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A Desert Adventure (Continued)
I debated on doing a write up on this hunt. I had originally planned to be camping out in Coues country tonight, but I’m not, so writing while I daydream about it will have to do for now. This could get long, so bare with me. I hope you all enjoy. This story takes place over the span of 2 different hunts. Let’s rewind to December of 2020 to begin.
December 25, 2020. It’s Christmas day. Josh and I have talked about returning to Arizona since we returned from out first trip back in January. We fell head over heels for hunting the desert since we first stepped foot in it. Our tags were still good for the December hunt, so after working out some dates and a little planning, we decide sometime during the fall to return to the desert to wrap up the season. After having Christmas dinner with my family, I hop in my car and drive south to my place in Kearney where Josh will meet me to begin the long haul South. We will be stopping part way this time and finishing the drive the next day. Starting the hunt after driving through the night was a mistake we learned from the year before. Josh arrives late evening and we hit the road. We are like 2 little kids on Christmas morning as we begin the journey. We stay in Colorado that night and get up the next morning to finish the drive. We arrive in Tucson later that night and crash at a buddy’s place. Tomorrow we will be Coues hunting!
We get up early the next morning and make our way to a spot where Josh and I had a lot of success finding deer on our previous hunt. We glass up a few, but no bucks if I remember right. The sunrise was nothing short of incredible.
We work our way up the mountain further and Josh spots a buck on the opposite mountainside. He says I’m up, so I grab my bow and begin the long hike around. I slow down when I start to get close, one thing about hunting the desert is that it is extremely easy to make noise, it seems like everything sounds like potato chips when you try walking on it. Not ideal for trying to sneak up on something that is so switched on as a Coues. I peek over a ledge and I’m pegged…. I try a shot and shoot just over. This is steep country, the shot wasn’t easy and was a bit of a poke. I was just grateful to get a shot opportunity. It might be the only one I get for the trip.
I continue to work along the top side of the mountain, Josh says he sees some in a saddle just to the west of me. I continue to creep along and glass as I go. I look on the backside of the mountain and it looks primo. Lots of cover and shade, it screams Coues deer. It isn’t long before I glass up a solid buck. He beds down and I have a mark. It’s go time!
I circle around and get near the top of the mountain he’s bedded on. I slip off my boots and start to descend. It’s dead quiet back in there, I creep along and scan in front of me. I think I am somewhat close to where he has to be when all of a sudden he jumps up from below me a ways and runs up the hill parallel to me. I come to full draw and put my 40 on him and watch as my arrow hits the buck back… way back. I’m thinking pure guts when I see the hit. The buck makes a mad dash up the mountain towards where my boots are and is gone in a flash. The woods fall silent once again. It all happens so fast my head is spinning trying to comprehend what just happened. I walk over to the site of the shot and my arrow is laying in the dirt. It’s covered in blood and looks almost like a liver hit. I know we have to leave him for a few hours. I try to compose myself and call Josh to give him the run down. He is in just as much shock as I am. We make a plan and I start to work my way back around the mountain to Josh. Since the buck ran in the direction of my boots I leave them up on the mountain to avoid disturbing the area. The desert isn’t kind to a pair of feet in just socks, it’s a long hike back but it gives me time to unwind.
I tell Josh the story and we make a game plan to wait a few hours before taking up the trail. We have some elk steaks for lunch, shoot our bows, and drive up the road a ways to kill some time. I’m on edge the whole time, it’s a long few hours to say the least.
We finally hike back up the mountain to take up the trail. I’m praying this deer is dead and he isn’t far. We get to first blood and I nock up, there is a good amount of blood and the trail is fairly easy to follow. It takes us up over the crest of the ridge and begins to drop down the opposite side of the mountain. The sun is beginning to set, but we aren’t far into the trail. The blood continues consistently before coming to a stop by a tree part way down the side of the mountain. One last heavy spot of blood, and then nothing. We search around the area for any hint to what direction the buck might have went, and we turn up nothing. We mark the spot and make the call to return in the morning. Josh and I begin the trek back to camp, navigating the steep terrain in the dark. It’s a long haul, but we eventually make it back. We get the tent set up and eat some supper. Sleep won’t come easy tonight.
Coues shed I stumbled upon when looking for the buck.
Coues shed I stumbled upon when looking for the buck.
The next morning we glass the mountainside before going back up to last blood. Once again, we find no trace of the buck after the last spot of blood by the tree. It’s as if he disappeared from the face of the earth. We search everywhere that day and at the end have no deer to show for our efforts. The sun sets that day and I’m devastated. The day before I thought for sure I’d have my tag wrapped around my first Coues, and now I’m at one of my lowest points in a long time. We gave it what we could, and our minds area blown as to just where this buck could have went. Josh and I make a plan after making some dinner to head south to some new area we haven’t been to before. It would be a fresh start since we pretty much blew the whole mountain out searching for my buck. We load up and hit the road, it’s a quite a drive. It feels as it someone has punched me in the gut, I can’t get over the events of the past day.
This should be good! Following…..
We get to our new spot late that night and set up camp. My legs are shredded, a long day of hiking up and down the mountain has taken its toll. Crawling into a sleeping bag is an incredible feeling and sleep will come easier than last night though there is so much on my mind. We both are torn up we didn’t recover the buck, but I can tell you one thing, it’s times like this that I am grateful to have a friend like Josh. A guy can be positive in any situation with a buddy like that in camp. Tomorrow would be a new day. We were stoked to see what it had in store.
We had picked out a glassing point on the map that looked like one of the higher points in the area. It was a tall hill that overlooked the desert flat that stretched for miles. This terrain looked much different than what we had hunted before, but word had it that there were a mix of Coues and muleys here. The sun peaks over the horizon and lights up the desert floor below us. It isn’t long until we start spotting deer. Out of one of the bottoms I see a freak step out following some does. He looks like a giant, wide fork. Josh decides to name him Mr. Wide. Sorry Josh, no bonus points for creativity on this one. We watch the herd feed slowly and decide to drop down in hopes of intercepting them or getting an eye on them from down low. I am amazed at how easy it is to spot deer down on the flats from up high, and then feel like you are in a maze when you drop down. It makes finding deer and making a stalk a seemingly impossible task in this terrain.
Following……patiently for now ;-)
I am sorry guys... I have photos of Mr. Wide and the other muley from this trip, it won't let me upload them in the format they are in. I apologize! Maybe by the end of this I will figure it out. Anyways, back to the story!
We eventually stumble onto Mr. Wide and his harem of does. We get one good move and start to get somewhat close until a doe we had not seen pegs us and the gig is up. We get glimpses of white butts bouncing through the brush, It was a good effort, and fun to get a chance at such a unique buck. We stumble into some does the rest of the day but don’t turn up much else. That night we enjoy elk steaks by the campfire and stay up telling stories and talking about life. We finally decide it’s time for bed and hit the sack.
The next morning we climb to the glassing point once again. The sun illuminates the flat below us once again and deer seem to come out of the woodwork. We spot a giant muley and a giant Coues nearly right off the bat. Alright Josh, you’re going down there, I get my spotter situated and Josh descends to the desert floor in hopes of arrowing this chocolate horned brute. Josh gets right to where he needs to be, just a little too late. The herd moves off into the brush and I lose sight of them. He hunts through the area for a while but finds no sign of the deer. Once again, spotting deer from up on the glassing point was fairly easy, but once you drop down and get into the brush you might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack. We were grateful to even get to see a couple of bucks of that caliber. The muley was a true giant and the Coues was world class. I may not ever get the chance to see deer like that again, it’s always just a bonus to get a play on them!
We decide that our odds were far better hunting back in more familiar terrain that we had hunted last year if we wanted a chance at a good stalk, so we make a plan to spend the remainder of the hunt at higher elevations looking for Coues. We load up and prepare to hit the road, but have a slight mishap and have to change a tire. We make quick work of the situation and are on the way once again. We arrive back into Coues country in plenty of time to glass. For supper that night we decided it would be a good night for a Mexican food drive through we discovered the year before on our way through. I was hoping last year didn’t repeat itself, I needed good pants for the final day, but that’s a story for another time.
Top image won't rotate. Gotta love technology.
The next morning we glass and glass without turning up much. We decide to go back around the other side of the mountain where I had hit the buck in hopes of finding birds, a smell, a carcass, or anything giving us closure before we left. We don’t turn up anything and by that time the hunt was over. We leave Arizona grateful for the experience and get a hotel for New Years Eve to shower for the first time in days. As we hit the road I see the bloody arrow on my dash, it reminds me how close we came to coming home with a Coues and it hurt. I believe God has a way of humbling us when we need it most, and this was certainly one of those moments. 2020 was a dream season for me and this reminded me that bowhunting isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. However, I was beyond grateful to have had such an incredible experience in the desert with one of my closest friends. This added some extra fuel to the fire to prepare in the upcoming offseason. That shot would replay countless times in my head over the next several months.
Not long after the return home selections for clinical rotations opened up for the second semester of my final year. To make a long story short, I wound up with a spot in Arizona for an 8-week clinical starting in early January of 2022. You can imagine where my mind was when picking this clinic, and it wasn’t for school purposes (sorry mom). Fast forward to December 29, 2021 and I am on the road preparing to live in the desert for the next 8 weeks. My sister is making the drive down with me and we plan to spend a few days together before she flies back. We do some hiking and exploring of the area and of course, you always gotta throw on the binos when doing so because you never know where the Gray Ghost might be hiding.
Maddie had never been to Arizona so I had to be sure she got to do some of the things she wanted. She was a great sport about letting me squeeze in a few hours of scouting. Thanks to a fellow Bowsiter (I’ll let him chime in unless he wants to remain anonymous), I was given pointers to a spot that would be much closer to my clinical than some of the other spots I had hunted. I decide to pull in there quick before driving to my Air B and B to move in. I crest a ridge and bump a doe and find sign all over the place. it looked prime. I walk a little further over the ridge and had to stop and soak it in for a few minutes. It was some of the most gorgeous country I’ve seen and looked like a Coues haven. I didn’t have time to hunt the rest of that day but had a feeling I might be returning here.
The first week of clinical flew by and when 1:00 hit on Friday I was ready to hit the road for Coues country. I made a plan to hunt a mountain Josh and I had hunted the first year and saw several deer on. I get there in plenty of time to glass and find a couple of deer before dark, one of them being a buck. I am stoked! The sun sinks over the horizon as I watch God turn the western sky into his canvas. I couldn’t be more grateful to be out here with my bow in this moment. Tomorrow is going to be fun!
I wake up early the next morning and get to my glassing point. I don’t see any deer on the mountain side but have a doe and a fawn feed right below me. After glassing the mountain, I decide to hike up it and slowly work my way along the side of it. Josh and I turned up several deer the first year when doing so. I get to the far East end of the mountain and find what I had been looking for, a nice buck dogging a doe in one of the draws. They are moving quick so I drop down to get into the draw with them, however they are moving too quick and take off over the next set of hills at the base of the mountain. I continue to work along side the mountain and come up on a fawn at 31 yards. It’s amazing how small these critters actually are when you get close to them. We go our separate ways and I decide to go check out the mountain where I had lost the buck the year before since it was close by.
I put on several miles and get my legs going pretty good but that’s about it. I don’t see a single deer on the mountain. I run into 2 other local hunters who say they got on a nice buck this morning but were unable to close the deal. I head back to the mountain to where I had seen the buck chasing and decide to glass there for the evening. As I worked along the trail, I see a buck hot on a doe’s tail as he pushes her into the same area I had seen the deer in earlier. The buck slowly walks into a patch of tall grass and brush and I watch as his butt disappears into it. I move in for the stalk, the wind is right where I need it. It’s looking like I am about to get my chance when the buck comes busting out and chases the doe up the slope. I quickly follow them and come up behind a ledge. The doe is standing at 93 and pegs me. I’m frozen in an awkward position but hold my ground. She eventually loses interest and goes back to doing her thing. I drop down along an edge and see the buck behind a tree. There he is! I grab my range finder and prepare to range him as he steps out from behind the tree, this just might happen! Just then he takes off after the doe and chases her even further up the mountain. I follow suite and am amazed at how easy they made scrambling up the steep terrain look. I get to a rock ledge and peek over and see no sign of them. My legs are burning, I am sucking air, and I look back behind me to see how high I have climbed. I drop back down to where I had seen quite a bit of sign and hold tight in hopes they would come back, they didn’t.
My cozy camping set up. Good thing I'm short.
My cozy camping set up. Good thing I'm short.
I return to the car and eat some dinner. I settle for a couple of cans of luke warm soup but I don’t care, I’m shot. The stars begin to illuminate the desert sky and I can’t help but to stare as bedtime calls my name. I crawl into my sleeping bag and am grateful for once that I am short, it makes sleeping in the back of your Ford Escape very convenient. Sleep comes very easy that night.
The alarm goes of early the next morning. It must have got a little chilly in the night so I start up my car and let my heat run for a bit while I go through my morning routine and get dressed. I head back to the area I saw the buck in the night before. I glass for the first part of the morning with not a single deer spotted. This particular unit closes the 15th, and in the back of my mind I am already making plans for the next weekend. I don’t really want to waste time driving the next weekend, so it is likely I won’t come back to this unit. There are many other spots in the unit I want to hit, so I pack up and pick another spot out in the unit I wanted to check and hit the road. I needed to gas up before the next spot so I head down the mountain to town. Near the base of the mountain I see a giant buck dead on the side of the road. I pull over and hustle over to him to get a better look. He’s bigger than I thought, and he’s fairly fresh. I snap a pic and head for town. I start getting some ideas as I drive and contact game and fish as I get gas to see what I can do about a salvage tag. After filling up, I head for the mountain again after thinking in the back of my mind someone is going to see a buck like that and take him regardless if they have a salvage tag or not. I was waiting on a call from an officer so head toward the deer while I wait for him to call. My suspicion was confirmed when I returned to find the deer was no longer there. Just then the officer called and informed me he had a salvage tag lined up, but I told him it was too late. I thanked him anyways and headed for my next spot. Dangit, that might have been my only chance to try Coues…
The next spot was a bit of a wash. No deer spotted, but some beautiful country. I see one deer on private on my way out. The next spot I have in mind is another the same bowsiter pointed me to. I head that way and find that there is plenty of company there upon arrival, so I head further on down the road. I decide to hit the spot where I jumped the doe the week before when I had my sister with me. I pull off the road and load up my gear and head into the desert. It isn’t far into my hike when I jump a doe out of some brush in front of me, followed by a covey of quail. I slow my pace and ease to the top of the hill in front of me. What caught my eye next caught me off guard. In the bottom below me stood a rutted out Coues buck, and he was looking right in my direction.
Probably can't see, but the buck is somewhere in here.
Probably can't see, but the buck is somewhere in here.
I froze and dared not to move. One tiny, wrong move with these things and it’s game over. He finally goes back to doing his thing and begins to work the bottom below me. He was in a little bit of cover, and I had some brush between us. When he moved, I moved. When he stopped, I stopped. The wind was perfect, and I was closing the distance considerably. The buck works into some thicker cover and beds behind a small bush. I’m crouched down and sitting 71 yards away from him in his bed. I start to inch my way forward, butt scooting to a patch of cactus that offers a decent amount of cover, a decent amount for the desert anyways. I eventually creep into 66 and realize I am out of good options for cover and my best bet is to stay put here. If he stands and goes to my right, I will have an open shot, if he goes left I have a few shooting lanes through the Ocotillos on the side hill next to me. Let the waiting game begin.
The same bowsiter mentioned before told me that Coues respond well to vocals and to try some with my mouth if I had the chance. The buck was rutted out, so I figured it was worth a shot. I start soft with a few bleats and he looks around trying to locate the sound. I keep bleating and the buck soon starts to grunt in his bed. This is actually working… I continue with bleats every so often and the buck continues to look around and grunt from time to time. He does this several times and eventually stands and begins to walk up the hill toward me, my heart starts to pound as I realize it’s beginning to unfold just how I had hoped.
The buck doesn’t go left, which I was hoping for originally. He begins to work up the sidehill to my right, where I look over to look at my shooting lanes to see a doe that had slipped in on me unnoticed. She was feeding over the edge of the hill and I realized the buck was more than likely headed for her. He continued to grunt and slowly work toward her, I let out a few bleats and he continues his path. If he works over the edge of the hill where the doe is headed, my chances are slim. The wind has started to die and a move would be extremely noisy if I had to follow them. I see the buck working towards one of the few shooting lanes I had and I have to work quick. The buck steps into an opening and I scoot to the side behind a small cactus and range him one last time. 58…. God, please guide this arrow. I come to full draw and kneel up. My pin settles on the buck and I begin to go through my shot process. Pull….pull….pull…. The shot breaks and I watch my arrow hum through the air. I lose sight of it just before contact and hear a distinctive “whop!”
The buck takes off toward the bottom of the hill and is already looking unsteady on his feet as he comes to a halt in the brush below me. He stands for a few moments and time seems to stand still. I see a flash of white and I lose it. Did he just go down? Did I just kill him? What do I do?! Settle down Zach. A million thoughts are rushing through my head. I take a few moments. I call my dad and tell him what happened, followed by a couple other buddies.
I wait for a bit and slowly ease down to the site of the shot. No arrow, and no blood. I have a good vantage to the bottom below me where I last saw the buck and should have been able to see him if he came out. I take a few steps, glass, and repeat. Several times I find some grey rocks that get me excited. I ease closer and reach the edge of the brush in the bottom. I step slow and scan around me. A few steps in, I look over and see my arrow sticking out of my first Coues buck. I wish words could describe the moment, but they simply can’t. It will be engrained in my mind as one of the highlights of my hunting career. I say a prayer of thanks for a quick clean kill, a beautiful buck, and an experience that was nothing short of incredible. I put my hands on the buck and call my dad. I’m on cloud 10 and can’t believe it.
I drag the buck up the hill and snap a few quick photos. I make due with what I have and use my pack to balance my phone on.
After snapping some photos, I start in on the work. I get him quartered out and into game bags as I call a few buddies and tell them the story while I cut. An incredible sunset gives me a nice view while I get him loaded onto the pack. Darkness sets in as I begin the hike back.
I stop through town on my way back and get the meat on ice. I heard that Coues deer is incredible, and I can now confirm that. No road kill needed. It has provided some fantastic meals the past couple of evenings and I can't wait to share some with my friends and family. This hunt will go down as one of my favorite of all time. Im grateful, humbled, and blessed beyond what I can express to have punched a tag on one of these critters, it really is a dream come true. I hope you enjoyed reading this and that 2022 is off to a great start for you all!
Congratulations on a tough hunt and a great buck!! You definitely have an eye and a knack for finding bucks.
I think your dad was almost as excited as you were, when he sent me a pic!
One thing I DO know is, you need to do more threads on your hunts, Zach! You did an incredible job chronicling this hunt for us, in both words and pictures! Congrats again, on your first Coues buck. Very excited for you, Zach!! (The stache still needs a bit more work, though)
Great hunt recap Zach! I've never hunted Coues yet, but from what I gather, arrowing a Coues spot and stalk is one TOUGH proposition. Congrats on making it happen! Thanks for sharing your AZ experiences...and the great photos!
Congrats and thanks for taking the time to post up the hunt!!
Man, awesome story! Reading that with a cup of coffee was a great way to start my day. I appreciate you taking time to share that. Your story telling and picture taking are second to none. Thanks again, Bryan
The Gray Ghost. Quite the trophy. Congrats
Your enthusiasm throughout your adventure really brought back some memories of my own. Great job at being persistent young man.... you definitely earned that deer!
There was never a doubt in my mind!! All smiles. Hammertime my friend!!
Nice work Zach! Great write up. Well done and thanks for the post.
Very cool Zach, gotta love a redemption story. Congrats!
Awesome Zach, huge congrats!!
Love it! Way to go bud. Well earned. Look out Alaska here comes Zach!!
Great pics, and a heck of a write up, miss that part of the world. Congrats Zach, keep it coming!
Excellent job! Great write up!
Glad to have been at least a little bit of help! Just wish I had been able to go with! Love chasing those deer in that country!
Congratulations again Zach! Well done!
Incredible story! Thanks for sharing!
Great story and deer, thanks for sharing Zach.
Great deer and story. Thanks for sharing.
Congrats great story telling!
The phone call after Zach made the shot was one I will never forget! Son happy for him!
Awesome man! Thanks for sharing!
Gotta do a coues hunt here one of these years.
Awesome write up and buck. Congrats!
I’m illiterate, but the pics look awesome. Congrats.
Well done! They sure are a spooky animal, but very good tablefare.
You're a rock star, Zach! So awesome watching you grow into a world class bowhunter. Please keep the stories of your adventures coming.
Good stuff - will this hunt be on your Youtube channel?
Good stuff, dude! Thanks for sharing it with us
FANTSTIC HUNT! It was incredible at the end of the saga one even before you got into extra innings. That's awesome. Superb story-telling and thanks for sharing. I've had a desert hunt on my mind for years. Love reading about it. Once my son gets a little older it will have to happen.