Arizona’s wild desert mountains are home to Coues’ deer, the small whitetail subspecies that Jack O’Connor so admired. The best hunting takes place during the late-December and January rut. For a world-class challenge, bring a bow. While most rifle hunters have to enter a lottery for their tags, bowhunters can buy theirs over the counter.
Southeastern Arizona holds more Coues’ deer than any area north of the border, but even here, finding a diminutive and shy grayish whitetail among a panorama of grayish parched hills and canyons presents a fabulous, if formidable, challenge. The rut, at least, evens the playing field some. “Hunter success is much better during the late season,” says Brian Wakeling, big-game manager with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “The deer cover much more ground during the rut, which improves your odds of glassing them enormously. Look for whitetails where the grasslands meet the scrub oaks, and on slopes rather than the desert floor. The bulk of the deer will be between 3,000 and 6,000 feet.”
Hotspots: For the best all-around public Coues’ deer hunting in Arizona, target Game Management Units 36A and especially 36B and 36C south of Tucson. “Two years ago, the hunter success rate during the late rifle season in 36C was 64 percent,” Wakeling notes. “If your primary goal is a trophy-class buck, however, try Unit 6A south of Flagstaff.”
The vast majority of the state’s Coues’ deer habitat is public land, but excellent private-land hunting is available on the 1.8-million-acre San Carlos Apache Reservation (928-475-2343), where a limited number of rifle tags are available over the counter. (Access fees run from $700 to $3,000 depending on unit and date.)
Insider Tip: “Glass with tripod-mounted binoculars,” says Pat Feldt of Arizona Guided Hunts (520-207-7831; www.arizonahunting.net). “Set up where you can see at least a square mile, and bring powerful optics. We use 15×56 binoculars and a 45X spotting scope. Bowhunters, who will find it very difficult to stalk within range, should stalk instead to within a couple hundred yards, then rattle and grunt to close the distance.”
Season dates: Late rifle, Dec. 12Â¿Â¿Â¿Dec. 31; late archery, Dec. 12Â¿Â¿Â¿Jan. 31 in most areas.