Desert Mule Deer in the Arizona Backcountry

Desert Mule Deer in the Arizona Backcountry

"So now what? This can’t be the end of my season.", I say this as I’m standing over my southeastern Colorado antelope, officially completing this year’s hat trick. This was my first real season of big game hunting, and obsession wouldn’t even begin to describe how I attacked it. When map porn ousts the good old fashion version, well my friend, you’ve got a problem. Or is it the other way around? Anyway. This fall I was either in the woods looking for animals or on the web learning and searching maps of where they might live. So this was my problem. My Colorado season was now officially over. This was not going to stand, back home the computer came back out and the research began to find a way to extend my season.

A text goes out to Shaun. “Up for an adventure?” No questions asked, the response comes back in. “Where are we going?” God I love this guy. There are talkers and there are doers. I like to align myself with the doers. Shaun is one of them. He is also one of the three originals in the “kick in the balls pact”. After graduating college at the University of Delaware, Shaun, another buddy and I all swore that in 6 months time we would all be living in Colorado, or the aforementioned balls would be swiftly kicked by the others upholding their end of the bargain. Needless to say all three of us have our balls fully intact.

I digress… hunting, right. After finding out that Arizona has a bow season from mid December until the end of January, my mind is made up. Plans are made for a desert hunt for mulies. Shaun doesn’t have a bow (also read money) so he agrees to go along as entertainment and to help out with the 14-hour drive from Denver. He’s passed out like a baby in 5 minutes time. I make sure to apply random break checks throughout the night in attempts to send him into cardiac arrest. This only rocks him into a deeper slumber.

We arrive at the trailhead, Shaun fully rested and wondering why I looked so sluggish. Twenty-seven hours since I last saw a wink, what’s another ten? Let’s go find some deer! The area was everything I hoped it to be, rugged, dry, not in the fits of winter like Colorado and not a person in sight.

The first day we hiked in, pretty mellow compared to the Colorado high country we were used to. I can’t say how many times we said how beautiful this country is, but I’m sure it’s higher than what my mathematically challenged brain can count. I also can’t say how completely different this style of hunting would be from what we were used to. No amount of research or scouring maps would prepare us for what we were getting ourselves into.

We found ourselves a great little camp spot at the top of an arroyo, where we could easily climb a hillside to glass for the evening. Not a thing was stirring… not a bird, not a cricket and sure as hell not a deer. Ahh well, we hike back to the tent content with just being out here to enjoy the sights.

The morning glassing proves to be the same as the previous nights. We pack up and head in deeper into the wilderness area. Easier said than done. There are no sloping surfaces; it’s either flat ground, eroded ravines or straight up cliffs. We both have a solid climbing backgrounds so we throw caution to the wind and get after it. We head to a water source I found on an old Arizona water catchment map. It’s there to my amazement and we decide to set up camp about a mile and a half away. This camp proves to be the sweetest camp I have had the pleasure to come across. It’s a cave tucked into the top of a mountain with a perfect overlook of the valley, near a water supply and even with a soft sand floor to rest our sorry asses on. This thing would be perfect for a mountain lion (as I was assured there were plenty by a BLM officer).

"Shaun, you go in first."

"You’re the one with the pistol!"

"Think of how cool your wife would think you were if you wrestle a mountain lion to death and bring her back the pelt in show of your manliness."

"My wife is a vegetarian."

"I told you not to marry her…"

I walk in with my pistol drawn. I figure if there were a mountain lion it would have the common sense not to attack the guy with the pistol and go straight for the mook hiding behind the boulder. Lions hate cowards. I never go to prove my theory however; the lion must have been up in Colorado on vacation. Good timing.

We settle in and notice a massive amount of deer pellets on the ground. These things are using the caves to get out of the sun during the day, I think to myself.

"They’re Taliban", I mutter.

"What?", asks Shaun.

"The deer, they’re living in these caves like the Taliban man, that’s why we aren’t seeing them.", I reply.

"Sneaky bastards… moving around these cave systems like the NWO in the tunnels of DIA!” Shaun throws back.

"Yea Shaun, just like the NWO…", I smirk.

Despite these earth-shattering revelations we head out to scout for an overlook to glass from. That night and the next morning are spent looking out over the valley.

"See anything?", I ask.

"Yea. Rocks. Ohh and then there was more rocks.”, Shaun spits off with a sarcastic smile.

"Sweet, any look like they’d make it in the record books? Think we could get a good stalk on one?”, I smile. Freaking wiseass. Yea, needless to say there are a lot of rocks out here, but I also heard there are some monster mulies as well.

There were beers riding on the first spotting of a deer, which was hopefully motivation enough to keep Shaun awake behind the glass. Not much luck there. He doesn’t seem to like beer as much as I do but he does love his sleep.

"Got one.”, I say.

"Got one what?", Shaun mutters.

"Got one deer. I mean I got a deer in my binos.”, I reply.

“Well go shoot it!”, he exclaims.

"Can’t, it’s an inny. Needs to be an outty.”, I snicker, finding myself hilarious.

One solo doe meandering her way out of an arroyo has been the most action of the trip.

“Well at least we know there is something living out here.”, Shaun quips.

We head back to our cave, confused as to where they can be, but not disheartened. The next three days prove much the same. Find water, glass it, wait, repeat.

The desert and glassing leave a lot of time for thinking. Some of it involves wondering if the Broncos are going to blow the Superbowl (I’m writing this after the event… yea they do. And in a painful way) Other times I wonder if I can fit my whole hand in my mouth. Sometimes there is even an insight that resembles an actual semi-intelligent thought.

The empty desert has a funny way of throwing you through an array of emotion. The first couple of days it’samazement at the sheer beauty and how lucky you are to see it unspoiled. Later it moves you to feel a bit insignificant as you have absolutely no effect on it’s day to day. Sure I could light it on fire (not really possible) and feel like my actions had some type of significance on it’s overall existence, but over the long run it doesn’t. Kind of depressing. It doesn’t really matter what you’re doing out there or how you’re enjoying it… you are irrelevant. Christ, did Shaun put some peyote in my mountain house? Shut up and go find some deer!

The days go by, there are no deer to be found, but they are no less enjoyable. Just me, my bow and a buddy who truly enjoys the solitude and beauty of this type of environment. Sounds like the ending of a romantic novel I know, but true nonetheless. We hike out no less excited then the day we walked in. After all, Arizona’s Archery-Only Non-permit Tag will be good at the end of December as well.

In our true style, plans are made for December on our drive home. Our typical post mortem is thoroughly broken down on what we need to do to be successful next time as the radio blares warnings of a massive snowstorm pushing through the front range of Colorado. Looks like our 14-hour drive just turned into a 20-hour drive, I think as Shaun’s eyes get heavy in the passenger seat. Not this time buddy.

"Oh yea, I saw the first deer. Fire up that phone of yours and find us a microbrewery in Albuquerque.”, I hit him with.

I got my well-earned beer and drank a second to solidify my position in the passenger seat.

"All yours buddy! I had to much to drive!”, I exclaim as I wonder how Shaun puts up with me sometimes.

"I’ll make sure to knock a couple back before we head out in December", he mutters. He points her north as we speed off into the storm.


// Fred