August 10, 2022
January 1997 found me searching for big Coues deer bucks in some extremely remote, rough country in the bootheel of New Mexico.
Some years earlier, I’d found this whitetail paradise, only a few short miles from the Mexico border, and had fallen in love with the strange and intriguing flora and fauna of the high desert. This was the land of the Apache; the land where all the Westerns I’d watched as a child had originated. Nearby were landmarks such as Clanton Draw, Cochise Peak, Geronimo Trail and the Cowboy Rim. And it seemed to me this land was still just as wild as it had ever been; adventure was in the air.
Finding a small spit of public land, I’d parked my truck under a large live oak and declared myself camped. The higher, rougher mountains loomed only a short distance way, but accessing them on public land would require a hike of about three miles; no roads approached their base. Skirting some private-land holdings made my route to the mountains circuitous, and anything but easy. But there were mature Coues bucks up there, and I was determined to access their haunts.
With a two-week season at my disposal, and a couple years of experience under my belt, it was my intention to leave camp well before daylight every morning, hunt all day on the rocky, brushy slopes, then make a late-evening exit back to camp. I had adopted this approach after having spent a previous season bivouacked in the mountains in single-digit nighttime temperatures. This year, I would spend the warm, midday times on the mountain, reserving the cold, dark nights for base camp.
Heading for the hills, I was soon glassing numerous Coues bucks. The rut was coming into full-swing and adolescent bucks were trolling the mountain slopes in search of females. Additionally, far down on the foothills of the mountain, a few random groups of desert mule deer could be seen wafting through the choya cactus thickets. And even though there weren’t any big, male muleys present in these groups, I knew from prior experience the big boys would be arriving from their hideouts soon, as their breeding season was also approaching. Not really interested in mule deer, I’d always just considered these big-eared deer a bonus show.
By the end of my first week of hunting, I’d had a few close encounters with nice Coues bucks, but my tag remained unfilled. The action was getting better each day, as more, bigger Coues bucks were appearing in the area, continually. Secondarily, the mule deer rutting action was increasing greatly also, and the flanks of the mountain were now crawling with some very solid bucks jockeying for position as harem leaders. I simply remained high up on the mountain, focused on whitetails.
One midday, after having banged my sight bracket on some rocks, I decided to head for base camp to shoot a few arrows into a target. As I headed down the mountain, I stopped to retrieve a drink of water from my fanny pack and distant movement caught my eye. Just ahead, a group of mule deer lounged in the shade of a yucca thicket. A mature buck was in attendance, and as soon as I took a closer look at the big-antlered fellow, my whitetail plans moved to the back burner. This was an extremely nice desert mule deer buck, and I knew I’d be nuts to not try for him.
Hoping my bow sight was up to the task, I began to inch forward. Crawling from yucca to boulder to mesquite, within half an hour I’d closed to about 50 yards. The lounging herd was oblivious to my presence, and the harem master was busily going from doe to doe, doing what rutting bucks do. As I crawled the last few yards, I readied for a shot. Coming to full draw, I estimated the distance at 40 yards, put the pin on ribs and touched off the shot. To my amazement, my arrow flew true.
A few minutes later, as I stood over the fallen monarch, my head was spinning. My hunt was over. There would be no big Coues buck for me this year, but I didn’t care. I was more than happy with the trophy at my feet. Smiling, I grabbed my camera.