Have you ever had one of those hunts where everything just seemed to come together? Day after day you and your buddies were killing good bucks, and having a great time doing it? Well, neither had I until January of 2017. Sure, I’ve been on some great hunts and have killed solid bucks and bulls over the years. Bucks in fact, bigger than the one I chose to arrow in January 2017… But you know what? I wouldn’t have had this hunt any other way!
You see, sometimes you need to just get away with good friends and seize the opportunity to make new ones. In my opinion, theres no better place to do so than during the deer rut in AZ, glassing, laughing, and killing sweet bucks with good people. This January, the AVID Hunting and Outdoors crew teamed up with Split Tine Outfitters for a central Arizona OTC archery deer hunt.
Daniel Drown, the owner and operator of this successful guide service had camp set up when we arrived and welcomed us with a loud “Hello boys, you ready to kill some deer?” Well, of course we were! After getting situated we quickly headed down the muddy, washed out road to a glassing spot Daniel knew well, not far from camp. That first evening everyone became quickly acquainted as we glassed, but only turned up a few coues deer in the distance amidst the conversation. Off to camp to crash out… Little did we know the next few days would be extremely busy!
When we woke, Daniel had some delicious muffins and other assorted pastries laid out for the group. Myself, and AVID co-owners Brandon and Casey would hunt about half an hour away from camp in the low desert where the mule deer and coues whitetail habitats overlap. Our guide was Hunter Rackley, a willowy, very polite young man that was hell on wheels behind his Kowa “Big Eyes.” This kid can glass! We all glassed up deer, but Hunter was far and away the best eyes behind glass, better than anyone I have ever met. Still wet behind the ears at 19 years old, this kid is going to be someone!
We spent the morning looking over several bucks, both coues and muleys. As an AZ resident, I have killed coues bucks in the past, so when I glassed up a respectable 65” buck cruising for does, Brandon was more than happy to make a stalk. True to their nature, this coues buck had other plans as he quickly continued his search and sauntered into the desert canyon too quickly for Brandon to get onto position. We decided to move out and try a spot just north of where we were hunting and turned up a 2x3 muley acting like the big boss of his group of does. We all elected to pass on the young buck so early in the hunt and moved south to glass a different area.
Arriving at our destination, we got set-up to glass and were quickly finding desert mule deer almost everywhere we looked. Daniel and Justin (the third AVID owner) met up with us after a slow morning high on the mountain looking for a gigantic coues buck Daniel had been seeing recently. We talked about our day, passed over numerous bucks and watched three groups of javelina tearing up the desert foothills. It was a great day, but it was about to get even better!
Daniel glassed up a wide 3x3 desert muley with a small group of does. Brandon decided he would like to take a crack at him, and quickly he was off on a stalk. As Brandon worked his way down a finger ridge, he stopped to check on the location of the deer. When he did, the unthinkable happened! That buck took a right, and started walking directly at Brandon! None of us could believe it was working out so perfectly, but it did! So perfectly in fact that the buck stopped at 25 yards, turned broadside, and offered Brandon a shot. Well, lets just say the buck didn't go very far after the Grim Reaper broad head ripped through his lungs. Although we didn't need to follow a blood trail, we couldn't help but notice that every bush, rock, and cactus in his path to demise was painted crimson. We all met up at Brandon’s buck and celebrated, took some pictures, and hiked him uphill to the truck. Day one was a success!!
Filled with excitement for the day’s impending events, we all rolled out of our bags optimistic for a repeat of our opener. We would be hunting a spot much closer to camp that consisted of giant juniper and prickly pear studded hills that flowed like waves from an enormous mountain range in the distance. I guess you could say that there were deer EVERYWHERE!! It was certainly an experience to watch both mule deer and coues bucks rutting in all directions. Still holding out on stalking a buck like a good host (the rest of the AVID guys are from Utah), Justin and Casey devised a plan to stalk a decent 3 point muley in a basin between the giant hills.
This buck had at least 15 does, two of which seemed to be in estrous, so we knew this may be an exercise in futility for the guys on the stalk. Still they persisted as the buck chased his ladies closer to the giant mountain range, gaining altitude along the while draining Justin’s energy because it seemed he was entirely too sick to be hunting. Although under the weather, Justin made it back to our glassing spot after losing the deer in a desert canyon completely eager to find another! After looking over a number of smaller bucks, and one beast coues buck that was incessantly on the trail of a hot doe, we changed locations to get a better angle on the hills to our east.
AVID Field Staffer Steven had joined us at this point and would play a major role in the activities later in the day. Upon reaching our new glassing spot, Hunter, like so many times before, says “I got deer!” as he peered effortlessly through the Kowa Big Eyes. There were in fact several coues bucks a couple miles away chasing a number of hot does across the monster hills. We packed up, hiked to the trucks, and drove closer so Justin could hike up there in an effort to complete his dream of arrowing a coues whitetail.
Justin made it to the top of the closest hill much quicker than expected considering his physical condition. We directed Justin to stop just above where one of the bucks had bedded, presumably exhausted from chasing love all morning. As he waited for the buck to stand, lady luck once again shined upon our group! I noticed a different buck through my Swarovski 15X56’s walking directly at Justin. We radioed Justin to inform him of the newfound twist of fate. He didn't answer…A bit concerned about radio connectivity, we called again and he whispered back “I see him!” At a mere 18 yards, Justin let an arrow fly.
If any of you have hunted coues deer with archery equipment you know these two valuable pieces of information I am about to divulge…First off, having stalked many of these little desert devils myself over the years, I have learned that it’s nearly impossible to end up at only 18 yards!! Secondly, coues deer have the reflexes of a well…A coues deer!! They have been known to duck arrows from a very quick set-up, even at close range.
After releasing his arrow, Justin radioed to us that he may have hit the buck a little back. Even at 18 yards, that buck spun to get out of there, and almost made it!! We told Justin to stay put as the rest of us hiked up to his location to assess the situation. Upon regrouping. and letting time lapse for about an hour, we proceeded with caution.
Daniel, Justin, and Brandon followed the blood, which seemed “good” at first but the tell tale signs of hitting a buck too far back were revealed about 20 yards into the blood trail. Steven, very in tune with moments similar to the current situation, followed closely behind. He told everyone to stop. At only 10 yards ahead of Justin, the wound coues buck was completely wrapped around the base of a juniper watching us in hopes we would just walk on by. Justin then tried to get into position for a shot and the buck bolted off of the mountain.
The next couple hours were certainly a roller coaster ride of emotion for the group, disappointment could be seen in Justin’s face. He was exhausted and eventually stalked that buck two more times in the steep, unforgiving country before placing an arrow through the bucks’ lungs. After we were able to pull it back together as a group, the stress of the day quickly dissipated. We had killed two bucks in two days on an OTC tag in the Arizona desert! If the trip were to have ended there, it would have been truly a success but Daniel and the Split Tine Outfitters crew had one more trick up there sleeve…
We changed locations to a spot that Daniel expected to be overrun with rutting activity. This spot in particular did not have coues deer, but there were plenty of muleys…We were higher in elevation, the canyon country was adorned with open stands of oak and ponderosa pines, and it was much colder! Daniel had been taking Casey and I to likely spots throughout the area, and we had seen some pretty solid bucks! The rest of the guys were in a different part of the unit helping Hunter make some well deserved stalks of his own.
Upon reaching yet another one of Daniel’s spots, Casey glassed up a small three point feeding on a scrub oak. Upon further inspection, there was a doe bedded and a larger buck feeding just out of complete view. Casey passed on the opportunity, coming to Arizona in search of a monster buck. I on the other hand, wanting to keep the streak alive, decided to stalk across the canyon and try my luck with the larger of the two bucks.
It had rained the night before and the ground was still partially saturated which created optimal stalking conditions. These deer were only about 450-500 yards away, but I had to navigate the canyon country in between, cross a small creek, and stalk up a small hill that they were near. During the stalk, Casey radioed to me that the larger buck had bedded down and only the smaller one remained feeding. I continued as it began to snow ever so slightly upon my approach.
I eventually reached the off side of the hill which was my destination and was confirmed by radio that the deer were all still in the area. As I crept up the hill slowly, I noticed the smaller buck standing there, then I saw the bedded doe, but I couldn't figure out exactly where the larger buck was bedded. I ranged the smaller buck at 66 yards and waited. Minutes crept by, I knew the other buck was there, somewhere, and continued to frantically search. Just as Casey radioed “Okay man, he’s standing up!” I saw him. Not wanting to risk the situation by ranging him, I estimated the buck was about ten yards closer than where the other buck was when I ranged him, which would put him at 56 yards. I drew back, settled the pin, and released; the shot felt good. Upon impact I heard the solid “WHACK” and a burst of air leave the buck in a guttural tone as he bucked and took off with the other deer. I could hear Daniel and Casey celebrating from across the canyon.
I sat down immediately to let the situation soak in and to wait for the guys to make it over to my location. My Gold Tip Kinetic Kaos arrow, led by the G5 T3 broadhead, blasted right through him and was sticking in the ground covered end to end with bubbly blood. The trail was a bit linger than expected but we found him piled up around the edge of the canyon. He conveniently died near a trail which we would utilize to pack him out to a road! We called the other guys, they met up at my buck, and we all recounted just how lucky we were to have killed three AZ bucks, spot and stalk, in three days! Truly an unforgettable experience.
Daniel and his Split Tine Outfitters crew run a quality operation, are great guys, and truly have a knack and absolute passion for hunting Arizona. We have seen how they conduct a hunt first hand and they have earned our approval as a quality outfitter that we would be comfortable recommending to anyone that desires to hunt in Arizona. Thanks again for a great trip guys!! By the way…We have booked for a return hunt next January (2018) and cant wait to get back in the field with a great group of guys!