After jumping around deer hunting units for several years, I decided to change my strategy. I decided to pick a Unit, stick with it, and learn it. Last year I had a Coues tag in 36C but was unsuccessful; decided to put in for the same Unit this year so I could build on what I had learned last year. I enjoy hunting this Unit, and we saw deer so thought I’d have a decent chance at filling my tag this year.
I took advantage of friend Josh Smith’s offer to help with some pre-season scouting, and spent 3/4 of a day with Josh, learning even more. Good friend Robert Gomez offered to join me, as did my great friend Greg McBride. Greg knows a ton about hunting Arizona – for virtually any species, or any Unit – Greg has great insight and usually – great experience. Add to that, Greg had just beaten cancer after a long battle so I was happy to have him along.
Robert and I drove down late Thursday afternoon, finding a camping spot and getting set up in the dark was reasonably easy based on my familiarity with the area.
Robert and I were up before first light, made some coffee and then headed to our spot which was only about 5 minutes from camp. We were in place as the sun was rising. The day progressed, but we only saw does. There were also quite a few hunters in the same area we were hunting.
Greg just beat cancer and was chomping at the bit to get out and help. We were chatting via text throughout the day and he promised he’d arrive sometime during the night. Greg arrived as promised and we awoke next morning and devised a plan. Robert and I would watch the hillside that had been productive in the past, separated by several hundred yards. Greg would move several hundred yards north, to glass some fingers and small ridges.
We were set up a few minutes before the sun rose and we weren’t there very long before I heard from Greg. He was into deer and had seen several – Coues and Mulies. After a quick discussion, Robert and I headed towards Greg. There were hunters in the vicinity, but Greg was at the end of a ridge by himself. Soon we found him and came up with a plan. We snuck over the little ridge but the little buck had vanished, along with the does.
We huddled up and decided that Robert could stay there and glass, Greg and I would walk the back side of the finger and head east, popping up over at the end. During this leg we watched two hunters almost a trot on the opposite ridge, moving in the same direction. It seemed they had spotted something and were trying to get ahead of us. Greg and I decided to hold up, and see what they pushed out. Fifteen minutes later it was like someone opened the deer-faucet. Several does trotted our way, accompanied by two spikes. I had each one of those little guys in my scope at some point, but decided to pass. Over the next half hour, Greg and I couldn’t over two dozen deer moving south in varying sized groups, including a very decent mule deer buck with five or six does. Ironically, as they moved south, they passed by our camp within a hundred yards or so, before crossing the road.
We headed back to the vehicles, and went back to camp for lunch. We huddled up again, deciding Greg would check out a spot further south. We were all considering midday naps, and Greg would communicate the results of his reconnaissance, hoping to find a spot with fewer hunters. Again we heard from Greg – he was into all kinds of fresh deer sign, and had only seen one other hunter. The road in was gnarly so Greg came back to get us. It wasn’t long before we were turning off the main road, and heading into the new hunting area. We encountered a AZGFD Wildlife Manager who had been summoned because someone was camped on a waterhole. During our discussion with him he checked my tag and license, and we were on our way.
We were hiking in and decided to split up – Greg was heading to the very top of the hill, Robert and I would traverse the side, heading south. At one point we stopped for a breather and heard what would figure out later was a buck snorting several times. Robert and I had both heard buck vocalizations before but for whatever reason, didn’t recognize what we were hearing. Soon we see Greg atop the hill, trying to get our attention. Moving his hands to his head, he made the sign for “antlers”, and up we went.
Greg said, “there’s a small buck over there – a 2×2 with eye guards. Wanna shoot him?” I picked him up in the binos and though he was small, he had character and looked kind of cool. I said “Sure, let’s see if I can get set up”. Bless his little deer heart, that guy stood there broadside for 15 minutes while I fiddled around, trying to find a suitable shooting perch. Part of the issue was that the deer was plain to Greg and Robert while standing but when I dropped behind the rifle, my view was obscured by all of the ocotillos directly in front of us. Robert helped me get set up while Greg watched him. Finally I got settled in and comfortable. “OK, I’m on him, ready to go”, I said. Greg ranged him one last time at 362 yards and I squeezed the trigger.
“Smoked him!!”, Greg exclaimed, “He’s done!”. High fives all around, and we readied ourselves for the trip down. Greg commented that the deer had done a flip when hit, and he’d never seen that before. Getting close to where he lay, we busted a doe out of her bed and we assumed that’s what had been holding the little buck’s attention for so long.
He really did drop where he was standing, and for that I was grateful. Two years ago I hit a small muley buck too far back and in spite of extensive tracking efforts, we never recovered him. I’m sure he died by nightfall but that mistake has haunted me ever since. In some ways a successful shot like this hit the reset button for me. To a degree, I could now move on. I put my hand on him and said a little prayer, thanking God for a good shot and thanking the little Coues for giving up his life for my food. I always do this, and it always seems appropriate.
Now came the work. It was warm for the time of year so we got him gutted quickly. Greg headed back to get the truck and Robert and I got ready for the pack-out. I had with me a Trophy X Pack and Trophy X pack frame from Alps Outdoorz and this pack worked perfectly. I separated the pack from the frame and that little Coues folded up perfectly to go on the frame. Robert carried the pack portion along with his own and I shouldered the pack frame and my rifle. Robert and I made good time – quick enough that we surprised Greg. I was soaked when I arrived though, and beat. Being out of shape sucks on hunting trips – you’d think I would learn my lesson!
I don’t think I have ever had a successful hunting trip that was truly solo. It’s always a group effort. Friends Josh Smith and John Greiss were immensely helpful with scouting and sharing some spots. Robert was awesome, bringing not only knowledge but the tent, camping equipment and a side by side. Greg is always a wealth of knowledge and a great coach too. I’m convinced he’s a deer whisperer – he can find them anywhere. These guys are all dear friends that are always willing to help. Heck – Greg even provided the bullets! I was having a scope mounting issue which he fixed, and was out of handloads. For the very low price of a container of powder, he provided me a bunch of kickass bullets that shoot great out of my gun – 129 grain Barnes Long Range X bullets. These perform great out of my .270 WSM
More important than any of this stuff though was Greg beating cancer. I am grateful for him being able to hunt with me this year – a little more grateful than normal. He’s a hell of a guy and his friends and family are pretty happy he stuck around.