By Bob Hendrick
-- The memory of this hunt is as vivid as it was nine years ago. I had applied for and received a permit to hunt Coues deer in the Coronado National Forest/Whetstones Mountains area of south-central Arizona. I’d previously hunted the diminutive whitetail subspecies in that state’s Chiricahua Mountains, but was not familiar with the area for which I’d been drawn.
Since I didn’t have time to do any scouting, I decided to call the Arizona Game and Fish Office in Tucson. I was fortunate to talk to a game warden who is familiar with the Whetstones.
French Joe Canyon, the warden said, is one of the more productive Coues hunting spots in the state. A business friend who had hunted there also recommended it.
I followed their advice and arrived at French Joe Canyon with a small camper in tow the day before the season opener.
The Coues whitetail is considered by some, including the late, great Jack O’Connor, as the most difficult whitetail to hunt. The best way to do this is to sit, spot and, if necessary, stalk until you can get a shot.
The first day was cloudy and windy, with a light mist falling, and although I did see a few deer, none of them were bucks.
The next morning I awoke to a crisp, clear day with not a cloud in the sky. Since I was already back in the canyon and in deer country, I waited until shooting light and started hunting. I hadn’t walked 200 yards from my campsite when I jumped three deer, one of them a small buck. They were moving quite fast, and I didn’t want to risk a shot, so I let them go.
I still-hunted and glassed my way across the hill towards a finger ridge that I wanted to check. I had stopped for a break when I heard shots on the lower part of the ridge and watched as a hunter harvested a deer. That really got me pumped up!
Still wanting to check out the upper section of the ridge, I continued the way I was going, even more alert than before.
Upon reaching the point where I wanted to be, I discovered a scrub oak stand that had been hidden from my sight. Knowing that it could be a good place for deer to be bedded down, I headed into it cautiously, my rifle at the ready.
I hadn’t gone 10 steps in when I jumped a doe. It headed downhill and was quickly out of sight. Ten or 15 more steps, and a deer jumped out to my left. Swinging quickly, I immediately saw antlers. The buck was running directly away from me, not providing a shot, but he suddenly turned left and was broadside. Upon shooting, and feeling good about my hold, I ran in the same direction as the deer, back into the open, where I looked up the hill just in time to see my buck stagger and fall.
As I always do, I sat down and relaxed, and thanked The Lord for his help in harvesting this magnificent buck.
The buck turned out to be an 8-pointer (Eastern count). Although the deer only weighed around 100 pounds, field-dressed, it still took me two hours to get back to camp with my trophy, due to the rough, rocky terrain.
While skinning the buck, the game warden for the area stopped by, checked my license and permit, and while admiring my buck, speculated that it might make the Awards Program, and possibly Boone and Crocket. After the necessary drying period, it scored 93 inches. The minimum for the awards is 100, and for Boone and Crockett, 110.
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I wasn’t hunting for awards, anyway. My buck is a wonderful trophy and the pride of my 45-year hunting career.