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July 2018
Author: Austin Atkinson

With the ever-increasing demand for big game permits out West, the term “leftover permit” is often interpreted as the least-desirable permit that is usually associated with huge tracts of private land and horrible success rates. However, upon closer review of Arizona’s leftover permits, you may find a hidden gem.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand the three passes (phases) of Arizona’s deer draw. The first is the bonus pass, which is best described as a preference draw for 20% of the total permit quota. Applicants with the most bonus points will draw permits in the first pass. The second pass of the draw is the 1-2 Pass, or the random pass. In this phase, the other 80% of the tag quota is drawn by any random applicant, looking at their first and second choices on their application. After this pass, most Arizona deer permits have been given out. The last pass, called 3-4-5 Pass, takes place at this time, looking at all applicants’ third, fourth, and fifth choices. Keep in mind, if permits were not still available after the second pass for the hunt numbers on your application, this pass will be useless to you. Everyone’s first and second choice is awarded before permits will be carried on to the last pass. You should almost never put a third, fourth, or fifth choice on your application because if you draw any of the five choices, your bonus points will be purged. The permits available on the leftover list that will be published after the main draw takes place made it all the way through three draw passes and will be available to any applicant who does not already hold a deer permit-tag for the fall season. The best part about these leftover tags is that if you obtain a leftover permit, you will keep your bonus points.

If you’re still reading, you’re probably interested in how you can put an Arizona deer permit in your pocket while building points for trophy hunts. Last season, a few of the Hunt Advisors decided to do just that. We had all applied for the main draw for trophy mule deer hunts and were unsuccessful across the board. When the leftover list was first published, there were hundreds of Coues deer rifle permits still available and we started making plans for a weekend trip to southern Arizona. The tricky part of obtaining a leftover permit is jumping through the hoops of the Arizona firstcome, first-served system. It is probably the most random system we have encountered when it comes to tag distribution. Paper applications with an enclosed check are only accepted via U.S. Mail at their Phoenix headquarters office on or after 8 a.m. Arizona Time beginning on a Monday scheduled in the regulations (July 23rd for the 2018 fall draw). If your application arrives before Monday, it will not be accepted. If you time your mailtransit delay correctly, your application will be delivered with Monday’s mail bin to the office along with hundreds or thousands of other envelopes. Depending on the availability of staff members and which envelope they decide to pull out of the pile first, you may be awarded a permit. There is no online system to apply nor is there a way to know if you will get your permit, but the Department is planning on implementing an online system next year. Up to four applicants can be listed on one application, and you can have five hunt choices selected on each application. If your envelope is opened and your hunt choice(s) has a permit available, they immediately award it to you and print out the sticky permittag to send to you in the mail. The cost of a leftover permit is $315 for non-residents, including the $15 application fee.

To continue our leftover story for the Hunt Advisors, we did receive permits for our second choice and received them in the mail the first part of August 2017. We had elected to apply for first season rifle hunts that took place the end of October. The weather is always warm on these dates, but it worked best for our schedule and allowed us first crack at the bucks in the field before the hundreds of other hunters arrived on later seasons. It’s important to note that most leftover permits are for units in southern Arizona that are home to either heightened border-crossing activity or private land blocks that depress access. However, I feel that in all available units, a Huntin’ Fool member can find Coues deer and have a fun, successful hunt. Our unit was in the extreme southern portion of Arizona, so far down there that our boundary was the international border with Mexico.

Since most hunts in Arizona begin on a Friday, we decided to leave early Thursday morning to give us a couple hours for an evening glassing session upon arrival. Knowing that the abnormally high daytime temps and ample amounts of sunshine would prevail each day of our hunt, time behind the glass would be the most critical. Coues deer hunting in Arizona is not like most deer hunting where animals will be on their feet for a couple hours each morning and evening; you are literally trying to glass up a bedded deer no matter what time of day. A couple small bucks, plenty of does, and two herds of javelina were spotted Thursday night as the five of us were glued behind our optics and tripods, but no shooter bucks were found. We returned to town where we had two small hotel rooms booked for our hunt, a wise decision if you’re not in the mood for a run-in with border crossers during the night. I’ve found over the years that I sleep better knowing my optics, gear, coolers, backpack, and rifle are in the faceless hotel room with me and the door is locked tight.

Early opening morning, we found ourselves in two groups glassing two different canyons, hoping to find a buck moving the short distance to his bedding area. Isaiah, Stan, and I worked a ridge, stopping every 200 yards to glass. In my experience, there are two types of hillsides in southern Arizona – thick slopes (usually north or west facing) and yellow-grass slopes (usually south or east facing). It is seven times easier to glass up a deer on the yellow-grass slopes, but they do not stay there for long. I tend to scan over yellow-grass quickly with no grid pattern and try to pick out color, shapes, or movement. We saw a few deer moving around at first light but nothing worth pursuing.

As the sun got higher, we slowed down and made sure we started glassing the thick slopes ever so carefully. At one vantage point, we were facing directly south, looking over a small canyon that at first glance appeared fairly open. These slopes mess with your head as it seems obvious that a deer would stand out like a sore thumb if he were on his feet on such a steep slope. After 10 minutes of glassing the same hillside with our binos on a tripod, we finally found a buck standing under a dead tree. Of course, he had his eyes and ears pegged on us already, just a mere 500 yards out. Isaiah and Stan got set up on their rifles as I scanned around him to check for another buck. We found two more bucks next to him in the tall grass. They appeared to be average bucks, good representations for a first-time Coues deer hunter. I was assigned to stay behind the binos while Stan cracked off the first shot with the Best of the West 6.5x284. Isaiah was right on his tail, cracking off the shot behind his rifle at the buck to the right of Stan’s. Two bucks down! As they rolled down the hill into the greycolored grass, we noticed the third buck take off up the ridge to leave the party. I switched from the binos to the trusty Red Rock 28 Nosler and waited for him to give me a look-back pose, which he did about 200 yards further out.

The rest of the morning’s hunt was history. We had a triple, three bucks together on opening day of our leftover hunt. After carrying the bucks down to a shady spot, we took photos and loaded them in our backpacks for the hot packout hike. We returned to town immediately to get the meat placed on ice and to shower at the hotel (another perk of staying in town).

When you’re near the Mexico border, you can typically find some great Mexican food restaurants. For lunch, we hit up a taco truck under a bridge for some amazing tacos al pastor and carne asada. We returned to the mountains to glass for an evening session, but with the extreme heat, we could not turn up bucks worth stalking. Following a great Mexican restaurant dinner with some salsa that was too hot to forget, we retired to our hotel with Coues on the mind.

The next day, we spent time trying to glass up worthy bucks for Garth and Jeff. We located one really nice buck, but he gave us all the slip into an ocotillo patch before Garth could let him have it. While Garth and I were returning to the vantage point, we caught a small glimpse of an antler beam barely above the yellowgrass on the next ridge over. We figured he’d probably be bedding down for the day in that spot, so we slipped in above him and Garth made a great shot with the Best of the West 7mm.

It was a trip to remember as we still had our bonus points and we all had Coues deer, except for Jeff who had taken many Coues and was holding out for a giant. If you find yourself wanting a lowstress Coues deer hunting experience, I’d recommend that you take a look at the leftover list, which will be available the first part of July. If you can’t work it into your schedule for this fall, make sure you try out the over-the-counter archery seasons in December or January. They say Coues deer hunting is a rewarding and addicting sport, and I believe you will agree once you go chase the Grey-Ghost of the West.