The Coues deer is a small whitetail (a good buck might only weigh 80-90 lbs.), for which small caliber weapons can be appropriate. I use a .270 to hunt for Coues, but you could even go with a smaller caliber weapon like a .22-.250 or .243. Many people use 7mm mags. What you want is a very flat shooting rifle that will allow you to become proficient at long-range shooting (250-400 yards).
As many guides will tell you, they want clients that are able to shot long distances because the bucks they spot may be far across a canyon. And quietly stalking to that far side of the canyon may be impossible due to the rocky soil and thick brush that is found in Coues country. Shot placement is very important to making a clean kill. Click on the “Shot Placement” button on the left to learn more about a well-placed shot.
Spot and Stalk
Most people who hunt Coues use the “Spot and Stalk” method. This method is ideal for our open landscapes in the West. To effectively spot Coues whitetail you will want to have premium optics. For years I hunted with cheap 7×35 binoculars, and although I was successful, I recommend that you buy the best binoculars (glass) you can afford. Several years ago, I upgraded to Zeiss 10×40’s which have made spotting deer much easier. Some people prefer to go with even more powerful binoculars, such as 15×60. That magnification is outstanding for spotting pieces of deer through foliage. But they are heavy to carry and most Coues hunters opt not to carry such large optics. The best binoculars and spotting scopes are made by Zeiss, Leica, and Swarovski. These high-end optics are superior in the light-gathering and contrasting ability. In low light situations, I can see deer in my binoculars when I can’t see them with my naked eye – it’s as if the binoculars turn on some extra lights. If you are looking to buy some new optics, please check one of our sponsors, Camera Land. They carry an excellent variety of binoculars and spotting scopes.
To use the “Spot and Stalk” method, find a high point in some good Coues habitat, sit down and use your binoculars to search the terrain for deer. The key to finding Coues is to GLASS, GLASS, GLASS. Several times I have been out hunting somewhere and seen some hunters drive up, jump out and quickly scan a canyon with binoculars. After about 10 minutes of searching, they are convinced that there are no bucks and they leave. Meanwhile, because I have been there glassing longer, I have found deer in that canyon that they missed. The old rule of thumb of that you should “wear the seat of your pants out before your boots” is very applicable to Coues hunting. I recommend sitting in one place for several hours and searching continuously, even going over and over the same brushy hillside. Coues tend to move slowly and are amazingly good at hiding behind the smallest amount of vegetation. A slight change in position can make a deer visible or invisible, which is why scanning the same areas several times is a really good way to find deer.
A view through a spotting scope. Can you find the two deer in the photo above? Click on image to see larger version. Photo taken by A. Moors. (It is extremely difficult to see the deer, so if you have given up trying, click here to see them)
After you get a good pair of binoculars, the next piece of equipment you will want is a small, portable tripod. Using a tripod to hold your binoculars tremendously boosts your ability to spot deer. The tripod allows the binoculars to remain completely steady which makes detecting movement in your field of vision much easier. I used to glass just by bracing my elbows on my knees and although that is one way to provide some stability to your binoculars, it is not the best. Without a doubt, using a tripod will make you a far better glasser.
There are many manufacturers that make portable tripods. You can look over some tripods in the CouesWhitetail.com store. The tripod I use is one my husband bought for his camera at a yard sale and I haven’t been able to find it for sale anywhere. It was made in Japan and says “Minette” on it, which I assume to be the company. It weighs a little over a pound (20 ounces) and extends to 40 inches tall. Folded up, it is only 11 inches long. Some binoculars (like my Zeiss) do not have a place to screw them into a tripod. I use an attachment that attaches to the binoculars with velcro straps and has a sturdy base that can be screwed onto my tripod. Tripods and attachments can get very high tech and very expensive. What you want is something that is sturdy, but is light enough so that you will be willing to carry it with you everywhere you hunt.
My setup for glassing. The next few pictures show the individual components of the setup. Photo by S. Wesch. The three parts of my glassing setup: the tripod, the binoculars and the attachment for the binoculars. Photo by A. Moors.
Tripod shown in folded up position. The head of the tripod has a standard screw (in center of red platform) to attach optics to the tripod. Many binoculars and spotting scopes have the threading to be screwed directly on to the tripod. If your optics don’t have a place for a screw, you can purchase an attachment like the one shown below. Photos by A. Moors.
This attachment screws onto the tripod and attaches to the binoculars using velcro straps. Photo below shows the binoculars in the attachment. Photos by A. Moors.
When you are glassing, get comfortable. Get a seat pad of some kind and sit so your neck and back won’t get too strained. The more comfortable you are, the longer you can glass and the more deer you will see. I use a seat pad from Crooked Horn Outfitters. It’s great! It’s lightweight, made of saddlecloth so it can handle field conditions and it’s comfortable. It insulates you from the rock or ground that you are sitting on so you stay warmer as well. I also use the master guide daypack from Crooked Horn. I can pack out a boned-out Coues in one of those packs, along with my hunting gear. It’s a great product!
To glass effectively, you can use a couple of methods. One is to look over the habitat and decide where the deer are most likely to be at that time of day and glass those areas the most. That is what I generally do. Look at the lay of the land and think about how a deer would use the landscape. Where is the best food? Think about which plants are green and growing at the time. Where will the deer feel secure? Is there a water source nearby? Glassing closer to the water (say within a 1/2 mile) is more productive than glassing farther from the water. Is it early morning? The deer are more likely to be out in open areas. Is it late morning and getting hot out? Glass the thick brush and other bedding areas. The longer you hunt Coues, the better you will get at predicting where they will be at any given time.
If you don’t have a feel for where the deer would be, or the habitat is fairly monotypic such that they could be anywhere, use a systematic approach to glassing. Say you are glassing the hillside in the photo below.
You want to pick apart that hill systematically with your binoculars. Start at the top left corner and work your way across the slope to the top right. Then adjust your tripod so that you are viewing the next “row” down. Glass back to the left side. Do that same systematic glassing until you have covered the whole slope. If you haven’t seen anything yet you think it’s a good place for a deer to be, then start over. Glass the same areas several times. You don’t always see the deer the first time through. They may be behind a bush or just have been standing perfectly still and so your eye didn’t pick them up. Give the deer a chance to show themselves to you. Look for pieces of a deer. Maybe you will see the line of a deer’s back as it feeds with it’s head down behind a bush (as in the spotting scope photo earlier on this page). Maybe you will just see part of a leg. The more experience you have glassing, the more these small pieces of a deer “jump out” at you as you look at them.
Many people glass too fast. If you search too fast, you won’t find these tiny deer or you will only see the deer when they are fully in the open. You will miss the deer that are partly hidden. It’s almost impossible to glass too slowly. Force yourself to slow down and you will see more deer.
When you glass, let you eyes adjust to each new field of view. Let them focus for several seconds and search around in your field of view. On a brushy hillside like that one above, you will really have to concentrate to pick up a Coues deer. Sometimes in order to force myself to concentrate better and slow down my glassing, I will imagine that I am actually walking around in that field of view. I pretend as if I am actually on that slope searching around and peering through each bush. Doing that forces me to search more effectively. Look behind the bushes, search everywhere for any hint of a deer. When you have thoroughly searched in your field of view, move the binoculars over so that you are covering some new ground, but can still see about half of the old field of view. That method gives you extra coverage of each spot and will increase your odds of seeing deer. If the country is fairly open you don’t have to overlap field’s of view so much.
Once you spot a deer, take note of where you are looking BEFORE you pull you eyes away from the binoculars. Mark the spot in your mind so that you can find the deer again. Most likely you will want to put a spotting scope up on the tripod and get a better look at the deer. To find the deer again you will have to know where the spot is that you are looking at through the binoculars. Many people have trouble with this, but with practice you will get better. Once you have looked over the unique vegetation around the deer in your binocular, take a look at the slope with your naked eye. Can you spot the same vegetation so that you know exactly where the deer is? If not, get back in the binoculars and look some more. Are there three junipers and a yucca lined up? Is there a unique prickly pear near the deer? Maybe the deer is 50 yards downhill of a big white rock. Look for something unique that will help you zero in on the buck with your scope. I have been out with several people who have seen deer, but then they take their binos down before marking the spot and then they can’t find the deer again. This is especially a problem if you are not using a tripod, since you can’t just leave the binoculars set on the deer while you look with your naked eye. Whatever method you use, you don’t want to loose track of a deer you may have spent hours finding.
Most serious Coues deer hunters also carry a high quality spotting scope with them. A spotting scope will increase the weight of your pack that you are carrying all day, but it will save you some energy by allowing you to evaluate bucks without hiking over to them. If you are hunting for a large Coues, carry a scope with you. If you aren’t so picky about which buck you get, then perhaps the extra weight won’t be worth it. I carry the newly released Zeiss Diascope 65T*FL. These new, smaller, lighter scopes are great for packing. Leica has also come out with light weight scope. Having a lighter spotting scope will allow you to use a smaller tripod. I recommend that you go to a sports store that carries high-end scopes and have them set up several scopes for you to look through. That way you can pick that one that you like the best.
My Zeiss Diascope 65T*FL. They sell an angled eyepiece, but I prefer the straight one. This eyepiece is a variable one that goes from 15x to 45x. It will also fit on the larger versions of this scope and then it will give you 45x-60x power.
Planning a stalk takes some good knowledge of the lay of the land. How will you get to that ridge the buck is on? Plan a path that allows you to get over there without the buck seeing or hearing you. That can be difficult in the rocky and open landscapes in Coues country. Use the topography to your advantage. A hillside can block the noise of you approaching if the buck is on the other side. Then you can cover ground much more quickly.
How close should you get? Well, that depends on the range you are comfortable shooting at. I always try and get as close as I can to my target. Some people think nothing of taking a 400 yard shot, but that isn’t what I prefer. I try and get within 200 yards. But really it’s a matter of your comfort level, which is dependent on how well you know your ballistics and your shooting ability.
Still hunting is a very difficult method for most people to master. It requires extreme patience since the hunter must move very, VERY, slowly through the landscape. It also requires a hunter to use all his senses to figure out what is happening around him. In still hunting, a hunter may take 30 minutes to move 50 yards or less, depending on how thick the vegetation is. This method can be successful when deer density is fairly high or in an area you happen to know is holding deer at the time. In Arizona, I have used still hunting to sneak up on deer in juniper or oak flats or along fairly flat drainages. It can be especially useful to the bowhunter who needs to get into close range for a shot. You may end up using still hunting as the way to finish your spot and stalk hunt. If you spot a buck far away and watch it go into an area where you think he will bed, but you aren’t able to find him through binoculars, you can hike over to that area and then slowly still hunt it – walking through the area looking for the deer. You will be looking for just pieces of the deer. You may only see an ear tip, or a tail, or just the line of the leg. Walking quietly in Coues country can be very challenging. You can walk in your socks (take a really thick extra pair to keep rocks and cactus from stabbing you) or use commercially made “stalkers” (they fit over your boots) to soften the sound of your footsteps.
Hunting from a Tree Stand or Ground Blind
As with still hunting, hunting from a stand or blind takes a lot of patience. Being comfortable is a key to making this method work because if you are comfortable (not freezing your butt off!) you won’t move around so much. A tree stand or ground blind is placed in an area where the hunter expects deer to come. In Coues country, this is typically a water hole. But they can also be placed along trails or saddles where you expect deer to move through. You want the stand to be downwind of where you expect the deer to be. In a tree stand, you don’t have to worry so much about total concealment as you do in a ground blind. A tree stand gives you an advantage over the deer because they don’t look for predators to come out of the trees after them. Although that is not to say that deer don’t learn about hunters in tree stands and learn to avoid them. But you have an advantage and assuming you don’t “teach” the deer about your tree stand by having a lot of scent around it or by allowing them to see or hear your movement in the stand.
Personally, I prefer ground blinds. I am just more comfortable there. I also like that you don’t have to haul anything in to put up in a tree. Generally you can make a ground blind out of the scattered limbs and bushes around a waterhole. If you know for sure which way the deer will come in, you can build your blind so that you are covered from view only from that direction. However, you are likely to be more successful if you totally surround yourself with vegetation, in the off chance that the deer comes in from a direction you are not expecting. It is also important to have vegetation behind you so that your profile is broken up behind you as well as in front of you. This makes is doubly hard for a deer to see you. It may help if you make the blind ahead of time and let it “sit” for several days. That way the deer will get used to it and any scent you left while making the blind has a chance to dissipate.
You will want to have full camoflauge on, including head and hands. You also don’t want anything metal shining through your stand when the sun hits it, so you may want to use camoflauge tape on your gun, bow or other metal objects. And you want to be scent free, which means using human scent eliminator sprays or soaps or something like a Scent-lok suit that locks in odors.
I should start off by saying I have never used this method to hunt deer. However, I am dying to try it and will do so this January. I killed a buck this November and will be using his antlers to rattle up some other bucks – or at least I will try to!
With rattling you want to imitate the sound of deer sparring or fighting. This method can be used to draw deer to you for close range hunting. As with calling in any kind of game, you want to be set up in an area where they can’t see you or smell you when they come in. You will probably want some kind of ground blind to conceal your movements. Deer are most likely to come in from downwind so they can “nose around” the situation before they expose themselves. If you set up near an opening, you may be able to force the deer to come in from upwind. They may prefer coming in from upwind rather than exposing themselves in the opening. My guess is that rattling for a minute or two, followed by listening for 5-10 minutes might make a good sequence. Repeat the sequence for an hour and see what happens. You may want to add some doe bleats or buck grunts as well as ground scraping noises for added realism. Their are electronic deer callers that can make all these noises for you. Check out the one made by Extreme Callers.
In the pre-rut (November-December for Coues), bucks are sparring to establish dominance. These fights are mild and short-lived. In contrast, fighting during the peak of the rut in January can be far more intense. So if you are trying rattling, think about the time of year and imitate either the mild sparring sounds of the pre-rut or the hard edged fighting of the rut.
If the buck is already with some does, he is less likely to leave them and come check out the fight. Rattling can also be another way to complete a spot and stalk hunt. If you spot a buck, but he moves into cover where you can’t find him, hike over there and set up. You may be able to lure him out to you by rattling.
Got some old antlers around? Give rattling a try, it might just draw in that buck you have been trying to get.