by Chris Beck
The first time I saw Juan Francisco was around lunch time on Friday 11/4, the day before my first New Mexico Coues deer hunt. My long time hunting buddy, Larry, and I had gone down a real rough, rocky road towards a dirt stock tank we wanted to check out. A month before, on one of our scouting trips, we had started down this road but had turned around because it was so rough. We originally thought the road ended at the dirt tank but to our surprise it kept going and actually got better. Just past the dirt stock tank was a canyon I also wanted to check out. I originally noticed this canyon on my topo map and then checked it out on Google Earth. Now was our chance…..
We pulled off the road, grabbed our gear and headed to the edge of the canyon. Within 15 minutes I glassed up a couple of little bucks. One was milling around and the other was bedded. Larry did not have his radio on so I had to hustle over to where he was and tell him I had found a couple of bucks. I knew if we kept watching these little bucks or glassing this canyon we would find a bigger buck.
After watching these little bucks for about 15 minutes, a much bigger buck appeared from his bed and jumped down from a rock face. We knew immediately this buck was much larger than the first two. He had jumped down behind a tree but quickly came out and gave us a full view of his antlers. WOW! He definitely was something special and we were amazed we had found such a buck. We watched him for awhile and decided to put the spotting scope on him. We wanted to get a better look at him and hopefully get some video footage.
Even though he was within 500 yards, it was hard to get a real good, clear, look at him. The wind was blowing pretty hard and getting a steady look through the scope was difficult. It was also pretty warm and there was quite a bit of heat distortion coming up the canyon. All in all, we were able to get a little over 3 minutes of video, with some parts better than others.
Looking at him closer, we could tell he was a solid 4 point on the right side but that his 4th point on the left side was only about an inch long. His main beams tipped up towards the end and we estimated them at 18 inches. We could also tell his eye guards were only about 2 to 3 inches long but we thought his G2s and G3s were about 8 inches each. Larry insisted he had a small point coming off his left G2. Our rough field math was putting him at about 120 inches. HOLY COW!
It was at this point that I began to get a little nervous when I thought about coming back in here the next day and hunting this buck. Larry and I had not discussed it, but it was mutually understood that when the opportunity came, I would be the one going after this buck.
Larry was starting to get hungry and he decided to head back to the truck and make some sandwiches. I was in the middle of switching from my spotting scope back to my binos when Larry left and I had not located the three bucks again before he had taken off. I kept looking but was unable to find them before he returned. I was starting to get a little worried when Larry came back with the food.
We kept looking while we ate and Larry finally located them again in the exact same spot I had originally found them. They had gone down in a little cut, where there was probably some standing water, for a quick drink and had returned to the exact same place they had been before.
It had been a couple of hours and we decided to let the bucks be for the rest of the day. Before we left, Larry came up with a name for the whopper buck we had found. He would be known to us as Juan Francisco.
Two weeks earlier we had found and named a really good buck Jose Mesa because he lived on the top of a mesa. Larry thought Juan went well with Jose but that Juan Mesa didn’t sound right. Juan lived above the San Francisco River, so Juan Francisco it was.
We headed back to the truck and then on to camp. Larry was upset we hadn’t brought a tent and thought we should come back that evening and sleep in the back of the truck. I was able to talk him out of that idea but only by agreeing to get up at 4:00 am the next morning in order to be back up there an hour before light.
By now I was really starting to get nervous. I had a pit in my stomach and was getting a stress headache. All of the “what ifs” started to run through my head. What if someone else was on this buck? What if someone else came into our spot before we got back? What if we couldn’t find him? What if he busted me during a stalk? What if I missed?
Back at camp, I tried to keep busy with chores in order to keep my mind occupied with other things. Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well. Watching the video footage definitely didn’t help matters either. Larry and I agreed to try and find as many other things as possible to talk about. We also agreed any talk of Juan would only be positive in nature.
That evening, instead of heading all the way back up to the canyon where Juan was, Larry and I decided to just go to the gate at the bottom of the hill and watch the road coming down from where he was. We arrived just before sunset and stayed until dark. No one came down the road and we could not see any lights up toward where Juan was.
I decided at this point, the best way to be successful the next day would be to break the hunt up into parts, smaller tasks or goals that would get me to the finish line successfully. I came up with 4 parts that would lead me to the end. They were:
- Be able to hunt the area we had found Juan in without interference from other hunters.
- Find the little bucks that had been with Juan.
- Find Juan.
- Shoot Juan.
Back at camp again, Larry and I made sure we had everything ready for the morning. We would be getting up very, very early and didn’t want to leave anything for the morning that we could take care of tonight. Larry offered a couple Benadryl to help me sleep but 4 ibuprofen were all that were used to help ease the nagging headache. Despite the anxiety and stress, sleep came fairly easily.
Larry awoke before the alarm sounded and was confused as to what time it was. He was having difficulty reading his wrist watch and was concerned about the time he thought his watch was indicating versus the time on the alarm clock. The time was verified with my watch and we arose slightly before 4:00 am. All things considered, I slept surprisingly soundly and was anxious for the day to get started.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat, double checking our gear and loading up, we were off.
We arrived at our spot as scheduled, an hour before light with nothing to do but wait. Fortunately, no one joined us in the area. Task one was completed and I was 25% of the way there.
A short walk to the edge of the canyon put us across from where we had seen Juan the day before. I had accidentally left my tripod in the truck and had to make a quick trip back for it. Larry and I got setup on a rock out cropping we found the day before. This spot gave us the best view of the side of the canyon across from us.
It took about 30 minutes to find the little bucks we had seen with Juan the day before. They were around the side of the canyon and up a little cut from where they had been the day before. Juan was not with them. We decided we would alternate watching the little bucks and glassing the rest of the canyon in order to locate Juan as quickly as possible. We knew he was in here somewhere. It would just be a matter of time before we found him. Task two was completed and I was 50% of the way there.
As soon as the sun began to shine on the side of the cut where the little bucks were, they were on the move. They headed down to the bottom of the cut and across the side of the canyon to the area they had bedded at the day before. Still there was no Juan. We continued to glass for 3 hours. Where was he? Had he moved out? How long was it going to take to find him (hours or days)?
Larry was the first to clear a spot to lay down for a quick nap and I soon did the same. The bushes around us were blocking what little wind there was and the morning sun felt good on my back as I laid on the ground for a quick rest.
Within 45 minutes I was up and at it again. Larry soon arose and joined in as well. There was a little cut in the side of the canyon across from us that we could not see because of the contour. Larry suggested we move down the side of the canyon to the left, in order to get a different glassing angle.
It only took about 5 minutes to gather our things and relocate a couple hundred yards down the canyon. What a difference a couple hundred yards can make. Within 15 minutes I found him. I whispered to Larry, “I got him.” He was bedded near the top of the canyon just below a rock face. All I could see was his head, but there was no doubt it was him. I directed Larry to where he was and he quickly found him as well. His range was 595 yards. That was a little too far for my shooting comfort level. Task three had been completed and I was 75% of the way there.
The only thing I could think of right then and there was that I was going to have to watch him and wait. Hopefully he would move closer to us. The day before, he had been between 400 and 450 yards away and I had figured then that I would be faced with a shot of that distance today. Heck, we had even brought a sand bag with us to use as a rest when the time came.
Larry had a different idea though. He told me, “You’re not going to like this.” He suggested I hike down to the bottom of the canyon, angling to the left, and up the other side, angling back to the right. To the left was a little finger that ran to the bottom of the canyon and across from it was another finger that ran up the other side to the right, perfect! About three quarters of the way up the finger on the other side of the canyon was a bench that I could get to and set up for a shot. The wind was blowing from our right, through the canyon and would be crossing me as I hiked down the canyon and in my face as I started up the other side.
This was going to be a steep hike and I wanted to travel as lightly as possible. I grabbed only the essentials, my gun and ammo, range finder, 10X binos, water and radio. As I started off, I stopped, looked right at Larry and told him, “Don’t take your eyes off from him, not even to take a leak.”
Earlier that morning, after I had locked the truck but before I had stashed the keys, I had taken my wedding band off from my key chain and put it back on my finger. Out of fear of loss, I normally leave my wedding band at home when I go hunting but had decided to take it with me on this trip. This morning, I also decided to have it with me for the day. Right before bailing off down the canyon, Larry told me, “You forgot to take your wedding band off.” My response was, “No I didn’t.” He then asked if I had worn it for good luck. I told him no because I didn’t have the time to explain how my wife and daughter are always with me and having my ring with me just symbolized this for me.
Although steep, the hike down was not that bad. There were only a couple of instances where a rock or my footing gave way causing me to slip and slide a little. Going up the other side was a different story. It was steep, but fortunately, for the most part, I was in the shade. I stopped a couple of times to catch my breath but wanted to get up there as quickly as possible. I kept reminding myself I was 75% of the way done. I had heard nothing from Larry on the radio, which was a good thing.
When I got close to what I was estimating my destination to be, I decided to sit down for a good rest. Larry soon called on the radio, asking, “Are you alright?” The answer was yes, I just needed to recover a little from that climb. After cooling down and catching my breath, I snuck the rest of the way up to the bench I wanted to get to. Still, 75% done, lets close this deal!
As I approached the top of the bench, I picked out a boulder I could sneak around and use to break my outline on the ridge top. I snuck around, leaned against the rock and began to look for Juan. As I suspected, the angles on all the landmarks were different from where I originally had been across the canyon.
I had been looking with no success for several minutes when Larry called on the radio. He provided an excellent reference point that I could use to locate Juan. There was a tall clump of buck brush over near the rock face Juan was bedded under. The very top of this buck brush was lit up in the sun. I looked back through my binoculars and quickly found him bedded exactly where he had been when I took off down the canyon over an hour before. His head looked like a big cactus sticking up out of the grass. His range was 320 yards. I looked around and could not find any place close by that would allow a good set up for a shot. I decided to back out and move further up the bench.
As I approached the top of the bench again, I was able to find a juniper tree I could use to mask my approach. The branches on this juniper tree were also high enough to allow me to sit underneath it and be concealed by its shade. I snuck up under the tree, located Juan again and verified his new range – 280 yards. Had I moved that close? I didn’t think I had. I was ranging him through some tree branches and figured I better get a clear path. I snuck down in front of the branches and confirmed the original reading. I knew I was close enough that when the time came I could hold my aim true and not give up the kill zone. My bullet would have less than 7″ of drop from where I was. I began to search for a good spot to get set up for a shot – nothing! Man, I wish I had brought my tripod. I had used my tripod to rest my gun on previous shots and had practiced this method at the range. Juan was still bedded and I decided to back out again and try to find a different spot.
I relocated up the bench to another Juniper tree but it was nowhere near as good a spot as I had just left. Right then, Larry called to let me know Juan had gotten up out of his bed. I quickly moved back down to where I had just been and checked on Juan. He was up and feeding but hadn’t moved far.
Just below me and to the right was a rock I could shoot from. It wasn’t flat but it would have to do. I snuck down behind the rock and double checked the range – 275 yards. I had the bipod legs extended on my rifle and tried at first to get a solid rest using them. No dice. I folded them up. My neoprene rifle sling was too spongy and was not providing a solid rest either. I removed and folded up my hat. I also had a neck warmer I pulled out of my pocket and folded up as well. I put these two things down on the rock and was surprised to find how steady of a rest it was. I was looking into the sun and I sure missed not having my hat on to shade my eyes. I was, however, more than willing to sacrifice shaded eyes for the good rest my hat was providing. I quickly found Juan in the scope. He was pretty much broadside (angling up and away slightly) so I put the cross hairs behind the shoulder and gently pulled the trigger.
Whenever we shoot at an animal we always try to listen for the distinct WHUMP sound a bullet makes when it makes impact with the target. Even when I have made a good shot, I usually have a harder time hearing this sound than Larry does. Despite the ringing in my ears I was pretty sure I had heard a WHUMP. I quickly got my scope back down on target, found Juan and watched as he stumbled backwards a couple of times, fell over and rolled down the side of the canyon a couple of times.
Larry was immediately calling on the radio with “YOU GOT HIM! YOU GOT HIM!” I had closed the deal. I checked my watch – 12:45. I looked up to where Juan was and watched for a couple of minutes. I could not see him or any movement so I figured he was down for good. I called Larry to let him know I was going to hike up to the top of the ridge and circle around above where Juan was. He confirmed Juan was down and I asked him to keep an eye on him until I could get over to where he was. Once I got up on top of the ridge, I looked and could see Juan was down and not going anywhere. I called Larry back up, let him know everything was good and to go ahead and bring the truck over.
It didn’t take long to get down to him and man – WHAT A BUCK. Oddly enough, I was not overly excited. I was little excited but the moment was filled more with awe than exhilaration. He was so much bigger than any of the other Coues deer I had harvested and definitely a lot better than what I had expected out of this hunt. Yesterday had been exciting. The events of today leading up to this point had been exciting. Death is sad. My hunt being over was sad. This buck though was AWESOME! I took a moment to thank my Heavenly Father for this opportunity, for being able to take one of his fine creatures and for all of the many blessings in my life.
Using the good old handy and reliable “finger ruler” method I estimated a rough score of his antlers to be 113″ (I have discovered over the past few years that my boot works very well at estimating inside spread measurement). There was a little ground shrinkage but he was still an incredible deer. Larry and I had over estimated his G2s by about 3″ each which brought him down from the 120″ guess we had made the day before (if I had known that I probably would have let him go – NOT).
Larry came down from where he had parked the truck and was still pretty excited. We took about 50 pictures using 3 different cameras. I cleaned him out and we hauled him up to the top of the ridge. It was sunny up on top so we took about 50 more pictures. Earlier, I had noticed a gnarly old dead tree that provided great character to the back drop of the photos we were taking. We loaded Juan in the truck and headed out. WHAT A DAY!
On the way back to camp, we realized we had not had anything to eat since 4:30 am. We were starving. It was about 5:30 when we got back to camp and we decided on spaghetti. We were so wore out we did not even make a camp fire. We put a quick tape on him before stringing him up and wrapping him in game bags – 114″. WHAT A BUCK! WHAT A DAY! Or did I say that already?
Looking back on this experience, I am so filled with appreciation. I am so very thankful for my loving and most understanding wife. My love of the outdoors at times strains our relationship but she has come to accept the importance of it to me (although she still doesn’t understand it). It is important for me to tell her, because she has no way of knowing, how much I miss her and my daughter when I am gone. I think about them ALL THE TIME, when I am driving somewhere in the truck, sitting around the campfire, going to sleep at night, glassing, hiking, etc. I am always wondering what and how they are doing. I can find myself thinking of them at any given time while in the middle of doing any thing. I was even thinking of them when I was putting my stalk on Juan. They are truly always with me, I LOVE YOU BOTH!
I am also most appreciative of the opportunity I had to take such a fine animal. I have hunted these addicting, little deer for quite some time. I started out hunting them as a teenager (when you could get a left over December tag over the counter and hunt all of southern Arizona) and then became more serious about it (addicted to it and allowing it to become a significant part of my life) 9 years ago. I have spent a lot of time wondering if and when I would ever have the opportunity to crack that elusive 100″ mark and I now have been able to put all my doubt to rest.
I am also, so thankful for my hunting buddy Larry. Juan would not have fallen to my bullet if he had not hired and befriended me 9 years ago. We have done and seen a lot of things together. We have been from Utah to New Mexico. We have seen a lot of beautiful country, glassed a lot of wildlife, roosted turkeys, float tubed trout lakes and shared hundreds of campfires together. We have been snowed on, rained on, and sunburned. We have spent thousands of hours together, listened to that many songs on the radio and talked about everything imaginable. In 9 years we have already had a lifetime of experiences but have also just started. THANKS!
Finally, I am so appreciative to all the people who have ever helped me along the way. There are so many people who have spent time talking to me about where, when and how to hunt. People who have spent time going over maps with me. People who have gone with and helped me out on my hunts, or let me tag along and “help” them out with theirs when I really wasn’t helping much but learning so, so much. You know who you are and I THANK YOU for all you have done for me along the way! I would not be writing this today if it were not for you.
With the above being said, one thing I have learned over the past few years and want to emphasize to anyone reading this is, you have to figure it out on your own and do it for yourself. You have to learn the value of finding your own spots and how to hunt them. You have to learn the value of spending so much money on optics, equipment, licenses, tags, gas, vehicle repairs, etc, that thinking about it makes you cringe. You have to learn the value of scouting, shooting in the off season, glassing into the sun (even though it is hard) and in the shade (even in the morning). You have to pass on little bucks and learn the value of the old saying, “you can’t shoot big bucks if you’re always shooting little ones”. The feeling you will have afterwards is so much greater when you know you did it on your own, you figured it out for yourself.
My concluding thoughts on this wonderful experience are that being able to harvest Juan was truly icing on the cake. There is so much more to hunting than harvesting an animal. Success should not be based on the filling of a tag or your trophy determined by its “score”. My experience this fall in New Mexico was a tremendous one. I saw some incredible country. I met and had the opportunity to spend time with new friends. In three trips, Larry and I saw Rocky Mountain bighorn rams, whitetail deer, mule deer, bears, turkeys, javelina, bobcats and a mountain lion. What a box score!
Juan’s final gross score is just over 113″. My old “finger ruler” method was right on. He is tremendous buck and goes along perfectly with a tremendous experience. There is only one question left to ask, “Juan, where is your Arizona cousin? Let’s go find him!”
Rifle – Christensen Arms 7mm Mag (Remington 700)
Rifle scope – Nikon Monarch 5.5-16.5 X 44
Binoculars – Nikon LX 10 X 42; Swarovski SLC 15 X 56
Spotting scope – Nikon Fieldscope ED 25-75 X 82
Tripod – Manfrotto
Tripod mount – Uni-Daptor
Tagged New Mexico