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Interesting AZ Whitetail
February 2013
Gerhard Schroeder

Steep unit 24A canyon country

In 2012 we drew third choice, 24A whitetail, the early hunt. We four, Wade, Michael, Ron and me left the evening before opening day. None of us had hunted there before. In September I had managed to scout for a few hours. My conclusion was that the area south of Miami (near Roads 349 and 2) holds two big challenges: almost no places for a decent camp, and mountain slopes extremely steep.

When we arrived around 10 pm another challenge met us – strong gusting winds! It turned out that those winds robbed most of Wade and Michael’s sleep that night. Even inside my 4Runner it felt like a 767 in turbulence. No matter, we were up at 5 am. Wade and Michael took their tents down, worried they’d otherwise find them in New Mexico. They already had it with that wind, opted to drive to a lower area and hunt there.

Ron and I had a slicker plan. We both drove down the mountain, planted my Toy there, drove back up in his F150. From there we hunted down hill, a ridge over from where my vehicle was waiting. The wind made it darn difficult to glass. Even so, we advanced slowly, glassing the terrain over and over again.

By about 10:30 we were even with my 4Runner, and had not stirred or seen a single critter. Decision time. Rather than continuing further downhill we opted to just climb down and then back up again, directly towards my vehicle. All looked nasty steep, and Ron decided to go a little further south before committing to crossing the canyon. A walking stick (6-ft section of century old dried plant) was a must while I fished my way downhill. My side was open. The opposite side faced mostly north and was lush with green trees and bushes. Proceeding was neither fun nor silent.

But that changed when I was almost to the bottom and detected movement across in all that green stuff. A deer, not overly fast, was trying to leave the scene. Body of a whitetail! Instantly the Tikka was against my shoulder. Even with the scope set at 3X could I make out antlers, now about 150 paces away. There, he’s coming through a little clearing, crosshairs on him, squeeze – and the .308 Win. sent its 150 grain Nosler E-Tip. The deer slowed some. It looked like a gut shot. I sat down for the next shot, rested my elbows on my knees. For whatever reason I aimed high, and hit high. It looked like a miss. Later I learned that the bullet had cut hide without harming the back straps.

My next shot appeared lost in brush as the buck emerged on the other side. The final shot caught him from behind, unfortunately into one ham, then angling forward (I later found that bullet in the front leg meat). That dropped him, and due to the steep hill he slid a good twenty yards down, then apparently caught by a tree. At least he did not come back out of there.

I waited several minutes, then I inched down the rest of my slope. I fell despite the walking stick, but was finally in the bottom. From here the ascent looked even steeper! I shed a shirt, and had to sling my rifle across shoulder and neck to have both hands free. Only by grabbing onto and pulling on brush and branches could I climb the first thirty or so yards. My buck laid where I had last seen it slide, caught by bushes and that tree. And I was already out of breath, but smiled when I noticed all the ends on his rack.

In order to red-work him, I had to get him into a clearing. First I dug a little shelf into the slope to have support for my own feet. A step higher, using a flat rock, I dug a shelf big enough to fit that buck. Then it was the deer’s turn. By pulling on his antlers, then with my other hand, a front leg, he got out of the bushes.

Meanwhile Ron had arrived up the wash, now cussing as he tried to climb to my position. When he caught up with me I had finally wrestled that deer onto its shelf.

It was obvious we could not carry the deer up this hill. We could barely climb with just our guns to carry. I had to cut my buck into pieces right there.

Then Ron had a great idea, as he took the first shoulder on up. Maybe thirty steps further was a cluster of trees. They provided shade. Ron broke off branches short enough to act as hooks. He hung the four legs there, piece by piece, trip by trip. The back straps, fillets and strips of meat between the ribs ended up in my back pack. Ron carried that up as well as I carried my gun to that position. Now the carcass was light enough such that I could return and drag it into the shade as well.

From here the hill was not quite as steep. We could continue upright, with the help of our walking sticks. I opted to carry the pack on up to the road, while Ron carried one shoulder. Once at the 4Runner we put the meat into the cooler. We stored all other gear and rifles, then went back down the hill for more meat. Three trips later it was done. The wind throughout had been an asset. It kept us from overheating and at the same time nicely cooled the meat while it was hanging in the shade. It was now 12:30, time for lunch.

Soon Michael and Wade also returned. They had seen nothing. Worse, Wade had experienced a flat tire. He was so disgusted with the terrain, lack of sleep, concern over not having a spare any longer, not seeing even deer sign, and now inspecting the nasty slopes my deer had been hiding in, that he opted to go home.

After a long lunch, during which I managed to debone my deer, we chose to hunt ‘the same way’. That is, we yet again planted the 4Runner, then hunted downhill, except this time, the ridge on the other side of the road. Nothing showed.

Saturday we combed the same area from the day before. There was noticeably less wind, but still no deer. Plus I had easier travels, no longer carrying a rifle. On occasion I pulled Michael up some really steep section, using the walking stick as tow bar.

We eventually glassed much country from a higher position. But until last light nothing other than cattle moved.

Sunday morning would be our last stunt. Into new hills we climbed. Yet the prime first hour did not yield any deer sightings. Then Michael detected a coyote. Rangefinder stated that the critter was three hundred yards away, a ridge over. He decided to ruin its day. Sitting, with his .30-06 resting on all-extended bipod, he sent a 165-grainer towards the walking predator. Close miss. The coyote seemed confused as to where such unfriendly object came from. Its lack of speed gave Michael another shot – which echoed back with an unmistakable thud, and spun the yote. But he was not down, and Michael’s third shot missed. He and I went over there while Ron climbed higher in hopes for whitetails. We found blood and a tiny piece of bone. Then the blood trail vanished. And Ron did not see anything one ridge over. So we called it all off to return home.

Next year a hunt in the woods would be a refreshing change from desert hunts for the last four seasons. May the drawing odds be with us.

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