Ron Shelton applies for an Arizona Coues’ deer license every year, but because the December hunt takes place early in the rut, there are a limited number of tags available.
Ron Shelton of Douglas, Arizona, poses with his trophy, public-land Coues’ whitetail.
Three days after Christmas, Ron drove to a remote spot early in the morning and arrived while it was still dark. It was unseasonably warm, with no wind, making it feel eerily still for the end of December.
After hiking about a half mile into the Chiricahua mountains, which is a very steep, rugged and diverse range, he reached his first glassing point and found a group of deer more than 1,500 yards away. Ron’s father and brother-in-law were along, and the trio made a move to get a better look. While hiking in, they jumped a nice 3x3 buck that bolted over the ridge before offering a shot.
The men continued to move closer to look at the original group of gray deer they’d glassed up. Ron was able to get within 700 yards and began glassing again, and soon spotted four bucks grazing on an open hillside. The hunter ran out of cover on the grassy open hillsides with scattered juniper and oak trees, forcing him to set up for a long-range, uphill shot.
This wasn’t the first day of hunting. Ron spends many days throughout the year scouting, but this was not a buck he had previously seen. He had hunted for five days prior and found two bucks that were in the 100-inch class. After missing one of the bucks, and days of glassing without the deer turning up again, Ron decided to try a different area where he had seen good bucks in the past. The avid Coues’ hunter was out of vacation days, which made the spot ideal as it was only an hour from his house, allowing him to spend half a day hunting before going in to work.
After a long season that tested Ron’s patience and endurance, he laid prone and steady behind his rifle. Ron gently squeezed the trigger, and the buck hit the dirt. Hours and days of toil in the steep terrain had paid off, and Ron and Lloyd hiked up the ridge to recover the animal. It had a rough score of 90 inches.
The hunter insists proper gear is the best way to ensure success. His rifle is a Browning X-Bolt Long Range .300 Winchester Magnum loaded with Hornady ELD-X ammunition and topped with a Vortex Viper HST 6-24x 50mm scope. His Kaibab 15x56 and Viper 10x42 binoculars gave him all the clarity needed to pick apart the hillsides from a distance.
“Coues’ deer hunting in Arizona is an addictive sport and is difficult to say the least. It was also a limited draw hunt, which puts some added pressure on. Any year that I am successful is meaningful, and I love the thrill of going out, hiking long distances, glassing all day and finally spotting something worth shooting. I attribute my success as a hunter to the days that I put in preparing by scouting, hiking all over the unit I’m drawn in and spending hours glassing,” he said.
Aram’s Coues’ Deer Quest
Aram von Benedikt spent several days behind 15x binoculars before finally finding a buck to shoot.
Aram von Benedikt is a public-lands warrior who thrives on getting into remote places for the ultimate hunting adventure. Here is his recount of an Arizona Coues’ deer hunt:
“Dust hung in the air and clung to my red-rimmed eyes while staring through a 15x binocular. I was deep into the last day of my first public-land Coues’ deer hunt, and something needed to happen soon or I’d be eating my tag. Coues’ deer had been on my bucket list for a long time, and I was hunting unguided on public land. The experience had been all I could expect, except for the lack of mature buck sightings. I believe in the adage about the value of a reward being in proportion to the effort spent to win it. So, deer or not, I was enjoying myself.
My rifle lay by my side, an old custom-shop Remington Mountain Rifle in .30-06. The magazine was loaded with sub-MOA-accurate handloads loaded with Nosler 180-grain Ballistic Tips. Topping the rifle was a 3-15x 42mm Zeiss Conquest HD5 riflescope featuring an RZ 800 reticle. It was a good combination, and I still hoped to put it to use before darkness fell across the saguaro and cholla.
Blinking my eyes, I looked over my big 15s. Mounted on a Woodsman tripod, they provided the ideal platform for dissecting distant ridges and canyons in search of the little gray deer. Staring at a distant cliff-topped peak, I swung the big glasses and looked. There, suddenly, startlingly, was what I had hunted so hard to find: A fully racked (though small) Coues’ deer buck. It stood at the base of the sheer cliff, gloriously obvious in the evening sunlight. I stared at it, my mind already working through the obstacles that lay between me and a shot.
The buck was just over 1,300 yards and three canyons away, all of it rugged as a mule’s attitude. Tossing my gear into my pack, I shrugged it on and began to run, scramble and fall, only to get up and run again. One canyon fell behind me, then the second, deeper one. The sun was down now, and shadows were darkening the landscape. Still, the buck stood motionless in the lowering twilight.
Good shooting light was almost gone, but my rifle was steady across my pack, the deer still standing motionless on its rock. I breathed deeply in a futile attempt to deter my heart from slamming around inside my ribcage so hard, then squeezed the trigger. A loud whop! announced a hit, and the buck bolted across the scree beneath the cliff. A second shot struck home, and the deer collapsed, the sound of the shot bouncing through the canyons.
Kneeling by the buck I gave thanks, the evening breeze feeling good on my sweat-soaked body. Stars blinked into shape in the darkening sky as I skinned, quartered and loaded the meat into my pack. Shouldering the heavy load, I lifted my rifle from its resting place against a barrel cactus and staggered my way off the mountainside. It was a good night. A good night indeed.”
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