stars were bright in the night sky as I stepped through the corral gate. Looking
around in the semi-darkness I could see the horses were standing hipshot,
napping and not paying any attention to me. I stacked my gear near the barn and
drug the saddle and tack out of the tack room. Talking to them gently so as not
spook them I walked slowly up to the horses and put the halter on my mare. After
leading her back to the barn I put some oats out for her breakfast, put some
oats in the other horses stalls so there wouldn't be any bickering, and began to
curry her a bit before I tossed the blanket and saddle on her back.
With the saddle on
I let her blow a bit before I screwed it down tight. She wasn't bad about
puffing up and making you think the saddle was tight when it really wasn't, but
most all horses do that some. If you were green enough to trust them you could
find yourself upside down in the saddle... not a good place to be.
I tied the
scabbard on the left front, barrel down and to the rear so it would lay under my
left leg. What some call the "Northwest Carry". The rope was tied on the saddle
horn, my saddlebags and canteen were tied on behind and I was packed. Once all
the gear was loaded I led her through the gate, climbed aboard and we were off.
It was opening day of deer season and I was hunting the little Coues Whitetail
Deer in Southern Arizona.
The Coues deer is
the Whitetail of the Southwest. It is known as the Sonora Deer, Arizona
Whitetail, or Fantail. Depending on the locality it is also locally called
Desert Fantail, Flagtail, Cactus Fantail, Apache Deer, Small Mountain Deer,
Gazelle Deer and Cheneche. It's scientific name is Odocoileus couesi... but no
one I hunt with has ever called them that.
When asked how to
pronounce "Coues" the answer you get depends on who you ask. Game biologists for
the Arizona Game & Fish Dept. say in their booklet on the Coues Deer that it is
pronounced the same as "house". The deer was named after Lt. Elliott Coues who
was stationed at Ft. Whipple, Arizona and who was a naturalist of some
renown. He is the first person who correctly identified the little deer as a
distinctly separate species.
Others who have
hunted the deer for many years and studied them say you pronounce the name "coo wees" or "cow wees". The most common pronunciation is "cooze" (as in "booze").
However you say
it, the little deer is a challenge to hunt. They possess great eyesight,
hearing and sense of smell. They are also masters at using the terrain to hide
themselves. They are Whitetail Deer.
weights run around 100 pounds for the average mature deer. Some years back the
heaviest deer taken in the Tucson, AZ area were between 109 and 118 pounds. They
are found from sea level up to 8000 ft. elevation, as far north as the Mogollon
Rim in Arizona, as far south as Sinaloa Mexico and as far east as the Davis
Mountains in Texas - at least according to some authorities.
Yarrow in "Mammals of North America" described the Coues deer thus: "... imagine
a Cottontail Rabbit crossed with a Whitetail Deer and we shall have a fair idea
of this elegant creature..." It was this deer that I set out on that morning to
The mare blew a
steady stream of breath out her nostrils, clearly visible in the crisp December air as we climbed the hills behind
my house. We held a steady pace for a half hour, the last 10 minutes being
a very steep climb. At the top I stopped and climbed off the horse and let
her blow, watching the steam come off her sweating sides. The sun was
rising in back of the mountain behind us and standing there on the hilltop
I could see the land for 50 miles to the west being lit up by the first
light of the day.
enjoying the view I pulled the rifle out of the scabbard and loaded the magazine. The gun was an old Model 71 Winchester .348. It had been
purchased by my friend Robert Smythe of the Heart Bar Ranch in Saguache,
Colorado around 1937. He had owned and used it for 50 years and after he
died I purchased the gun from his widow. It had been one of his favorite
hunting rifles and I valued it highly. The ammo was Winchester factory 200
gr. Silvertips and I put 4 of them in the magazine, then put it back into
the scabbard. Giving the horse a pat I climbed back into the saddle and we
started down toward the lower ridges where I felt I would find the Coues
In about an hour I
was into the area I had planned on hunting and I began a slow search. The area
was cut by washes and small canyons with lots of scrub oak and manzanita and I
rode easily around the edges of the hills, watching both sides and looking for
deer. I had crossed 2 or 3 hills and was coming around another when I saw the
white tails of two deer going over the top of the hill in front of me.
I reached down and
pulled the rifle from the scabbard and jacked a shell in the chamber. I then let
the hammer down to half cock and laid the gun across my lap as I guided the
horse in the direction the deer had gone. We just rode easy, the horse and I,
not getting in a hurry. I figured that we would give the deer time to settle
down and that they would not go too far.
We rode up the
hill the deer had disappeared over and crossed the top where they had. Coming
down the other side I could see the ground dropped away in front of me to some
lower hills about a half mile distant. To my left was a large wash with a steep
ridge going up above it. We traveled maybe 200 yards or so when I saw movement
on the hillside to my left. Pulling the horse to a stop I saw two Whitetail walk
out of some brush and I climbed off the horse. I could see that both were bucks
as I knelt down and pulled the hammer on the rifle to full cock.
It was a fairly
long distance across the canyon and I put the bead about halfway up the body of
the rear buck and squeezed the trigger. At the shot both deer flinched but did
not run. The were both standing still, looking around as I levered in another
shell. I had seen the bullet strike under the deer on that first shot. This time
I held the bead on the deer's back and at the shot it dropped, then began
kicking. I watched for a moment, making sure it was not getting up, then got
back on the horse and rode over to where the buck lay.
It was 3-point
(Western count) buck that was about average size. The deer had been turned more
than it looked like and the shot had taken it in the right rear flank and exited
the left front shoulder. After cleaning it I tied it on the horse and we began
the walk home. The old Model 71 had done it's duty and we had made meat.
(The year was 1988. The mare is long gone now, but the rifle
still does it's duty. Just a couple years ago I used it to take a nice Whitetail
buck here in Missouri. I suspect the rifle will still do it's duty long after I
am gone. - Jim Taylor)