Dec. 30, 2008 -- There's just something about the quiet, wide-open spaces of the New Mexico desert. Every time I get down here, a warm, fuzzy feeling comes over me. The excitement and anticipation of upcoming days spent exploring trackless country always moves me. Throw in visions of large-antlered Coues bucks, and I can hardly wait to get this party started!
Peggie and I have been on the road for 15 hours since leaving home in Oklahoma, and we're both anxious to set up camp and stretch our legs; take in some clean, fresh air. As I grow older, these bowhunting trips have become more about "sharing and fun" and less about "kill, kill, kill." Getting to share the great outdoors I love so much with my mate and friends really gets me fired up.
My buddy Bob Neth from California is going to be meeting us here today at the old, familiar campsite he and I have shared for the past 15 years. I've not seen Bob in a year, and I'm really looking forward to his wit and hard work ethic -- good hunting buddies are hard to come by. Yes, this is going to be an excellent adventure!
Jan. 1, 2009 -- Bob and I left camp at first light this morning. He headed in one direction and I headed another. By sunup, I'd waded two miles deep into these rocky, brushy mountains my beloved Coues deer call home. Man, this is rough stuff! When I finally made it to the spot I'd been dreaming about for the past year, I slowly scouted the area to see if deer sign was as thick as it had been in years past. It was. Instantly pumped, I set about establishing a couple good treestand locations.
By noon, with the work accomplished, I slipped out of my "honey-hole," dreaming of good hunts to come. I had very high hopes this spot would produce a close encounter with a mature Coues buck. The thought gave me goose bumps!
I hit camp early in the evening, had a cheeseburger with Peggie and Bob and reveled in the camaraderie of the hunt. Good friends, good food, good country and good bucks to hunt -- I'm one blessed guy.
After a short nap, I headed out on a four-hour hike to check out some hotspots I'd located in the past. A couple looked really good, though a few were barren of deer sign. A guy really has to cover a lot of ground to stay abreast of the changes in deer movement from year to year. It's bone-tiring work, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Jan. 2, 2009 -- It was another hard day of scouting and stand preparation, but I'm now well prepared, and the anticipation of the hunt is really building inside me. I think the rut is just getting started, and I'm planning on being "loaded for bear" come the peak of the breeding frenzy. I ought to be able to get a good shot opportunity at a big buck at some point, shouldn't I? Man, I sure hope so!
Jan. 3, 2009 -- I scouted some new country today and found an excellent area. I built a ground blind out of rocks and brush, and even though I already have three good treestand sites prepared in other locations, I feel I also need to hunt this new spot -- just too much good deer sign there.
Bob came into camp excited this evening, as he'd also found an excellent area. I'm really happy for his good fortune, because I was afraid he was starting to get a little bit discouraged from his previous days afield. Peggie is just happy to be alive, soaking up the leisure of camp life. Man, this is living!
Jan. 4, 2009 -- I sat in one of my best spots for a couple hours this morning and caught a glimpse of a nice buck at 100 yards. Couldn't tell much about him, except he had a really good rack -- a sure "keeper." During the midday hike back to camp, I also spotted another nice buck sniffing around after some does. The rut is clearly starting to kick in.
I've got to take Peggie to the airport on the 6th so she can get back to work -- gonna miss a couple of good days of hunting while gone. Oh well, I'll get 'em when I get back!
I hunted my "ground blind" spot this evening -- saw a couple does and a yearling buck. I must be a bona fide member of the Coues deer cult, because these little gray critters sure excite me. I love bowhunting them!
Note : Bob has settled into a really good stand location and is excited about his prospects. Wow, he ought to be excited. He saw four different mature bucks from his tree today! He couldn't get a shot at any of them -- man, what frustration! But I'm sure I'll be hearing better news from Bob in the near future.
Jan. 5, 2009 -- Girlfriend and I loaded up in the Ford early this morning and headed for civilization. We're going to take a day to "vacation" before she has to get on the "big bird" tomorrow morning. I spent the entire day shopping. Keeping a smile on my face and nodding "yes" was easy, however, because all day long I was having recurring visions of one of my arrows slipping into the ribcage of a mighty Coues buck. I'm sure going to miss Peggie for the next week, but dang, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!
Jan. 6, 2009 -- Peg and I said our farewells this morning, and she headed home. She'll be back to our home before I can even get back to camp!
Back at camp at 2 p.m., I intended to grab my bow and head out for an evening hunt. However, Bob was waiting for me, excited to tell me he'd shot a nice buck that morning.
Problem was, the hit had been less than ideal, and he'd been unable to find the deer. Off we went to search for a deer.
We were able to find Bob's buck after searching for nearly three hours. It was a nice 8-pointer, and Bob couldn't have been happier. I was thrilled to be able to help him recover his trophy, sharing the excitement of the moment together.
As I lie in my sleeping bag tonight, the reality of the upcoming days is starting to settle into my mind. Peg is gone, and Bob is leaving tomorrow. I'll be on my own for the rest of my outing, and there will be some loneliness to deal with. On the other hand, I also know this will make me hunt even harder. I am really going to kick it into gear tomorrow.
Jan. 7, 2009 -- The 90-minute walk in the cold darkness of the desert night gave me plenty of time to focus on the day to come. By daylight, I was firmly settled into one of my good treestands in some awesome Coues deer habitat. The first two hours of the day passed uneventfully, with only a distant sighting of a lone doe. Mid-morning, things started to rock.
first buck was a real dandy, though he caught me nodding. He was standing 25 yards away when I first spotted him, and I was so surprised, I nearly jumped out of the tree! He was clearly a bruiser, so I immediately reached for my bow as he glided past. But by the time I was ready for the shot, the big 4x4 was already walking out of my life forever.
Unable to shoot, I watched the buck slip away. Flooded with disappointment, I knew such opportunities come hard.
Before I could stop beating myself up over my failure, another good buck appeared on the scene. My mind jumped in many different directions -- it's early in the hunt'¦a good buck'¦but not a BIG buck'¦shoot or don't shoot?
Before I knew it, this buck was also quickly departing. In a moment forever imprinted in my mind, I'd let a 90-inch Coues buck walk. I couldn't believe it! Was I nuts? Certainly.
With no more action by noon, I climbed down and ate lunch. Still dazed about the morning's events, my head was spinning. Could I recover from my stupor? Climbing into another one of my treestands for the evening hunt, I prayed for a chance to redeem myself from my previous actions.
As the sun slipped low in the Western sky, I began to spot deer movement in two different locations. High above me, on a nearby hill, two does avoided the advances of a small, 6-point buck. Looking across the meadow I was hiding beside, I spotted a whopper buck tending an obviously estrus doe. Grabbing my binos, I instantly realized I was looking at a certain Boone and Crockett contender. I lusted after an opportunity at the big fellow.
Shortly, the buck and doe disappeared into a thicket. Watching the thicket like a hawk, movement soon caught my attention once again. Staring in awe, I watched as the buck chased another big buck out of the thicket where the hot doe remained hidden. I had no idea this other buck was even in the area!
Grabbing my rattling antlers, I carefully hid behind the trunk of my tree and clicked the antlers together for a short moment. Now -- with both bucks glaring in my direction -- my heart was cranking from a massive overdose of adrenaline! Intently watching the bucks, a sound immediately behind me grabbed my attention. Turning my head slowly, I spied a third big buck walking directly up to my location. Like the others, this buck was a certain trophy. What now?
Quickly focusing all my attention on the "bird in hand," I prepared for a shot. Walking directly under my tree, the upper-90s-class buck was clearly headed across the meadow to the other two bucks. Putting my top pin on the buck's back, I swung with him as he walked under my stand. My mind was spinning, and I once again wasn't sure of my course of action.
"He who hesitates, is lost," popped into my head, immediately followed by a quick "flash" of the monster buck on the other side of the meadow. In total confusion, indecision was once again luring me into a trap. Seconds later, I was watching "my" big buck walking out of shooting position. I was in shock. Never had I experienced Coues deer action like this! I was stunned'¦and brain dead, it seemed. After all this, was I actually going back to camp empty-handed?
Somewhere in this entire process of mass confusion, the previous challenger buck had been slowly making his way toward my location in a looping approach. Spotting this buck nearing, I knew I better not let a buck of this caliber get away if a shot opportunity arose -- B&C buck in sight or not!
Assuming the position, I prayed that the ever-approaching buck would stay on course. As he inched closer, I began to get very excited as I realized he was certainly going to pass within bow range. Taking one last look at antlers, I realized they were even larger than I'd first realized. Yes, this one would certainly do. Pulling my bowstring back to my face, the rush of the moment-of-truth surged through me. Inside, a small voice rang out. Stay calm.
As the buck passed at 20 yards, I sent an arrow on its way, and I knew immediately the buck was mine. With no need to wait, I climbed down and hurried over to the expired buck. What a feeling! What a day!
After taking pictures, I removed the meat from the carcass, placed it in my backpack and started the long haul back to camp. Arriving well past dark, a campfire soon lessened the cold of the desert night. Watching the flickering light illuminate the tines of a big Coues rack satisfied me immensely.
Jan. 8, 2009 -- I was up by first light, quickly broke camp and was on the road by 9 a.m. As I roll down the road, I'm now in the reflective stage of the hunt. Before I leave this rest stop along I-40, I strongly feel the need to make a final entry into this hunting journal'¦
As I close the pages on another long bowhunting season, I'm certainly a blessed man. There was -- a great pronghorn hunt in August, a "tough luck" elk hunt in September, a great whitetail season in November, the holidays in December and an excellent Coues hunt in January. These were -- times spent with family, friends and nature, living large. What more -- could a working-class-stiff, bowhunting junkie like me, ask for?