Shadows: Late Unit 23 Rifle Coues Whitetail
Updated: Dec 23, 2020
With 8 points going into the Arizona Mid-Winter Draw I knew the likelihood of finally drawing a late season Coues Whitetail Deer tag. It had been since 2008 when I had my last draw tag in Arizona. That year I took a solid 160s class 5x4 Mule Deer on the 12A West Late Kaibab hunt. Several years of hunting in the mean time, I regarded Coues Deer much higher on my list of favorable animals to hunt. Their wary ways and illusiveness are far more intriguing than the seemingly oblivious Mule Deer. The small refined bodies and pristine pepper grey coats are of subtle beauty in a harsh and dense landscape they often occupy.
My long awaited December hunt began on the ninth day of the month. In days prior I was guiding late season elk. The busy guiding season of the year prevented me from spending the time scouting I had wished to. Much to my advantage my tag was in a unit I knew extremely well and had spend countless days hunting in the past. I ventured off on the Polaris Ranger for the first night solo. My camp was roughly 10 miles into a remote and isolated portion of the unit.
I set camp in the fading light of the evening and the headlights of the Ranger. With the fire rolling in the wood stove I cooked up some food and called it a night. The morning came quickly and I unzipped the tent to begin my search. The mountains were alive with activity as elk, mule deer, and whitetail became visible in the grey light. I would continue to hunt here for several days, not finding the type of buck I was after.
My younger brother Chance also had a tag and and he and our dad came up the first weekend of the hunt as well. They caught up to me at camp and we focused our efforts on a few different area we knew fairly well. While my brother an I glassed from atop a large rock face I picked up a bedded buck. I watched the buck for some time an opted to pass on going after him for myself. My brother however was more than happy to take the buck and were set off in pursuit. We crossed a large canyon with near vertical sides to get into position. Ultimately the buck presented a shot and Chance capitalized on the opportunity at 431 yards and filled his tag.
After hunting several days we pulled camp and I made the decision to head home and regroup. I would then return and hunt a different part of the unit. I return with my wife and daughter to once again try and located a quality buck.
The weather rolled in and the air was thick with moister, collecting on every surface a dampness stuck firmly to all of our gear. It was slow going with our baby, even slower when waiting for the clouds to subside long enough to glass the mountainside. Despite the conditions we still managed to turn up several deer, though once again not what I was searching for at that date in the season.
In the following days reinforcements would be on their way up to help me with my pursuit. The Coues crew of Cole, Cody, Hank, and Andy brought with them fresh eyes and new motivation. Together we covered a far greater area and turned up dozens of deer. After our full day out we had turned up more than 70 Coues deer and countless mule deer.
The following more we set out to relocate the very last buck we had seen the day before. I'm the crisp morning air a doe stepped out into the sharp points of sunlight cutting through the trees. She was followed by the buck I had decided to make an attempt on.
A short stalk up the opposite side of the drainage and we set up on the buck. We ranged him at 551 and I waited for my spotters to confirm they were ready. My finger settled in on the trigger and the buck disappeared from view and the recoil pulled him from my line of sight. One shot and he tumbled down the mountain. I had filled my tag, albeit with a deer far smaller than what I had initially hoped to find, I was however still greatful for the hunt and the experience with others.