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June 2019
Story by Ben Brochu
State: Arizona
Species: Deer - Coues

In early September, I hiked into a remote area I’d hunted in the past in search of a quality Coues buck in velvet. Midmorning, I picked up a bachelor group of three bucks, two of which were decent. I judged one buck near 100" and the other between 105" and 110". After watching them for about an hour, they bedded in a small pocket and I decided to head in for a solo stalk.

I had closed the distance by about half and they hadn’t moved, so I continued in. I worked my way down to a small cut. The wind, although not strong, was in my favor. I slowly eased my way up the saddle to a familiar tree and began picking apart the trees in front of me. I saw an ear flick and made out a set of soft, brown velvet antlers. It appeared to be the biggest of the three bucks, with the second biggest bedded another 10 yards beyond the big one. I slowly eased my way up to manzanita where I thought there was a shooting lane. I reached the spot and ranged the tree the buck was under at 40 yards. The buck was sandwiched between two oak trees, and I had no shot whatsoever. The waiting game began.

After about 45 minutes of holding tight and waiting for the buck to stand and rebed or take a mid-day snack, I felt the one thing every archery hunter dreads – the swirl of wind against the back of my neck. The buck stood, staring intently in my direction, still sandwiched between the trees and offering no shot. After about a minute, he trotted between the trees and disappeared like the grey ghosts they are. I began the long walk of shame off the mountain and back to my vehicle.

Late September, I wanted to get back into the area and set some cameras and pattern the buck. I called my good friend, Wade Eckel, who is debatably the best dry ground houndsman in Arizona and the most able-bodied mountain hunter I’ve ever met. He was up for the challenge. We left the truck early and set three cameras in areas that looked promising to hold a big buck.

In January, I was on the road and headed to the mountain to check the three trail cameras Wade and I had set four months prior. I proceeded to the first camera, and when I arrived, I pulled the card and quickly checked the pictures to see if anything good was using the area. I was pleasantly surprised to see photos of a great buck using the area only a week after Wade and I had set the camera. He was a heavy 4x5 with great eyeguards and a small dropper on his right beam. I installed a new SD card in the Spartan camera and proceeded to my next camera.

Just above my second camera, there was a small point that offered a good look of the basin. I stopped for a brief look and immediately picked up a good framed 3x3 bedded under a tree. He looked like the 105-110" buck I had stalked with my bow, but the heat waves made it tough to tell. I had to move in for a closer look.

I worked down the ridge to a small point about 400 yards from the bedded deer. I got to the point and couldn’t believe my eyes. The heavy 4x5 was now right next to the 3x3. They were lightly sparring, and another 100" buck walked over to investigate. The bigger bucks fed for about 15 minutes and then bedded under some small oak trees. The light wind was in my favor for stalking from the top down on them, but it was going to be tricky getting into archery range with all of the deer in the basin. I texted my wife that I was on a good buck and that I may be late.

I slipped down into a saddle about 150 yards from where the bucks were and worked my way down a cut. I could see the 100" buck bedded about 100 yards in front of me and several does. The larger bucks were still 150 yards out, and it was quickly apparent that I wasn’t going to get anywhere near the target buck taking this line. I backed out and circled around to the top of a small knob that had small oak trees scattered throughout. I slowly worked my way down and saw three does feeding in front of me about 80 yards out. One doe had me pegged. I stood still until the doe spooked the others and ran like crazy. Disappointed, I began looking for the bucks as I didn’t see them spook with the does.

I continued working down the ridge when I picked up movement to my right. It was them! All three big bucks were together, feeding and looking in my direction. I stood still, and they finally calmed down. I ranged them at 110 yards. They continued feeding parallel to me onto a small flat at 125 yards. The bigger two bucks fed over a small rim of rocks, and I waited for the smaller 100" buck to do the same. After about five minutes, he followed the other two bucks and it gave me an opportunity to close the distance. I hurried down the ridge through the flat and peeked over the small rim of rocks. The 100" buck was feeding in front of me at 35 yards, but the larger bucks were nowhere in sight. I watched him for a couple of minutes until he fed over another small rim and out of sight. Again, I tried to close the gap and approached the rim using a small oak as cover. I could see the 100" deer walking in front of me at 70 yards, headed toward a larger oak. There he was! The 4x5 was under the big oak at 110 yards. The smaller buck walked up to him, and they fed together for a few minutes.

The day was getting late, and I was three hours and nearly 4,000 vertical feet from my vehicle. I had to try and make something happen. The bucks were somewhat preoccupied, so I decided to sneak down through a small drainage near another oak about 20 yards closer and near the edge of my archery range. I snuck down and got into position. The 4x5 began feeding out in my direction. I ranged him at 93 yards with a corrected distance of 89 yards with the downhill angle. I set my Black Gold 5 pin adjustable sight to 90 yards and waited until his head was down and feeding. He went down to take a bite; I drew back, settled my pin behind his shoulder, and sent the arrow. The buck jumped and bucked and took off running the other direction. I saw him come out in a little draw 50 yards past where I had hit him. He was walking slow and looked hunched up. He stood there for about five minutes and then slowly began walking. I watched him closely, and he eventually sidehilled out of my sight.

Over 30 minutes had elapsed, so I proceeded to where I had watched the buck stand after he was hit. I found good blood right away. There was a good blood trail for about 30 yards before it nearly dried up. I began second guessing my shot and wondering how well he was hit. With about 30 minutes of daylight left, I decided to give him time and head out.

By sunrise, I was leaving my vehicle for the long descent to recover the deer. I made it down to the last blood in two hours and began searching. The sunlight and my fresh eyes allowed me to follow a relatively consistent blood trail. It side-rimmed around a small point before heading directly down a ridge toward a running creek. I crossed the creek and topped a small boulder pile. There he was lying near a small pool of water. I was elated! The 125 grain Rage hypodermic had cut a giant hole behind the shoulder and performed flawlessly. I took a ton of photos, deboned the entire deer, and made the long trek out.

To date, the deer has been scored by SCI and ranks #10 as a typical free-range archery Coues. Our team at Shadow Valley Outfitters specializes in trophy hunts in Arizona. We spend considerable time afield locating and patterning big bucks. Our preferred hunting style for trophy Coues is pack in type hunting, although we can accommodate any hunter and style.

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