It feels good to sit behind glass each December. Even though Arizona’s deer seasons are generous, it’s deer are not. And most of us who set out to kill a deer with a bow go home empty-handed. The season is open in some units, closed in others, and is usually the last 2 or 3 weeks of the year. Plenty of time to find and get close to a deer.
This week, however, I could have used more time. I had only a half day, followed by a full day and another half day to hunt. The first half a day, or evening, is a complete bust. I saw a grand total of 4 mule deer that are gone nearly as suddenly as they’re there. And not a buck in sight.
The wind blew icy cold, and I couldn’t blame the deer for vanishing. As fast as I set up my tent, I crammed myself inside my bag, trying to warm it while I struggled to read the short stories of Breece D’J Pancake in between foggy bouts of visible exhaled breaths.
In the morning I struggled to climb a peak that several years ago we affectionately dubbed ‘El Capitan’ on account of its near vertical approach. It’s time to stop drinking Mountain Dew. If the carbonation doesn’t kill my ability to climb, the added weight from the sugary treat will, both as added fat on my stomach, and added weight in my pack. But as soon as I reach the top of the 800-foot peak, I set up my tripod and binoculars, then crack open a cold Dew and reward myself for the effort.
After five minutes of glassing the foothills to the east that I typically see mule deer on, I tire and move to the opposite side where I’ve never seen a flop-eared deer. Within another ten minutes of glassing, I’ve got a Coues deer centered in my binoculars, and I’m chipper as can be.
The buck isn’t huge but is a respectable target considering the difficulty of killing a Coues deer spot and stalk with a bow. It’s a mature 2×3, with a webbed fork on his 2-by side that would look swell next to my other bucks. I watch the deer browse the oaks opposite me, envisioning to myself where I’ll stick an arrow given a good enough chance. Perhaps today would be another perfect day.
The deer is with two does, though it seems less interested in them than the browse. At least until 9 am or so, at which time something must have clicked in the buck, and it was off to the races chasing one of the does all over the mountain. I watch this buck chase this doe up and down the hillside until 1 pm. All the while thinking to myself that there are any number of trees opposite me that would have put me within shooting range of this buck that I wish I’d decided to hide behind. Twice I watch the buck bed down, only to be aroused again to defend his position with the doe from eager young bucks. Then finally, he seems to be in a place he’ll stay as he beds down. I make my move.
Perhaps my stalk would have worked if the buck did not get out of bed within twenty minutes of me working my way down and over. Maybe if the wind would have been friendly to me. Who knows, I might have had a decent shot. But at this time of year, with bucks amped and stupid, they can be hard to keep up with. And I never had a chance, as the buck chased the doe over the hill through the saddle long before I was within even rifle range. But isn’t it that way with most archery situations? Spot and stalk archery Coues deer hunting is a cruel woman that occasionally showers her attention on you, makes you feel loved, then shuts you out in the cold because she can. Because she knows that no matter how many times she treats you like dirt, you’ll keep coming back like the self-disrespecting waif that you are. I keep telling myself, “This blown stalk is one blown stalk closer to one stalk I don’t blow.” And that keeps me going… keeps me coming back for more.
Now, several days later, every time I close my eyes, I still see that buck bedding down after a long morning of chasing does. But that’s no surprise. I can’t remember saying “Fuck” in front of my nephews and niece when their pet bunny scratched up my forearm a decade ago, but I remember perfectly sitting in almost the exact spot, December two years ago, glassing a bedded buck across the canyon in nearly the same place I found this buck. And twenty years from now I may forget my own middle name, but I’m confident I’ll remember my time behind glass this December.