First Arizona Coues Deer

By Benjamin Packard

Hunting the Chiracahua Mountain Range for white tail Coues deer seems to be a daunting enterprise. It's an arid, high desert range 40 miles north of the Arizona/Mexico border and 10 miles west of New Mexico. With Border Patrol agents everywhere and signs saying, "Caution, illegal drug and human smuggling may be encountered in this area," we were slightly apprehensive but willing, if not wary. We kept our rifles and side arms loaded and close at all times.

I hunted with two friends, Tom and Joe, for what would be the first deer hunt for all of us. We had applied for deer tags before, but had never been drawn. We decided to apply for leftover buck tags in a unit that had better odds of getting a tag. Luck was with us and we were all drawn.

I brought my Ruger M77 Mark II in .30-06 loaded with 150 grain Hornady V-Max cartridges. Tom and Joe both carried Savages in .300 WSM, using Nosler�s Trophy Grade 180 grain bullets.

Our plan was to gain the high country and do a lot of glassing, since the landscape is very open in the southern part of the unit where we were to hunt. In the mornings, we would wake before dawn and hike to the tops of canyons, overlooking the numerous stock tanks in the area. We hoped to be able to spot our quarry from a distance and make a move for a shot at about the 200-300 yard range. The wide open country made for easy spotting of game, but added to the difficulty, because if we could see them with our naked eyes they could definitely see us. The hunt was on!

Over the next five days we hunted hard, but didn�t see any deer. We awoke before the sun each morning to get into position by first light. The mornings were very cold, for Arizona, so we would bundle up until the exertion made us sweat then we�d ditch layers. We soon came to the conclusion that the right clothes for the right time and place make a huge difference and were glad we came prepared.

With only two days left in our seven day hunt and failure close at hand, we woke up very early the sixth morning. Knowing we had little time, but continuing with a never say die attitude, we hiked up the relatively close Rattlesnake Mountain to look at a place we had wanted to go all week. It didn't look very promising, but we had been told by hunters we had talked with that the canyons on the other side held deer. They were guides and gave us some tips and said to expect long shots at our deer, shots up to and including 1000 yards! My scope can't even pick up a deer at that range and my rifle has never hit anything beyond 300 yards, so I knew for me it was a long shot, literally and figuratively.

The guides said they had passed up shots on a couple decent, but small, bucks up there and the closest they had come was 500 yards. However, we figured going home with some meat and small antlers was better than nothing, so we went for it.

We knew pretty much where we wanted to go and knew it would take a while to get to a place that might hold some deer, so we hiked with all possible speed until we were close to our destination. By then the sun was up and we could see well, so we slowed down and kept our eyes open, although our previous experience gave us rather low expectations.

We were walking a ridge line, saddle to saddle and peak to peak, and had just started down our fourth saddle when two does blew out of some thick scrub oak. We were excited, even if they didn�t have antlers. Though we had seen lots of tracks and sign in the previous days, we had seen no deer. We were beginning to think someone was playing a bad joke on us and that there weren't any deer there, at all. Shortly after the first two does bounded away, a third doe decided to catch up with her sisters, letting us know there were indeed deer around. In fact, we had seen three within 100 yards of us and had they been bucks we could have easily filled our tags.

We continued to the next peak and down the other side to an outcropping of rocks, where we sat and glassed the joining of three canyons. With does in the area, we figured there should be some bucks, as well.

One of the canyons was so full of oak that we couldn't see into it except for a few small windows. We kept hearing the rocks at the bottom being tumbled and stepped on, but couldn't see in to get an idea of what was making all the racket, let alone take a shot. This was unfortunate, since it was the nearest of the three canyons.

Not hearing anymore rocks being kicked around and not seeing any movement for several hours, we ate cold MRE's and decided to move on to the next peak to get a look at another area. We climbed to the top of the peak and saw a spot that looked good for glassing. Though no one said anything, we were nearing exhaustion from the accumulation of several long days of hiking and the cold wind that sapped our energy.

We agreed to stop to glass the slopes below us and were walking to the edge to get a good vantage point when suddenly the unexpected happened. 50 yards below us and to our left a buck emerged from his hide and ran across our path with two more following closely behind, also at a dead run. Our agreement was that Tom got the first shot at a deer and I'd have the first shot at a bear, since we had tags for both. I pointed out the buck, but didn't even unsling my rifle from my pack until Tom reminded me there was more than one buck. Guess I was still in shock at finally seeing deer and that they were so close.

I dropped my spotting scope and grabbed my rifle. At that close range and with the bucks on the run, we didn't have time to get into the prone position or set our rifles on any kind of a rest. All we had was a quick offhand snap shot. Tom was dialing down his variable scope to adjust for the close shot, so I called the second buck and quickly fired. In the heat of the moment I barely took time to aim, since I didn't think the opportunity would last long.

A half second after I fired, two more shots rang out. I saw my deer drop instantly and Tom�s right next to it. The third buck changed directions when the first two were hit, but a well placed bullet through his heart ensured that he didn't get farther than 40 yards before his flight ended. All three deer were spotted and taken in five chaotic seconds.

After getting over the initial shock of everything happening so fast, I found my deer and took a moment to say thanks to The Man upstairs for the opportunity I had to go on the hunt and for the success we had. Then I patted my deer and thanked him. It might sound strange to some, but to me the deer represents strength and courage and it felt like the deer we hunted had put up a great fight.

With a long hike down the mountain to the road and concern about the meat spoiling, we didn't have time to take pictures. Joe left us to go get the truck, which we knew would take at least an hour or more. We also had to get all three deer off the mountain, field dressed and on ice before the meat went bad and before it got too dark to hike.

Tom and I each grabbed a deer by the antlers and started the long hike down the mountain. It didn't look that far from the top to the road, but it was more than a mile over rough terrain. We started hauling them down at about 11:45. It took us until probably 2:00 or 2:30 before we got the first two down. Then we had to hike back up to bring down the third buck and grab the rest of our gear, so while Joe and I hiked back up Tom started field dressing the deer.

Joe had a head start on me and had his deer dressed and in a game bag by the time I got up there. He had a deer drag and started to drag his buck out while I rounded up the gear. Within a few yards, however, his game bag was badly ripped by the rocks. I like to think of myself as a pretty tough guy, but what Joe did next was impressive. With my help, he put his buck over his shoulders and carried it down the steep mountainside. He stopped to rest several times, but only set the deer down once, which was all the more impressive.

When we had all the deer down to the truck we loaded up and headed home with big smiles on our faces, meat in our coolers and (small) antlers for our walls. We were tired but ecstatic. My first deer tag, my first deer hunt, my first buck. Awesome!

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