Hunting in my home state of Arizona is growing in popularity— specifically for coues deer. The high desert mountains of southern Arizona offer the adventurous hunter with a multitude of opportunities throughout the year and if you search hard enough 9 of the 10 recognized big game species in Arizona can be found within 2 hours of my home in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Hunting the desert comes with it’s own set of challenges that one should be prepare for ahead of time.
January is our most popular season, as it is the peak of the rut. During that time you should be prepared for drastic weather changes. On a typical January day you can expect low to mid 30’s at night and mid 50’s in the day time in most of southern Arizona, which in my opinion is the optimum hunting weather for that time of year. I have spent many January afternoons glassing in my base layers with temperatures up into the 80’s. However, winter rain and snow storms are also common in “coues country” so you will also want some sort of outer wear to keep you dry. I like to dress in layers not only for the constant weather changes but also because when hunting anywhere in the west my level of physical activity is always changing. Because of our open terrain a majority of the hunting that I do is glassing and then making my stalk. So while I’m sitting still glassing on cold mornings I like to be bundled up so that I’m comfortable and able to sit still longer but when I’m hiking to my glassing spot or going on a stalk (sometimes a stalk can be upwards of 2 miles) I like to start out a little on the chilly side because once I start exerting myself I warm up pretty quick and as anyone with cold weather experience knows, you want to avoid sweating at all cost on those truly cold days.
Like many other parts of the western United States, Southern Arizona is wide open and the topography allows you to gain elevation and see for miles which is why the most popular method is spot and stalk. If you haven’t had a lot of time behind your binos, understand that glassing is an acquired skill that takes practice to not only gain but maintain. Especially during the early season if I haven’t been able to scout like I should I will usually try to find something to look at right away, preferably a deer, and I will take a few minutes to retrain my eyes. I look at the difference in their color and make note of their body size in comparison to the cactus or bushes on the hill side which in the long run makes me much more efficient. Trust me you don’t want to be the guy that yells, “DEER!” Only to realize you’re looking at a jack rabbit 100 yards away with your 15’s. Once my eyes have acclimated to the task at hand I pick apart the hill I’m glassing with a grid like pattern. Personally I start looking up and down vertically and then relook at the same hill with horizontal passes. Another important thing to note is that I’m not necessarily looking for an animal, I’m looking for a part of an animal or shape that doesn’t match the surroundings, for example, the round curvature of a deer’s hind quarter. The desert is full of sharp jagged rocks and pointy plants so if you see a smooth fluid curve you should probably take a closer look. A good friend of mine glassed up a 200 plus inch mule deer because the “cholla cactus” he was looking at started moving, which has since prompted me to start watching for movement more often. I have been amazed at what I see just from pausing for a minute and waiting for something in my field of view to start moving. If you are coming from a flat or wooded part of the country don’t give up on practicing. Trying to count the nails in a distant telephone pole or watching the edge of an agricultural field for ground hogs can be great exercises that will carry over to your western glassing.
I often get asked about optics selection and my answer is simple, they will make or break you. You will spend hours upon hours behind your optics so if you’re only going to splurge on one thing, do it on your optics. Aside from over all clarity the major difference between okay optics and great optics is how they preform in low light situations. Most optics will seem nice in the store in the middle of the day but animals are most active at dawn and dusk especially in coues country. I remember a time where it seemed like you had to be a millionaire to hunt with quality optics but fortunately there are now companies out there that offer high dollar performance for mid range prices. I personally run all Sig-Electro Optics and in a side by side comparison find that they hold their own against their high end competitors for a fraction of the cost. 15 power binoculars are very popular out here and for good reason. When I hunt with my hunting partner he glasses with 15’s while I glass the closer ridges with 10’s and when I’m hunting solo I usually just carry 10’s because I like to hunt as light as possible. I’ve always been a fan of 10 power because I can put them on a solid tripod and at least see the what my hunting partner is looking at with the 15’s but then also use them to free hand while I’m stalking. So if you ask me 10’s are the way to go for an all-round pair of binos. Spotting scopes are great especially for field judging game but not always necessary. If western hunting is something you are going to do regularly they may be something to consider but if you’re trying your hand at it for the first time I wouldn’t sweat it.
When stalking we do have more cover than most people think but it’s not always enough. Planning your stalk before taking off is crucial. Before taking off I plan my route based on the topography using small cuts and washes to get within range and then find prominent landmarks along the way to keep my bearings because everything always looks different once you start moving. Unless I can get in front of a feeding animal that will walk into me I prefer to “put the animal to bed” and then make my stalk for 3 reasons. First reason is that animals on their feet move and move much quicker than you may realize and when stalking more times than not you will loose visual contact for a period of time which makes keeping track of a moving animal next to impossible, the second reason is because the ground out here is alway loud to walk on so stalking a bedded animal gives me more time to move slowly and they also aren’t as tense as they are while they’re up and moving and finally thermals. As the air heats up in the mornings the thermals push up hill, which is perfect for stalking from above and this usually occurs around here about the time the deer start to bed back down. What you don’t want is to be stalking with the wind in your face only to realize it has changed because of the rising temperature and get busted, so to me stalking from above with the temperatures rising is the most predictable way to play the wind.
Water is key in coues country and even during the late season sitting on water can be an effective way to hunt any species in the desert. I find that mid morning seems to be the most effective time to sit on water even on warmer days but like anything else getting into the blind before sun light is the safest bet. Desert animals will never be to far away from a water source if they can help it so when picking a spot to hunt channeling your efforts around water will be your best bet. Water can be hard to come by in the desert but we are fortunate in Arizona to have cattle operations across the state which maintain stock tanks that the wildlife benefit from and you can also find naturally occurring springs in scattered throughout many of the mountain ranges across the Southwestern U.S.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a small game fanatic so I couldn’t rant and rave about hunting around here without shedding some light on the small game opportunities in southern Arizona. Quail are high on my list because I will often take a midday break from glassing and go look for quail and sometimes even take the day off from big game hunting to hunt them which drives my hunting buddies crazy! In southern Arizona we have 3 species of quail; the Gambles, Scaled, and my personal favorite the Mearns or Montezuma quail. The Mearns quail tend to be a bit larger than the other 2 and live exclusively in the mountains of the southwestern U.S. and down into Mexico. Making them a great addition to your over all coues country experience. Along with quail our wing shooting opportunities go on to include what has been described as world class dove hunting and yes even duck hunting. Our migrant population of waterfowl often find themselves the target of the popular yet controversial lunchtime practice, pond jumping.
Arizona is known for its high predator and fur bearing mammal populations including the coatimundi or coati as its more commonly referred to. I bring up the coati because like the Mearns quail these raccoon/ monkey looking critters are native to coues country and are a common surprise in the mountains.
If you enjoy the outdoors and seeing different places you owe it to yourself to spend a week or two down in coues country. Nos encantaría tenerte!