed by golden aspens.

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I didn't take an animal on this hunt- I put two stalks on wary mountain bucks, and had one of my most amazing experiences somehow, against all odds, crawling within range (150 yards) of a herd of some 100+ elk above treeline, but never took a shot. I was within range of a nice 5x5, but the herd bull, a truly gigantic 6x6 was just out of range and I wanted to be patient and see if he would present an opportunity (plus I didn't really want to pack a smaller bull out of the back country, six miles back in rugged terrain by myself). That wary old herd bull never came down to where the rest of his herd was, instead choosing to sit on top of the hill and watch over his many cows and satellite bulls. I made a move as the sun set, but to no avail. Still, that hunt was incredible, and being in the middle of a herd of that size, multiple bulls screaming their heads off all around me in some of the prettiest country on earth, will not ever be forgotten. I remember thinking how happy my grandfather would have been to hear about that hunt and what an amazing time I'd had. 

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My next hunt this season took me to Wyoming, where I had both a deer and and antelope tag. I wrote extensively about this in another thread, so won't go into details here, but I filled both tags. I took my largest buck to date, small by many standards but perfect in my eyes, a pretty 4x4 mule deer. I then took my first ever antelope, a wonderful representative buck. And most importantly, had a great time hunting with great friends. 

However, by far my most anticipated hunt of the season was returning to my home state of Arizona, chasing the deer I had grown up on. The first part of the hunt would be with my two uncles, doing our normal routine of going up on Thursday and hunting together Friday through Sunday. This year, however, I'd invited a good friend and hunting partner of mine that I had made through work to join me for the second part of the hunt. Andy is an excellent hunter, far more experienced than me, and I reckoned even if I didn't take my first coues buck on my family hunt we could get it done with four days to hunt. We planned on driving in to a remote access spot and backpacking in even further to find unpressured deer and hopefully a couple bucks for us to kill. 

My family hunt came and went in a flash. It was my most anticipated weekend of the season and it didn't disappoint. The mountains and hills of Arizona hold a special place in my heart, and nothing, not even the grandiose Rocky Mountains can ever replace the terrain I grew up hunting deer with my family in. The colors of fall were amazing, oranges, reds, and yellows in the creek bottom creating an amazing scene in the canyon we camped in. It did not take long to have my first coues encounter, either. 

We were pretty disorganized, and as a result didn't get camp set up until around 0200 Friday morning. As a result we slept in until almost 0830, neither by purpose or by accident. My uncle was the first to awaken. Literally still in his bed in our shared tent, zipped up in his sleeping bag, he opened the tent door and stared at the hill behind our camp.

"Colton, get up, there's two deer on that hill right there, both bucks."  

"What? You're kidding me. Where?" 

"Moving left to right next to that big green mesquite."

And so began a mad scramble to stealthily, yet quickly, get out of the tent and onto the two bucks that had wandered into shooting range on opening morning, that my uncle had somehow, by some fluke, spotted as they moved across the hill less than 100 yards from camp. A part of me thought I might still be dreaming. 

I walked over to my jeep in the direction of the deer, in my underwear.

"Don't open your jeep, you'll scare them."

"That's where my gun is!" I whisper-shouted back. 

"I saw two bucks, on of them I think is a good one, a 3x3, both have antlers." 

And so there I sat in the dirt and leaves of camp, in my underwear, trying to spot the two bucks on the hill above. Thankfully no one wandered by, as the sight of three grown men in their underwear, rifles out, might be alarming to some. 

We ended up going up the hill after them, having lost sight of them and unsure if they were even still there. In retrospect I should have just set up on my tripod and glassed, but we had no clue if they were still in the same zip code. As I approached the last location, a quick glass revealed nothing, but two more steps and both bucks busted. I never had a shot, but was able to tell that the larger of the two was indeed a nice 3x3 as he ran away from me back-lit by the sun. 

After that wild experience, the next few days produced a lot of does but no bucks. Regardless, this was the vacation I needed. Nothing melts worries and stresses like time spent with family outdoors, and always on my mind during this trip was the many amazing experiences and stories I had of hunting with my grandfather. No shots were fired, but this weekend lived up to my expectations fully. (Taco night and steak night weren't too shabby either).

The family jeep:

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Next, I drove into our chosen backpacking access in the dark and met Andy. Monday morning we glassed the hills around and turned up a plethora of deer, and multiple bucks, none of them large but tempting still as neither of us had taken a coues. We elected to hold off on the two spikes/tiny forked bucks we found and instead proceed with the game plan to backpack in fully. My pack was heavy but compared to carrying the same weight two months earlier at 12,000 feet the walk in wasn't terrible. Our creekbed cliffed out and we ended up going up a different finger than we planned. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, as we topped to finger and tried to stay hidden we immediately started finding deer. Not an hour into our glassing session, Andy had his eyes on a group of does and excitedly told me,

"There's two more deer just to the left near that juniper, both have antlers!" 

My 15s were already set up on their tripod, so I swiveled over. 

"Holy crap, that buck in the shade of the juniper is an absolute dandy. "

That was all we needed to know. We were around 450 yards away but wanted to close the distance. Our finger was decently wide and grassy and extended further out towards the ridge they were on, so we belly-crawled towards them. My stomach dropped a bit when Andy told me, 

"They're running. Must have got out wind. Well, trotting."

Thankfully they settled down and fed again. We cut the distance to about 375 from their new position, having difficulty finding spots where our bipods would clear the tall grass. Eventually we did, and I was able to determine the bigger of the two bucks was the most uphill. Andy and I decided to both shoot at this buck, as he was clearly the larger of the two and we didn't want to chance him getting away. Both of us were comfortable at this range and had spent extensive time with our rifles. We counted to three and both fired. I was able to find the buck again in my scope and saw as he ran, clearly hurting, uphill less than 25 yards and fell over beneath another juniper. I excitedly exclaimed, 

"He's down, we got him!" 

Having not seen him fall, Andy was skeptical, but I knew our trek down and back up would end with a downed deer. Sure enough, he was right where I though he was. The buck turned out to be a 3x3 with good eye-guards and a little nub on the left side where he was trying to grow a fourth point. There was only one vital hit on the buck, a perfect shot that took out the top of the heart and a lung. After extensive examination I concluded he was Andy's to tag. He was shooting a .300 win mag with barnes LRX. I was shooting my .25-06 with 115 VLDs. The size of the entry hole, and lack of jacket fragments in any of the wound cavity were enough for me. Still, I was ecstatic to have been part of the hunt for a really nice, mature coues, and was happy for my hunting partner to have taken such a great deer on his first coues hunt. 

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We had to go back up to the ridge where we shot from to get our packs. Once there, we took a few moments to glass as it was prime time. Andy turned up a decent 2x3 with eyeguards two ridges over, as well as a smaller 2x2 with eyeguards just on the other face of the ridge we had taken that 3x3 off of. The shot would've been just a bit far and with the allure of a better buck we could hopefully get back on in the morning so I elected to pass. So we journeyed back down our ridge and up to where the buck lay as the sun set. We cleaned and caped him by headlamp, where I had quite the fright as marauding little striped skunks convinced me we were under attack from a mountain lion. After a bit of conversation regarding game plan, we elected to hang the deer by a nearby juniper, hike up the ridge, find a camping spot, and glass the next morning. Thankfully, it was unseasonably cold late in the hunt, and the daytime high was going to be in the 60s with an overnight low freezing at our elevation. He would hang perfectly. 

We were downright exhausted after the early start glassing, long pack in, multiple trips up and down the ridges, and extensive time spent cleaning and caping. We trudged up the ridge, set up our tents, downed a few mountain houses, and went to bed. The wind overnight was atrocious, the temperature cold, and despite my 15 degree down bag I was barely comfortable in my tent. I did wake up before the sun rose, but figured with the tiny sliver of moon overnight, cold temperatures, and persistent wind, the deer would be even less gung-ho about getting up early than I was. Perhaps this delusion was simply a defense mechanism as my brain tricked me to stay in bed to avoid sure hypothermia, frostbite, and death, but regardless I slept in. I was in a state of semi-consciousness as I heard a voice tell me

"I've got that 2x3 spotted in shooting range if you want to get up and come shoot him."

It was Andy, the intrepid hunter who had selflessly taken one for the team, awoken at the appropriate time for a serious hunter (which I have never claimed to be), braved near-arctic conditions, and spotted the 2x3 we had seen as the light waned the day prior. What a pal.

I figured I could be bothered to walk 50-100 yards to shoot a buck, so dressed quickly and made sure there were four rounds in my rifle's blind magazine.

"Might want to take your optics, just in case you decide not to shoot him."

"Andy, I don't think there's a chance in the world I'm not shooting a 2x3 with eyeguards within shooting range, sounds pretty ideal to me."  (I did take my optics though). 

It was a short walk up to the top of the spine of the ridge, where Andy was set up. He found the feeding buck within a minute. One look at him was all I needed, he was a fine buck, a heck of a first coues.

I set up the bipod and got comfy behind my rifle as Andy ranged him. 

"325 yards."

I was steady as a rock and had this deer dead to rights. I was focused, calm. The cross-hairs rested just behind his shoulder as I squeezed the trigger. 

BOO-WHAP

"Missed I think. Right of him off his brisket and high."

I was flabbergasted. I had shot sub 0.75 MOA groups out to 300 yards with ease from this exact shooting position just a week earlier. I should have been dialed in. There was no wind. Thankfully the buck, confused, turned around and walked just a few yards up the side of the ridge. 

BOO-WHAP

"Missed again. Same Spot. Aim for his butt."

"His butt?"

"Yeah, his butt."

"OK."

I was confused. Just a month earlier I had taken a deer and an antelope with one shot apiece, the antelope at this exact range. In the back of my head, I knew my rifle had taken a small spill, albeit from less than tripod height and pretty gentle, onto the sunshade of my riflescope just the day before. I had also been riding around in my family's jeep on bumpy roads for three days, but I didn't think either of those events had produced enough shock to alter my point of impact on my vortex viper HS. Normally, I would've shot the rifle again after the fall onto the sunshade, but we were deep in coues country and it was just hours later so I hadn't had the chance to even think of it. 

I trusted Andy as a spotter, so aimed for the very confused buck's hindquarter and touched off a shot.

"He ran out of sight but there was blood behind his shoulder, maybe a little far back but it looked good." 

We watched the patch of manzanita the buck had disappeared behind but he never came back out. Andy stayed behind to guide me to where the buck had disappeared as I went around the top of the creek bottom that separated the two ridges. Andy guided me to where the buck had disappeared, but he was not there. I did, however, quickly find a drop of blood. The trail was sparse at first, but within a few yards the buck was dumping blood. I knew I had him. He had taken a death run about fifty yards downhill, and was wrapped up in a bush. 

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I was ecstatic. The buck was not a trophy by most standards, but certainly a beautiful deer, and my first coues. The shot ended up being perfect, just behind his shoulder, double lunging him. As I waited for Andy to reach me, I admired this amazing creature. Delicate and dainty by most standards, these coues deer always wow me with their ability to survive in the harsh Sonoran Desert. A perfect miniature whitetail. 

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I thought of my grandfather, and wished he had been there with me. I thought of a story he'd told me, of a little weathered man he'd met down south near the border with a tiny spike hanging in his tree. He'd told me when he met that man he'd been beaming. He'd hunted coues for many years and that was his first buck, It was a trophy in his eyes. 

I looked at my buck. I couldn't have been happier with him, he was gorgeous. I decided to cape him. I wasn't certain I was going to have him mounted, but I wanted the option.

Andy and I cleaned him and I packed him back to camp. We walked down the other side of our ridge and picked up Andy's deer and packed up camp. We ended up deciding to pack everything out in one go to avoid multiple trips. Thankfully we were just two miles back, but my wiry (that's being polite) self isn't made for carrying a 100 lb pack down and up out of a place like that. (Note to self: get a smaller tripod and lighter head). 

Despite the torture, we made it back to our vehicles with daylight to spare. I was incredibly grateful for the amazing hunt with a good friend and my first coues. We ended up taking two nice bucks in less than two days, just 14 hours apart. 

My family was excited by the news. I spent the next two days I had planned on hunting visiting my grandmother and mom, and then pointed the jeep north back to Colorado. A spectacular AZ sunset reminded me of how much I love Arizona, and no love affair with Colorado will ever change that. 

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I took it easy heading back, stopping overnight in Albuquerque. As I finally reached home in Colorado Springs and dropped my meat off at the processor, I pondered what to do with my cape. I thought of all those years spent chasing deer with my grandpa and uncles. I though of the lessons I'd learned and the stories we shared. And then I realized it didn't matter what my deer scored,  whether he was a trophy by general standards or not. What matters is that every time I look at this deer I will remember those times in deer camp, those treasured memories, the excitement of turning the calendar getting ever closer to that November weekend, and an amazing hunt spent with friends and family. I'll think of my grandfather, an excellent hunter in his own right, and I'll think of that man with the spike he met down south, how he was beaming, and I know I'll smile in much the same way.

Screw it, I thought, this one's going on the wall. 

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Enjoyed the story. Congrats. Good luck on future Colorado hunts. I plan on using my points on a muzzleloader elk hunt in the future. 

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As Firstcoueswas80 said once, "Don't be hung up on the score, be hung up on the hunt"! I couldn't agree more with him. 

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Younghuntr,

As a member of the "more experienced hunter" club I can say that I believe that your grandfather would be very, very proud of you. As a younger hunter you have discovered the secret to this hunting experience. And it is the experience, friendship, and shared memories that count most, and realizing this so early in your hunting career makes you miles ahead of the pack.

Most definitely mount that deer and every time you view it will help you remember that grandpa was a big part of the story and for that brief moment it keeps your memories of him alive.

One of the best written stories ive read. Makes me remember my own gramps. Thanks for sharing

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Just joined the forums, planning my first Coues hunt for this fall, and this is the first thing I read on the forums. I'm so pumped now.

Also if you ever decide your current career doesn't do it for you anymore, I highly suggest a career as an outdoor writer. Awesome story, thanks for sharing with everyone.

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What an awesome story and a wonderfully written piece man! I couldn't imagine your grandfather being more proud of the legacy he left behind. Really love that you shared a pic of the family Jeep too!!! I'm sure there are a few chapters worth to be written for the places it has been, which I would happily read by the way.  You are a talented writer and I enjoyed your story end to end.  THANK YOU.

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