Adventure: The Search for a Coues Deer

Posted on March 31, 2013


Excitement fills the air as this bowhunter heads toward the rugged mountains of Southern Arizona, all in search of the cagey, gray ghost Coues deer.


I tucked my face into my Sitka jacket as the cold morning breeze stung my cheeks. Growing up in North Dakota, I have spent many hours in a tree stand enduring subarctic temperatures, but those years have passed. Everyone hears about sunny Arizona and how unbelievably hot the weather is, so I was somewhat shocked by the brisk temperature on the first morning of my hunt. In fact, I was a little worried that I had not packed enough warm equipment for this hunt as I dug through my pack looking for a facemask. I was beginning to think that the Sitka blacktail deer hunt I had originally planned going on may have been a warmer adventure.


It was early July when my friend Ron called to give me the bad news. He was not going to be able to go on the December Sitka deer hunt on Kodiak Island that we had been planning for the last several years. Ron’s friend in Alaska was going to handle all the hunt arrangements, so I knew when Ron was not able to make the hunt most likely it would all have to be postponed for another year.

Deer Hunt

The author was surprised the deer began moving later in the morning and at how skittish the deer were when hearing the slightest bit of noise when moving in a blind.


Change of Plans

At first I was really bummed out, but then I remembered a chance encounter I had at the Pope and Young Club Convention in Rochester, Minnesota. I was out for dinner with several friends when Steven Ward, of Ward’s Outfitters, joined us. For several years I had heard great things about his deer-hunting operation. During the next couple of days I had several opportunities to talk with Steven about Coues’ deer hunting. At the end of the convention, we exchanged phone numbers and kept in touch.


Almost immediately after hearing the disappointing news from Ron, I called Steve to see if he had any openings for his January Coues’ deer rut hunt. I was elated to hear that he had two last minute openings for the second week of January. I quickly booked one of the slots and went from being down in the dumps to extremely excited about the upcoming hunt, even though it was several months away.


Keeping Tabs on Big Bucks

Over the next several months, Steven kept me updated on the bucks he and his guides were seeing while scouting. He sent multiple trail camera pictures of some great mature bucks, any of which I would be more than happy to take home to Wyoming if given the chance.


As I boarded the plane bound for Tucson, I could not believe that I was finally going on my first try for Coues. I had always dreamed of someday hunting the gray ghosts of the southern deserts. Coues’ deer were named in honor of Elliot Coues, whom was a naturalist that first identified this subspecies of whitetail deer. They are located in New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico and are the only subspecies of whitetail deer to be separately recognized by the Pope and Young Club. A mature Coues’ buck is barely 32 inches tall and will tip the scales at a mere 110 pounds. Due to their southerly home range, they typically rut in late December and January. These cagey little deer are said to be one of the toughest animals to take with bow and arrow tackle.


I was picked up at the airport by one of Steven’s guides and taken to the Dream Catcher bed and breakfast located south of Wilcox, Arizona. The accommodations and food at the Dream Catcher are simply amazing. I gained a few pounds on this hunt due to the unbelievable four-course meals we had every night when we returned from the field.


That night, Steven introduced me to Ross, my guide for the week. Steven went over a safety briefing and told us what to expect on our hunts. The week prior several bucks had been rattled into bow range with an absolute monster falling to one lucky hunter’s well-placed arrow. I learned that a typical day’s hunt would consist of our guides dropping us off at ground blinds, which were overlooking water sources, natural salt licks or baited stations. If the deer were not coming into the blinds, we would get aggressive and attempt to rattle or call in a love-sick buck.


bow hunter

Stafford poses with his first-day buck, which he shot at 20 yards as it approached his ambush area.


By Jason Stafford


For the full story, check out the May issue of Bow & Arrow Hunting!

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