Posted on: August 28th, 2016 Coues’ Deer–Velvet Style
Zack Walton Coues’ Deer 2016
For the first time in five days of sitting in a ground blind, I heard deer coming before I saw them. The tiny Coues’ deer had shocked me every time I looked up to see them within 20 yards during my hunt. But this time, the delicate deer kicked some rocks along the trail to alert me, and I was ready.
Through the corner window of the blind, I could see the deer pop into the small opening. Atop his head was a small rack of velvet antlers with three points per side—too young. He sneaked along the trail within 15 yards of me and started to feed. More movement on the trail behind the small buck revealed a mature deer peering into my direction. He was staring intently at the blind and even though I was well concealed, deep in the corner of the darkness, I froze.
After some time, he relaxed and joined his little buddy to feed. Knowing there was an even larger buck in the area, I waited several minutes to see if any others were following the two deer feeding within bow range. When nothing followed, I knew this buck—with what seemed to be an abnormal amount of points on his rack—was the target.
While the small buck was directly in front of the blind, the older deer stayed barely within view out of the front window. I waited several minutes for the bigger buck to feed into a better shooting position for me, but he didn’t budge. Then the small buck’s head snapped up and glared downhill. I could hear branches breaking and rocks rolling, and I realized that some cattle were moving up the canyon. Knowing that the bucks would be run off by cows at any moment, I drew and leaned out to clear the edge of the blind. I settled my top pin on the larger buck’s chest and waited patiently for the release to fire.
Screenshot of a small Coues’ buck
When I was 14 years old, I somehow managed to blindly guide an arrow into a moving Coues’ deer. Although ill-advised, it was the luckiest arrow to ever leave my bow. I didn’t know at the time that it would spark an interest in me that has led to nearly two decades of frustration and elation over the smallest deer in North America.
My first Coues’ at 14 years old
After my first Coues’ deer, it would take me another six years before I was able to tag another—a doe that was not even as big as the family dog. I remember making a perfect shot at 51 yards while my parents watched. When I found the deer at the end of a very short blood trail, I carried it back down the mountain like it was an overgrown rabbit.
Coues’ No. 2 was small, but I made a perfect shot
For the next several winters, I concentrated on mule deer during my annual trip to the desert of southern Arizona. Although I thoroughly enjoyed chasing rutting mule deer bucks through the mesquite and ocotillo, I badly wanted to finally arrow a nice Coues’ buck. I knew that in order to do so, I would have to get serious. It would mean a change in strategy and dedication to bowhunting the cagey Coues’, which meant I would have to ignore their wide-racked cousins—the mule deer—during my next January adventure.
I followed the weather closely leading up to my trip and watched with delight as the temperatures were hovering around 70 degrees and no rain had fallen for many days. I would scout an assortment of secluded water holes as soon as I arrived and I thought I might actually have a chance. I was lucky because I only had to sit in a ground blind for two hours before a nice 8-point came in. After releasing the arrow, I watched him fall within 60 yards. It was my first Pope & Young Coues’!
My first P&Y Coues’ deer in 2009
A couple of years later, I was even luckier. I had a total of four days off from work and decided to make a banzai trip to bowhunt southern Arizona. After a 15-hour drive, I arrived just in time to scout and make a short hunt. I sat up a blind on the best water source I could find, and shortly after 10:00 the next morning, I was wrapping a tag around a great Coues’ that had 5-inch eyeguards. Luck was really on my side!
This Coues’ has 5-inch eyegaurds and scored in the mid-80s
In pursuit of velvet Coues’
Although I had managed to take a few Coues’ deer in the past, over the years I had blown so many stalk attempts and spooked so many deer, that I was starting to think the species constantly kept their tails waving in a mocking salute to my ineptitude. Multiple times I released an arrow I was positive would end with a short blood trail, only to watch with astonishment when a buck recreated its best impression of Keanu Reeves in The Matrix and slid out of the way of a perfectly-placed arrow and trot off untouched.
But my most painful experience with the tiny deer came the day after one of my best friends arrowed a 103-inch buck on his first day of hunting with me. We were at the same waterhole he had shot his monster deer the day before. Shawn whispered to me, “There’s a buck right here!” Fifteen yards away was a buck with so many points that I couldn’t keep count. He came in to drink at 25 yards; and when I started to draw, the arrow screeched on the rest and the Boone & Crockett-caliber 5×5 left so quickly, only a dust cloud was visible after I blinked. That hurt!
Over the years, the disappointments were so numerous I contemplated my sanity for continuing to hunt Coues’ deer. And when I decided to try to hunt the diminutive whitetail while they were in velvet, I knew I would have a significantly better chance if I had some help from an expert. My search began with internet queries and lots of reference calls. It was clear that even though several people offered Coues’ deer hunts to archery clients, hardly anyone made velvet hunts a priority.
My lucky break came at the Pope & Young convention in Phoenix. Since we were in prime Coues’ deer country, there were lots of hunters, guides and outfitters to talk to. The standard answer I received from each interviewee when I asked them about archery hunting for velvet Coues’ was, “Sure, we can do that.” I had heard this several times by the time I met Duwane Adams.
I had read Duwane’s book on Coues’ deer hunting as a youngster. After being introduced by a mutual friend, I talked to Duwane at length about his experiences, approach and opportunities for bowhunting Coues’ during the early season. I didn’t get the “Sure, we can do that” answer from Duwane. He told me, “Son, that’s what we do!” That settled it; I was going to hunt with the man who literally wrote the book on Coues’ deer hunting.
Duwane Adam’s largest Coues’ he personally shot scored in the high 130s
Fast-forward to August, and I had survived the 15-hour drive to middle-of-nowhere Arizona. I met up with Duwane, a couple of his guides and some of the other hunters. The next morning, we went our separate ways and settled into blinds for the 12-hour sit. I have been a spot-and-stalk hunter my entire life, so sitting in one spot for extended periods time can feel like mental torture. Luckily, I had trained for this hunt by sitting in a ground blind for more than 100 hours before shooting a nice antelope the previous summer. If I could do it once…
My view for the first few days
Duwane has carefully picks his spots for Coues’ deer based on years of diligent scouting. Finding isolated areas with water sources and/or mineral licks has been a key to Duwane’s success for archery clients over the years. The ground blinds are set up with shots in the 15-25 yard range to ensure quality opportunities. I love close archery shots, but because of my previous experiences with Coues’ deer I was concerned about being able to get to full draw on a cagey Coues’ buck. I would have to be careful.
The first couple of days were pretty eventful. I saw 13 deer the first day, including several bucks. A couple bucks were spooked away when a four-wheeler came bouncing up the rugged dead-end road—such is life when hunting on public land. On day two, another six deer came into range. I passed two more bucks that day because I knew there were good bucks in the area. That same day, another bowhunter shot a nice 4×4—his first Coues’ deer. Days three and four were pretty windy, and although I saw several deer each day, buck movement was slower.
Mark’s 4×4 Coues’
Day five dawned warm and calm. For the first time during the hunt, the sun rose without obstruction from clouds. I settled into a new blind as light began to trickle over the ridge. Shortly after sunup, a spike scampered up the trail past the blind. Three does and another spike followed a few seconds later. I had a good feeling about this setup. It was less than an hour later when I heard the clanging of rocks along the trail to my left and the small 3×3 Coues’ appeared.
As indicated earlier, I was ready when these two bucks appeared and came to full draw before they were run off by the cattle. I focused on the hair low in the buck’s chest and watched the pin hover. It took several seconds before the release opened and both bucks exploded out of the small opening. About five seconds later I heard a crash a mere 40 yards up the trail.
As I walked up on the first velvet-clad Coues’ deer I had ever seen up close, I knew I made the right decision on where I chose to hunt. Duwane and his crew did all the hard work; I just had to sit quietly and shoot straight. My buck had five points on his right side and four on his left—a non-typical! He was still several days from being completely grown, but definitely mature and my fifth Coues’ with a bow.
Coues’ No. 5 and my first in velvet
I had wanted to shoot a Coues’ in velvet for many years and, with the help of others, it had finally happened. This hunt only helped fuel my desire to hunt North America’s smallest species of deer. There are few other animals that offer as much of a challenge to a bowhunter as Coues’ deer. Although the disappointments are never lacking, the few moments of success are tremendously sweet, and any Coues’ deer taken with a bow is something to be proud of.
A velvet rack that had some growing left to do
A spike that was a frequent visitor
View from the top of the mountain
Duwane Adams and crew looking for velvet Coues’ bucks