Wards Outfitters - Hunting Stories

Laurel's Coues Deer

I have lived in Arizona four years now but have loved to hunt my whole life. When I was a child my Dad would spend days bow hunting whitetail on the east coast. I was always fascinated by what would drive my father to sit for hours in a tree stand regardless of the weather. I was formally introduced to bow hunting just a few years ago by my husband Derek, for he too shares a passion for the sport. That’s probably why my father and him hit it off so well. Several months after meeting each other they were off hunting together for days. Derek has shot an elk with my dad and a black bear, both with his bow. I was jealous; I wanted to know what it was about, this sport that the two most important men in my life loved. So I made Derek buy me a basic starter bow and I started shooting. From the moment I let the first arrow fly I was hooked. Something about how precise you must be and having a methodical system that you can repeat over and over again regardless of the situation was addicting. I shot every chance I had trying to shoot the smallest spot on the target I could pick.

Ever since I moved to Arizona Derek told me how he hunted with some of the best guides in the state, Wards Outfitters. Whenever he would archery hunt for elk or deer in this state he called Steven Ward. So after two years of practice and hunting a bit on our own Derek and Steven started talking about how I could get an opportunity to shoot my first buck with my bow. The first thing we did was to get me a new bow that can shoot faster while still pulling only 53 pounds; a PSE Ex Force SS. Steven told us if we wanted an opportunity to shoot a good buck we should come to Southern Arizona and hunt Coues Deer in the rut out of ground blind’s. So by September I had my new PSE dialed in and I started shooting from a chair in my back yard every day. We had booked time with Steven in Mid January when the rut is typically in full swing. So when the time came we made the 3 hour drive from Phoenix down to meet up with Steven Ward.

We were hunting out of ground blinds Wards Outfitters had set up along some heavy traffic trails and near scrape lines. Hoping we could catch them as they passed through. Traffic was not a problem, the first day in the blind hunting with Steven we saw 15 deer, but all does. The second day we saw 25 more deer 20 does and fawns and 5 bucks! The first buck was a nice 3 by 3 with nice eye guards. We watched him chasing a doe about 80 yards away. Sadly he never came in any closer than that. When the next set of does came through there was a nice heavy fork horn with them. He was a big 2 by 2 but had a lot of character. He came right into a doe that was only 35 yards away. As I got ready to draw another 3 by 3 buck came charging in and chased him off! After that we saw 2 more small bucks but they never came close enough for a shot.

On day three we switched spots and we had not been in the blind 10 minutes when a spike walked in and was trying to chase the does only he was so little they were chasing him!! Just as it looked like he was going to come close enough to give me a shot all the deer got a bit jittery. I looked to my right and saw a bobcat creeping our way 75 yards out. Immediately our goal of shooting a Coues deer turned to shooting a bobcat! Unfortunately the cat never came inside of 50 yards to give us a shot. The amazing thing was that in the end, one of the big does actually charged at the bobcat and chased it away. Regardless, the rest of the deer left and were not coming back for a while.

The next day started out much the same although my husband Derek and I were now hunting together. We saw a bunch of does with really no bucks until midday. After lunch we had 2 spikes walk in and start sparing with each other. It was really exciting to see them confront each other. They were trying to rub trees, chase does and challenge each other. Unfortunately, again we just never got a good opportunity on these deer.

On day 5 Derek and I hunted a new spot where Steven said they had seen several good bucks. This blind was set up again on a trail, which passed through a nice meadow area. There was a few does that passed through at around 9 am and they bedded down just 100 yards from us. These same does continued to come and go all day long. Around 3:30 pm had been typically when the deer stopped moving and so far in 5 days we had seen no deer after 3:30. So as the hour approached my heart sank, another day without a shot. As I tried to remain hopeful, I looked over at my husband and he was fast asleep!! Clearly anticipating another slow evening.

At 4:30 one of the does that we thought was gone popped up out of her bed with her fawn and wandered back along the trail in front of our blind. She lingered around with a fawn for about 15 minutes and then I herd it. A grunt, a good grunt. So I leaned to my left to peer around the corner of the right window of our blind to see if I was hearing things and my heart stopped. There he was, sneaking in on this doe, a huge mature Coues deer. A big tall perfect 3 by 3 with tall eye guards.

He came right in after this doe, I was shaking so bad and my heart was pumping through my chest. I could swear this deer was going to hear my heart beat. 19 yards in front of me was the largest Coues deer I had ever seen. I knew I had to calm down, I looked at Derek to ask him to range the buck and I saw he was shaking too!! This did not help, I was hoping him being cool and relaxed would help me get it together but he was so excited he could not even range the buck! Luckily we had ranged several spots earlier so I knew he was about 20 yards away with the doe he was after in between him and our blind. I tried to compose myself as the buck came in after the doe and as he turned broad side I drew. I was still shaking and I knew I would have to calm down or I was not going to make a good shot. Just then the buck turned to face the doe, which meant he was facing us. I told Derek I was going to let off and get set to draw again and I could sense his frustration. Having shot many deer with his bow himself he knew I was not going to get many opportunities at this big buck. But I knew that I had waited 5 long days in a blind for this opportunity and I was not going to blow it because I took a shaky or otherwise risky shot. I wanted a good shot on this handsome buck. The buck turned broadside again and I drew, just as I drew he turned to face the doe again I held on him for a minute and he never turned back. So I let off again. Then came the toughest three minutes of my life. The buck walked away. I blew it, I missed my opportunity! My heart sank and I was devastated. But the doe was still in front of us. She had not left. Derek told me the buck would come back as long as she was still there. So we sat hopeful. 3 minutes later the buck was back, on a mission. He was so focused on that doe it was amazing. So I gave myself a little lecture on not being a girl and set my mind on shooting this deer. That buck turned broadside one more time and I drew my PSE super short for the third time and let my Vortex broad head fly.

19I new it was a good shot and my husband and I jumped for joy. I know you are supposed to be quite after you shoot a deer but I could not help it. I looked at Derek and the look on his face was irreplaceable, pride and joy. I started crying and hyper ventilating. I could not breath. I started screaming and waving my hands in a truly girlie fashion. Shouting: “Call Steven, Call Dad, Call Everybody I just shot a huge deer!!.” Derek thought I was going to pass out from sheer excitement. This is why I started bow hunting. I have never been so excited (or so nervous) in my entire life. The rush was the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. And the fact that I got to share it with my husband who taught me to shoot my first arrow 3 years ago was priceless. This is a memory we will remember and share for the rest of our lives.

I shot the buck late in the afternoon so we decided to wait until the next morning. So I prepared for a long night I had 2 glasses of wine a big dinner and took and Ambien but I still could not sleep. I sat staring at the ceiling all night long. Finally daylight came and we got back out there. Steven found the blood trail and a little while later there he was, my buck. It turns out he had taken a step toward me at the last second so I hit him on an angle from one lung into the liver but that Vortex broad head did the trick! I had killed my first Coues deer with a bow!

Growing up watching my Dad bow hunt and now hearing Derek’s stories I knew that to shoot any white tail with a bow was a huge challenge so many things can go wrong. In my dads lifetime he has killed 10 pope and young white tails and every one is a hunt he will remember forever. I have been trying to shoot a deer with my bow for a few years now, just to get one under my belt. My husband Derek took me down to hunt with Wards Outfitters and five days later I had my shot. I knew I was very fortunate to have my first deer turn out to be this guy. He scored 87 inches, A Pope and Young Coues deer! The first of hopefully many bow hunts I will remember forever. I had this opportunity with a little luck, and lot of practice, but mostly the help of Wards Outfitters. They knew where to go and how to hunt these deer. Hunting Coues deer for them is a passion. So archery hunters like myself can have opportunities to see and hopefully get a shot at these amazing deer. I am thankful to my father and my husband Derek for introducing me to this incredible sport and to Wards Outfitters for the hunt of a lifetime.


The Arizona “Kayak” Bull

I remember applying as always for a shot at another AZ archery bull tag. Since I had 2 points I figured I might as well throw a hail marry and put in for my usual 5BS archery permit. Knowing I would probably not draw, I put my wife in for the limited opportunity archery tag in November, thinking at least one of us will have a solid chance of drawing. Low and behold results came out and not only did I draw, but so did my wife and my Dad, all on separate applications. What a year 09’ would prove to be!

I’m blessed with an ample amount of time in the woods because I have a cabin that just happens to be in my unit. As spring quietly turned into summer and moisture seemed to be plentiful, I celebrated each weekend with trail camera photos and excursions to remote locations looking for fat and lazy bulls. Elk were plentiful and scouting seemed to be too easy with big bulls all over the place. Knowing my unit and the fact that everything changes the few weeks leading up to the rut, I also realized I still had my work cut out for me. I figured my captive audience would more than likely move on and new bulls would wander in the day before my hunt? What’s amazing is that the only thing that wandered in was a bunch of hunters - to my exact spot! I quickly realized that I had some competition and it looked like there were 10-15 bull tags to be had within three or four camps right where I intended to hunt.

As opening day came and went I was completely demoralized as the elk were barely talking. It was over by 7:30am and maybe started back up a little after 6:00pm. Weather seemed to cooperate, but the rut never really kicked in until the 6th or 7th day. I remember chasing two herds around that each had over 150 elk and NO respectable bulls! It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen during the AZ archery season. I must have passed on about 10 decent bulls by sitting water in the evening and chasing during the morning hunt. My goal was to shoot something 340+ and I was sticking to my guns! The 7th day everything turned in my favor! As my guide and I chased some evening bugles for the first time, we followed them right to the shore line of a lake we’ve been skirting most of the hunt. As we watched a 310 bull bugle and make a good amount of noise we noticed a nice 340-350 bull on the other side of the lake rip off about five bellowing bugles. He clearly wanted the smaller bull’s harem of 8 cows. Just as I asked Steven “Do you think?” he sure did! He swam over and took the 8 cows bugled twice and swam back across the lake to his safe haven. We barely had a chance to make a stalk before he exited with his new batch of lady friends. As we sat in awe on the shore line and watched the circus only 350 yards away we also noticed two or three other bulls that would equal or exceed the swimmer.

We sat and quickly drew up plans for the next days hunt much like a quarter back calls an audible at the line. In the morning we would chase on our side because of the prevailing wind and hope they swam back during the night. If unsuccessful in the morning we will keep the wind in our face and kayak across for the afternoon hunt! I just so happen to have a pair of kayaks in my garage for trout fishing and there was zero trail access to hike around the lake properly with the wind in our favor. The morning hunt confirmed that our elk remained on the wrong side and the kayaks were coming out! We could barely contain our excitement and shoved off around 2pm for our afternoon hunt. Besides Steven’s poor kayaking skills, we made it across quietly and without trace.

We snuck into the tree line and waited for the bugling and action to start. Holy smokes did the action start up, but all the way across the lake at least 800 yards away. I think we counted 150 elk and at least 3 great herd bulls and another 8-10 smaller bulls. We didn’t see any of our bulls and knew ours were just late to the happy hour. At about 5pm our elk started to move and vocalize their presence. Closer and closer they came. When they seemed to be parallel with us we started our stalk. Keeping the wind in our face we moved 100 yards and quickly encountered some resistance. A cow fed 7 yards from us and eventually busted us, but thankfully walked off. As we crept to an opening and had our elk in sight we were surprised by what sounded like a herd of horses running our way. As we turned our heads we noticed a 7x7 and maybe 10 cows running behind us to the water? I tried to pivot and ready myself for a twenty yard shot, but it was too late! They winded us and slammed on the brakes. Off they trotted with no opportunity at all on what looked like a 360 bull. Our attention then swung right back to our bull and his cows that just finished drinking. They started to filter through the cedars in single file fashion; cow, cow, 4x4, cow, cow, cow, small 6x6, cow, cow, BIG BULL! Steven ranged the opening and whispered 60 yards! As if on a string, Steven cow called and stopped the bull perfectly in the 3 foot opening between cedars. I remember touching off my release, but everything else was a blur. I remember telling Steven I thought I had missed him clean, but he assured me that my shot was a fatal heart shot and that elk was smoked! I know I heard Steven say he was a shooter, but I didn’t realize his size until I stood over him 20 yards from where I shot him.

Even as I write this I get emotional because one of my passions in life is to elk hunt and help my family and friends hunt these magnificent creatures. Who would have thought that in Arizona I would kayak across a lake to shoot my elk? What a memorable story and incredible experience. I’d like to thank my wife Laurel for all that she puts up with and all her hard work and preparation for my hunt. I could not have done it without her! Of course Steven Ward and Ward’s Outfitters who is a good friend as well as an incredible hunter. I can’t wait to see what happens with Laurel and my Dad on their hunts this November.



Cactus Canyon Coues

By Tim Burres

It was hours before daylight when I headed to the airport and caught a jet down to Tucson. It was mid-January, and on my schedule was an archery hunt in Arizona to pursue Coues' deer, and to escape the cold and snow of Iowa!

The Coues' deer is a Southwestern whitetail subspecies and is North America's smallest officially recognized antlered trophy. On average, a mature Coues' buck weighs less than 100 pounds. Many hunters consider it as our continent's most elusive trophy species because of the following:

1. Its gray color blends in with its environment;

2. It's unusually alert and skittish; and;

3. The rugged terrain it inhabits.

Dennis Ward, the dad of my outfitter, Steven Ward (wardsoutfiitters.com), picked me up at the airport, welcomed me, and said, "The hunters are having really great luck; our kill rate is right at 100 percent in spite of this rain."

Steven Ward's outfitting business realizes a 100 percent success rate for all types of bowhunting. With three seasoned guides to assist hunters, Ward puts forth the extra effort to help ensure success.

"Over the counter" tags allow bowhunters the flexibility to journey to Arizona to pursue the Coues or mule deer when the cold of winter starts to settle in elsewhere. This also is a favorite winter destination for most archers because the rut is on, and it is the prime time to go after these skittish cervidae.

I settled into my room, unpacked, and headed to the practice range to check my bow to ensure everything was ready for the next day's adventure. After dinner, Steve said, "Get some rest; I'll pick you up at 5:30." After a brief night's sleep, morning came and as scheduled there was a knock on my door and Ward's familiar voice saying, "lets grab breakfast and find a big one!"

Harsh Weather, Terrain

I felt at home in this harsh, rugged terrain. The record snowfalls, pelting rainstorms, low clouds, and high driving winds reminded me of a Sitka Blacktail hunt I had on Kodiak Island, Alaska. I traditionally hunt whitetails in my home state, and I knew weather was not something anyone could control. I smiled to myself and thought, this is what it is all about -- I was having fun!

The snow actually helped the spot and stalk situations by changing the landscape from brown to white. Imagine a 4- or 5-year-old buck, that's been waiting 10 months to interact with a doe. Then imagine the same buck not ever having experienced snow and helplessly becoming covered up with this unusual white stuff. The result was the does were extremely skittish, fawns were frightened, and the constant noise of the border patrol vehicles, helicopters, even the appearance of 26, yes 26 illegals hiking across a nearby hill added to their anxiety. It seemed like these deer had plenty to deal with, and then there was this guy from Iowa carrying a bow. This definitely was going to be an interesting week!

Spots A Decent Buck

My guides Adam and Ward joined me that first morning in glassing a distant mountainside. Ward suddenly motioned to me to join him. In a hushed, excited whisper he said, "There's a really good buck about 600 yards up this drainage, all you can see are his antler tips. Do you see that big rock? He's just behind it. You'll have to move around to the right, stay low in the drainage, and then come up the back side, but it could work."

Eagerly, I dropped my pack, studied the rocky terrain, and planned my stalk. After observing the wind direction, I slipped the felt covered pads over my boots, and headed first down, around, and then up the steep cactus-covered mountain.

After about 40 minutes, I reached the crest of the cliff. I believed that I was less than 35 yards to the big rock that hid the buck. There was a heavy southwest wind that helped cover my scent and approach. Grunting softly, I got the buck on his feet. He was only 30 yards away, but suddenly a doe jumped up a mere 12 yards from me in the ocotillo maze. The ocotillo is a desert plant with several woody, spiny, whip-like, straight branches angling outward from the base and rising as high as 20 feet.

I heard a rock clatter down the mountainside, glanced to my left, and found the doe glaring at me. The buck instinctively looked at her and snapped a quick look at me. I stepped to the right, and then went to full draw, searching for an open spot to release my arrow -- but I had no shot! My sight picture was almost like looking through an ocotillo mosquito screen -- no shot. I again stepped to the right and found a narrow window; instinctively my arrow arced and was well on its way. At about 20 yards it sliced off an ocotillo branch!

Buck Vanishes

The nice buck vanished along with the doe down into a canyon at lightning speed. I though to myself, "he's a little smarter now," as I kicked the severed ocotillo branch off of the trail. As I headed down the mountain, I came upon a dormant rattlesnake den and was reminded that I wasn't in Iowa anymore.

This was the first of many attempts to take the stealthy and crafty Coues. There were other stalks that nearly came together, but the terrain definitely favored this elusive gray ghost.

I had been hunting hard and getting extremely close. Each morning I awoke with renewed fervor and anticipation -- even the nasty sinus cold that I brought with me on this hunt could not curtail my enthusiasm. When a hunt is going well, the days always seem to evaporate.

It was the last day of my hunt and the season, and I awoke a little earlier than normal. "Better get 'er done today," I chuckled to myself.

My guide seemed unusually excited about the day's hunt as he shared a new location for me to hunt.

"Tim, I want you to sit in a treestand till noon today, because I have a good feeling about it, and this is where my dad killed a lion with his bow," Ward said. "With the rut in high gear it should be a great spot"

"Sounds like a plan," I replied, and an hour later I was securing my safety belt to that tree. It was in a great area, but if a shot presented itself, it would be a close one -- maybe only 15 yards -- due to a severe rocky bench and the denseness of the brush and trees.

Snow Intensifies

It had started to snow again, and as I knocked an arrow, I said a little prayer, and settled in for the morning hunt. I thought to myself that tomorrow at this time, I'll be on a jet headed home. The sun slowly cleared the mountaintop and the inhabitants of the woods started to become anxiously active. Even the nearby stream seemed to have a voice of its own. There seemed to be a spiritual force in the woods, and I sensed something good was about to happen. The winds blew and the snow squall intensified.

I heard a twig snap behind my treestand, and shifted only my eyes. I noticed a fawn jump down off of a steep, rocky ledge. A few seconds later a second fawn followed in its steps. They ambled right down a trail to within a few feet of my treestand, and began eating twig tips. I thought to myself, that's almost too close if a big one comes through, and immediately my thoughts were interrupted by the noisy approach of their mom. The doe was nervous. Her gaited steps, half-cocked tail told me that she was in estrus. She calmed down briefly and chomped on twigs for a few moments.

I watched her actions as she kept looking back up the trail where she had appeared. After a minute or two, I heard rocks tumbling down on an adjacent trail, and a nice 4x4 buck made an appearance. He was in a hurry, and upon seeing her, he charged in her direction through heavy brush, offering no shot opportunity.

As quickly as they all appeared they all scrambled down the side of the cactus-covered canyon. Things can sure happen fast in this terrain!

Deer Appears

An hour passed and I was content, watching, listening to the other creatures. I was watching a squirrel in a nearby tree when I thought I heard a twig snap. I sat patiently knowing that if it a was a deer, it would be close and wouldn't tolerate any movement. A few more moments passed and I sensed that something was watching me. Slowly I rotated my head to the left and focused on the deer trail. I could make out the form of a deer, but its head was completely covered by a bush.

1514Slowly, I stood up and went to full draw. I voice grunted and the deer raised its head. It was a buck! I centered my pin behind his shoulder and released the arrow. The buck stumbled and slid down the snow-covered slope. I had my Coues!

He wasn't the largest I'd pursued, but as I knelt to lift his rack, I thanked God for my success. The size of his rack made little difference as the emotion swept over me and I realized the success of that moment in time. It was the last day of the season and I reflected back on the previous five days, the many bucks, the close encounters, the great guides, the great food, and the fabulous country.

Trip Notes

After each day's hunt I kept track of the number of deer I saw. I was surprised when I added up the numbers: five days in the field, 21 bucks and 82 does/fawns.

I hunted from well-placed treestands and ground blinds, but my favorite method was spot and stalk. Be in shape if you want to hunt here -- the elevation I hunted in ranged from 4,000 feet to 6,000 feet. Thus, great boots (such as Wolverine Antelope) are a must. Optics with a tripod are another essential (something like Swarovski 15 x 56), and aided me in locating these little deer on distant mountainsides or hidden deep within steep canyons. Also, my Bushnell A.R.C. rangefinder allowed me to confidently determine steep uphill and downhill distances. My Mathews bow delivered my Easton Vortex-tipped broadhead with deadly accuracy and resulted in a quick recovery. Ward suggested other items that should be in my pack including Band-aids, water, and lip balm.

This hunt can be as easy or as rugged as you choose. If your plan is to stalk, be in shape, especially if that big boy suddenly appears two miles away in the mountains. Practice uphill and downhill shots, which will be helpful and may payoff big dividends. Wards Outfitters did a great job for me, they hunt hard, are fun to be around. I am sure if you want to try for Coues or other Arizona big game animals, they are up to the challenge.


Gabe's Mexico Hunt

11I told Gabe squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. The rifle went off – I knew when I moved his hand there was going to be blood everywhere.

On Thursday November 20th, my eight year old son Gabriel and I headed down to Chihuahua Mexico to a ranch that I lease for Gould’s turkey hunts. Over the past five years we have harvested a large number of turkeys, but I have never hunted Coues deer on this ranch. The ranch doesn’t have a very high deer population on it, but it does have some monster bucks. The ranch owner called me a few weeks ago and told me he had been seeing three bucks over 130 inches and one he thought, was in the 140’s. He told me they were coming into one of the food plots we had planted for the turkeys. I was thinking I might be able to harvest a new archery world record Coues deer and at the same time help my son harvest his first deer. I decided to go down and hunt three days prior to Thanksgiving since I had a few days off before my next clients showed up for an Arizona Coues deer hunt. Knowing that it was going to be a very tough hunt, I told Gabriel that I would hunt the big bucks in the mornings and evenings and we would try to find him a buck during the middle of the day. The first morning was very windy and the big bucks had le ft t he field before light. We drove to an area where we could glass and we were now looking for a buck that Gabriel could shoot with a rifle. We knew the deer were there, but with the thick terrain and the very windy conditions we didn’t see a single deer. At about 11 am we decided to go back to the ranch house. On the way back we glassed the edge of the field where we had seen the big bucks. After glassing for a few minutes we saw them bedded in some oaks about 50 yards from a large creek bed. The plan was for me to try and get within archery range and wait for them to get up out of their beds. I got within 50 yards and began my wait. With the wind blowing inconsistently they winded about 20 minutes into the wait. I did, however, manage to get some pictures of them while waiting for a shot. Gabriel and I sat the field during the evening and nothing came in. Not even a mouse – but that’s another story.


Day two:

The second day started out nice, no wind and I thought for sure the bucks were going to be in the field but again, no luck. We took Gabe to the glassing spot and we glassed up 9 does and two small bucks. There was no way to get to them before they went in to a deep heavy brushed canyon to bed. We decided to hike to an old Indian site so Gabe could experience some of the history of the Native Indians from the area. He had a blast looking for artifacts; he found a rock ball, a stone axe head and lots of grinding stones. I explained to him that we couldn’t bring them home because it was history and that it was illegal to remove artifacts. When we got back to the cabin I told him I was sorry that we hadn’t seen more deer and that he hadn’t had a opportunity yet , He then replied,” like you have said before dad, it’s all about the experience and I am having tons of fun.” This made me feel very proud of Gabe he wasn’t there just to kill a deer he was there for the whole experience. At about 3:30pm, I went out and glassed the field again and low and behold I found the big bucks. They were feeding all the way at the end of the field, so again I made my approach. I snuck into 53 yards but couldn’t get a shot through the brush, they again winded me and that was the last we saw of them.

Day Three:

We decided to get up a little earlier and hike into the spot where we watched some bucks go into the canyon on the first day. My plan was to catch them before they got into the thick stuff. We got there right on time. About five minutes after we arrived, I glassed up a buck I thought would go around 105 inches. He was feeding up the hill side and at this point he was about 800 yards away. I knew we had to move fast to catch up to him before he went over the top. When we finally got to the ridge top the buck was feeding at 390 yards. I got the camera set up, got Gabe set up and began giving instructions on where he should hold. I know Gabe is capable of making this shot because he does it all the time at the range, the only difference is his scope at home has target knobs so he doesn’t have to guess what 3, 4, or even 5 inches looks like at 400 yards. We waited a few minutes and the buck stood still long enough for a shot. He fired and shot at least a foot over his back. The buck then just walked around the hill never giving Gabe another opportunity. I asked Gabe if the shot felt good and he replied yes, so I was confident that he made a good shot. Previous experiences have taught me that this doesn’t mean this area is now vacant and that all the animals have left, so we sat down and began glassing again. Approximately an hour later I went back over a spot that I had already glassed at least 10 times before and I caught a small buck out in the open. I knew it was on again! The buck was a small 2x2 and he was with a spike and a nice 85 or 90” 3x3. At this point in the hunt I really didn’t care which buck Gabe tried to harvest I just wanted him to get another crack at one. I was praying this time he would connect. Again, I got Gabe and the camera ready. This time the buck was at 380 yards and there wasn’t any way we could get closer without changing angles and losing sight of the bucks. Knowing that Gabe was capable of making this shot and knowing that he shot a foot high at 390 yards I decided to adjust the scope 5 clicks down. Gabriel was using the ranchers rifle not his own. (The quick decision to hunt in Mexico did not allow time for acquiring the necessary rifle permits needed to bring his own rifle.) It seemed like it took forever for one of the bucks to get into the open for a shot. It was really only about five minutes. The spike fed into an opening between two mahogany bushes and stopped. I then told Gabe squeeeze, squeeeeeze, squeeeeeze and half way through the third squeeze, the gun fired! Oh man, it was just under him, and then I heard oh my eye. He had his hand over his eye and I knew he had been scoped. I just knew when I moved his hand there was going to be blood everywhere. I moved his hand and no blood, but a nice mark just under his eye. I gave him a big hug and asked if he was alright. He said yes, although he was a little shook up. Man, I felt so bad this had never happened to him before and I just knew he wasn’t going to want to shoot at the buck again and if he didn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered, I felt terrible. Well I gave him a few minutes and made sure he was ok. I looked through the glass and the bucks were still there just feeding. Obviously they had no clue of what was going on. I then asked Gabe again if he was ok and if he wanted to try to shoot at one of the bucks. I was a little surprised to hear him answer, “Yes.” I then told him you have to make sure you handle the gun, make sure it’s against your shoulder and promised him if he did that he wouldn’t get hit by the scope again. At this point I knew it was due or die, they weren’t going to let us shoot at them all day. Eventually they had to run or at least figure out that we were trying to kill them. Taking into consideration where the last shot was I knew that the next shot was going to be on target. I then again got Gabe set up and told him they were toast if he got another crack at them. I’ll explain what I mean when I say I got Gabe set up. I have a gun mount I made to attach to my tripod and the gun sits in it, this way I can line the rifle up on the deer so he can find it thru the scope. After he finds it he still has to line up the crosshairs for the shot. Anyways, the bucks are now feeding in some pretty heavy cover and it’s a waiting game again. I was so proud of Gabe. I would tell him, ok the buck is just left of the crosshairs at about four o’clock, you probably can’t see him, all I can see is his ear moving and he would come right back and say, ok I see him. At first I thought he was just making that up. So I began testing him. I would say, ok tell me when he moves and every time he was right on the money. I couldn’t believe how good he was doing. I have had many clients with years of hunting experience. Sometimes it has taken upwards of 45 minutes for them to find the animal in their scope. The real test for Gabe came at 1 hour 10 minutes after the second shot. The bucks decided it was time to move and move they did. Across the hill they went walking 20 yards and stopping behind cover, then 50 yards and stopping behind cover, they just seemed to never stop in the open to offer a shot. All the while I just kept telling Gabe to stay on them, don’t lose them, pick one buck and follow him. But I need to know which buck it is so I can also keep track of him. After approximately 150 yards the buck we were both watching and following stopped and he was in the open 340 yards. I then followed the routine and said squeeze, with a 2 second pause, squeeze, another 2 second pause, squeeeeeze, at this point I’m going crazy. I’m thinking the bucks going to move, squeeze again,” I said”, but In the back of my mind I’m yelling shoot, shoot he’s going to move and finally BOOM, then WOP and down went the buck. I told him,”he’s down YOU SMOKED HIM.” He jumped up off his stool and said “yes, yes, yes,” while pumping his arms. I smoked him, he’s down!



A Baker’s Dozen

By George E. Bowser

As our plane touched down in Tucson, Arizona, my long time hunting buddy, Steve Manning, and I were looking forward to a new experience. It had been just over a year since we both collected fine Columbian blacktail deer in northern California, and now we were looking forward to the opportunity of adding the Coues whitetail deer to our quest of taking the five deer of North America.

We were met at the airport by our outfitter and guide, Steve Ward, of Ward’s Outfitters. Manning and I booked a 2x1 Coues deer hunt and were successful in drawing the prized tag on our first attempt. We would be hunting the high desert region of southern Arizona just miles from the Mexican border. We fully expected to see, if not encounter, illegal aliens attempting to elude the United States Border Patrol as we glassed the canyons for the elusive ghost deer.

There were to be two other hunters in camp from the Birmingham Chapter of the Safari Club. Jim Powell, their chapter’s treasurer made the trip but his friend was not able. Jim would be hunting 1x1 with Adam, a Marine veteran of Iraq and one of Ward’s Outfitter’s capable guides.

The terrain of that part of Arizona was reminiscent of northern Namibia, Africa. There were arid mountains, lots of rocks and many bushes that would stick you if you were not careful. That terrain provided the back drop for what turned out to be five wonderful days of hunting and an experience I will cherish for years to come.

Our days started with wake up at 4:30 a.m. for a light breakfast then a 30 minute ride to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. We glassed from the side of the vehicle to see if any deer could be readily spotted. Usually the glassing was quickly followed by a hike to higher ground and a better vantage point. The hike was not a stroll in the park! We climbed on rocks trying our best to avoid the five varieties of cactus that dotted the country side.

It was the morning of our first day afield. The sun had just popped out over the hill side when Steve Ward hurried to where Manning and I were glassing the far hill. He had spotted three bucks coming over the ridge some 400 yards away. “Who is first up” he asked? Manning had given me the honors last year in California so it was only proper that I return the favor. Manning shoots what he refers to as the absolute best rifle ever made, a 338-378 Weatherby Magnum. Steve knows his rifle well and when Ward said “Shoot the last one” the report of the magnum followed immediately and echoed up the canyon. The deer took a heart/lung shot and fell within five steps of where it stood.

Manning has always lived by the motto that you don’t pass up on the first day what you would shoot on the last day. Today was no different than other days we hunted together. Pictures followed, as they always do. Film is cheap and memories last a lifetime. The pack to the truck was short and easy. Steve Manning had collected a nice Arizona Coues deer.

My hunting philosophy is somewhat different from Manning’s. I believe you will never shoot the best deer you can if you shoot the first deer you see. My adage can work well, but it can deliver you home empty handed just as easily.

For a boy from the south, Coues deer hunting in southern Arizona means three things: glassing, patience, and long-long shots. The next four days proved to be classic. I knew Steve Ward was a good outfitter from my Gould turkey hunt with him earlier this year. Steve also proved to be everything one would look for in a Coues deer guide. He had quality optics, a ton of patience, a fabulous eye for deer, he knew the habits of the deer and he never gave up on me. I want you to know I gave him plenty of opportunity if he was going to give up.

To make a long story short, I can say that over each of the next four days I missed some of the best Coues deer Arizona has to offer. I missed a deer at 550 yards, twice. I missed a Booner at 330 yards, another larger Booner, which Ward referred to as a ‘Toad!” at 403, 459 (running) and 650 yards. I missed a really nice Coues at 450, 500 and 600 yards. As you might imagine it was time to visit the rifle range. A forty-five minute ride back towards Tucson to the rifle range and half a box of bullets later, I was on the X at 300 yards; six inches low at 430 yards and 39 inches low at 500 yards. I now looked forward to my last day of hunting with great expectation.

Ward and I started up the mountain before daylight on Wednesday, the last day of our Coues deer hunt. We reached the peak and were set up to glass the opposite side of the canyon as the sun appeared at the top of the mountain. It wasn’t long until we spotted four doe, followed by two buck as they crested the ridge of the far canyon. They were running as though something was after them. One of the bucks was average, the other was quite good. The smaller buck left the far end of the canyon with the doe. The nicer buck, for some reason, turned away from the others and re-traced his steps coming closer and closer to our vantage point. We had plenty of time to look at this deer. He wasn’t a toad but he was a 3x3 with brow tines and he was ate up with mass. We watched this deer through our binoculars hoping he would bed down. If he did we would make our move.

As luck and prayer would have it, the deer bedded behind a large boulder straight across the canyon from us. We determined we would climb down the mountain, cross the canyon at a low spot and then climb up the other side for a closer shot. By 9 a.m. we found our position 230 yards from the heavy horned buck.

Ward set his tripod with the attached rifle rest into position and for the next 3 ½ hours I sat on a rock peering through my 6.5 x 20 Leupold with the crosshairs centered on the sleeping deer’s neck. Taking into account the previous nine misses and the very small target the neck presented, I was not going to take the shot until the deer stood. Ward said we’re in no hurry. On the previous hunt he and his client waited seven hours for the deer to stand. Hopefully, we would not require that kind of time, but if it did I was up for the task. He said that if the deer was not startled when he stood, I would have about five seconds to take the shot before it would turn and walk away.

Just after 12:30 p.m. the sun had reached a height in the Namibian like blue sky that made it un-comfortable for the buck to stay down in the exposed heat. ALL OF A SUDDEN, up it stood, and immediately I pulled the trigger as though I was shooting a shot gun. Regrettably I didn’t find a spot before I fired. “Reload, you missed again” Steve said. Those were words I had heard way to often on this hunt. A running shot at 430 yards left me even more dejected and depressed.

Thoughts ran through my mind of returning home empty handed. A thought even harder to accept in light of the many opportunities I had had over the last few days. Then I realized the beauty of the landscape, the ruggedness of the arid mountains, all the different varieties of cactus we had seen, the bobcat, coyotes, cottontail, jack rabbits, mule deer as well as the Coues deer we had encountered. Jim and Adam, while hunting a different canyon even saw a mountain lion. I remembered the illegal aliens I had seen passing through the mountains and the Black Hawk helicopter that had searched for them. I recalled the dog fight Steve and I watched in the sky the other afternoon and how the F-16 came screaming down the canyon. I would not be returning home empty handed. The hunt is more than pulling the trigger; that is what endears me to our sport.

As I started to feel a little better about my experience, Steve reported the 3 x 3 had crossed the canyon and was headed back towards us on the opposite side of the canyon we had left earlier in the morning. I immediately got the scope of my rifle back on the deer, but it presented no shot as it made its way past the brush, rocks and cactus. Finally we lost it in a cliff and mesquite head. I sat there re-playing in my mind that I was a better marksman than what I had displayed, keeping in mind the reality of my eleven misses. I reluctantly told Steve that if he wanted to give up on me, I fully understood and would not blame him if he did. Steve had been an excellent guide and hunting companion. “Don’t think about it” he said. “Let’s climb to the top of the mountain for a better look.” I know and have known for some time, guides have their own way of getting even with unruly clients or those who can’t shoot very well. I figured our climb for a ‘better look’ was Steve’s way of walking me to death for all my misses. I followed without complaint.

By the time we finally sat down, for me to rest and Steve to glass, it wasn’t five minutes until Steve reported “There he is!”

You’re kidding I said. “No, lets get set up.” Steve said as he positioned the tripod and rifle rest. With the cross hairs of my scope just above the deer 300 yards away, I got into position and found the deer in the scope. As I looked up from the scope to throw the safety with my thumb the rifle went off. Steve said “You just missed, reload!” The next shot was at a fleeing Coues deer at 264 yards. “Reload, you missed…Wait…you smoked him!” Finally, finally after a baker’s dozen shots, I now had a wonderful deer and a marvelous experience. “Praise God!” I exclaimed. At that point Steve related having fallen asleep last night praying and awakening this morning with more prayers, asking God’s favor on our last day.

As we relived our hunt it is kind of crazy to realize, other than the shot that killed the deer, my best shot had been when the gun fired by itself. Had it been an inch lower you would have never read this story because it would not have been told. What happened in Arizona would have stayed in Arizona.



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