Ghosts of the Southwest
By Jake Lindsey
Whether you say “cooze” or “cows,” the style of hunting this deer is the same hard-nosed, eye-straining, feet-falling-asleep-while you’re glassing sort of fun! There’s an understanding among deer hunters that these beautiful animals will test all of hunting’s strategies to the max! Studying the animal and its habits is almost as addicting as the hunt itself.
The draw gods smiled upon me once again last summer as I walked away with yet another December Coues rifle tag! Not only would I be hunting during the rut, I drew in a unit where monster bucks are taken every year. Mentally and physically, these deer will cause all sorts of wonderful strain. From the deep brushy canyons they roam in, to the ocotillo covered mountain tops, their habitats aren’t for the weak.
Obsession with these animals grabs a hold of you like the cat-claw brush they live in. Visions of these ghosts of the southwest will stick with you like the cholla does to you leg. Those of you who don’t know what a cholla cactus is, you’ll find out sooner or later if you chase these wily whitetails.
Preparation this year began with some scouting for my father Phillip’s hunt. His tag was in another of our favorite units that holds a tremendous amount of deer. He drew an early Coues rifle tag that takes place every year about the last week in October. I put to bed a real good 3x4 the evening before his hunt began. Those of you who aren’t familiar with how we identify deer in the southwest, here’s your first lesson taught in “S.W. DEER 101.” Although eye-guards are counted as a point and factored into the equation when scoring your trophy, it’s typically not mentioned when identifying the animal. We also count a Coues buck’s antlers from side to side, like a mule deer, not all together. An eight point whitetail rack back east would be called a 3x3 if it were a Coues. There are a few Coues hunters out there who don’t follow this, however, they are typically identified this way.
My father did a fantastic job for his age and physical abilities during his hunt. We weren’t able to find that nice 3x4 but we “settled” for a beautiful 3x3 later that opening morning. By then we had already passed up four different bucks. On a good day, you can expect to see 10-15 bucks during the first two Coues rifle hunts. However, don’t be surprised if you see more. Much of your time will be spent behind the binoculars, spotting these deer at more than a mile away. After determining trophy size, either your stalk begins or back to glassing another canyon or hillside for the buck you’ve been waiting for. It’s fascinating watching these animals from a distance in their normal routine.
Two weeks later, I joined Lance and Carrie in the same unit to help fill their tags. This hunt usually takes place about the 2nd week in November. Opening morning, Carrie was passing up bucks that most beginner hunters would have died to have a chance at. She’s a more disciplined hunter than most of us were at that stage. We found close to 20 bucks that day. With the great amounts of rain in ’03 and ’04, it was able to sustain does through their gestation period. There were plenty of one and two year old bucks and the horn growth was phenomenal! Only having two days to hunt, we spotted more than 40 bucks during that time. Lance filled the freezer, while Carrie flung plenty of lead. That was the guides’ fault, right Carrie? Although my wife may disagree with this statement, all of this hunting helped me prepare for my own hunt. She was especially understanding with the amount of time away I spent. Thanks again, babe.
Finally, the day came to chase after a buck myself. A friend of mine from Tucson joined me and set up for the afternoon hunt and began scanning the hills for bucks during their midday stretch. Often times you’ll catch a buck moving from one side of a tree or bush to the other to stay in the shade. You may also spot the flick of an ear or the tine of an antler from a bedded buck. If you spend enough time behind the glass, you’ll find out what I’m talking about. It’s not uncommon to spend 6-8 hours a day behind the binoculars and tripod.
We had found a few small bucks that evening when all of a sudden Mark spotted a rather large-bodied deer about 800 yards away. After putting the 15’s on him, we found this buck to be exactly what I was holding out for – a toad! His main beams and tines were incredible. After going out of sight of the buck for the stalk, we cut the distance in half and peeked over the ridge to find him. He was gone. We spent the next half hour of daylight picking the hill apart in search of the monster; nothing. During the walk back to the truck, we came to one conclusion – 99 out of 100 stalks with the same scenario would have been successful. That’s hunting. I can still see his every characteristic when I close my eyes.
I’ve decided name him Nessy. We’ll see if he turns up next year. Although I never did see him again, I couldn’t leave the area with all the bucks I was finding. We were averaging close to 20 bucks a day with three times the amount of does running from these bucks. One of these bucks sported a huge two point rack (not counting eye guards) that would score in the mid 90’s! What a neat opportunity it was to watch him for two hours at 400 yards
During this time, with the help of Lance and his son Ty, I took a shot at a beautiful 3x3 that was a 100” class buck. To this day I don’t know what went wrong but I didn’t connect. Before I knew it the last day of the hunt had arrived. I’d had, no doubt, the hunt of a lifetime, so going home without a buck wouldn’t be going home “empty handed.” I had learned some phenomenal area and had seen some great bucks. The tag was well worth the wait.
For the last day I had a couple of good friends and some family helping. Casey’s Processing in Flagstaff, AZ Makes some incredible jalapeno and cheese summer sausage, so if there wasn’t a 3x3 first thing in the morning, I was considering a “sausage buck”.
First thing, we had two different three point bucks lined up! After about 30 minutes of looking for a buck a little closer, my friend found a big buck chasing a doe just below us in the canyon bottom. After sneaking over to him and scanning the area for about 40 minutes, the elusive buck was found on the far side of the canyon, keeping an eye on his doe. Just before I settled in for the shot, the buck bedded in the open. After settling in again he stood and started feeding, quartering away from me. I gave a loud grunt across the canyon and he stopped to looked back. My friend had ranged him to be 500 yards. I had spent plenty of time at the ranged this year (my wife can attest to that also) and felt more than comfortable making this shot. Many Coues hunters shoot magnum rounds for the distance and ballistics that these shots require. A rifle that you shoot well is of course more important than anything , but be prepared to shoot 300+ yards at these beautiful pint-sized deer
BOOM! The shot rang out and my buddy let out a wonderful, “You hit him!” The bullet entered the last rib, traveled through the cavity, broke the far shoulder and lodged underneath the hide. The buck took a few limping steps down hill and immediately bedded. I didn’t have a good shot at him bedded so I had to move closer- something that couldn’t have been done earlier without the Couse buck seeing me and taking his doe elsewhere. By the time I had set up for the finishing shot, my brother and his two boys met me there. We set up the binoculars for my ten year old nephew to watch. As the buck stood up I shot again from 250 yards and he went down for good. After getting all our gear together the two boys were basically half-way down the mountain in search of the buck. We were all ecstatic to find that the buck was a little bigger than we had initially thought. After checking the buck out, we found him to be one of the same bucks that I had passed up a few days earlier with Lance and Ty.
Take your kids hunting it’s priceless! Coues deer is by far my favorite animal to rifle hunt. They’ll try you to the very end. There is something special about being the first one out there, well before light, hiking to the tallest peak only to find that there’s one much higher with a better vantage point. You’ve got to do it. You can’t stop there. The buck you’ve waited many years for may be on the back side of that ridge, undisturbed, or possibly unseen by the human eye.
My buck was aged to be 6-7 years old. If you want to experience the Coues deer hype that’s got the Southwest deer hunters in a frenzy, come have some fun with us this year. The Quality and quantity are up in Arizona Coues deer, with the mass and tine length to compliment them both! If you haven’t caught Couse fever yet, you’re missing out!
Remington 700 in 338 Win mag. With a 25” floated medium Shillen barrel.
225 grain Hornady spire point bullet. (factory load)
Leapold V X 111 6.5-20 x 40 with target turrets.
Harris pivoting bipod.