Like you, I have a lot of buddies who hunt, and I love learning from them and hearing about all the hunting opportunities that are out there. The more years and success they have in the mountains, the more credence I usually give their opinions. My ears began to perk up a few years ago when I noticed a common thread. Some of the most seasoned hunters I know are all nuts over Coues deer. Even guys who can regularly draw mule deer and elk tags simply love Coues hunting. Their passion didn’t quite make sense given the small stature of the critters, but I trust them, so I decided a few years ago to see what it was all about. I have a suspicion that part of their love for Coues hunting involves the pack out. The experience is much like elk hunting, but your pack out is considerably lighter!
I began staking up a few points in Arizona. I wanted a late December hunt to get the fullest experience I could. After a few years of playing the game, I finally drew a tag. A very good friend of mine, Louis, lives close to the unit. He wiped his calendar and met me there. We ended up packing our tents a little into the unit away from the truck. On our way in, I saw my first Coues buck, a curious little spike out looking for some action. What a beautiful little deer. Grey, as they all say. We glassed until dark and turned up a few does miles away. Then we had some dinner at the tents and climbed in our bags for the long night.
Our first full day of hunting found us on our glassing stools, sipping coffee and soaking up the beauty of Arizona in December. It was crisp and cool, and we found a mountain face that had deer moving all over it. Does were slipping in and out of the trees, and bucks were starting to push them around hoping to catch one in estrus. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a good buck just for a moment. Then, just like that, they were all gone. Presumably, they had bedded up for the day.
During the day, we moved two more times and glassed from a couple other places. As the afternoon waned, we wandered back to that same face for the last few hours of sunlight. At about 4:00, Louis found a doe way up high in some thick brush. She was stomping and obviously frustrated at some harassment. A few minutes later, my heart jumped as Louis hollered out in an adrenaline-fueled whisper, “Shooter!” Sure enough, that big buck was pushing this doe around up in the thick brush.
If I have one piece of advice for aspiring Coues hunters, it would be to take a retired Army sniper with you. Louis spent 20 years as a sniper. He is one the best hunters I know and also one of the best shooters. Not to mention, he’s an incredible person who is fun to be around. Louis helped me figure out where to hold to make the longest shot of my life thus far. I’m sure some people get shots within 200 yards, but now it makes sense why a lot of shots can be much further. I settled in on my pack, took some deep breaths, and squeezed off the shot. I’ll never forget Louis’ words and excitement, “Target down! I mean buck down!”
It took us a while to work our way over to the buck. We got there right as the sun was setting. Every hunter knows the feeling when a lot of things seem to come together. It was incredible weather. The sunset was stunning. The company was awesome. The buck was mature and beautiful. We just sat there soaking up one of those rare moments in life that you wish you could keep in a jar.
What an incredible experience. Our pack out was through some thick, thorn-infested brush. Though it wasn’t far, it took us a bit to get back to the truck, crawling on hands and knees, sliding down muddy shoots, and meandering our way off the ridge. We got out just as a snowstorm was hitting. We hiked back up, packed up camp, and headed back to the truck in the dark.
As I write this, I have some Coues steaks marinating in my fridge. I have shown my pictures, told my stories, and soaked it all in. Now I understand why hunting these tiny little critters is so fun. Needless to say, I’m hooked.