HUNTING THE GREY GHOST.
I can still recall my most profound lesson in Coues' deer hunting. I was a young boy watching my dad, Randy, on a father-and-son hunt. My clad came up with the idea to draw an early rifle Coues' deer tag and hunt it with our bows. This might seem odd, but I learned a lot from this. The idea was simple. In late-October, the deer were difficult to find. But when you did find them, they would bed for most of the day. This gave us the opportunity to take more time on the stalks, and that's important because even though the Coues' deer are bedded, you can rest assured their senses are definitely not in sleep mode.
The first year we did this, my dad glassed up a small buck in a good spot. He made it clear what he was going to do. He studied the desert surroundings of the buck, which was bedded under a mesquite tree. Dad pointed out several prickly pear cactus and a few saguaro cactus that were within bow range of the buck. Checking the wind, he focused on a saguaro with a big rock pile. My dad felt he could remain completely out of view of the buck while sneaking in, then crawl the last 30 yards to that saguaro. I was a sponge, and I completely absorbed what he was talking about.
After two hours of watching it all unfold, my dad crawled right up to the saguaro and rock pile. It was like watching a movie from my mountain vantage point. He pulled out his old double-image rangefinder and got his range. Making sure to draw back behind the saguaro, he then slowly leaned out from behind it and release the most educational arrow I have ever witnessed. The arrow found its mark. This moment was a turning point for me. My father had just given me a blueprint of how to effectively spot and stalk big game.
Here in Arizona, Coues' deer are nicknamed the "Grey Ghost." It's cliche, but they have definitely earned that nametag. I have enjoyed growing up in the heart of their habitat, and they have always been one of my favorite animals to chase. Many different methods are used to hunt Coues' deer, with spot and stalk being a very popular and effective technique in Arizona. Waterhole hunting is another popular technique, and you tend to have a better opportunity in a controlled situation. Sounds easy enough, but there are a few factors to consider. Whether you're hunting them in velvet or during the rut, the following tips and tactics can help.
Quality optics are a must. Sometimes you're behind your optics the better part of a day, and clear, sharp glass is critical. My bag of optics includes a set of 10x50 binoculars around my neck, and a set of 15x56 binosanda 70X spotting scope in my pack. A great tripod and head are just as important. You need a combination that is lightweight, allows you to scan smoothly, and is very stable when sitting behind it.
My 10x50s are primarily used for stalks. When I'm walking in and out of my glassing spots, I continually look around to make sure I'm not spooking any unseen deer. My 15x56s help me with the longer looks, and for picking up details in heavy brush or thickets. The spotting scope is used for evaluating the quality of a buck that I'm studying, to determine if it is worthy of a stalk.
When climbing to your glassing spot, stay off the skyline and be as quiet as possible. I can't count how many times I've had deer right around me as I've reached my glassing spot. I recently discussed Coues' deer glassing techniques with my good friend Cody Nelson, who is the optics manager at goHUNT.com. We share similar styles, and Cody has shared many of his strategies, like glassing the ocotillo thickets. We talked about starting points that we like--glassing the saddles and skylines because of good visibility, and in case a buck is leaving the area. I will then work any spots that strike me as a nice-looking place for deer to hang out. I've often spotted them in prickly pear patches, around oak trees, and in mesquite thickets. These little guys can also pop up in some pretty odd places.
As soon as I have glassed the obvious locations, I slow my glassing way down. I actually start looking for sheds or white bones to help "detail" my glassing. I once glassed up a set of sheds from a Coues' buck my dad had taken. It scored 120 inches, so it wasn't too challenging to see. By concentrating on such detail, deer stand out when I pan by. Occasionally you'll glass a deer bedded. But most of the time you'll catch the movement of them running, walking, rubbing their antlers, or just feeding. Hiking deeper into an area tends to be better, but I've seen some great bucks in some very accessible locations.
SPOT AND STALK
Deciding whether to spot and stalk or sit on water depends on the situation. If you have knowledge of a buck habitually hitting the same water source, that might just be the answer to your question. Or perhaps the buck is in a great area for a stalk. Unfortunately, it never seems to be that easy, so keep all options on the table.
Find an area conducive for spot-and-stalk hunting by studying a topographical map of the desired hunt unit, Seek out high points that overlook canyons and water sources. This is trial by error, and it can take time to pin down the best area. Keep in mind, Coues' whitetails are like all deer and have great senses of smell, sight, and hearing, so you'll have to be on your best game, and you'll likely need the help of a good spotter who can give you hand signals during your stalk.
There is a very strong possibility that once you locate a target buck, he will stay in the area. I have witnessed them staying within two miles of a spot the entire season chasing their does.
The fun begins once your glassing skills have helped you locate your buck. Use those same glassing skills to start planning your stalk. You'll have to get the wind right, and it also helps to have a set of "sneaky feet" in your pack for when you get close. Once a buck beds down and I can get to him fairly quickly, I look for some kind of cover within bow range of the buck that I can sneak up to without exposing myself to the animal. A boulder, thick tree, bush, or even the curve of a hill will work.
One mistake I've seen countless hunters make is when closing in the final 100 to 50 yards, they feel the need to look at the animal. If you have a spotter, rely on them. Don't look until they signal you're in shooting range. Remember, if you can't see the deer, they most likely can't see you. Sounds simple, but without fail I have seen hunters fall into the temptation to sneak a peek, only to be busted. Always assume the deer are where you left them, unless your spotter signals otherwise.
When you are ready to look, do so through low bushes while staying in the shadows of larger vegetation. Looking through low bushes breaks up your silhouette, and if there's a breeze, the bush can cover up some movement. Keep your movements slow and methodical. Carelessly looking around or over rocks and bushes will only get you busted. Having the sun behind you helps, as deer have a hard time seeing into the sun. But I can't reiterate it enough: You need to stay completely out of view until you have reached your shooting spot. This is one of the first and most valuable hunting lessons I've learned from my dad.
Hunting Coues' deer over water sounds easy, but trust me, there's a lot of work that goes into it. Explore available water sources, looking for big-buck tracks. Once you find a well-used water source, there are several important things to consider when setting up your blind or treestand. Study the wind, and set up so you're not contaminating the area with your scent. You may even need to set up two different blinds or treestands, in case the wind changes. Treestands always seem to be the better option. Ground blinds can be effective, but often there's just not enough vegetation to hide them. I have seen deer refuse to come to water because the ground blind was too obvious. Coues' deer are very aware of their desert surroundings, but if you're hunting in higher desert with juniper and lush vegetation, you can get away with ground blinds.
The advantage of pop-up ground blinds is you can draw your bow undetected, unlike in a makeshift brush blind where your movement can get you busted. I've had times when I absolutely could not use a ground blind and was forced to use a deadfall from the desert, which can be very scarce. If the ground is soft, you can dig a hole to lower your silhouette.
Once in a brush-blind setup, it's imperative to be completely still. Maintaining your position can be difficult with the sun beating down on you for countless hours, but I have seen Coues' deer come to water at all hours of the day, so you must remain still and alert.
A big Coues' buck will weigh about 80 to 100 pounds dressed, so they are very small, which means their vitals are very small. And, they are extremely skittish animals that give new meaning to the phrase "jumping the string." You must be within your effective range, and if they're completely unaware of your presence, you will have a better chance of making a good shot. They say arrow speed isn't everything, but it can definitely make or break your Coues' deer hunt. When setting up my PSE bow, I try to get as much speed as possible without compromising accuracy and penetration.
Coues' deer hunting has brought so much fun and happiness to our family. I hope it does the same for you, too.
The author is an accomplished bowhunter from Arizona who has often shared his expertise with Bowhunter readers.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My preferred equipment as of late includes a PSE Stealth Carbon Air bow, C8E sight, Scott release aid, Bohning Blazer Vanes, G5 broadheads, KUIU clothing and pack, and Swarovski optics.
Caption: No type of bowhunting is more demanding of serious optics than Coues' deer hunting. You need a combination of sharp, clear glass and plenty of magnification if you hope to find a buck in the desert terrain. A Coues' buck (right) is small, wary, quick, and quite possibly bowhunting's greatest challenge.
Caption: This is one of the better Coues' bucks I've killed. They are lightning-quick, and one of my favorite animals to bowhunt.
Caption: The best way to quiet your approach on any stalk is to wear some type of "sneaky feet," I simply glue a piece of high-quality shag carpet to the soles of my stalking shoes, and strap them to my pack until I need them.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2019|
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