By Terry T. Clapp
We often hear of great Coues deer hunting south of the border in northern Mexico. Such hunts have some elements of intrigue indeed, the stuff dreams are made of. But, why not live out your dreams by hunting the mythical ‘gray ghost’, Coues deer of the Desert Southwest in border states like Arizona and New Mexico? A Coues deer hunt in southern Arizona is a friendly place where Coues deer hunting dreams come true. You will be required to leave your long johns at home. Here you will experience the beautiful Sonoran Desert, a few Sky Islands and some nice little mountains. Included with all this is also wonderful Arizona winter temperatures.
The following are a few steps to take in your preparation for the hunt:
Homeland Security Issues
This DIY southern Arizona hunt is economically viable and 110% safer than any such hunt in Mexico. Yes, there are Homeland Security issues in all border states, but in Arizona, your back is covered by the best in America. Your Border Patrol allies have eyes in the sky as well as boots on the ground. In hunting near the border, you may trip an electronic sensor or be glassed up because you are carrying a weapon. Border Patrol and even Federal Wildlife Agents working National Wildlife Areas may be checking you out. This may cause a little anxiety, but it’s comforting to know they are there. Be sure to carry all your hunting permits and tags along with proper identification. These folks have got your back in Arizona, in Mexico, not so much!
Planning, License, Tag Fees and the Draw
Ten percent of all available big game tags in Arizona are set aside for non-residents. Mule deer are found just about everywhere in Arizona. White-tailed deer are found south of Flagstaff, through Central Arizona, all the way to the Mexico border. The best Coues deer range is south of Tucson to the border with Mexico. Hunting any unit east or west of the I-19 is good. Leftover tags, if any for these White-tailed only hunts, are gone by late July. The deadline to apply through the annual draw is the second Tuesday of June each year. The best chance for any rifle deer hunt is through the formal draw application process. Rifle hunts are usually late October, running off and on through November and December. Remember, the regulations do not speak of the Coues deer. Such hunts are listed under the white-tailed only hunts.
A deer tag for a non-resident is $300.00 plus a $15.00 application fee. A non-resident hunting and fishing combination permit is an additional $160.00 and is required. Check online with Arizona Game and Fish for details. Archery season has over-the-counter availability state wide. The sure-fire way to get into Coues country is with a bow. The nice thing is all the Arizona archery deer hunts, except one white-tailed only hunt, include any antlered deer i.e. (Mule deer and white-tailed including the Coues).
The bow hunter can hunt just about anywhere in the state. The full advantage of the rut is always with the bow hunter. Bow season is off and on starting in late August, into early September, then mid-December through January in most locations (See 2018-2019 Hunt Regulations for details.) With a little planning, a bow hunter can also hunt Javelina as a sidebar while hunting the Coues, mule deer or other white-tailed deer. The price of the bow tag is $15.00 cheaper than the rifle hunt because there is no application fee.
Where to Hunt the Coues
From Phoenix, take the I-10 to Tucson. Once in Tucson, stay on the I-10 to State Highway 83 and go south on the 83 to Sonoita, where the road turns into the 82 Highway going east and southwest or continue south on the 83. From these highways, you can hunt Units 34 A, B or 35A, B hunting in any direction from the 83 and 82. These hunt units are east of the I-19. Many hunters hunt around the Patagonia area. From Tucson, you may go south on the I-19 towards Nogales. Take the Arivaca Junction exit and head west on Arivaca Road to Arivaca. Hunt any of these Units; 36 A, B or C. To hunt any of these units with a rifle, you need to apply and get drawn for a specific hunt unit. You may hunt any of these units with an over-the-counter bow permit.
To the west of I-19 Arivaca is the last place to get supplies. Diesel fuel can be an issue in these more remote locations, so take extra fuel if needs be. The best places for supplies are along the I-19. The same can be said for places to eat and lodge. Motels along the I-19 are located around the freeway from Green Valley to the border. Rates are in the $70 to $100 per night range. Book these far in advance to insure you have a place to stay if not camping.
The elevations in these hunt units is in the 3,000- to 6,500-foot range. The canyons here are beautiful and many. The Coues are usually found higher up the mountains than the mule deer in these units. Take good glass and be prepared to walk. The flatter the shooting rifle, the better. Shooting across canyons is to be expected. The girl in the picture took her Coues buck across a canyon with her .308 at 418 yards. This Coues was taken during a late November, ‘Any Antlered Deer Hunt for Youth Only’.
August and September bow hunts are hot in Arizona. The December and January bow hunts are ideal for hunting, as it is cool and should be peak rut time. Be sure to take lots of water no matter what time of the year you are hunting in Arizona. This is a very fun hunt. You should be able to glass up a bunch of deer daily, no matter what time of year it is. Most of the deer you see will be does. But where there are does, there are bucks. If camping, your gear does not need to be heavy duty nor does your clothing. Public lands for hunting in Arizona abound. Arizona is the sixth largest state and most of it is public. A four-wheel drive pick-up or Jeep would be fine. Need I say more?
Set expenses for this trip are $460 to $475 for hunt permits and license fees. The upside to the license fee is that the license is good for one year from the date of purchase. This includes small game hunting as well as fishing. Remember, Arizona has some of the best dove hunting in America and fishing at Lee’s Ferry or Lake Powell is wonderful. Allegiant Airlines flies into Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona. You can get from most places that Allegiant flies to for about $300.00 round-trip, including two bags paid for in advanced. That leaves about $225.00 for car rental. I’m fairly sure you will not lose any hunt time to bad weather. Arizona’s diversity will wow you. Yes, you might even see a mountain lion! Jaguars too have been spotted in these southern Arizona environs and if sighted, should be reported as they are an endangered species. In my eyes, a trip to Arizona is always a win-win!