My 2007 AZ Coues Hunt
by Amanda Moors
(originally posted in the forum)
Well, I was fortunate to draw a Unit 27 WT tag again this year. Last year was the first year I hunted that unit. I put in for it because my friend Scott Adams lives out there and knows the unit very well and said he would show me around. Last year we had a great hunt, but I had set a goal of a 100 inch buck or better and only found one that I thought was that big and I couldn’t get him (although we came fairly close). Anyway, after going home last year empty handed, I decided that this year I would definitely take a buck. I wanted a nice one, but wasn’t aiming for any particular score. I figured I would hunt for a big one early in the hunt and if that didn’t work out, I would take a smaller buck later. I love having a freezer full of venison and so I really wanted a buck this year.
I planned to get out to the unit on Thursday evening before the opener, but this year I had spent too much time away from home Sept – Nov and really needed to get things in order before I left. So I didn’t get out of Globe until Saturday afternoon. Scott had to work that day and the next, so I went into a spot alone. I ATV’d into an area and setup a small camp and glassed a little in the evening with no luck.
In the morning I glassed some of the same country and again found no deer, so I decided to go higher up on a big ridge. I didn’t get up there until 8:30 am and it was already really hot. I was sweating buckets and was all scraped up from having to fight through the brush to get to this rocky saddle. But as soon as I put up my glass, I found three bucks moving quickly in the brush about a mile away and 900 feet below me. I looked them over and decided they weren’t big enough to go try and get them. But I took some photos through my scope and after looking at the photos later, I think the largest buck was a pretty nice one. Here are some pics of him.
Photo showing the view from my glassing spot. The bucks were way out there….
I found a few more deer that morning (does and bucks) but nothing exciting. I hiked back down the ridge and up to camp deciding to pack it up and go to Scott’s house to get a shower before going to church with them that night. Monday morning we hiked into an area that looked great and although we were a bit late getting to our glassing spot, I spotted three does right away and soon Scott found two bucks on the next ridge over using his 30 power binoculars. He called me over and said I should really take a look at the largest buck. So I did and I liked what I saw; we planned a stalk. We didn’t have any really good options to get on those bucks though. The slope they were on was steep and brushy and trying to see the bucks if we got on that slope didn’t look like it would work. So we opted to go on the opposite slope, which was not a great option either since it was wide open grass with only a handful of juniper trees on it for cover. We got to the juniper nearest the bucks and decided it was too open to get any closer and too far to get a shot. We had a young man with us who also had a tag and we were hoping to take both bucks. One of Scott’s sons and a friend had stayed back at our original glassing spot to keep track of the bucks for us. It was a windy and cloudy day and the bucks were jumpy and nervous. They would stand and stare uphill of them as if mortally afraid of something. Scott had to work later that day and so he and the boys had to leave, but I would stay and try and go much farther uphill and sneak down what looked like a better line of junipers to get closer to the buck. It was about mid-day and the bucks were still up feeding and being nervous. The hill was very steep and rocky but sneaking down the juniper line was fairly easy even though it was very open and if they bucks looked my way they might catch me in the open. I waited until both bucks were looking uphill before I made my moves. Eventually I got down to a great old juniper tree that put me about 370 yards from the bucks. They were now above me rather than directly across. I got my rifle setup and the big buck turned and came downhill toward me…..perfect! But then something frightened the smaller buck and he ran uphill and the big buck followed him. But they didn’t go far and they were still around 370-390 yards away. I got my rifle steadied with my tripod under the butt of the gun and the front end of the stock on the heavy tree branch. It was rock steady. I was about ready to shoot when I started to worry about the heavy winds and where the bullet would hit. I had a good idea where my bullet would hit elevation-wise based on the distance, but I didn’t really know how to calculate windage and this would be the longest shot I had ever taken. I know when I sighted in my gun there was a light breeze and it seemed to move the bullet a few inches. I figured a stiff wind like this one would move it more than ½ a foot at this distance, but I was just guessing. Plagued with doubt about that wind and not having anybody with me to spot the animal during the shot, I decided this wasn’t the time to try the longest shot I had ever taken on a buck. UGH…… I had the crosshairs on the buck for a long time and was all setup, but I always am greatly worried about wounding a deer and not recovering it. It was early in my hunt and I had planned to backpack into this spot and stay for the next couple days and figured I could find him again and get a better opportunity. The bucks didn’t bed until 2 pm that day! It was a nice cool day but the wind definitely had them on edge. I watched them stand almost tail to tail watching vigilantly for threats for very long periods of time. I assume there must be a lion working this country and that is what they were worried about. The sound from all the wind would definitely make it easier for something to sneak up on those bucks.
a few photos showing the larger buck and his smaller companion:
Well, after deciding to pass on the shot I went higher up the hill to look at other options to get closer to the bucks. There weren’t any good ones and so I hiked back out to the ATV (two hour hike after sunset) and then drove down to my jeep. I was starving, dehydrated and exhausted by the time I got there and really wasn’t looking forward to having to pack up my backpack with all my camping gear and food and go all the way back in there the next morning.
The next morning (Tuesday) I hiked back in there but I wasn’t feeling good after the first hour of hiking and so I stopped to glass some of the lower country before climbing the big hill across from where I thought the bucks would be. I didn’t see any deer (except for a mule deer buck on the way in). It was about 9:30 am by the time I made it up the big hill and the sun was blazing! I glassed the ridge for the bucks and found nothing for a long time. Eventually I found a doe feeding around 11 am. I watched her for awhile until she apparently bedded in some thick junipers. I packed up my gear and headed over the top of this hill to look at some other areas. I found nothing over there and eventually came back to glass the ridge again. Around 1 pm I glassed up a bedded deer within about 30 yards of where I had last seen that doe. I figured it was the same doe so I didn’t think much of it. But then I noticed three deer (two does and a fawn) come out of the same junipers I had seen that doe go into a couple hours earlier. Then I realized that the bedded deer was probably a new deer and perhaps the buck. The longer I watched the bedded deer the more I thought I could see antlers. Eventually he turned in such a way that I was now sure it was a buck and in fact the same buck I had my crosshairs on yesterday. Alright! Well, I watched the buck hoping he would get up and then I could figure out which direction he might move in the afternoon and plan a stalk. Suddenly, around 3:15 pm, all the deer jumped up and scattered. Something had spooked them and they ran in all directions, but not very far. The big buck stopped in the open and stood perfectly still wondering why the other deer ran. After several minutes all deer seemed to decide nothing was wrong and they all drifted back and the buck bedded right back down under the same juniper. Darn! I thought he was going to stay up and feed. Well, I watched the buck for the rest of the afternoon and he never got back up. So I hiked back down and to a tank to fill my water bottles before getting back to my camp under a juniper tree.
That night, I dreamt that my buck was a four point on his right antler. I hadn’t seen that on this buck yet, but I hoped my dream would come true.
In the morning I climbed that same big hill again (it takes about an hour since it is very steep and rocky) and started glassing just as the sun came up. I found deer right away and it turned out to be the same two bucks, two does and a fawn. I was elated to have found the buck again, but then I realized there really was no good way to get in on him. They were on the very top of the ridge and I wouldn’t be able to see them if I got over there due to the thick cover. If someone had been with me, they could have kept track of the deer for me while I stalked in. But with no good options, I watched the bucks fight a little bit and hoped the deer would move to a more vulnerable spot. Around mid-day I saw the does start moving downhill just enough that I thought I might be able to get on the ridge across from them and be able to see them. I watched the little buck follow them and figured the big buck would too. So I packed up my gear and headed over there and got set-up so that I would have a 300 yard or less shot. It was about 2 pm and I hoped that I hadn’t spooked the deer during my walk over there. The grass was waist high and made loud crunching noises when I walked. I searched under the junipers hoping to find the bedded buck. I couldn’t see any deer. Had they gone over the ridge? Had I spooked them coming in? No way to know, so I just waited. Someone in the CouesWhitetail.com forum (was it Shortpants?) had a saying that was something like “coues deer are always where you last saw them”. That quote stayed in my head while I waited without really knowing if they were still there. It was hot and the sun was beating down on me. The light wind was in my favor. Eventually around 3 pm, I saw some does moving and feeding in the mountain mahogany. I was eager to see the buck. If the buck presented himself in any of the openings in the brush, I would have him. I waited. From having watched him the last couple days I knew he didn’t tend to get up in the afternoon until after 4:15, but I hoped for earlier today. I watched the does with my rifle set-up and ready for a shot. But, no luck, the buck never showed and so I hiked back out and was glad to rest my legs back at camp. I was frustrated at not being able to get this buck yet, but I had called Scott earlier in the day and he had the next few days off. He would backpack in (after working all night long) during the pre-dawn hours and hunt with me that day. Originally we had planned to backpack in a different area during his days off, and so I had only brought two days food with me thinking I would hike back out on Wed evening. But plans changed and Scott graciously said he would pack in extra food for me when he came in. I told him I had been on starvation rations and with all the hard hiking over the last few days I was really hungry and needing energy…so, please, BRING LOTS OF FOOD!
Thursday morning we got up to my regular glassing spot and I told him where I had last seen the bucks and where they had been traveling on the last few days. The wind was cold and blowing hard! There was a large, dark storm front coming in from the south. I was very glad for the cloud cover since I thought it would keep the bucks up and moving longer. I also hoped it wouldn’t dump rain on us since I didn’t have my rain gear with me. When I woke up around 4:30 am that morning, the sky had been clear except for one small wispy cloud. I watched the stars while lying in my sleeping bag wondering if today would be the day I would get the buck. I watched many shooting stars race across the sky. I assume these were part of the regular November Leonid meteor shower. This is one of the times I love best when backpack hunting; the time before dawn when you wake up, open your eyes and see the absolutely amazing amount of stars blanketing the sky. I always feel fortunate to be out there enjoying that. In addition to the stars, I had the pleasure of seeing that odd Comet Holmes. It appears like a fuzzy ball of stars. I had shown it to Scott and his family back at his house days ago and could see it even better while out in the dark skies where I was camped. It’s an unusual comet since it shows no typical tail like others. You can read more about it here: comet holmes info
The wind blew hard and despite being bundled up, I started to get really cold. But soon I spotted a doe near where I had last seen the deer last night. I told Scott that the buck had been with those does the last several days and I figured he would still be there. Shortly after, Scott spots a small buck in a different area. With my 15’s I could see the deer, but no antlers. He had his 30’s out and could see small antlers. We kept scanning around looking for the big buck. Then Scott sees another small buck with the first one. Eventually Scott says “Oh! Big buck!”. And then he sees a second big buck. So now we have four bucks in a bowl not too far south of where the bucks had been the day before. I take a look through his 30’s and like what I see and am thrilled to realize the bucks are in a shootable area! We just have to drop into a canyon and go up a steep ridge and then we would be across from them and hopefully close enough for a shot. We pack up and start out after them. It’s a very steep and rocky and it takes probably 40 minutes or more to get over onto the ridge. We sneak up to a juniper tree and relocate the bucks about 370 yards away. We can only see one buck and it’s a really nice, perfectly symmetrical typical. Heavy beams and long tines. This is a new buck we hadn’t seen before in here and I like him! I want to close the distance a little and so we move to another juniper. Crunch, crunch, crunch. It’s impossible to walk quietly here and every movement seems too loud. But the bucks aren’t spooked and we make it to the closer juniper. I hear a strange noise. Coyotes? It takes awhile, but then we figure out that it is the sound of lion dogs howling on the trail of a lion. We can’t tell where it’s coming from, but some of the baying sounded like it was close. The deer can hear the dogs also and they start to get nervous. Suddenly I spot a deer above the big typical and ask Scott to check it out with his 30’s. He says it’s the one with the forked third tine and it’s a great buck. He says it’s as heavy as the big typical and has 5 points on his right and 3 on his left beam! I know it’s the one I have been watching for days, but I hadn’t known it had that 4th point on his right side! Sweet. The buck is broadside in an opening 370 yards away. There is a slight wind, but in our favor. I have my bipod out and am trying to get a tripod setup under the stock of the gun. It’s uneven ground and I am having a really hard time getting it right so I can angle the gun up toward the buck. Scott says “you better not wait much longer!”. Of course I know this, but can’t get the gun setup right! Argh!!! The tripod starts falling over, I catch it before it makes a sound. The buck seems to be looking right at me! The buck moves across the opening and under a juniper tree. I fear I lost my chance since he may decide to bed behind that tree and I won’t be able to see him. I keep trying to get the gun setup right and then look up and can’t find the deer. Scott gets me back on them, but the buck doesn’t have any vitals showing. While he is behind the tree I finally decide I have to move and get to more level ground. I only move a short way, but it’s just enough and now I am setup steady and ready when the buck steps out the other side of the juniper. He comes out. I hear Scott say “ok, now just stop” and the buck does. BAM!! I take the shot and although I can’t tell I hit him, Scott has the 30’s on him and says “you nailed him, he is dead on his feet!!”. He says he saw the hole open up on the side of the deer’s chest and a shock wave go through his pelt. The buck goes maybe 10 yards and falls down behind a juniper tree. Scott can see him the whole time. ALRIGHT! WE GOT HIM! A 5×3 plus eyeguards! I keep saying “are you sure he is down? Are you sure?” And Scott assures me he can see him laying there.
My shooting setup:
We pack up our gear and head over there. It’s a beautiful buck and it was a perfect shot. The 130 grain Hornady SST bullet devastated that buck. This is the first time I have used that particular bullet and the neighbor I hand load with had told me it was amazing how much shock it puts into the animal. I was really impressed. In the past I had been real happy with Hornady spire points for my trusty Winchester .270. They always did a fine job, but this SST bullet is truly a step-up. It was a quick, efficient kill. That buck went maybe 30 feet before falling over.
The buck where we found him:
We boned out the buck and hiked back out. Poor Scott had just packed in a TON of food and his camping gear that morning so we could stay several days. Now we had to pack it all back out, but we were happy anyway! Scott is a regular mountain goat. He can hike really rough, steep country with lots of weight on his back. That’s one tough hombre and I was so glad I had him with me to pack that buck out. I definitely would have had to make at least two trips to get that buck and all my camping gear out there if I had been alone. He carried the majority of the meat and the head and cape. THANK YOU SCOTT! You are a great huntin’ buddy! The hike out was about 3 miles and over 1400 feet in elevation change. I shot that buck around 10 am and we didn’t back to the ATV’s until almost dark! We had a little light rain and hail while boning out the buck and packing out, but it was actually very enjoyable weather since the cloud cover kept it much cooler. On the way back Scott started singing, “I like my Coues bucks a little on the trashy side” Check out the “trash” on this nice buck!
Can’t decide which photo I like best, so I am posting a bunch!
This buck had some neat coloration on the bottom of all four legs. In this photo I am holding out a foreleg so you can see the piebald pattern.
Oh and this photo shows Scott with my buck and also shows where I camped, which just happened to be right above an old indian cliff dwelling. How cool is that?