Arizona New Mexico Outfitters and Guides
Coues Deer Hunting Articles
The following is a collection of real life entries as written by past clients. Most have been published in national publications. Enjoy!
Catching My Break on Coues with a Bow
By Shaun Smith
This article appeared in Eastman's Hunting Journal
As I stood there in amazement staring at Gods amazing creature I was just able to harvest, a wave of emotions immediately rushed through me. We had been hunting these elusive Coues deer for 4 straight days without catching a break. Blown stalks, weather and terrain started to take its toll on us towards the end of our hunt. Being able to make it happen on our last evening hunt of the trip was defiantly a god send and made the entire hiking, plucking cactus out of my legs, and long days well worth it!
Last October a hunting buddy and best friend Phillip called me up and had a wild idea about chasing the famous elusive Coues deer and Javelina around the rugged Arizona desert. At first I was somewhat skeptical not knowing what a trophy a Coues deer really was being a Mule Deer fanatic. I figured what the heck and committed to heading to South Eastern Arizona that January.
As the hunt drew closer I almost had to pull out of this hunt with how busy I was at work but was able to plug along and make it happen. With only a month before we were heading to Arizona I had yet to prepare myself mentally or physically. I felt like a college kid again trying to cram last minute before a test, preparing my body and equipment for this hunt. Anyone that hunts Coues deer knows that harvesting one with a bow is no easy feat, as it takes hard work and dedication, and a lot of boot leather. Finally the night before we were about to leave for the 14 hour drive I finally felt like I was somewhat prepared.
That following day we were up at 2AM we were loaded up and on the road heading to Arizona. I felt a little anxious to get there and get to hunting. That evening we met up with the outfitter Pat Feldt and guide Eliot of Arizona Guided Hunts at a predetermined location and headed to our camp. We felt like kings camping in wall tents and having a guide as we have never hunted with an outfitter before. With the sun starting to go down we still had about 45 minutes of daylight left to get to a glassing point and pull the big glass out. With 2 sets of 15’s on a tripod we were unable to locate any Coues deer but were able to turn up a few mediocre Desert Muleys. With about 10 minutes of light left we herd Pat and Eliot both exclaimed “Buck” as if they had both practiced. We finally spotted our first Coues deer.
That morning I was yearning with anticipation to get up the trail head and hopefully turn up a buck. With the cold January wind howling through me as if I wasn’t there it was a task to say the least sitting down glassing the area. Finally about 9AM we were able to glass up a decent 80” buck milling around chasing Does. With him being about a mile away and the uncertainty of the swirling wind we figured we would keep tabs on him until he bedded down under a Juniper tree. While watching him we would scan the area trying to locate other bucks in the area and were unable to turn anything else up. We were finally able to watch him bed down with his lady’s, and I was able to start my stalk. I high-tailed it over there and got within a couple hundred yards. Finally getting over there I was able to drop my pack and slip on my sneaky feet. I closed the distance at a snails pace using a prickly pear cactus as the only cover between the both of us. Finally getting to the only cover I had between the both of us I was able to range the tree he was under at 67 yards (a chip shot for AZ hunting). Sitting there waiting for him to stand I felt a sudden gust of wind on the back of my neck. In nothing flat a Doe jumped up blew slammed her hoof down and they were out of the country faster than you could blink. With only being able to locate one stalkable buck on day one, I was starting to get a little concerned with making it happen and taking one of these little guys home with me.
The following day had us hiking in the dark up the same finger ridge we hiked up the previous morning. But this time we were able to locate the same group of deer immediately after getting to our glassing spot. Unlike the day before they were in a completely inaccessible spot. Immediately after spotting them they had us pegged and wouldn’t take their eyes off of us. Eventually they fed up and over the saddle they were in. Eliot mentioned he had another spot he would like to hike to and checkout, but warned that it we a serious hike. Without any argument I threw my pack over my shoulder and said lets go. Finally an hour of hiking later we finally made it to our destination. Huffing and puffing from the hike I set up the spotting scope and got to glassing. To our disappointment the area was like a ghost town as we stayed and glassed till dark unable to turn anything up.
The following two days were miserable. Long hikes, Whipping wind and no results seemed to be the standard for us. We were seeing bucks but nothing worth putting a stalk on knowing the quality of the area. By this time most people would have thrown in the towel and headed home frustrated, but I was determined to succeed! Hiking in a new trail head on day 4 I remember looking at the dark Arizona sky thinking “I am going to do this, no one but you can make it happen”. With a second wind from the downs of the previous couple days, I seemed to be in the right mind set I needed to be in. Glassing that morning we were unsuccessful in turning up many bucks, but located a few feeding up the North slope of a cut. With them being in an unstalkable position, we decided to leave them alone and continue covering country. Not locating anything we decided to head back to where we located the bucks that morning and were unable to locate them again. We had an idea of where they bedded down by the direction they were feeding, and decided to wait them out until the evening when they would hopefully feed back down into the cut.
Finally after 5 excruciating hours we located the deer doing exactly what we hoped they would do. With the does heads down feeding and being pestered by the rutting bucks we were able to really look them over. Eliot, being a coues deer fanatic, was looking over the bucks and out of nowhere almost fell over. He said “I cannot believe I am seeing this! You are going to have a chance at the biggest buck we have ever seen in this area!” Without any hesitation we dropped off of the backside of the ridge we were glassing from and took off in a dead sprint to get ahead of the feeding buck. After moving around a bend in the cut dropped under a Juniper tree to get glass back on him. As if all the stars aligned at once the feeding buck dropped into the bottom of the cut and was coming up our side. Immediately getting myself to an area where he would feed directly to me I set up and took a few shots with the range finder of a few spots I had assumed he would be at. Arrow knocked release hooked up I sat there and waited for what seemed like an eternity. After my legs went numb from the rocks I was sitting on I decided to unhook release and remove them from under my legs as slow and as quiet as possible. Immediately after hooking my release back up I glanced to my right and there he was in the only spot I did not check yardage quartering towards me! He had me pegged and was staring through me with laser eyes. I drew my bow in the sage brush I was behind trying to minimize any movement, as I was unsure he could make out what exactly I was. Without any hesitation, I raised my bow, guessed the yardage, anchored and released. Immediately after the release, I heard the ever-promising “THWACK” and the canyon exploded. He immediately spun around and raced for the bottom of the cut where he crashed in sight making it 70 yards.
After all of the hooting and hollering high fives and tears, we made our way down too him. As I sat there in amazement, I looked up and thanked God for what he had blessed me with. The pack-out was all smiles and the couple mile hike seemed to fly by as I was on cloud nine. He green scored at 113 7/8” and was the biggest bow kill Coues deer taken in that unit to date. After the 60 day Boone and Crockett drying period, he officially scored 112 6/8” Gross and 106 5/8 Net. He ranks within the top 25 Pope and Young and top 10 SCI. We were both successful during this hunt, as Phillip was also able to harvest a nice record-class 90” Pope and Young Coues buck. Again I want to thank Pat Feldt of Arizona Guided Hunts, and my guide Eliot Anderson for a Arizona public land, over the counter hunt of a lifetime.
Completing The “Slam”
By Darrell Pardy
Appeared in Maine Wilderness Magazine - Darrell's Adventures - 2010
As we hiked up the desert drainage ditch I was trying to remember my mental checklist to make a good shot. My outfitter, Pat Feldt, and I had just climbed down from the top of the hill we had been glassing on for Coues whitetails. Pat and my guide, Keith Hubbard, had spotted a nice buck on the adjacent hill and we were trying to bleed off some of the 600 yards shooting distance between the deer and my rifle.
We knew the eagle-like eyes of the buck wouldn’t spot us when we were shielded by this hill, but now that we were in the drainage ditch and getting into more open terrain that advantage was quickly disappearing. In addition our route was strewn with loose gravel and sand and we had to navigate through a gauntlet with prickly cactus bushes and mesquite trees. Trying to avoid the needle like plants and remain stealthy was proving difficult.
Pat maintained radio contact with Keith who was still perched at the top of our lookout, watching for any concern from the deer we were after. My intended quarry, and a few of his buddies were behaving like sentries high above our position. This is typical of Coues behavior as they are mostly nocturnal like their eastern cousins. In the dawning hours of the day they will find a resting place high on a hill and bed down under a mesquite tree, to escape the heat of the Arizona day, and watch their surroundings for danger.
As we moved up the ditch Keith radioed that the deer on the hill seemed a little spooked. Our deer was bedded down but his neighbor was getting a little antsy. We decided we couldn’t venture any further without being busted and so we climbed up out of our path and found an area to set up for a shooting opportunity. I immediately started to run through the mental checklist of points needed to make a shot in the 400-yard range. Yesterday I had missed two opportunities because of “rookie” mistakes and I was determined not to do this again today.
While Pat maintained radio communication with Keith I set up my Sako .300 Win Mag using a Harris Bi-pod and a butt rest. As I looked through my Leupold VX-3 6.5X20 50MM scope my heart sank. It was fogged. I tried to wipe it clean but it appeared to have some internal fog rendering it pretty much useless. I couldn’t believe my luck…
I had booked this hunt with Pat Feldt and his Arizona Guided Hunts service back in February. I am a week shy of my 52nd birthday and I have only been hunting for a little over half a decade. I was fortunate enough to harvest a 220 pound 10 point whitetail on my first Maine deer hunt back in 2006. I shot a 325 pound 10 point Mule deer in 2007 in Wyoming, and last fall I harvested a nice Blacktail deer in Washington State. The Coues deer was that last deer I needed for my deer slam and everyone I communicated with told me that Pat was the way to go if you wanted an opportunity to harvest a really nice Coues deer.
So far everything on this trip had lived up to the advance billing. I had been lucky enough to draw a tag in the Arizona lottery for my preferred week and location, and I had arrived in Tucson two days earlier. I was picked up by Pat at my hotel the following morning and we then took a scenic drive to camp through the desert area surrounded by majestic mountains. I was hopeful that my conditioning program of the past seven months would pay off up in those mountains. We saw lots of saguaro cactus and mesquite trees. Pat had already set up the camp and the third member of his team; Elliot Anderson was already there out scouting.
Camp consisted of a main trailer that acted as a bunk and cookhouse for the guides, a large army type Cabela’s tent for the hunters, a wash-up area, a fire ring for nightly camp fires and conversation, and a portable privy located in a discrete area not too far away from our tent. Inside the tent were army cots, a trash bag, and a lamp. All the creature comforts necessary for a comfortable camp and successful hunt.
After unpacking our gear and chatting with the local rancher we decided it was time to spot-check our rifles. My co-hunters had driven here but since I arrived via two flights from Portland Maine I knew I had to re-sight my rifle. Eliot set up a target at 200 yards and broke out spotting binoculars. I set up on a tarp in the prone position and after a few rounds felt confident that the gun was zeroed at 200 yards. My Leupold scope was a long-range scope that also had cross-wire hold points for 300, 400, 500 and 550 yards. Hunting for Coues deer may require shots out well beyond the 200-yard range.
Dinner the first night was steaks with potatoes and beans and we enjoyed the hearty meal while we sat around a campfire. My guide, Keith Hubbard arrived just as we were finishing up and we discussed plans for the next day’s hunt. We would be up early and on the trail by 5:30. Keith and I were going to hunt deep into the mountains near the western edge of our zone. There were usually a lot of deer in the area and it would give us a good chance to spot a nice buck.
After turning in, the evening fell somewhat quite except for the occasional coyote call in the distance and the sound of crickets. I got up around two o’clock since I was still on eastern-time and walked out into a bright moonlight night. You could almost read a book with the light and I marveled at the beauty of the area.
Shortly after 7am the next morning we had crested the first major ridge and Keith and I stopped to do some glassing. We had radios to stay in contact with the other guides and hunters but we were getting deeper into the backcountry. We spotted a few smaller buck and numerous does. It was the first day of the season so I wasn’t in any hurry to shoot and besides at 350 yards I wasn’t too crazy about trying my luck. Back in Maine it is rare to shoot anything beyond a 100 yards and the idea of shooting a deer half the size of a Maine buck at three and a half times the distance was a little unsettling to me. I had practices at the range pretty faithfully but that was only out to 200 yards.
By mid day the sun was getting pretty hot but we kept spotting the occasional deer so we opted not to return to camp. A red tailed hawk that was playing on the thermals that blew through these hills was entertaining us and we spotted a small family of javelinas grazing on a hillside. A few hunters were also spotted from our vantage point. Despite our perch I was having problems picking up the deer that Keith seemed to be locating at a pretty consistent rate. He would exclaim, “there’s a deer” and I would be scrambling to locate it. I now understand why these deer have the nickname “grey ghost”. If I was out here by myself I would have gone home and declared there were no deer in the area. With Keith’s guidance and great optics I had already seen well in excess of twenty or so.
After lunch we decided to head further into backcountry. We spotted several nice animals and formulated a strategy to try and get closer to one of the larger bucks that Keith had spotted. This involved about a 30-minute hike up a narrow trail where I managed to collect a nice assortment of cactus needles, both large and small on various parts of my anatomy. I worked hard to keep up with Keith and tried to keep my breathing controlled both due to the sudden physical exertion and the excitement of the stalk.
After we finally reached our position I tried to find a good rest but could not get comfortable. I tried various positions but just couldn’t get the gun as steady as I would have liked. In the meantime the deer were on the move and as soon as I would get somewhat ready to shoot they would move and I would be forced to reposition myself. All of my practicing seemed to be going out the window and I was forgetting all I had read and practiced about ballistics over the past six months. I was getting more and more frustrated and I know Keith was concerned that I would lose a good shooting opportunity. Finally I decided to take a shot.
Our hike out was initially subdued. The three empty cartridges in my gun belt and the empty backpack confirmed that I was unsuccessful in my first attempt at a Coues deer. I was upset at myself for not being calmer and taking my time with my shooting. I was upset that I couldn’t spot the deer as quickly as my guide. And, I felt that I had let down Keith, who managed to spot some really nice deer, get us within 330 yards and then I couldn’t execute.
Keith I think understood my situation and did his best to cheer me up and talk about tomorrow and the opportunities that would present themselves.
Back at camp we learned that one of my fellow hunters had tagged out. It was his first deer ever and we were all very happy for him. There is nothing like your first deer and he was grinning from ear to ear. Dinner consisted of chicken, rice, and salad and strategizing about tomorrow’s hunt.
Since Pat’s hunter had tagged out yesterday he decided to join Keith and myself on my second day. That’s how he managed to be with me when my scope failed.
After yesterday’s missed shots I felt confident about today’s setup but the fogged scope meant the hunt was about to come to a crashing end. Pat mentioned that he had a backup gun at camp but before hiking out I asked if he has some tissue paper. I grabbed the paper and wiped both ends of the scope, and suddenly the problem disappeared. Apparently there was a bit of oil on my glove and when I attempted to clear the fog off the eyepiece I smudged it. Another lesson learned.
Now we were back in business. Pat told me that I needed to hold at 350 yards for the angle of the shot. I put the 300-yard hold point on the back of the deer and relaxed. Pat and Keith both waited for me to pull the trigger. I gently squeezed my entire right hand, and the shot rang out.
Later Keith told me he saw the deer roll over before he heard the shot. Pat exclaimed “you got him” and I was both relieved at the redemption from yesterday and the fact that I had just completed my “deer slam”. Pat told me the shot was actually 416 yards. By far the longest shot I had ever made.
The hike up the steep side of the hill was seemingly effortless. The adrenaline rush kept me going and pretty soon it was evident that not only had I completed my slam but also I did it with a pretty impressive deer. He was a nice fat 8 pointer that would score just under 100 inches. This is why it’s always good to choose a reputable outfitter with a world of experience.
More congratulations and much picture taking ensued before the inevitable quartering and dividing up of the load necessary to get the deer back to camp.
When we broke camp the next day all three hunters had successfully tagged out. It was a milestone for each of us. I had completed my deer slam, another hunter had harvested his first deer, and our third hunter had returned for his second Coues deer hunt and now had a matching trophy to accompany the deer he had shot a few years back with Pat.
With my “slam” completed I am now thinking about new goals and hunts. At the top of my list will be a return trip to Arizona to hunt with Pat again, this time for a desert Mule deer.
My Quest For a Coues with a Handgun
Anthony Ransom of California
This article appeared in SIX GUNNER MAGAZINE
Well after a spectacular year hunting in CA I had decided to head to AZ for my fourth leg of the deer slam with a pistol. Yep, I wanted to put a coues on my wall. Being a hand gunner, a book buck was not necessary; rather a respectable mature male would suffice. I have hunted coues with a bow (to no avail). This would be my first time to handgun the very wary coues deer… Much more elusive than the Mulies and the Black tails that I hunt every year. And certainly more so than the Eastern whitetail species that I have harvested. Anyway, the trip was planned and booked with “Arizona Guided Hunts.” I was to leave for a week in November to chase Coues whitetail.
Upon arriving I met up with the outfitter in Tucson. Pat Feldt is the Owner and one of the guides for AGH. I hunted Javalina and coues with a bow with Pat prior to this hunt. Pat runs a first class operation. Nothing for the hunter to do except bring your gun, your sleeping bag and hunt. Arizona is very open in the areas we hunted. First class glasses are a must here. Don’t take your daddies little 8x 42’s because the terrain is vast. They will not suffice. I took my Swarovski 15x56’s and my Leica spotter. Pat carries 15x60 Docters and a Leupold spotting scope, which both mount on a tripod for better stability in finding Coues at long range. These deer are a bit small. The Big bucks might go 90+ pounds. Many deer are much smaller than that. I took two guns for the hunt. One was my Remington xp 100 pistol chambered for 338-350 Mag. This gun was to play second fiddle and only be used if something went wrong with my other gun. I get ¾ groups at 100 with this gun. The chosen load for it was the Nosler BT 200grain. The gun does 2700 fps with my hunting loads. Earlier this year it took a great Black Tail at 435 yards (another story though). My Other Gun would be my 257 JDJ Thompson Pistol. I had not yet taken game with this one. It really shines at the range with the 100 gr. Nosler BT. I have been shooting AA 2520 at 2600 fps and getting sub 1 inch groups with this combo. I figured the 257 JDJ and the Coues deer to be a match for success.
The first day out proved to be uneventful. With the windy conditions Pat and I felt it would be best to use the 338. The weather was warm and the wind blew 25 mph. Gust had to be much higher. We spotted many deer and covered lots of territory, but no biggins were found. Most of the hunting involves hiking to high vantage points and setting up your glass and scouring the canyons for deer. The terrain is steep, rough, and featureless. Just Cactus and rock populated the terrain. Not much else. We stayed out all day the first day of the hunt to no avail (slump). There was another hunter in camp. Chris and Guide, Bryan, managed to get a decent 80 incher the first day. He used a 300 ultra mag and after an all day stalk got his chance at 350 yards. It was a big uplift of spirits that night to see a good deer in camp. I was very excited.
The next day out Pat and I tried a different ridge. We glassed till lunch and went back to camp. Camp is a large wall tent with all the accommodations one needs. Cots to sleep on, a wood stove for heat and all the other amenities you would expect from a good outfitter. After lunch we headed out to do some more glassing. About an hour before dark Pat managed to glass a couple of decent bucks feeding two ridges over. We did not have much day left, but decided to try a stalk anyway. We got where we needed to be, but ran out of light before we could find the bucks. We made a plan to try again for the bucks at first light.
The next morning we found ourselves close to where we had seen the bucks the day before. Pat glassed them up feeding in the same spot as the evening before. I slid in behind a rock and set up my .338 pistol on a rock and bipod. Pat let me know which one to take. I got the cross hairs steady and squeezed one off. After the recoil I lost sight of everything. Pat said I missed, I WAS SHOCKED. The distance was only two hundred yards…what happened? The bucks were looking around trying to figure out what had happened. I set up again and squeezed another off. Missed…Pat mentioned I was shooting high. The bucks were on the move now. One slowed at about 300. I got set and tried a snap shot…Ya I missed again. I was thoroughly disappointed at this point. I was not sure what to do. Pat said it happens, followed by "there is always next year!" I was starting to think he was right. Disgusted, we packed up and headed back to camp. The other guys all tried to convince me to take Pats rifle out and try again. NO WAY. After lunch and much contemplation, I decided to set up a target at 200 yards and see what was going on. I fired three shots at the target. The group was less than 2 inches. Good group for shooting off of an ice chest. I had only brought ten rounds of 338 for the trip. The only thing that was wrong is that the group was over a FOOT off of my aim. I am not sure where the scope got so far off, but it was. Winds gusting like they were made me a bit skeptical of the 257 jdj, but that was my only other option for handguns. The rifle comments came from the peanut gallery again. NOPE, I'm not going to get my deer slam with a rifle!
That afternoon the successful hunter left. Pat, Bryan, and I went out early in the afternoon in a completely different area. We split up and kept in contact via two-way radios. Pat called me after about ten minutes. He had found a buck bedded down. I worked my way to Pat and we discussed it. He was bedded behind a Mesquite tree facing away from us 900 yards across the canyon. Pat would stay there and guide me via radio. I worked my way down into the gorge and then up a knoll approaching the bedded deer. It only took about an hour to close within 300 yards. At that point the wind was good, coming into me and not that strong. Since the ground was so crunchy, I slipped off my shoes and eased closer, a trick I learned from bowhunting. I was so excited and focused on being quiet that I didn’t notice all the cactus I was walking through. There was a large flat rock on the knoll I needed to get to. The buck was behind the Mesquite tree still. As I moved closer to the rock the deer got up to stretch and then bedded up again. I got to the rock, set up my tripod-mounted binoculars and ranged him. Only 276 yards. Perfect. I put my bench bipod on, and set the gun up on the deer. Now I just had to wait, control myself, and make sure I had my hold-over right. My gun was dead on at 100. I figured that at a bit downhill angle, I would need to hold about 2” over the back. I waited and listened to Bryan and Pat on the Radio. I heard Lots of comments about Rifles and "maybe next year." They are quite comical. I disserved the ribbing. We waited for a couple hours (it seemed) for the buck to get up and offer a shot. Eventually he did. The buck got up and turned and got on a trail coming to me. I let him take about three steps. I was ready and the gun was steady on him, I let it fly. Before I recovered from the shot, Pat radioed "Great shot." I looked through my Binos and he was down on the trail. I was elated. After gathering up my gear I headed back to my shoes, now I noticed all the cactus around me and in my FEET. What a painful trek back to my shoes. I picked out what thorns I could, put my boots back on and headed to my Prize. I got to the buck and was pleasantly surprised. This was the best buck we had seen on the trip.
Pat and I took pictures and then began the chores of quartering the buck for packing out. Missing the other buck was now a good thing. This buck was a nice 8-point and Pat scored it at 90 inches; a pretty good Coues with a Pistol. All in all it was a great trip. I am glad I persevered and got to use my 257 JDJ. The Nosler 100 BT performed great. It broke the front shoulder and I found the bullet just under the hide on the off side. Thanks JD for a great Gun and Arizona Guided Hunts for a great hunt!
Anthony D Ransom
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