Wards Outfitters - Hunting Stories

BOWHUNTING COUES DEER

Written By: Jason Stafford


A last-minute change in hunting plans takes the author to southern Arizona for his first Coues deer hunt.

My face was practically frozen as I tucked it in the warmth of my Sitka jacket. Growing up in North Dakota, I have spent many hours in a treestand enduring subarctic temperatures, but those years have passed. Everyone hears about sunny Arizona and how unbelievably hot the weather is, so I was somewhat shocked by the brisk temperatures on the first morning of my hunt. In fact, I was a little worried that I hadn't packed enough warm equipment for this hunt, as I dug through my pack looking for a facemask. I was beginning to think that the December Sitka blacktail deer hunt on Kodiak Island (which I was supposed to go on instead of this hunt) would have been a whole lot warmer than this situation.

A Change in Plans
It was early July when my friend Ron called to give me the bad news. He was not going on the Sitka blacktail deer that we had been planning for the last several years. Ron’s friend in Alaska was going to handle all the hunt arraignments, so I knew when Ron was not able to make the hunt most likely it would be postponed. At first, I was really bummed out, but then I remembered a chance encounter I had at the Pope and Young Club Convention in Rochester, Minnesota. I was out for dinner with several friends when Steven Ward of Ward’s Outfitters joined us. For several years I had heard great things about Steven’s Coues deer hunting operation. During the next couple of days, I had several opportunities to talk with Steven. At the end of the convention we exchanged phone numbers and kept in touch.

Almost immediately after hearing the disappointing news from Ron, I called Steven to see if he had any openings for his January Coues’ deer rut hunt. I was elated to hear that he had two last-minute openings for the second week of January. I quickly booked one of these slots and went from being down in the dumps to extremely excited about the upcoming hunt, even though it was several months away.


 

 

EL DIABLO RETURNS

So fifteen years later, “El Diablo” returns to Mexico for a Coues deer hunt with Steven Ward of Wards Outfitters. I drove with my hunting equipment to the SHOT Show in Las Vegas and then down to Tucson, Arizona. I think the round trip was nearly 5,000 miles. I haven’t flown with hunting gear in well over ten years.

We four hunters all met up in Tucson near the airport and drove for an hour to the border in the outfitter’s vehicles. At the border we showed to the Mexican authorities our rifles and the paperwork we were required to prepare in advance of the trip.This took about 20 to 30 minutes and then we were on our way. The ranch is about 45 minutes from the border.

The final 30 minutes of driving was in an area that was both remote and picturesque. As we drove into the parking area I remember thinking, “This doesn’t look like a modest ranch house that I was expecting.” We were all surprised at the size and quality of the digs that would be our home for the next 5 days.


I would describe the accommodations as a specialty hotel/lodge associated with a working ranch. Quite luxurious, really. It was built in 2002 as a small, intimate specialty lodge targeted at weddings and other family gatherings. Our wives would have been quite comfortable there. The floors were all beautiful Mexican tile as were the walls in the large bathrooms.Sturdy built-in bunk beds with good mattresses were very comfortable. There was ample drawer storage and closets.



The main room was like the lounge area in a fine hotel with two separate seating areas furnished with comfortable leather couches and chairs.The fireplace was huge and magnificent. It burned warmly each morning and evening.

There was a large dining table but we did not eat there. Rather we walked about 100 feet to a separate building that amounted to an eat-in kitchen. Here we watched our Mexican cook prepare entirely authentic Mexican fare each morning and evening. For one meal, we feasted on hunter Zach Fallin’s game birds and elk meat that he brought with him.


I have a ridiculous sweet tooth and was initially disappointed that Magdalena the cook served no desserts even though that is a good thing for me! But I soon discovered the pancake syrup and a jar of strawberry jam up high on the pantry shelf. Since she cooked warm tortilla shells for each meal it was easy for me to feed the cookie monster in me by spreading some syrup or jam on the shells. By the third morning Magdalena had me figured out and the sweets containers magically appeared right in front of my spot at the table.

Our guides were outfitter Steven Ward himself plus Mike, Nick and Tanner. In talking with them it quickly became obvious that they were all passionate hunters and were also long range shooters themselves.

We would be hunting on 30,000 beautiful acres in grassy mountainous terrain dotted with mesquite, cholla and a few saguaro cactus. The river bottoms had many sycamore trees including some giants that I did not know even existed in nature. My hunt 15 years earlier was in an area further west and had only gentle hills. I like this new spot much better. The altitude of the ranch buildings was about 4,000 feet. The elevation gain was about 1,500 on some of the mountains we hunted but closer to 1,000 on most. The ranch road system had been augmented by the owner at Steven’s request when he started hunting this land last year. 

Each morning we left after breakfast with plenty of light but just before actual sunrise. That’s a pleasant switch compared to our Wyoming hunts. On those we left camp 2 hours before first light and returned from one to two hours after last light. Steven explained that the full moon resulted in the deer feeding during the night and bedding down before dawn. But then they would get up from their beds shortly after good light and start moving again.

Each hunter went out with his own guide and two were in pickups and two were in four-seat Polaris Ranger ATV’s. I had not hunted from an ATV before but found it quite pleasant. It was also quite effective for glassing as we moved around the property. WIth either style of vehicle we would start the day in one spot out of the vehicle glassing from the ground and then move on depending on what we saw.


Usually we were glassing at distances just under a mile. Binoculars were effective much of the time especially if mounted on a tripod. But spotting scopes were essential to find the bedded bucks in many cases. For my next trip down here I will definitely bring a small folding stool. 

All the guides were phenomenal game spotters. I saw between 10 and 15 bucks each day and in most instances the other three hunters did about as well in sightings on the same days. So collectively, we were seeing a ton of different bucks during the five days. Each day we did sort of a round robin approach to who was going where to hunt each day. I think everyone got to hunt all the spots that others had been to. We four hunters each killed very nice bucks. On day one after one hour of hunting Doug Rosa took his buck. Doug tends to kill early. In 2014 using a rifle I built he killed his Alaskan Dall sheep just minutes after first light. He and his guide had located his ram late in the afternoon on the day before the season opened and spent the dark and frigid night up on the mountain without tent or sleeping bag just waiting for dawn.

Zach Fallin killed on day two, I killed on day three and John Wayne Smith killed on day four. We all had many to choose from. Some that we saw were bigger than what we shot but had broken tines. I had chosen the hunt dates and as it turned out we were just past the peak of the rut. There was lots of rutting activity still going on. Being a little late to the party, we were finding quite a few bucks had some tines broken from fighting.


Zach Fallin and his buck.

John Wayne Smith killed his buck on the fourth day.

Steven had told me that the buck to doe ratio was high on bucks. This made for a very competitive rut situation that accounted for so many broken antlers. Next time I thought our LRH group will come earlier for this reason. 

Imagine, though, going on a hunt where there was almost too much active rutting going on. That’s pretty close to the dream of deer hunters everywhere.

There are bobcats and javelina on the ranch. I almost took a 500 yard shot at a sneaking-away cat but he got into brush too quickly. A day later I had another bobcat sighting. Several sightings of javelinas afforded opportunities. I saw a coatimundi up close on day three. Coyotes were heard but not seen.

There was very little wind in the mornings but on some of the days we saw wind speeds picking up by mid afternoon. Most of the good spotting activity and perhaps all four kills occurred in the mornings.

Several times while on this hunt I thought about how perfect it would be for some who would like to hunt in the mountains but don’t want to sleep in a tent or don’t want to ride horses or just don’t want to work as hard as it takes for our Wyoming horseback wilderness hunts.

My buck was taken early in the morning of the third hunt day. We left the ranch compound at our normal, civilized time. We headed off in a direction that was new to me. Soon we entered a very narrow canyon with steep rocky hillsides on both sides. Then the canyon widened out as the route meandered along a creek bed with running water. 

Steven stopped the vehicle to glass as we moved along. The second time he did this he saw a buck that may be a shooter. So we got out of the Ranger and he quickly set up his scope on the tripod. After acquiring the buck in the scope he motioned for me to take a look. It took me only about 2.6 seconds of viewing to decide to kill this buck.

He was over 700 yards away up on a steep hillside and I wanted to get to a spot both closer and with better ground conditions for taking the shot. So we grabbed our stuff and hurried off on foot. As I walked I immediately looked forward to spots that I thought Steven may direct us to for the shot. I also started mentally listing the numerous shooting positions that I would choose from. Once I got to a good location I knew the buck may be on the move and I needed to be ready.

So I also ticked off my list of “go” equipment: rifle, ammo, BR2 rangefinder, binos, shooting sticks, tripod with saddle rest attached, backpack if I needed to lean my shooting arm against it or rest my rifle on it. For this steep shot (which turned out to be at 17 degrees) my bipod may be too short. As I walked I checked that my scope was still on a lower power for quick target acquisition and that my parallax knob was set accordingly.

We stopped on a relatively level spot at about 400 yards. The grass was still a little high for a prone shot. But I wiggled into an okay spot on the ground, confirming that the bipod was indeed too short. So I quickly switched to the backpack as my front rest. 

The buck had not seen us but he had started slowly walking to our left as we approached. He stopped as I hit the ground and prepared for the shot. I got the shot off before he started to move again and Steven later mentioned this. “Most of our hunters aren’t able to get the shot off that quickly.”

Well, all the thinking and prepping I did while on the move to my shooter spot enabled this. We teach this in the NTO-LRH Shooting classes in the Wyoming mountains. At the shot the buck just folded to the ground.

The dead deer was on a 45 degree slope and part of our walk upwards to it was through tallish grass that obscured the loose rocky turf underneath. I thought again about some hunters who may be looking for a physically easy hunt. The trip up the mountain to recover my deer was the only part of my hunt that was at all difficult. And a hunter doesn’t really have to accompany the guide if the recovery is difficult.


The body size of the Coues deer is really small. All four of our bucks were about four and a half years old. But look at this image of the entire carcass of my buck being packed out whole after gutting.


Steven and the guide packing Len’s buck.

The first three bucks taken.


 

THE ELK WHISPER

Written by Beard Hobbs

After eight years of diligently applying for a trophy elk tag in Arizona, I finally hit the lottery and drew a trophy archery bull elk tag in unit 5b South, near Winslow, Arizona. With tag in hand I booked my hunt with friend and guide Steven Ward of Wards Outfitters.

Over the past five years I have hunted coues deer, mule deer, javalina, cotamundi and now elk with Wards Outfitters. Wards Outfitters is based out of Wilcox, Arizona and primarily provides guiding services to bow hunters. Steven’s camps are generally first class. He always rents a nice cabin and has excellent guides, hot showers, warm beds and a great cook.

My elk hunt started on September 09, 2011. The first day I missed a 60 yard shot at a 340 class bull. On the second day we made a great stalk on a bedded bull that would have scored somewhere north of 370”. We crawled within 200 yards of the bedded bull, and then waited for him to get up and feed over the ridgeline. As soon as the bull and cows cleared the ridgeline, we literally raced across the flats and up the side of the ridge. As we neared the ridge, we could see the big bull standing in some oak brush at about 50 yards. As we waited for the bull to clear another hunter came in from the side and busted our stalk. Oh well, close but no cigar!

Every day we were constantly in contact with various herds of elk. Steven doesn’t much believe in bugling or cow calling. He only uses a bugle to locate elk when they aren’t bugling and he only uses a cow call to stop a bull when he wants you to shoot. I can honestly say that when it comes to elk hunting, Steven, out thinks them, and moves in and out of a herd as if he were some form of elk shape shifter. Having hunted elk for the better part of the last 45 years, I am in awe of Steven’s elk hunting skills. Steven Ward is the ELK WHISPER!!!!!!

On about the fifth day, with extreme stealth Steven walked us directly into the middle of a herd of elk. For at least an hour we had four 6x6’s and maybe 30 plus cows, anywhere from 20 to 80 yards from our position. Just before dark, the entire herd walked single file past us at 45 yards. The biggest bull in this group was a 325 class bull, and having already been spoiled, it was pretty easy to hold off on shooting him.

On the ninth day of the hunt, at first light we raced across several canyons in an attempt to close the distance between us and several herds of cows and bulls. As we slipped from tree to tree, Steven positioned us within 30 yards of a 350 class 6x6. As we stood waiting for him to move into an opening, a cow walked within 10 yards of us. Steven just whispered, hold still and don’t look up. The cows moved slowly off and the bull followed.

Almost immediately a group of cows and a 360 class 6x6, moved up from the bottom of the draw.  Steven silently moved us into shooting position. The cows, followed by the herd bull, walked directly in front of us.   As the big bull cleared, Steven cow called and as the bull stopped and turned his head towards us, Steven whispered shoot. My shot was high, right and barely created a flesh wound. Steven and I glassed the bull as he followed is cows down the draw and up the side of the adjoining canyon. I was distraught and devastated but somewhat relieved in that Steven confirmed my shot as nothing more than a slight flesh wound.

Within minutes, Steven turned his attention to three separate groups of elk moving up the side of the canyon and heading towards the ridgeline. With raging bulls screaming from all sides, Steven and I picked our way through the cedars and pines. As we pushed forward, we were able to get in front of two of the groups of elk.  As the first group moved past us at 60 yards, Steven stopped a big 6x6, as the elk moved through the cedars. Again I shot and missed wide to the right. Steven looked at me and “said, something is wrong with your bow.” At this point I was beyond distraught and could not even fathom how I could miss three big 6x6 bulls.  Steven just said hang in there, we are going back to the cabin and we will fix the problem. After watching me shoot my bow we discovered that my drop away was catching the fletching of my arrow causing the arrow to kick right approximately three feet at 60 yards. At thirty yards, the defect was not noticeable but the further I moved back the more noticeable the problem became. Steven got out his bow tools and within a ½ hour had the problem fixed and we were back in business.

Fast forwarding to day eleven, at first light we heard bulls off in the distance. Steven and I hiked approximately two miles only to find ourselves on the rim of a canyon over looking a lake. We could hear two bulls screaming, and both Steven and I swore that they were directly below us in a cluster of pines at the bottom of the canyon. We moved about 400 yards to the north and then dropped off into the bottom of the canyon. As we closed in on the cluster of pine trees we began to hear bulls bugling across the lake. Steven looked and me and said, the bulls are across the lake and what we have been hearing is an echo bouncing off the surface of the lake. We took off and headed around to the other side of the lake. By the time we reached the far shore, the bulls had stopped bugling and all was silent. Steven said no problem, he would find them. We slowly and quietly picked our way from cedar tree to cedar tree. Suddenly, Steven stopped and motioned for me to be quiet. Steven whispered that the herd bull was bedded approximately 70 yards front of us. Steven picked up a broken branch and started raking it against the nearest cedar tree. Within seconds, Steven said the bull was coming and for me to get ready and look towards the clearing to my right. As I set up, the bull walked into the opening and Steven whispered 60 yards. I settled my 60 yard pin and touched off the shot as the bull spun and ran off into the cedars. Although the shot was a little far back, it was a good liver shot. We waited for approximately one hour and then followed the massive blood trail for approximately 250 yards where we ultimately found the dead bull. My Arizona elk scores 367 5/8”. The hunt was incredible. I probably saw more than 30 6x6 trophy bulls and one white cow elk.  Oh, and the other hunter in camp killed a bull that scored 393 the day after I shot my bull.


 

Hi my name is John O'Connor, I am a father, outdoorsman and passionate about living a healthy lifestyle. Over the past few years I have become more and more interested in hearing loss.  My father and grandfathers, who are and were all hunters, are affected by hearing loss.  I feel that there is a general lack of understanding around the issue and it is our job to spread awareness where we can. Check out my new blog at bloggingwjohno.blogspot.com!

How You Can Prevent Hearing Loss Even When Hunting



Before you go hunting with your relatives or friends, you need to consider what you are going to do to prevent hearing loss.  For many longtime hunters, they are experiencing severe hearing loss later on in their lives due to excessive gunfire. My father who has been hunting for many years is one of these people who’s hearing has slowly decreased through out the years.  Now in his late 70’s he is severely affected by hearing loss and uses a hearing aid in order to help amplify sounds and increase his hearing. Even with his hearing loss he still makes sure to get out and hunt and hit the range but always remembers to bring the proper hearing protection with him. It may seem normal to go hunting without ear protection, but this is simply not responsible and should not be done on a regular basis.  Noise-induced hearing loss happens over an extended period of time and could drastically affect the way you live your life.  Knowing how hearing loss is caused by hunting and what you can do to prevent it will improve your quality of well-being.



The main reason hunting and hearing loss are directly related is because of gunfire. Gunfire is extremely loud and can damage the eardrum dramatically.  Without ear protection, even one shot from your gun can perforate the eardrum and cause hearing loss.  When done over a longer period of time, you are looking at a life that is void of hearing.  Preventing this loss can be a lot easier than you might think and could save the quality of your life later on.




Using hearing protection does not have to be expensive or take the fun out of hunting for you.  Hearing protection might actually enable you to enjoy the sport a little more because you are not constantly dealing with ringing in the ears or temporary deafness after firing your gun.  For group members, hearing protection will allow them to join you without risking their own safety.  You should put a lot more emphasis onto your hearing and the hearing of your hunting party than what you are used to doing.  There is nothing more frustrating than losing your hearing and knowing that it could have been completely prevented earlier on in life.




There are several forms of hearing protection that happen to be available to you. You want to choose hearing protection that is comfortable to wear so that you can use it for hours at a time.  You should also choose a product that is effective and convenient so that you will actually benefit from wearing it.  If the product is not convenient, you will find yourself forgetting to pack it before going hunting or you may simply leave it in your backpack while hunting game.  It is always best to wear the hearing protection before you actually go out into the wilderness to begin hunting.  This ensures that you do not get side tracked and forget to use the proper hearing protection.


Hearing loss does not have to be something that every hunter deals with.  Despite the fact that you are continually firing weapons, there are products out there specifically made to reduce the noise reaching the ear when using a gun. The key is to make use of these products and to find something that is comfortable and convenient to bring with you.  You will find that this helps you to make use of hearing protection before using your weapons.

Specifically made to reduce the noise reaching the ear when using a gun.  The key is to make use of these products and to find something that is comfortable and convenient to bring with you.  You will find that this helps you to make use of hearing protection before using your weapons.


 

Arizona Coues Deer Hunt

Last year was my first time hunting Coues in southern Arizona. My friend and I spent 5 days in 36B on a late Dec guided hunt and left unsuccessful. Although we saw bucks, none were "mature" (spikes/ little forks) and we decided to pass.

This year was different. We had no problem obtaining Oct. tags for Unit 32 and made our way down to AZ again in search of those little gray ghosts of the desert mountains. Through Ward's Outfitters (Steven Ward) We managed to gain access to several sections of landlocked forest service land via a private ranch with extremely limited access....sorry, I can't give any more details on location...sworn to secrecy. Opening morning we immediately began glassing up lots of deer. Does, little bucks, and an occasional shooter on a distant mountain. Later in the morning when the shadows started to retreat, the deer began to move and we glassed up a bachelor group that contained two shooters. We made our stalk and positioned ourselves 369 yds from the bedded bucks. After a long wait, the shadows moved with the sun and the bucks began one by one to get up and reposition in their bedding area. When, finally, one of the shooter bucks stood up, my friend Kenny ( who had won the right to shoot first in a "pick a number between 1 and 20" game ) squeezed one off...miss! All heck broke loose then. Bucks began running everywhere. Kenny regained his composure and squeezed another shot off at what he thought was the largest buck. Unfortunately, Kenny had tunnel vision and failed to notice that the buck shot at had switched positions with the larger buck. At the report of the 300RUM the smallest buck in the group, a 2 x 1 folded up....oops! Nevertheless, Kenny had his first Coues and a helluva story to tell.

I was up next. My turn wouldn't come till 2 days later. We had lots of packing to do to get Kenny's deer out and taken care of as well as some other business to attend to. Steven's other clients had taken some bucks and we decided to help them with their recovery. Sunday AM we hit the mountains again and began my search. The morning produced ~ 15 does/fawns and 2 bachelor groups of bucks with no shooters. Again, like opening day, when it started to warm up and the shadows retreated to the gullies around 10:00 AM, the bucks began to move. I managed to glass up a small 2x2 at about 700 yds. We watched him intently because all the other small bucks we had seen were not alone. This proved to be the case here as well. After about 5 minutes of glassing Steven spotted a large mature buck that suddenly appeared about 30 yards to the little buck's left....and he was a good one!

az coues deeraz coues deer

We glassed him for 15-20 minutes before he bedded in a spot where he was clearly visible from our position. Next came the stalk. I was not capable of making a 700 yd shot on him so we needed to get closer, a lot closer. Slowly we made our way along a ridge, keeping a close eye on our bedded target. Eventually we found a shaded spot under a cedar that we felt would be a good spot to set up. Steven and I had a lengthy discussion on the ballistics involved with the shot. I had data for my rifle and load for 300, 400, 500...etc. yards but not for any intermediates. The buck was bedded at ~350 yards from us and the shot would be uphill at an fairly steep angle. We finally reached a conclusion of where to "dial up" my turret, settling on 9 clicks up from my 200 yard zero.

It wasn't long before the buck rose to his feet to reposition himself as the shadows shifted. Immediately upon rising I locked in on him with my custom Rem 700 in .308, cranked up the magnification of my Leupold Mark IV up to 25X, and placed the crosshairs just to the right of his elbow. Slowly I squeezed the trigger until....BOOM! The next thing I heard was "You smoked him!" from Steven. The deer ran about thirty yards across the hillside before piling up. Now the only thing to do was make the recovery. Thirty minutes passed as we watched what appeared to be his crumpled body lay against a couple of mesquites above a prominent rock pile. When we were sure he was dead and not going to move I began the steep climb up to him. It didn't take long with direction from my spotter below to locate him. No ground shrinkage here...I had my first Coues and he was a dandy!

az coues deer

After the photo session and an hour of caping and quartering the hike out commenced. The adventure wasn't over as we jumped several other deer and found both shed and a bear skull as we made our way back to the truck. Once at the truck the tape measure came out. We rough scored the buck at 97 7/8 BC gross.

I gotta say I'm hooked now. No doubt I'll be stumbling along those cactus infested, rocky hillsides again next year. It's hard to say whether or not I'll ever be privileged enough to take another Coues like this one but that doesn't matter. The adventure I had with one of my best friends on this trip is what I hope to revisit again in the future.

**If you are looking for an adventure like this, don't hesitate to call Steven Ward of Ward's Outfitters....he's AWESOME!


 
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