Doubling Up on Coues

Posted on May 20, 2011

A father and son defy the odds, both taking trophy coues bucks in back-to-back seasons on public land in Arizona. 

By Brandon Ray

Rick Forrest With Hunted buck

Rick Forrest shot this velvet-clad coues buck spot-and-stalk in southern Arizona. He shot this 111-inch buck in late August 2010.

Rick Forrest is one of my favorite guys to write about. I’ve known him for 20 years. Not only is he a talented archer and a wildly successful bowhunter, he’s also an accomplished engineer. He’s designed such fine products as the Sonoran bow sight (my personal favorite) and the prototype for the popular Swhacker expandable broadhead, previously called the Sonoran broadhead. And one thing is for sure: He’s the real deal!

The 48-year-old is a hard-working family man who, along with his sweet wife, Peggy, has raised four kids. He’s a do-it-yourself kind of guy who lives for bowhunting. Through diligent year-round practice and fine-tuning, his bow shoots arrows like a laser beam at distances too far to mention. He has the patience of a silent monk when he sits behind big optics, dissecting the desert flats for hours on end in search of muleys and coues whitetails. He’s fit. And he doesn’t look to gadgets for shortcuts to his success.

He wears faded cotton camo, well-traveled hiking boot and invests big dollars in top-notch optics, because that’s the key to finding hard-to-see, mouse-colored desert bucks. He hunts the same ground––public land in southern Arizona––that’s open to any other over-the-counter bowhunter. The difference between him and the masses is his drive to succeed. If Rick finds a big buck in a stalkable location, the end result is almost guaranteed. Let’s just say I would not want Rick Forrest stalking me!

Rick Forrest behind a tripod-mounted 15x60 Zeiss binocular. Quality glass is key for finding hard-to-see desert bucks.

Rick has been successful with all sorts of game in his native Arizona. From big bull elk to turkeys, javelinas, lions, bears and deer, he’s hunted them all. But deer, either big muleys or secretive coues bucks, are his favorite game to hunt.

The tiny coues whitetail of the Southwest, which can be found in places like Old Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona, are considered by many to be one of bowhunting’s toughest trophies. Mature bucks often weigh only 90 to 110 pounds and have the reflexes of a long-tailed cat near a rocking chair! The minimum for inclusion in the Pope and Young Record Bookis a net typical score of 70 inches. The minimum for nontypicals is 80 inches. Nevertheless, make no mistake: Any coues buck with two ears and taken with a bow and arrow is a well-earned trophy!

Desert Tales

Eric Forrest

Eric Forrest stalked this mature coues buck as it was trailing a doe. The shot was 40 yards, and the buck’s rack gross-scored about 90 inches.

Rick has some incredible stories from the desert. He’s killed big color-phase black bears at midday over water in the spring season when the temperature topped 100 degrees. His trail cameras have captured illegal immigrants drinking from the same water troughs in which those big bears had just taken a bath. Yuck!

Then, there was the mountain lion he stalked and arrowed at close range. Another year, he spotted a monster tom lion through his big glasses. Later in the day, he chased that big lion with dogs, only to have the cat jump from the tree several times when it saw the hunters approaching. Finally, on the last ridge and up the last tree in sight, Rick stopped short and nailed the B&C cat in its perch with an arrow at 50 yards before it could jump the tree again.

One of Rick’s most unusual stories is the story of Dead Man’s Bluff. When Rick and I were hunting in the desert together a couple of years ago, I asked him how the prominent point from which we were glassing got its unique name.

“Because one time, when I climbed up here to set up my tripod and glass, I found a dead guy!” The deceased man––the apparent victim of a suicide––had been there a long time.

It’s to the point now that every year, Rick’s desert stories seem to better the previous year’s tale. But the father-son double on trophy coues bucks from the 2010-2011 season will be hard to top.

Coues Buck #1

Rick’s 2010 buck came almost by accident. It was bear season, late August, and Rick and son Eric were glassing prickly pear flats in the Santa Rita Mountains in search of a bear. Instead, they found a fine velvet-clad coues buck early in the morning. Rick told Eric to try a stalk.

The rugged landscape of southern Arizona is no country for wimps! Stalking tiny coues whitetails out here typically means long shots with a bow.

Eric closed the gap, but the vegetation was so thick and lush from the recent monsoons that he got too close before he saw the buck. Eric stalked within 5 yards of the velvet-antlered buck but still had no shot. Finally, the buck stood up. However, all Eric could see through the thick, green vegetation was the buck’s head. The big coues spooked and ran up a steep canyon.

Rick and Eric regrouped. It took them two hours, but they finally found the same buck bedded higher on the mountain. This time, Eric told his dad to try a stalk.

Rick closed the gap on the napping buck. Once within long-distance bow range, the deer got up and started feeding. Just as suddenly, the buck spooked, either seeing or smelling the hunter. As the buck trotted up the other side of a grassy bowl, Rick pegged him with the laser rangefinder. The buck stopped before topping the hill, and Rick nailed him with a carbon arrow at long range, tight behind the shoulder.

Rick and Eric found the buck piled up a short distance away. The date was August 29, 2010. The buck was estimated at 3 ½ or 4 ½ years old and had a dressed weight of 80 to 90 pounds. The buck’s rack had 10 total points and gross-scored 111 inches P and Y. It was Rick’s first-ever whitetail in velvet.

Eric Forrest’s ’10 Buck

Despite many weekends spent glassing and attempting stalks on both muleys and whitetails, it would be late December of the same year before 14-year-old Eric Forrest would kill his first coues buck with a bow.

On December 19th, Eric and Rick discovered a secluded waterhole (a dirt tank) in the Santa Rita Mountains. The small oasis was about one mile from the closest road. Eric found a shady place to hide, so he waited.

Late in the day, a decent buck approached the water, but he spotted Eric as he drew his bow. Eric fired the shot, but the alert buck jumped the string. It was a long walk back to the truck for the hard-hunting, frustrated teenager.

Rick Forrest stalked this big coues buck in January 2011. The buck’s rack gross-scored 117 inches and should net more than the 110-inch minimum for Boone & Crockett. It was the biggest-bodied coues buck (estimated dressed weight of 120 or 130 pounds) that Rick has ever shot.

Eric is not the type to give up easily. He realized that he needed a better hiding place. Early in the morning on the following day, Eric packed his Double Bull pop-up blind over his shoulder to the same waterhole, one mile from the closest road. After setting up the blind, he nocked an arrow, got comfortable in his new hiding place and prepared to sit all day, guarding the water.

The same eight-point buck from the previous evening showed up at midday. This time, the buck paid no attention to the new blind. Eric drilled the small-bodied buck through the chest at 25 yards. Eric’s first bow-killed coues whitetail gross-scored about 74 inches P AND Y.

2011: Rick Forrest, Coues Buck #2

The Arizona deer season starts fresh with the change of the calendar. So, starting on January 1, archery deer season begins again. Prior commitments at the annual Archery Trade Association Show kept Rick from hunting as much as he wanted to in early January. It wasn’t until January 14th, 2011, when Rick filled his next tag.

This time, Rick was hunting an extremely rugged and rocky series of steep canyons in the Catalina Mountains. From behind his tripod-mounted 15X binoculars, he spotted a big-bodied buck lying in the shade of a mesquite tree. Two does were bedded nearby, and the rut was on. The deer were 1½ miles away and three canyons over. But when the buck turned its head, Rick saw enough antler shine in the sun to know it was a buck worth pursuing.

Rick gathered his gear, snugged into his Badlands pack and started crossing canyons. When he closed to within 300 yards of the mesquite tree at which he’d last seen the buck, he donned soft fleece slippers over his boots to deaden the sound of his steps in the noisy rocks. He moved like a cat, glassing intently under every bush as he went. Finally, he spied the buck, now pushing the two does 150 yards up ahead. As Rick watched, the buck trailed the two does over the ridge.

Eric Forrest with his December 2010 Arizona coues buck. Eric shot this buck over water with a 60# PSE bow after missing a shot at the same buck the previous evening.

Rick moved quickly to the top of the ridgeline. When he peaked over, the buck was just below at 47 yards, staring at a doe. The rut-crazed buck never knew what hit him when the two-bladed expandable broadhead blew through his chest. The hard-hit buck ran 100 yards and then disappeared from view behind palo verde trees and saguaro cactus. It was now three hours into the hunt. Rick feared the shot might be too far back, but he hated the idea of leaving the buck overnight. In the desert, predators under the cover of darkness often clean up wounded bucks.

Always one to be patient, Rick quietly moved to a new vantage point and tried to relocate the hard-hit buck. After an hour behind the tripod-mounted Zeiss, he found the buck bedded down. Rick gave the buck some more time and quietly stalked in close for a finishing shot. At 12 yards, he put an insurance arrow into the big buck‘s chest.

The 6 ½-to-7 ½-year-old buck was the biggest-bodied coues buck––with antlers to match––Rick has ever killed. He estimates the buck’s dressed weight at 120 or 130 pounds. The old buck’s rack carried 10 points with a 17 ½-inch inside spread. Its bases measured 5 inches. The buck’s antlers gross-scored 117 inches P AND Y and was Rick‘s best ever coues buck. Rick suspects it’s the same big buck he saw in that area the previous year. The Arizona whitetail should net over the 110 inches Boone & Crockett minimum for typicals.

Racing against the dying sun, Rick snapped some photos and started dressing the buck. He was hunting alone. He carried the front half of the buck in a single load off the mountain and back to the truck. The hindquarters were cut and left hanging well off the ground in a mesquite tree.

The following morning, Rick and his oldest son, Josh, returned with frame packs to haul the rest of the meat off the mountain. When they approached the kill sight, they saw that coyotes had cleaned up all of the blood and the gut pile. The hindquarters were still untouched, hanging above the rocky desert ground in the same big mesquite tree in which Rick had left them the night before.

2011: Eric Forrest, Coues Buck #2

The day was January 15, 2011. Fresh off killing a whopper 117-inch buck the previous afternoon, Rick had to backpack into the Catalinas to retrieve the rest of his buck. So young Eric, his 2011 tag still good, decided to check a waterhole close to home in the Santa Rita Mountains, out in the desert flats.

As Eric surveyed the activity around the water tank (and scratching his head at his missing trail camera), he spied a buck pushing a doe on a nearby ridge. The buck was a good one and clearly focused on one thing: breeding that doe.

Eric closed the gap as the two rutting deer were completely focused on each other. First, the doe came by at a trot. The buck was also trotting too, and grunting, moving too fast for a shot. Eric kept them in sight, slowly following them. Eventually, the doe passed Eric again. This time, the buck followed and stopped. At 40 yards, Eric’s 60-pound PSE bow punched a carbon missile through the desert whitetail’s chest.

The mature coues buck’s rack had nine points and gross-scored 90 inches P AND Y. Eric called his dad to share the news. Not a bad season for a kid who’s not even old enough to drive! The Forrest family double-double was complete.

No Guarantees

There are few guarantees in a sport as difficult as bowhunting. Any sort of regular success, even on average-sized bucks, is unusual and always noteworthy. And repeated success on trophy-class bucks is rare indeed. If I did not write about these successes, few folks would know of Rick Forrest’s repeated success in the desert. Rick is not one to brag about such accomplishments. In a way, that humble attitude makes his stories even more interesting.

I’ve come to expect one constant every season: You can bet your favorite bow that Rick Forrest will punch his deer tag in the desert––and a great story will go along with that punched tag. Now that Eric is keeping pace with his dad, maybe Eric will be the one I interview more frequently in the years to come. I hope so! Bowhunting needs more eager, young guys like him.

Rick and Eric Forrest’s Hunting Gear

Rick Forrest shoots a PSE Axe 6 bow set at 72 pounds. He uses PSE Black Mamba 400 carbon arrows tipped with 125-grain Swhacker broadheads. Total arrow weight is 464 grains, and his rig shoots 310 fps. He also uses a Sonoran LR sight and a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest. Other gear includes a Zeiss 15×60 binocular, Leica Geovid 10×42 binocular, a Badlands 2200 pack and fleece booties to slip over his boots for the final stage of a stalk.

Eric Forrest just turned 15 this past January. He shoots a 60-pound PSE Bow Madness, along with PSE Bow Madness 300 carbon arrows tipped with 125-grain Swhacker broadheads. His finished arrows weigh 415 grains, and his rig shoots 290 fps. He also uses a Sonoran Mini D sight and a Whisker Biscuit arrow rest.

His dad recently gave him the ultimate desert bowhunting gear as a gift: a 15×56 Swarovski binocular. Now that Eric is armed with top-notch glass on a tripod, those desert bucks will be in even more trouble next season! –B.R.

Forrest Hunting Gear Contacts

Access the following websites for more details on some of Rick Forrest’s favorite gear:

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