Those that pursue the elusive Coues Deer often refer to them as “The Gray Ghost”. They have an uncanny ability to disappear in rough desert landscapes almost instantly as if they never existed. This hilly terrain in the foothills of the immense Sonoran Desert is a formidable place. The deer know it well and definitely have the advantage here. If you want an easy hunt, don’t put in for an October Coues Deer tag.
I grew up in a part of the country where only Mule Deer roam the mountains so I had never had the opportunity to hunt Whitetails of any kind. With the help of a close friend I changed that this year. A new outdoor obsession was born in me when I drew a Coues Deer tag in my backyard here in Central Arizona.
Starting in June we worked hard scouting a remote wilderness area, hiking in to place cameras at water sources. Although this area looked like amazing Coues Deer country, we never saw the numbers of deer we were looking for. The cameras captured some images but with a couple weeks before the hunt, we decided to try a different area within the unit.
Opening morning found us sitting separate stands on a mountain some miles away from our original target. An hour after I got settled a large black bear topped the ridge in front of me and headed my way a few yards before turning some 75 yards off and returning over the ridge he had come from. He was looking back, obviously getting out of the way of something, and never saw me. Sadly that was the only action I saw all day.
The name of the game on day two was spot-and-stalk, my favorite type of deer hunting. All we knew of yet another area we were trying was what we could see from google maps… it was a gamble for sure. Four of us hiked in before sunrise and as the sun started to illuminate things we found a hilltop to sit and glass from. It was a beautiful October morning and quail called below us in the valley as the sun peaked over the Eastern ridge.
Two long hours passed with nothing to show for our efforts. Frustration was starting to build when one of the guys announced he had something in the binoculars. He said it looked like a cat and got the spotter out to have closer look. Finding the animal again through the spotting scope he started explaining where it was so we could all help assess the situation. As I was getting my bearings on the area he said the animal had just stood up and it was a bobcat. I was still trying to see the thing some 900 yards away when I caught movement and instantly identified it as the flagging tail of a Whitetail. The others did not believe me when I said, “I’ve got a deer”. I explained where it was and they found it and were surprised to see antlers a top its head. The bobcat had stood up and moved just enough to alert the Coues buck to his presence. Had my friend not spotted the bedded bobcat and had it not spooked the deer, we would have never seen the deer at such a distance. Things were starting to look up.
My hunting partner has killed elk and javelina but had never harvested a deer, so I told him this buck was his and we put a plan together. A few minutes later the buck bedded down, we set a goal to get to a rock outcropping halfway between the buck and our location. The next half hour was spent hiking slowly into position. Arriving at our destination we ranged the deer at 388 yards. He had not moved and we readied for the shot.
Things got very exciting over the next few minutes. My friend shot once, then twice, and finally a third time. After the first round rang off I was trying to re-locate the deer in the glass as it moved across the hillside. On the third shot I had still not found the deer but I heard the solid smack of the bullet’s impact and just knew it was over. After a quick call from the other two members of the party it was confirmed that the deer was down. The hike up the mountain was difficult but we were ecstatic to find the mature Coues Deer expired right where he was hit.
The deer was quartered and packed into game bags, then backpacks, and on ice within two hours. None too soon as the car read 88 degrees when we arrived from the hike out. My job got in the way of more hunting the rest of the week and I was unable to fill my tag this year. It was ok though, the hunt was an overwhelming success and I felt fortunate to be a part of it. Hunting these deer is addicting but then so is anything that requires so much work. Until next year I bid the Gray Ghost adieu.
Author - Kyle Graf is an insurance agent by trade and an outdoorsman by passion. He makes his home in the Phoenix area with his wife, daughter, and loyal bird dog. He spends most of his free time hunting upland birds and big game as well as fly-fishing and fly tying. Follow his writings at Sleep When You’re Dead