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June 2023
Story by Nathaniel Morris
State: Arizona
Species: Deer - Coues

 Hunting Coues deer in Arizona has always been a family tradition for us. I often tagged along on hunts but didn’t get my own tag until I was 16. After my first hunt in 2020, I was hooked. Let’s start this story in October of 2021. I drew my second ever Arizona Coues deer tag and was excited to be chasing the elusive gray ghost, hoping to fill the tag and part of the freezer again.

The hunt really kicked off on the second day when we moved into position on a Coues buck of decent size. That’s when we had our first shot opportunity on the buck we would later realize was “Pancho.” Based on the trail camera photos we had of him in the previous years, before the Arizona rule change, we had determined this was the same buck we had been attempting to keep track of for the last few years. Spotting him in 2021 from 320 yards across the canyon and hidden in brush, we waited for him to give us a shot. That shot opportunity resulted in a good old-fashioned swing and a miss and instant heartbreak! It would seem like the rest of that hunt would grow silent of deer activity as we wouldn’t see another sign of our target buck for the few remaining days we had.
Fast forward to the summer of 2022. I received a text from my dad while I was in class telling me that we were going to be chasing Coues deer again this year! I could hardly contain my excitement as I tried to remain focused on class. As soon as I learned that I had drawn another tag for the exact same unit and hunt, I knew this was going to be my one chance at redemption.

When we arrived for the hunt the day after my 18th birthday, we were ready and willing to do anything we needed to get another shot at that buck. We couldn’t have asked for better weather and a near new moon to start our hunt. The first morning found us glassing from our usual spot as the sun rose over the Huachuca Mountains and began to warm the Arizona desert floor. We saw little deer movement that day, let alone our target buck, Pancho. The evening was spent with friends and family around the campfire, strategizing for day two, hoping and praying Pancho was still around.

The next day, we sat glassing in the cool mountain morning with the anticipation of seeing our buck move when my dad got eyes on a buck bedded in the shade at over 1,000 yards out. Unsure of his size, we decided to pack up our stuff and sneak almost 600 yards to close the distance. Being sure to remain out of sight, we found a shady oak tree directly across from the buck. We were able to relocate him, now up and feeding, and I got set up for the 400-yard cross-canyon shot. Missing just high over his back, the buck continued feeding to our left, unsure of what had just happened. I tried my hardest to calm myself and control my breathing as my heart was racing. I backed my scope out and was able to pick the buck up in the next clearing. Moving oak tree to oak tree, he finally paused, allowing me the shot I had been hoping for. My second shot hit him hard, and within seconds, he had run into an oak thicket and out of our view.

Having just watched the buck bed in the thicket and only able to catch very small glimpses of his antlers moving, we sat and waited for his next move. Just as we started to relax and assume the buck had expired, he got up from his bed and moved into a clearing. Stepping directly into that sun-filled spot, he gave us a perfect broadside shot. I dialed the scope and was able to put the final shot right behind his front shoulder at 375 yards. It sent him tumbling down the steep canyon. My dad and I were ecstatic and overcome with emotion as we shared a moment that is indescribable to most who haven’t experienced it. To be so fortunate to harvest such an amazing animal and to share that memory with my father is something I will never forget and am forever grateful for. As I sat next to my trophy and enjoyed my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I couldn’t help but feel like a king for a few minutes.

However, this story doesn’t end there. We were sharing camp with some of our best buddies, Spencer, his son, Gabe, and his stepson, Trevor. They also had a couple tags. Two days later, my dad was able to help two of them get their first Coues bucks. After Trevor glassed the duo of bucks up nearly 1,500 yards away on the steep, grassy eastern face, he, Gabe, and my dad snuck into 285 yards and waited for the bucks to get out of their beds. Spencer stayed back and kept eyes on the bucks and was able to let them know that they had bedded. The plan was for Trevor to shoot whichever buck came out first. After all, he originally found them. My dad emphasized that if Trevor dropped the first buck in his tracks, Gabe would have the best opportunity at a non-rushed shot on the second buck as he would come to investigate what had just happened to the other buck. Those bucks read the exact same script, and it played out just as they had planned. With both Trevor and Gabe proned out and dialed in on the clump of oaks and junipers that the bucks were bedded in, Trevor’s buck finally came out. Taking his time to clear the brush and give a clean, broadside shot, Trevor lay ready. When the opportunity presented itself, Trevor sent the 143 grain round downrange and it found its mark, dropping the buck where he stood.

It was Gabe’s turn now, and they waited for the second buck to come out. After what seemed like an eternity, he slowly started to emerge from his oak-shaded bed and began to ever so cautiously approach the other buck. Gabe took his time, calming his nerves and controlling his breathing as the buck circled around, intrigued by his fallen friend. After about three minutes, the buck presented the shot Gabe needed and he made it count. A perfect heart shot sent the buck bolting for about 20 yards before piling up in the thick manzanita brush. We all gathered together at the bucks for some pictures and some quartering and caping followed by a nice, easy downhill pack out to the truck. So many great memories made and lessons learned!