Arizona Deer Hunting
Hunting in AZ can be a frustrating affair if you have never hunted the desert before this article will give you some of the tools you will need to be successful the bottom you will find podcast episodes that will give you the details, tips, tactics and secrets of guys that have been successful in AZ year in year out. I suggest if you are new to hunting the desert, new to the sport or just want to shorten the learning curve hire a guide your first few times out. If you would like to find out about our guided hunts check out
A excerpt from a Chapter in my Book Secrets of Hunting Western Game:
Coues Deer: If you have ever tried your luck at hunting the grey ghosts of the southwest, you know how tough it is to locate let alone harvest one of these elusive creatures. Both rifle hunters and bow hunters alike scratch their heads, in frustration while hunting these little beasties.
About the size of a large dog, 3x more skittish then your average whitetail, harsh environment, low densities, and poor hunting conditions make this the hardest whitetail and I would go out on a limb and aside form Mt goat and high dwelling sheep the hardest animal to bow hunt in the U.S.
They can be found in high desert mountain ridges, juniper scrub to ponderosa stand above 6,000 feet. Highly adaptable like their Midwest cousins, these grey ghosts well suited to survive.
Coues deer Bucks will bed more time then not on a north or northeastern slope, but can also be found many times in thick mesquite bottoms and shelves of ocotillo.
They have a home range of about 2-4 sq miles but rarely venture out of their core areas of 1/2 mile. They tend to avoid cattle and will often feed right were they bed.
One good aspect about this habitual little guy is once you have spotted him in his bed chances are you will find him there again on other outings.
I had mentioned Drainages in chapter 3 and yet I did not talk about them in the following chapter as I did with the other landscape features. That is because I was saving it for this chapter. Desert deer in general “flock” to water and develop their daily routines centering around water. 1) because everything is a meal in the desert 2) they will not be able to survive without permanent water sources.
Recall how I said that it is around these washes etc that new growth is more abundant? Well new growth often carries a higher water content, drawing deer to these areas. Also the growth of vegetation on the whole new and old is much greater so deer will use these areas for cover. I you are glassing the desert landscape you can always tell where the water holes and large washes are located because they will always have a higher density of trees and appear greener and thicker.
It is this combination of good cover, food and easier path to travel that make these areas good deer habitat in what otherwise would be very poor deer country. I concentrate my efforts on these areas as well as saddles, and in areas with high content of cactus fruits. There are really only two effective ways of hunting Coues, and that’s over water and spot and stalk or more accurately Spot and ambush.
Water hole hunting can be very trying on your patients and fruitless more often then not. Mainly because in bucks in particular frequent water after or before legal shooting light, and on those days that are very hot and dry where they are forced to water more then once a day, it is miserable to say the least to sit in a ground blind in 110 deg weather.
You can seek Coues deer in juniper and ponderosa stands in higher elevation where the weather is much cooler and you can stand hunt, but this requires a lot of scouting to choose the right stand site. You can hunt these areas much like we discussed in the early chapters.
But if you want to have the total experience there is no better way to hunt then spot and stalk like our ancestors did, in December and January. Spot and stalk hunting is the toughest method out there, but it is the most fun in my opinion because it’s very proactive.
Learning the art of spot and stalk hunting is must for coues deer. With everyone’s busy schedules it is hard to find the time to spend either learning how they move and where they will be so you can intercept them in a tree stand or ground blind.
Spot and stalk hunting, was invented for the west nothing is better suited for the terrain you will encounter. Becoming a good spot and stalk hunter takes practice, and lots of fine tuning, but it is attainable by anyone who wants to learn.
If you truly want to be effective with this method you need the following gear. I will list them in order of importance:
- A good pair of binoculars! Quality optics are a must! Here are my suggestions in order of preference: swarovski, Lieca, Ziess, Nikon, Bushnell elite, and Fujinon I suggest you carry a pair of high power binos to glass from a tripod and a small pair to use while you are stalking. I glass with 15×56 swarovski SLC on a tripod spot my game then when I make my stalk I use my 8×32 swarovski CLs
- Tripod: A good steady, articulate, but light tripod is a must I use: Monforotto 190xDB. It’s a great tripod for about $130 its medium weight and it has full articulation in the legs. Best of all it folds up small for easy storage.
- Wind checker: just a little puffer bottle with white talc powder nothing fancy. If you don’t have one, constantly pick up grass and let the wind take it to determine wind direction.
- Binocular harness: You travel great distances with this method of hunting it is important to be comfortable and to have your necessities in convenient locations. Crooked horn outfitter makes a nice cheap one for about $19 bucks But I suggest Marsupial bino harness
- Range finder: when I’m stand hunting its not that important for me to have a range finder, due to the close proximity and constant location. However, when you are on the move and there are drastic changes in terrain. The landscape plays tricks on you and it is real hard to accurately judge distance. No one wants to spend 2 hours sneaking in on a monster buck just to send an arrow over his back! I currently use the Leupold RX1600i TBR
Now that you are properly outfitted…
For some reason, a lot of people who try to stalk big game wait until they bed down. This is a great tactic, but it is not always the best tactic. If you can approach an animal when they are moving, it can increase your odds at filling your tag. Have you ever noticed that deer bed down in areas that provide themselves with many advantages?
First, they’re able to see any sort of danger from long distances. This will blow your stalk most of the time before it even starts. If they can’t see you, they can smell you and see you later. Always be aware of wind direction, as you should use that to your advantage by staying downwind. Than off course is a deer’s vision. Deer’s eyes are especially good at detecting motion.
If they are on their feet and moving they have a tougher time seeing other moving objects. For example, if you were to sit down on the side of a hill and just look around the country side, if something moves, chances are you will see it. But get up and start moving around and it becomes more difficult to pick out any kind of movement.
Finally, deer have hearing far superior to any human. When they are bedded they can hear leaves crunch or a twig break a mile away. When they are also moving and making noise, it makes it a little easier for us, the hunter, to approach them.
In stalking, time is your enemy. Once an animal is spotted you must close the distance as fast as possible without being detected if you want to be successful. If you spot an animal from a long distance, plan your stalk quickly, then close the distance as fast as you can until you need to make the final push towards the prize. In order to make a successful final approach, you need to rely on stealth. I like to have an oversized pair of wool socks with me to slide on over my boots, but there are also other options.
The first and least expensive is to take your shoes off, but watch out for cactus and other prickly plants, they hurt. Another option is buying some sort of stalking boot, with a felt bottom. As you get closer, calm your nerves, and be confident that all your practice has paid off. But don’t get too close, trying that usually means disaster. I like to, whenever possible, stay farther than 30 yards away.
Practice being sneaky at home by putting stalks on your family members and your dog this will help you gain confidence. Practice staying down wind from all animals and see how close you can get in your home state without getting busted. And lastly practice out at long distances from kneeling and seated positions that way you are training for what you will encounter and when the time comes you can make the shot.
For a more in depth look at hunting out west for western deer and game check out my book “The Secrets of Hunting Western Game”
How to hunt Deer in Arizona Podcasts I recommend:
- Arizona Deer hunting with Duwane Adams
- Arizona Coues deer hunting with Duwane Adams
- Hunting Desert Muleys with Chad Roberts
- Hunting Deer in AZ with unconventional tactics Bill Babiash
- Coues deer hunting in AZ with Eddie Willy
- Locating giant Coues Bucks with Eddie Willy
- Late Season Coues deer hunting tactics with Eric Forrest
- Hunting northern Arizona coues deer with Matt Woodward