When the month of August rolls around, I have one thing on my mind when it comes to hunting. For those that know me, you know that the answer to that is bears. Over the years, bears have become my favorite species to pursue here in Arizona. This hunt that takes place at the end of August has become one of my most anticipated hunting camps of the year. I get together with friends and family to escape the heat/daily grind of city life. Camp is filled with shenanigans, laughs, and sometimes we come home with something that has a tag wrapped around it. While this is mainly a bear hunt for me most years, this year was different. For one, we had some new company in camp. Good company and some folks that I wouldn’t hesitate sharing a camp with again. For another, I had already filled my bear tag earlier this spring. I still had a coues deer tag in my pocket though…
Being that I was fortunate enough to fill my bear tag earlier in the year, my plan was to help out my brother Jake and friend Cody fill their bear tags. We would focus our efforts in an area that has become more special to me than most. An area that I hold dear and one that holds more than a few memories in it. If we couldn’t find any bears in this spot, we would start jumping from area to area in order to locate a few. On top of that, we could keep our eyes out for coues deer. Cody and I had archery coues deer tags in our pockets and would have been glad to fill our freezers with fresh venison. Who wouldn’t right?
The night before opening day, we sat in camp and fantasized about what would happen over the next few days. Would we be able to find bears? We did locate some nice bucks through scouting, so that was exciting. Either way, all of us were just happy to be out there. Just one another’s company was satisfying enough, regardless of any tags getting filled. Having this kind of mindset in the field is always the makings of a great hunt. We were ready.
After chugging down some coffee and scarfing breakfast, we were on our way through the darkness of morning. This is one of my favorite times of the day. Our headlamps only shined so far, but our imaginations were endless. Only time would tell what lay ahead. An hour later we were in our glassing spot and ready to begin our search. The morning was quiet and still. Jake and Cody set up to glass, while I snuck my way up the drainage to try and locate a bear. In years past, this usually doesn’t take me that long. This year was much different though. There was a complete lack of food in the area to sustain the bears. No food, no bears. This had me worried.
From sunup to sundown, we sat in our spot. All the while waiting for that similar sight of a bear sauntering its way through the thickets beneath us. This day was fruitless in the name of bears, but rich in laughs and memories. It’s a good thing we all get along so well, because after only seeing two coues deer and two coyotes in 14 hours, one of us might have gone insane. As the sun fell behind the mountains and we made the hike back to camp, we were pretty set on hunting a different area the next day. One spot in particular stood out to me and also was filled with nostalgia, much like the rest of the country we were in. A few years before, I had blown a stalk on a giant coues buck in that very spot. That memory was still fresh in my mind that night in camp. I was eager for an opportunity to redeem myself. Until then though, my pillow called my name.
Adaptation (Day 2)
3:30 a.m. came quicker than we all wanted on the second day of our hunt. After rolling out of bed and firing up the stove, we were wide awake and ready to get after it. I knew we were going to see bucks this morning, but I didn’t want to say anything to Jake and Cody. I would just let the events unfold before them. The moon was fairly bright, which let us traverse our way through the scrub oak flats that led to our glassing spot without a headlamp. Just before arriving, we jumped a lone deer that had been feeding on the very flat we were walking on. A good omen for the morning.
Right off the bat Cody glassed up a 3×3 coues buck working the drainage right below us. In years past I had seen deer use that very trail and end up in a meadow to our right. I was confident that the buck would end up on that same trail. We waited and scanned the area to no avail. The buck went somewhere, but not where I thought he would go. He disappeared on us and never showed himself again. Even though we didn’t get a play on him, it was a great start to the day. “The area was still good,” I thought to myself.
Now that’s a Deer!
Shortly afterward, I glassed up a bachelor group of coues bucks working their way down a small cut in the hill across from us. Probably a mile or so away at this point. I bounced from buck to buck with my binoculars before I saw him. A true giant of the landscape. “Now, that’s a deer!” I said. In total, there were 4 bucks. We watched as they fed into a thicket right below where we first saw them. For a few minutes, they didn’t move 10 yards. I remember saying, “I think I should go run over there.” Cody replied with, “Um, yeah. I think you should probably do that!” In no time at all, my pack was on my back and my bow was in my hand. I was on my way.
Every stalk that I go on, I seem to have the same things running through my mind on the way over there. There is a lot of “I hope this works out.” A pinch of “This is probably not going to work out.” With a dose of “You know how to do this, so go and do it.” On my way, I was replaying the events of the last stalk I went on in this very area. The same route lay beneath my feet that did before. On that stalk, the deer busted me before I even got up to them. It was fun going after them, but left me heartbroken after the fact, knowing that I didn’t even get into bow range of them. Coues deer are notoriously on edge and ready to jump at any moment to avoid danger. My only hope was that the same scenario didn’t repeat itself.
“You know how to do this, so go and do it.”
I remember reaching a certain boulder that I had to climb up. Once I got up to the top, I would now be on the same flat as the deer. From here, the game started. As I made my way over to the feeding coues bucks, I was appreciative of how much rain we had been getting. The moisture made the ground soft, which quieted my foot fall. The stalking conditions were perfect. Wind was blowing in my face and I had a line of shadows and brush to work my way closer to the animals. At this point I was starting to feel like this might actually work out. 150 yards and closing.
When I reached about 100 yards, I noticed a buck walking from left to right in front of me. It was a tall forked horned buck that was oblivious of my presence…..for now. I ranged that deer at 115 yards. Soon after I noticed another buck walking out from my left. I ranged that deer at 111 yards. When that deer went behind a tree, I slowly kept moving forward. As I did this though, I noticed that the first buck had spotted me. Luckily, I was in the shade of a juniper. Slowly, I moved to my left to put a small tree in between me and that buck’s eyes. I kept pushing forward.
After moving about 10-15 yards closer, I noticed yet another buck standing in the shade of a juniper to my left. This buck was not aware of my presence. I raised my rangefinder and it read 83 yards. Through the 8x glass I could see that the buck had a nice little basket rack on him. The bigger buck had not shown himself yet and this is where my focus shifted. Up until this point, I had never tagged a coues deer with my bow. As I looked at this buck in front of me, I could feel the excitement flowing through my body. It felt right.
“What was big was not the trout, but the chance. What was full was not my creel, but my memory.” ~ Aldo Leopold
A Case of the Shakes
I remember my right hand shaking as I clipped my release onto the D loop of my string. That string was soon sitting in the corner of my mouth with my nose resting on it. The pin jumped and danced around that buck like a firefly before settling itself on the intended destination of my arrow. When it did, I pulled the trigger and watched as the arrow arched through the air and drop right down into the deer. My anxiety was put to rest with the noise of my arrow running through that buck and dropping him in the shade of that juniper. No tracking job necessary. I had just killed my first coues deer with a bow.
I waited to walk up on my buck until Jake and Cody arrived, so we could do so together. They were just as much a part of this experience, and I felt it was only right. When they got to where I was, we hugged like we hadn’t seen one another in years, even though it had only been 30 minutes or so. Laying my hands on my buck for the first time was pretty surreal. I had dreamed about taking a coues with my bow for years and finally did it. Not to mention, the place I did it in was just as special as the event at hand. Having these great people with me to take photos and help take care of this deer in the field was priceless. This is the stuff you cannot buy in a store.
The pack out was a pleasant one. A coues deer between the 3 of us made for short work back to camp. We had about 1 1/2 miles to get back to the truck. When we got there, we planned on drinking cold drinks and cooking fresh tenderloins on the fire. You can bet we did. That afternoon was filled with laughs and appreciation. We were all so appreciative of the opportunity that we all have to come out on our public lands and do things like we just did. In a morning, we went out, killed a deer, came back, and ate it over a fire. Like I said, priceless.
We ended up hunting that evening and the next morning. All the while recounting the events of what we all experienced. For Jake, it was him getting to witness his brother kill a buck in a unit that has a 1% success rate on the archery hunt. He couldn’t stop telling me how proud he was of me. For Cody, it was the start of an undying love and addiction for the hunting lifestyle and long lasting friendships. As for me? While I didn’t fill my tag on the giant we located, I did fill something else. That something else is my memory. The memory of this hunt is bigger than any buck I will ever kill in the future. This is one that will float its way across many campfires.