Arizona Coues - Solo Deer Hunt in 2023
First of all, what an amazing experience and trip! This was my first time hunting these southern whitetail deer, AKA (Odocoilues virginianus cousi), and what a challenging and rewarding hunt it was.
I have always loved the high desert, a place with quiet, lonely nights that seem like you can see forever as the lights twinkle in the distance. First, I'll give a little background on myself. I am a California native, born and raised near Yosemite National Park. I harvested my first mule deer from Colorado in 1987, and two years later, I shot my first blacktail deer in my home state of California. I have since harvested around 25 bucks, the last being in 2010.
In 2009, I started guiding professionally in Alaska and, shortly after, in Wyoming. I have successfully guided around 125 big game animals ranging from Dall sheep, brown bears, grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, deer, and elk. My personal hunting came to a pause as the time I spent at home during hunting season was spent trying to put my kids on animals, which is more rewarding to me than harvesting an animal myself. As it were, between clients and my kids, there was just no extra time for personal hunting.
My good friend and professional guide in Arizona, Tim Winslow, has been trying to persuade me to hunt Coues for years, so it has always been on my radar and in 2023, it all came together. I put my name in for the draw, and after receiving "Unsuccessful," I figured maybe next year. After a while, I received a call from Arizona Fish and Game informing me that another hunter had turned in their Coues tag this year and with me being next in line, it was mine if I wanted it. I did want it, and then the hunt was on.
I can say that my excitement level was at a 10/10 because this was my first hunt for myself in 13 years. I started researching. I spent hours reading everything I could on these little deer and watching every YouTube video I could find. Many hours were spent on my OnX Hunting app as I pinned north-facing slopes, spots as far as possible from the public roads, and anything else that looked promising. I talked with some friends, and they shared different waypoints with me that could possibly hold deer. I was ready to put the smackdown on a 100-inch. "Should be no problem," I thought to myself, "I'm a hunting guide with plenty of kills under my belt. I've got this!" It was time for a reality check as I quickly realized that having the best optics, best gear, and a lot of hunting experience just didn't work in Coues Country.
Solo Deer Hunt Journal
On the first morning of this solo deer hunt, I was two miles in, sitting in 30-degree weather, and very thankful for my heated TideWe jacket. It took me four hours to spot my first three does, and little did I know it would be my only spot of the day as I stayed in the same location for the remainder of the day. It was already dark as I walked back to where my truck was parked. I went over to where I had hidden my truck keys under a rock, sitting next to a tree, and panic started to set in as I realized they were gone. After 20 minutes of checking under every rock and tree around, I prayed that I could find these keys. I then started a grid search, walking back and forth through the brush, and found my keys about 35 feet down the hill. Judging by the little bite marks all over the key fab, I figured a packrat had attempted to add to his collection.
Days 2,3, and 4 were much the same as I found a handful of does in different locations, but still no bucks. I was giving each spot a complete, dedicated day of glassing, but I may have given it longer. This was proving to be tough.
On the 5th day, I finally found a Coues buck. The deer was trotting along at about 400 yards, and because of it moving, I never reached for my gun. I'm not necessarily a trophy hunter, but after looking at this buck, it just wasn't the size of a buck that I wanted, nor did I put an itch in my trigger finger.
The last morning of my hunt had arrived day 6. I woke up early and hiked to my glassing knob, and frustration started to build as I just couldn't seem to spot the deer. I wasn't sure of the buck-to-doe ratio, but mine for this trip was 24:3 in 6 days of hard hunting. I managed to spot 2 more bucks that morning before I left to go home. I put my gun scope on them at around 300 yards and watched them as they made their way over the ridge line. As with the other buck, they just weren't what I came here for, and I didn't want to kill just to put another notch in my gun.
Solo Deer Hunt Enlightenment
Even though I didn't fill my tag like I wanted, I still felt like I had a great hunt. My main takeaway from this trip was that the method of glassing matters. I learned that I needed to put my tripod in one spot and not try to see every hillside in sight. I believe I was overlooking them by scanning as I normally would instead of slowing down and concentrating on one spot. In the end, the trip was all I had hoped for and more. I can't wait to hit it again next year and get my 100 incher, because I got it all figured out now.