Published by archerchick on 16 Feb 2010
As the cold winds of winter usher in the end of most bow seasons, many hunters hang their gear up for another year. The off-season doldrums set in, and the thoughts of most serious bowhunters turn toward hunt planning for next autumn. There is, however, an alternative to this course of action –an often-overlooked opportunity to extend your bowhunting efforts another full month. Look to the desert southwest, the land of sunshine and wide-open spaces.
Often viewed as desolate and foreboding, the southern regions of Arizona and New Mexico offer pristine country rich in history, flora and fauna; a land as big as your imagination, most of which lies i nthe public domain. Herein lies a whole new bowhunting horizon, one ripe for the picking for the wilderness adventurer. Our most elusive whitetail lives here, as do wide-antlered mulies, which rule over a vast domain that stretches from earth to the sky and from horizon to horizon. Throw in some “pigs”–Javelina, as they are most often called –and you have a mix custom made for the daylight-to-dark bowhunting action.
A decade ago, my first trip to the desert Southwest produced a very secure hook-set on me. The vast solitude of the country stirred an extreme feeling of freedom and adventure inside me — a world of unlimited and unanswered questions. In the land of the Apache, I soon came to understand how the Native American people prospered, and why they loved their homeland so dearly and fought so fiercely to keep it.
Every winter I longingly anticipate the chance to take my bow and arrows and quietly melt back into a time and place where the spirits of Cochise, Victorio and Geronimo still move like the wind. Let’s take a look at some of the logistics involved in pulling off just such an adventure.
In relation to my outings, I place an emphasis on remoteness. In other words, when I hit the high-desert backcountry, I must be totally self-sufficient. The first item necessary in order to accomplish this is a dependable vehicle, one with good rubber on it, spares available and extra fuel readily accessible. A four-wheel-drive is recommended, and it’s a good idea to take some tire chains. A winch, or cable hoist and nylon strap can be a lifesaver also. Throw a high-lift jack in the mix to top off the deal.
Desert weather can fluctuate wildly from week to week. Commonly, you’ll enjoy endless days of sunshine, warmth and arid conditions, though seemingly out of nowhere, you can have repeated days of soaking rains and/or snow. When the desert gets wet, vehicular travel can literally come to a standstill; be prepared to wait such spells out in the comfort of a well-stocked base camp.
I take an elaborate array of gear for my base camp, including two large tents, propane stove, heaters and lanterns. Sturdy foldout tables and comfortable chairs make the cook tent a pleasant place to hang out in the darkness of a cold desert evening. If you can stand the noise and fumes a generator can supply electricity for many uses.
Long before leaving home, I prepare numerous large meals for my trip, vacuum packing all of them into single serving portions, and freezing them. I then line the bottom of an extremely large cooler with a block ice, place a sheetmetal cover over the ice then stack all my pre-prepared meals on top. Another medium-sized cooler suffices for all other miscellaneous cold items, including drinks. I also have a large dry-storage container well stocked with countless other food supplies, which I conveniently place in a corner of the cook tent. Also, I make sure my cook tent has no floor — there are many pluses to this. Such being the case, I am able to hang a solar shower from the frame of my cook tent, fire up a propane heater and take a shower in comfort. I take a piece of 2-inch thick corrugated rubber as a mat to stand on while showering, for obvious reasons. Be sure to take a large amount of water with you; I have a 50-gallon container neatly mounted on my ATV trailer. With such a setup, I’m able to eat well, lounge comfortably and stay clean for many weeks. Yes, I believe in good, long outings!
For my sleep/clothing tent, I use a long, wide, high-quality cot, sleeping pad and cold-weather goose-down bag, I place a small foldout aluminum table at one end of my bed and a 4×4-foot section of thick carpet on the tent floor beside my cot. A propane heater will be within close reach when I go to bed, so that I can light it directly from my sleeping bag in the mornings. I line one side of my living quarters with two to three large plastic tubs containing all my clothing, neatly and smartly arranged. Such a setup keeps the wheels turning smoothly from day to day.
Okay, here’s where I am going to shame myself: I used to blaspheme ATVs, but now I own one – ha, who’d a thought it! Honestly, they’re very handy for maneuvering around the countless two-track roads that most desert areas offer, especially when things are wet. Even when Mother Earth is dry, an ATV can sure save a lot of wear and tear on your pickup truck. Just remember; Please don’t take them cross-country — that’s when their use falls into the classification of abusive.
THE GRAY GHOST
For a Midwestern Whitetail hunter like myself, the chance to extend my whitetail season by a month is an appealing thought. Throw in the fact that the climate in Coues (pronounced “cows”) country is much more hospitable, and the fact that Coues whitetails are the ultimate bow challenge, and you have a very tempting mix. Reasons enough to point my old Ford south many years ago.
From the get-go, I was led to believe that spot-and-stalk was the only way to effectively bowhunt Coues deer. Well, let me tell you this: Maybe such is the case for the died-in-the-wool western bowhunters out there (whatever blows your skirt up!), but as for me –a heartland ambusher– I’m here to tell you that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I’m talking about tree stand and/or ground blind hunting in rutting-buck travel corridors, and along scrape and rub-lines (Double Bull archery makes some extremely portable and effective blinds, perfect for just such applications).
In other words, what I’m saying is this: If you’re a good Eastern whitetail bowhunter (add a lot more hump-and-get-it to the mix), you can be a good Coues hunter too. Since the main difference between Eastern and Western whitetail hunting lies in the “size” of the land out west and the dispersion of the deer in it, you have to be willing to put in a lot of vertical and horizontal miles in search of deer concentrations. Then, once reasonable concentrations are found, narrowing down ambush spots can prove to be an even more daunting challenge. But then again, what more challenge could a hard-core bowtoter ask for?
Whenever I’ve done all that I can to place my warm body in a high-quality ambush spot, I make sure that I carry a lunch in my Badlands 2200 series backpack, along with my Scent-Lok clothing, and stay on stand all day. At this point, nothing else you can do will up your odds for success more than sheer time spent on stand. And honestly, I’ve found rutting Coues bucks to move just about as liberally during midday times as they do during the early-morning and late-evening hours.
DESERT MULE DEER
Last, but certainly not least, comes the opportunity to possibly cross paths with a mule deer buck whose antlers may be as expansive as the desert sky. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that all the big mulies live in the “traditional” haunts of the Rocky Mountains. Though, admittedly, finding a top-end buck in desert terrain can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, certainly it can be done. Personally, I’ve taken a 30 incher and a 34 incher!
For desert mulies, concentrate on extremely remote locations; mulies don’t tolerate human intrusion well at all. Also, concentrate on foothills regions, but don’t overlook desert “flats” either. I’ve run across some real bruisers in the seemingly uninhabited cactus and mesquite country far out in the desert valleys.
During the rut, mature bucks lord over harems of does, constantly vying for breeding opportunities. This can make them extremely susceptible to approach, yet, on the other side of the coin, you’re dealing with the wariness of a large group of does. In such a scenario, I attempt to simply “hang out” near the rear of the herd, waiting for the boss to make a pass through the area. With patience and stealth you can expect a golden opportunity in time.
Since spot-and-stalk is the usual tactic of choice, good optics and a flat-shooting bow are prerequisite for success. Here I rely on Nikon optics and a Mathews Switchback bow, which launches a Beman ICS 340 tipped with a Rocky Mountain Ti-100 at 275 fps. This rig –groomed with a Black Gold sight and rest — is a dependable nail-driver out to ranges farther than I feel comfortable mentioning. For just such times as this, a quality rangefinder can prove worth it’s weight in gold.
THE “OTHER” CHOICE
Finally, if you’re so inclined, “porkers” may be the order of the day. Javelina offer a different and unusual bowhunting break from the pull-your-hair-out daily grind of Coues deer hunting. With javelina, the key to success lies mainly in locating the little buggers. Chances are, if you find ’em, you can kill ’em. They don’t see particularly well, and they don’t have the ears of a mule deer. Their sense of smell, however is excellent,and they won’t question what their nose tells them. Stay downwind, and move slowly, and chances are good that you’ll pull a string on one.
Cover a lot of ground, looking for rootings and tracks in zones where desert flats blend into mountain foothills. Glass open hillsides at any time of the day for javelina, because they haven’t heard about the early morning and late-evening rule. When stalking them to within bow range, consider the use of fleece overboots to muffle your footfalls.
WRAP IT UP
Of all the do-it-yourself bowhuting trips that I make each year, I look most forward to my annual pilgrimage to the high desert. It’s hard to put into words why this is so, yet, suffice it to say that I consider this trip to be the “coming together” of a fine mixture of all the true ingredients of what bowhunting is all about –this trip is truly a smorgasborgh of experiences. From the day I arrive in this land of stark contrasts each season, I begin dreading the day that I’ll have to head home –that’s the definition of a cherished trip indeed. <—-<<<
In the wide-open space of the desert southwest lies spectacular scenery and trophies to boot–all available to you during the off-season!
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