Arizona is home to some of the biggest mule deer bucks that can be found anywhere in the world. Although mule deer can be found in all areas of the state, the genetics, remoteness, and quality of feed north of the Grand Canyon are what separate these deer from the ones south of the Grand Canyon. Any mule deer enthusiast has undoubtedly heard of areas like the Kaibab and the Arizona Strip and the history of enormous bucks that have and still live there. It’s areas like these that keep applicants coming back every year, hoping that someday they can have the chance to pursue one of these majestic bucks that call Northern Arizona home.
For everything south of the Grand Canyon, these mule deer are smaller in body size in general and more of a desert mule deer variety. AZGFD hunts these populations more aggressively to give hunters some opportunity to still get out and hunt deer and take some venison home on a more regular basis. While not quite as well known as northern Arizona deer, the central and southern mule deer are good in population numbers and will still throw some giant bucks, but the ratio of mature bucks that possess the genetics to grow large antlers is very small. While all mule deer tags are issued through a draw process in Arizona, these areas require very few points to draw rifle hunts, and for the most part, they offer over-the-counter tags for archery buck hunting. In this issue, we mainly focus on the units/hunts in the northern part of the state that offer a better chance at finding a mature buck. However, we do sprinkle in a few good opportunities that exist in some of these units that aren’t known for giant bucks.
2023 is shaping up to be one of the best years in a long time for antler growth across the state of Arizona. Record setting winter moisture has been the theme all across the state this winter, and with any luck, if they receive a few timely storms this spring and summer, deer populations along with mature bucks should be in great shape. Last year in the Arizona Strip units 13A and 13B, hunters struggled to find many of the bucks that max point applicants had been waiting 30 years to hunt. There were few to be had, but with drought conditions leading up to and going into the heart of antler growth season, mature bucks just didn’t produce up to their capabilities. This year, however, bucks should be looking to bounce back and use this moisture to their advantage and should have a bounce back year. With no trail cameras to catalogue the bucks, we could see bucks come out of the woodwork that will be unreal.
Now, the Kaibab on the other hand, which includes units 12A West, 12A East, 12B, and 12B West, for the most part had a phenomenal year last year. Both 12A units make up the top and some of the lower sections of the Kaibab Plateau and had great years for mature bucks. The population on the plateau is doing very well and is looking good with a couple big fires that rolled through and opened up some dense timber pockets, allowing good vegetation to come in. Tag numbers have been reduced over the last six years or so, and mature bucks have been on the rise. The 12B and 12B West hunts have been productive as well, but during the later hunts, especially in 12B West, the famed Paunsagunt unit in Utah will supplement the area with migrating bucks, and that unit is peaking as well. All of these units are attached and will have deer moving from one unit to another throughout the year. If you are trying for the late hunts, the highest densities are located in units 12A West and 12B West. If you have points and want to hunt the Kaibab, this might be the year.
The other areas we cover in the issue are for areas in the south and, for the most part, are later hunts in general deer units. 3A/3C is the only unit grouping that is managed for older age class bucks and is a limited draw for archery as well as rifle. This unit grouping is also doing well and is benefitting from the same moisture as the northern units. There are a lot fewer tags issued for the area than the Kaibab region, but the genetics are not the same. It’s still a great hunt with mature bucks, but the bulk of those mature bucks will top out at 160-170" with a select few that could reach 190".
Just remember that this is not a year to build points in Arizona. You should be applying for hunts as there is always a random chance you may get lucky and draw, and any mule deer tag for these areas this year could produce a giant. The cost is the same, and we believe this year is one where you want your name in the hat.
Coues deer have always been thought of as a sleeper deer species for deer applicants in Arizona with all the hype the giant mulies get. However, with those hunts becoming increasingly difficult to draw and more hunters finding out that they can cash in their deer points for a great Coues deer hunt, they are not quite a sleeper anymore. The fact that Coues deer are only found in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico makes them a very special deer species and limited on overall opportunity. Populations in Arizona are second to none, and because they are such a cagey animal to outwit, AZGFD can be very liberal with tag allocation and not negatively impact the buck population.
Coues deer hunts are plentiful, and most units have at least three or four seasons throughout the fall. The last season is reserved for the last part of December just before the rut comes into full swing, but on occasion, there could be some rutting activity by the end of the hunt. Since they can be more vulnerable during this late season, AZGFD typically keeps the tags to a minimum and require more points to draw a bonus tag. The prior seasons is when the bulk of the tags are issued and can be drawn with a lot fewer points, but that is for good reason. Coues deer have a very small home range and can live in some of the thickest canopies found in Arizona. Mature bucks rarely get caught out in the open during daylight hours once they have been threatened or just because the heat is so intense in most of Arizona late into the fall. It’s for these reasons that these earlier hunts typically take 1-3 points to draw a bonus tag and the late hunts take 9-15 points to draw.
The large amount of moisture in Arizona is going to benefit Coues deer as well, and we will say the same thing for Coues deer – apply for hunts and not points this year. There should be some incredible antler growth on Coues deer this year, and you want your name in the hat for sure. If you want to hunt Arizona more often, Coues deer is your best opportunity. All units offer a legitimate chance at harvesting a mature animal. This is the easiest animal to upgrade a hunt for if you choose to hire an outfitter. We work with the finest outfitters Arizona has to offer, and their hunters are harvesting trophy bucks every year. Arizona is an underrated state when it comes to Coues deer.
Arizona is good with the youth hunters and typically gives them first crack at the deer in some units. They allow them to take a mule deer or Coues deer. Some great Coues and mule deer dates are available for junior hunters with little to no points. All youth-only deer tags are $25 for nonresidents and residents alike. The youth cost of a 365-day hunting license is just $5. All juniors are eligible to participate up to their 18th birthday, provided that youths between the ages of 10 and 13 have completed an approved hunter education course. A youth hunter whose 18th birthday occurs during a youth-only deer hunt may continue to participate for the duration of the hunt dates.
While most of these hunts are not conducted in trophy mule deer units, they often are the first hunts of the season and offer the youth first crack at bucks that are just coming out of velvet. Units that have October 6th start dates will most likely capitalize on bucks in their summer patterns. The beauty of these permits is that in most cases they are either species, meaning you can harvest either a mule deer or a Coues deer buck. Most of the best Coues deer units have a youth hunt available. All of these units have good potential for a mature buck.
If you are interested in hiring an outfitter for a youth hunt, give us a call and we can help you figure out which areas to apply for and put you in touch with the right outfitter. The outfitters we work with love taking kids on these hunts and run very high success.
Another great option for these hunts is the Youth Deer Hunting Camps put on by various chapters of the Arizona Mule Deer Organization, Mule Deer Foundation, Arizona Chapter of Safari Club International, and Arizona Deer Association. These camps are put on in a variety of units, run three to four days, and are geared toward giving kids of all ages a terrific camping/hunting atmosphere. Most events have clinics on biology and habitat, glassing techniques, stalking techniques, game care, and so much more to teach kids a host of different skills that will make them better and more confident hunters. Most of these camps also have campfire activities in the evening where dinner will be provided and raffles are held for prizes. There is a complete list of all youth camps in the 2023/2024 Fall Hunting Regulations booklet that will also have contact information for each of the camps. All of these events are free of charge, but some have limited space available.
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The Arizona Big Game online application deadline for sheep, fall bison, and deer is 11:59 p.m. Arizona Time on June 6, 2023.
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|365-Day Hunting & Fishing License (adult)||$160|
|365-Day Hunting & Fishing License (youth ages 10-17)||$5|
|Application Fee or Bonus Point Only (per species)||$15|
|PointGuard Plus (365-day membership, all species)||$25|
|PointGuard Option (per species)||$10|
|Post Draw License Fees (if successful)|
|Mule Deer/Coues Deer Permit||$300|
|Youth-Only Deer Permit||$25|
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