Spot and Stalk Gila Coues
2014 started off with a bang for me. Well, more of a whack. The whack of a broad head into the side of a Coues Whitetail. This was my first time hunting Coues Deer. I have only hunted whitetail deer a few times (being from Utah) and everything I had heard is that they are even more elusive. That proved to be true. My tag was for the first 2 weeks of January, archery only. Since this story is on Hunt Addicts, obviously this was DIY public land. My father and I had drawn tags for southern New Mexico. The 12 hour drive was, I would find out, a good warm up for this cold weather hunt. Being from the west I am more accustomed to spot and stalk hunting. The thick cover and elusiveness of the Coues lent more to a sit and wait strategy. New Year’s Eve we got into town and met our friends who we would be staying and hunting with. In the morning we would be heading into the Gila National Forest.
There were a few inches of crusty snow that made sneaking difficult. We hunted down a few ridges, and saw some deer sign in the snow. After a couples stands with the grunt tube and rattling antlers we jumped a couple does. They were only 50 yards away, but their tiny bodies made them look much further away. With a flash of white they disappeared into the thick brush. I wanted to go look off the hill where they ran to get the “lay of the land.” I was quickly turned back. The brush was so thick I could barely push through it. When I did make it to the where I would normally be able to see down a ridge, I was only met with more brush.
Still hunting our way back, we jumped a legal buck. However, the bushes in the way and his quick retreat made a shot not possible. We made it back to the vehicles and went to a different drainage. As we were climbing the ridge we jumped a nice mule deer. Our friend Wayne had a mule deer tag and missed a tough up-hill shot. We made a couple more stands to no avail and headed home for the night.
The next day we hunted a little lower, out of the snow. The basin we were in afforded slightly more visibility, but still not a ton. From one side, however, you could glass the other side about 350 yards away. I set up in one part of the basin and my father set up in a different one. He had action in the middle of the day as a nice buck was pushing a doe in front of him. He nearly had a shot, but it didn’t quite work out. The rest of the day was uneventful. I was surprised about how only 150 yards away he could be in deer while I was not. That activity prompted us to hunt the same place the next day. We set up in the same places as before as the sun came up on the junipers. The earth is completely blanketed by them down there.
A little later in the morning my friend Adam and I moved about 100 yards from our initial location where we could get a little different view. It wasn’t very long and I spotted a doe being pushed by a buck close to our original location. They covered the distance to the far side of the basin almost instantly. Another buck appeared and will milling around at the edge of the basin where the doe had gone. I decided I wanted to go after them. We quietly hurried in their direction and snuck up the hill to where we had seen them last. A nice 8 point buck jumped and started away from us. I stopped him with a grunt. The buck was locked on us about 35 yards away directly though a large Juniper. Everything is directly though a large juniper in southern New Mexico. Our standoff seemed to last a long time, but really was only a few moments. I knew he was getting ready to run. I shifted 2 steps to my right to try and sneak and arrow under a large branch, but the buck wasn’t waiting around. He started up the ridge at a brisk pace. Not so quickly that he acted truly spooked. I followed him and busted him one last time before they disappeared of the south facing side and into the super thick growth. We reunited and talked about the stalk. I said I was going to go sit on that doe’s trail. Thinking maybe a buck would follow it at some point in the day.
After about an hour a buck appeared on the far side of the basin and started tracking the doe. I could tell he was going to come right to me. When he went behind a tree at about 200 yards, I moved to an ambush position under, you guessed it, a large juniper. I had a clear view of the path the doe had taken and I quickly ranged a few trees to know my shots. I didn’t want to overestimate the range on the small-bodied deer. The buck materialized directly below me. It caught me by surprise because he had left the trail I had thought he would travel. I remained still and drew as he passed a clump of grass. At 10 yards I let the arrow fly and it found its mark. He never knew I was there. I had got both lungs and he only went about 20 yards. I signaled the “fist pump of success” to Adam and he returned the gesture. It was settling in that I had actually sealed the deal on one of the gray ghosts.