Those of you who have known me for some time have known about “the curse”. I have lived in Arizona for over 16 years and have been hunting here about 10 of those years, I suppose. My inability to harvest any big game has stymied me to the point where I labeled it “the curse”. Intellectually, there were lots of logical reasons for “the curse”. For a lot of years I hunted alone and frankly – didn’t know what I was doing. (I know more than I did, but am still a novice at Western hunting!) Also – my wife has some health problems which really limit my time afield. Nearly always, my hunts are of the “commuter” variety; at best, I can scrape a night or two away from home during a season.
It got so bad that I was worried the curse was hereditary. In 2010 though, my daughter Mikaela proved that theory wrong, when she harvested her first javelina.
Javelina (pigs, as they are referred to here) have been my nemesis. Every year, I trudge the desert, bow in hand. Every year I eat “tag soup”. But I have failed at tagging other species as well. Now, lots of people have tried to help break the curse. My friend Greg McBride helped out on my one and only elk hunt so far, and he helped again last year with a premium Unit 33 December Coues tag. My friend John has taken a crack at the curse as well, hosting me for a southern Arizona Coues hunt. Good friend Terry Herndon helped me on an antelope tag last year in Unit 21. Call it the curse, call it my rookie mistakes, call it limited time afield – but big game tags continued to go unfilled.
Friend John Greiss reached out to me this year – he was determined to help break the curse. He and friend Josh Smith were in on Mikaela’s javelina. As a matter of fact, John won the Game and Fish Mentor of the Year award this year – the number of first harvests John has assisted on are staggering… John suggested what Unit and tag to put in for – Coues in Unit 22, and promised to help. I drew the tag and John made plans.
My wife was able to line up overnight care for 2 nights. That meant I would head up an meet John after dropping Mikaela off at school, hunt the rest of Friday, all day Saturday and most of Sunday if needed. I was at the rendezvous spot by 9:15 AM and around 10:30 or so, John arrived from afield to pick me up. He was excited; they’d seen some bucks that morning and friend Dan had even taken a long shot at one, using Josh’s newly-won long-range rifle. It was a miss though, and Josh and Dan were still out there, hard at it.
John and I took an arduous journey out towards the spot. Well over 10 miles out, we stopped and glassed some spots where John had spotted a good buck, a couple of months before.
Glassing for Coues in Unit 22
After about an hour there with no luck – we headed towards the area that Josh and Dan were hunting and had seen the bucks earlier. This is rugged country, rocky terrain covered in small mountains, canyons and rolling hills.
Unit 22 Arizona
John glassing for Coues
Arizona Unit 22 north of Gisela
After we started seeing does, John glassed up a decent buck and we got word to Josh and Dan across the canyon. We tried to direct them down into shooting position but to no avail. We watched helplessly as the buck and his partners trotted up over the hill and out of sight. Dusk came and we had a long ride back into camp. John was a great host, fixing an awesome evening meal of dove, elk bratwurst, tuna and corn. We hit the hay and quickly fell asleep. 4:30 AM cam early, aggravated by the fact that we had all gotten up shortly after 1, due to a trailer being on fire nearby. It was hard to get back to sleep after the excitement in the RV park!
Another long, cold ride out before first light. It was cool seeing elk along the road “in town” and we safely made it to the glassing spot we had left the evening before. With John, Josh and I perched on the hill scouring the opposite hillsides, it wasn’t long before John spotted a fork and two spikes. I was after any legal deer, so we formulated a plan and the game was on. Josh and I would jump in the Ranger and drive across the end of the big canyon we were on, to the backside of the hills across from us. From there we would hike down onto one of the fingers, and try to get positioned for a shot across to the other finger that the deer were on. We grabbed what we needed and away we went.
Deer were over there!
Josh and I got over to the other side, and we headed down the finger we wanted, while John watched the movements of the deer. We’d creep for awhile, then stop and glass ahead of us. Eventually the deer were in sight but we were straining to get set up. Finally, the fork was in view, and we were positioned to shoot. Of course, I had forgotten all of my shooting gadgets in the Ranger, and there was no way to go prone (my favorite position). Josh had his tripod. He ranged the fork at 274 yards. My .270 WSM was zeroed at 300 yards, so I was confident in the shot. Josh turned his pan-head sideways to act as a rest. I got the rifle up, found the deer and squeezed off the shot. BOOM. “Looks like a clean miss”, Josh said.”Yep – there he goes”. I was pretty frustrated with myself. I had been fighting my scope finding a good sight picture, but really thought I had made a good shot. Way back in my mind I heard the little voice “Here we go again – the curse”. Josh watched that deer until he was sure the miss was clean. “One of the spikes is still there” Josh whispered. “Just down from where the fork was. 209 yards”. I found the deer, took a breath, and squeezed the trigger. KA-BOOM. “I don’t see him”, said Josh. “How did you feel about the shot?” “Good”, I replied, “but I felt good about the first one”.
Josh watched for a few minutes. “That 2nd spike is hanging around”, he said. But we still weren’t sure about the first spike. Now I was getting really bummed about the whole thing. I couldn’t believe I missed two shots! “We can shoot that 2nd spike”, Josh said. “But first we need to be positive you didn’t hit the first one. Let’s start down there and see what’s going on. I can’t see him, but be ready to shoot.”
And down the hill we went, discussing the events thus far. I was in a bit of a state of disbelief, that I had missed two shots. “Guess what I see?” Josh said. “Look over there. One dead deer”. He called John and told him the great news. The curse was broken.
Little Coues down!
My first Coues!
He was stone dead and although at first I was dismayed that I had hit him too far back, in actuality it was a good quartering downhill shot. Halfway back, under the spine, through the aorta, lodged in the opposite front shoulder. Thankfully that little guy didn’t feel a thing. We celebrated the kill, I said a little prayer thanking God for this creature and its sacrifice. Then we got to work, gutting him out and getting him back up the hill.
Josh doing the hard stuff
I think at the end of it, I was relieved. I hunt for the enjoyment and challenge, not the killing – but after such a long stretch, it was getting hard to maintain my morale. As an outdoor writer, I do great interviews, product reviews, articles, etc., but my lack of success stories was affecting my credibility (in my mind, at least). I think John was more excited than I was at breaking the curse – he had made it his mission and for that I am grateful. He and Josh are great friends; knowing that they were instrumental in Mikaela’s first big game harvest, I have now dubbed them the “curse breakers”.
Josh, John and Marshall
All in all, this hunt was what I wanted. To learn about Coues hunting, enjoy the outdoors, spend time with friends, and not wound an animal I couldn’t recover. All of that was accomplished.Now that the curse is busted, I am looking at upcoming seasons differently. I’m confident I’m going to shake the javelina monkey off of my back this year! With 8 bonus points for elk, I’m confident I’ll get drawn next year – Josh and John and I are already making plans!