Close Search
June 2020
Story by Mike Mantelli
State: Arizona
Species: Deer - Coues

After learning of drawing a unit 31 late season rifle tag for Coues deer, I immediately sent an email to Steven Ward of Ward Outfitters. I had hunted with Steven in 2018 for an early season Arizona Coues deer hunt where I harvested my first one. Being that this was a trophy hunt, I knew I had to be ready. I spent the rest of the year shooting weekly and doing the MTNTOUGH courses to get ready.

The hunt started two days after Christmas. I met my guides, Billy Gonzales and Anthony, on the 26th for dinner where we readied our plans. Up early on Friday, Anthony and I glassed the morning and saw a good deal of Coues – does and bucks but very few that were “trophy grade.” Then came a day and half of snow. Yes, in Safford, Arizona where it snows maybe every four years. This was the fourth year.

By Sunday, the skies had cleared and we could see again, but it was cold. The snow had changed the rut a little with a lot of deer found but very few were “chasin’.” Sunday afternoon was windy, and the deer just laid down.
Monday was our day, we just knew it. Monday morning, we spotted two bucks that were descent, probably 90 class, and one had double eyeguards. Billy said, “Let’s go,” and we were off.

After getting set up on an 800-yard shot and being about ready to pull the trigger, I could not find the deer in the scope, but it was a good thing. A rancher had passed by in a side-by-side and spooked the deer. He went right through the path of my supposed shot. I never heard him. We took off and went up the hill about 500 feet in elevation and another mile to find the other buck. Just as we topped the knoll, a doe was there and they all spooked again. The wind came up, and we did not see a deer for the next five or six hours. Spirits were a little low, but we still had faith.

At our new glassing spot, we were not seeing much. A buck here, a doe there. It was a little before sunset when I saw two does and a buck. I said, “Guys, I’ve got a few over here and I think this buck is pretty good.” Billy looked through my 15x56 Mavens on a tripod and said, “Let’s go!” We snuck down the mountain about a quarter of a mile and set up behind some cactus. The buck was working two does, and we were at about 350 yards. Up and down the small knoll he chased the does, never exposing himself long enough to get a shot. Then, he made that fatal mistake. He came out to chase a doe, and we were ready. Now at 280 yards, I was ready to shoot. Billy grunted, the buck stopped, and I squeezed. I hit him just behind the right shoulder. He bolted down the hill, but we knew he was hit.

After a few celebratory high fives, we started marking spots with our onXmaps app and headed to the last place we saw him. It was getting dark, and there was just a thin slice of moon for light. We outfitted the three of us with flashlights and headlamps and finally found him via a great blood trail about 400 yards from where I had shot him. Once we got to him, the numbers started flying. It was thought that he was 103-105". After we got him caped and cut and back to the truck, we scored him at 107 1/4". My goal was anything over 100".

What a great hunt! Much thanks to God, Steven Ward, Bill Gonzales, and Anthony Gonzales.