By Michael Deming
Would you like to kill a big Coues buck”, was the first thing out of Richie’s mouth when I answered the phone. Are you kidding me, who wouldn’t say yes to something like that? Unfortunately, I already had a full schedule of personal trips as well as outfitter evaluation trips throughout the fall. “No worries”, said Rich, this is something we could do in August or January. You can make it a business trip because I’ve decided to get my outfitters license now. We are living full time in Arizona now and I’m spending most of my days in the woods. So, I’ve got a bunch of these grey ghosts patterned and we can make the most out of these early and late archery hunts and over the counter tags.
This bull was seen on the cover of Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal. Cindy and Rich Krug teamed up to put the smackdown on this giant in one of their units.
Rich and Cindy Krug have been great personal friends of mine for many years. They used to live in California and introduced me to hard core archery hunting for pigs on the Tejon Ranch. They are both archery hunting fanatics and very accomplished hunters. They live to hunt and spend the majority of their off time chasing elk, deer, and other critters in numerous western states. They have harvested nearly forty elk between the two of them and most with their bows. Cindy took a Canadian moose with her bow several years back and she was recently on the cover of Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal with a giant Arizona bull. So, I knew when Rich said that he was outfitting, it was going to be done right. We don’t often start our outfitter evaluation process this way, but I was sure looking forward to an evaluation trip with someone I know hunts as hard as we do.
Rich started sending me photos of bucks early in the summer as they were developing. The fuzzy antlers and small bodies on these deer make them look massive, but these pictures were unbelievable. Bucks that would make any old Mexico Coues deer hunter happy to bring back to the states were in Arizona and in a unit that you can archery hunt every year. On top of that, this isn’t a draw unit; it’s an over the counter tag. By the time we got around to season in August, Rich had well over a dozen bucks that would exceed 100 B&C inches on his hit list. A few of them were true monsters which would break the 120” barrier and several of them with drop tines and trash.
August finally rolled around and I departed to Arizona. When I arrived at Rich and Cindy’s house, we went through hundreds of trail camera photos to see exactly which buck was going to be on my hit list. The big drop tine buck he had been sending me pictures of was definitely the one that had my attention. After several hours of catching up and looking through the digital deer catalog, I decided that I would stay committed to the drop tine buck. Rich said that he was coming into his setup about 3-4 times a week and just wasn’t consistent with times. So, this meant that I was going to be in for some all-day sits in a blind, in August, and in Arizona. However, a 120 inch Coues deer with drop tines with a bow is worth just about anything.
The next morning, we headed out to camp and got ready for the opener. The plan for the opener would be to hike up to the blind in the dark and get settled in at first light. Rich would leave me with a lunch, book, and lots of water for the day. I would follow my GPS tracks back to the trailhead at dark if I wasn’t successful and if I tagged out, I would clean the buck and get him into the shade and head for camp. The whole process sounded fairly simple.
Richie rousted me in what seemed like the middle of the night, but he had a great breakfast burrito and hot cup of coffee ready when I got into the trailer. We took a last look at the computer to see the other known bucks that were coming to this location. We hiked nearly a mile to get to our location and it was just getting grey light when we arrived at the blind. Rich gave me the rundown of where the water was located and where the deer were usually bedding. He wished me good luck and departed for the day.
I had the typical opening day anticipation as the sun started to rise. Rich had developed a rain capture type of guzzler at this setup, which would allow the deer to stay on top of the mountain and drink instead of heading to the valley floors to drink out of the creeks. We had dark timber nearby to protect from the scorching Arizona heat and provide a cool bedding area. The area around the blind had significant food, and with all the birds drinking out of the manmade guzzler, I knew we had water. Rich had definitely done his homework in this area and this was one of over thirty setups he had developed.
I didn’t have to wait long before my first Coues deer came into range. He was a great 3X3 buck with a good set of back forks and a solid main beam and at least a twelve inch inside spread. I knew he was a great archery buck and would have been my biggest archery Coues to date, but he wasn’t what I came to Arizona to harvest. Knowing that this tag is good in August as well as December and January, you can afford to be picky. Over the next twelve hours, I had a constant parade of deer coming in to quench their thirst and the majority of them were bucks. However, the drop tine buck never presented himself. I hiked off the mountain after spending nearly fourteen solid hours in a blind and was happy to stretch my legs.
The next morning, I tackled the hike to the blind myself. The wild raspberry bushes were going wild in the area. They were loaded with berries and I was sure that I was going to run into a big bruin in the dark. It seemed that Rich had picked a much better trail on the way in the day before than I had picked today. I didn’t make it to the blind until a little later this morning and I was a little worse for wear. The raspberry bushes had gotten the better of me, but fortunately no bears had surprised me.
A bachelor herd of bucks was my first visitors to the water on this morning. One of them was a solid 8 pointer that broke the hundred inch mark and I considered dumping the string to avoid another fourteen hours of blind sitting. However, I glanced at my phone to look at my screen saver, which is the drop tine buck. That kept me committed to the current goals. The deer moved strong the majority of the day, but mostly does and fawns. I departed the blind a bit earlier in hopes of stalking up on a feeding buck in the trees on my way back to camp. I found several groups of turkey and even a large six point bull on my trek out, but still no drop tine buck.
Rich cooked us up a great steak dinner with all the fixings and we discussed my commitment to the big drop tine buck. I assured him that I was willing to stick it out as long as possible to get a shot at this guy. The next morning, I decided to take a bit of a different route to the blind which I had noted the night before. It appeared to be a rocky ridge with significantly less raspberry bushes, but a longer route. The route turned out to be significantly longer than expected, so I was pushing pretty hard. I blew a deer out and I could see him through the trees. It was definitely the drop tine buck and he was very massive in person.
I got into the blind and I was very distraught about spooking my big buck. A mature buck of this caliber doesn’t take kindly to pressure at all and over the next 3 days, my mistake proved to be fatal. My dream buck didn’t show up at all during daylight hours, but worst of all, he didn’t show up on camera at night either. I had passed over a dozen quality bucks and several over the hundred inch mark and now I was second guessing my decisions for the week.
With elk season just around the corner for Rich and his crew, they needed to move into some of their other units and check their bull inventory. I had other commitments as well, so it we discussed the possibilities of coming back after Christmas. Fortunately, my unfilled tag is good for the December season. Rich said the rut for these guys is unbelievable and I will surely be back to fill my tag.
The week after I left, the drop tine buck was back to his regular routine with plenty of good pictures and one lucky hunter got a shot at him and missed him inside of twenty yards. So, I’m hoping to get another run at him soon.
Sidebar- Rich and Cindy Krug run Krug’s Coues Camp out of Heber, Arizona. They are extremely hard core hunters with high success and happy clients as their focus. Learning an area and knowing the animals and their habits is the key to success. This operation is the epitome of what we look for in a Platinum Approved Outfitter operation. Coues deer and elk are their passion. They hunt a very limited amount of hunters each and every year to keep the quality high. They are semi-retired and still travel to multiple states every year to hunt for themselves. So if you want big Coues deer or draw an elk tag in unit’s 3A/3C or 4B, you better reach out to them early. These limited slots go quickly.