Hunting & Fishing for Stories & Photos

Friday, January 14, 2011

Close, But No Mule Deer

Overlooking Classic Northern Arizona Mule Deer Habitat

During early January in Northern Arizona, you can rest assured to find the mule deer rut in full swing. Swelled necks, flehming, posturing, and of course the disregard for their own safety marks just some of things you can count on seeing from the bucks. While chasing javelina, my friend Matt (you know Matt from Ohio) [Ohio Homes and Acres Real Estate] and I had already spotted a couple bucks, including a tall, thin 4x4 that I estimated to score about 160”, but neither buck was ever in a position to stalk. After whacking our first javelinas with bows, we headed to a new spot to look for deer.

Perched high over a large basin with our binoculars mounted firmly on Outdoorsmans tripods, we started picking apart the pinon-juniper. Low and behold, I spotted a big fork-horn buck nearly a mile away. As we watched him, we noticed he had a limp; his left front elbow would not bend and he put no weigh on that leg. Since Matt had torn open his hand on a fencepost, and then gotten sick on the painkillers, we thought this would be the perfect buck. A handicapped buck for a handicapped hunter! Matt quickly made his way off our hill and down across the flat as I watched the buck. The buck had moved a few hundred yards so I repositioned Matt and he snuck in to within 75 yards before the wind swirled and the buck took off as if he had four good legs.

Piggybacking Matt’s Badlands Pack on My Outdoorsmans Pack

We tried another spot that evening in the hopes of also seeing some of the elk that Arizona is famous for, but all we glassed up was another fork-horned buck heading the wrong direction, a herd of does, and a bald eagle. The hill we were on was covered in deer tracks, so we probably should have been glassing it!

Matt’s Arizona Sunset

On the last day of Matt’s Arizona adventure, we decided to cover as much ground as possible by driving and stopping periodically to glass. The first couple spots yielded nothing. I finally spotted a lone doe, but lost her around the curve of a mountain. At the next stop, Matt stared intently through my old Leica binoculars. He had readily accepted the value of glassing and after a week of practice had no trouble finding animals. He excitedly whispered to me that he found a deer so I rushed over to him and watched as two bucks slowly moved out of our view. We made a plan to get to a spot where we could see them again and set off with full packs. Once we made it to the next ridge, we spotted six deer in the bottom of a ravine leading down from the next ridge. After pulling out the spotting scope, we counted a doe, a spike, a 3x3, a small 4x4, and a wide, short 4x4 that I guessed would score 160”. He looked a lot different than the first buck he saw, but was plenty big enough for either of us!

A Better Way to Cross Fences

The deer moved north across an open slope before they ducked into the trees and shadows on the other side. We watched for a while but only saw two more does head into the drainage. Keeping the wind in our favor, we walked down, and then circled up and around them. I expected them to bed in the snowy, shadowed north-facing hillside so we slowly crept over the edge, glassing as we went. With no sign of them, we continued to the north and I finally caught a glimpse of the doe bedded on the south-facing slope in the shadow of a large bush at 139 yards. Closer examination showed the large buck right next to her and the spike and another doe just uphill. I stayed put as Matt snuck around downwind. When he got to about 90 yards from the big buck, an unseen doe stood up and busted him. The last we saw of them they were headed north, two ridgelines away…

The success of a hunt can’t be measured solely in inches or meat. Matt never flung an arrow at a deer, but he got much closer than he ever thought possible. It was his first trip to Arizona and he bought the tag over the counter. I don’t think he believed me when I told him we would just glass until we found deer, watch them bed, and then sneak up on them, but now he’s a believer. It was a great week and I’m sure Matt is trying to figure out how to come back later this year to use his unfilled archery deer tag!