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Staff Article

Robert Hanneman

Montana Unlimited Bighorn Sheep

By Robert Hanneman

February 2013

Travel caution sign

Coues deer are not something many people think about. Actually most Montanans are not sure what they really are, and most of our friends had a good laugh when my buddy, Jason, and I told them we were going to drive 1,480 miles south to New Mexico to hunt the gray ghosts with a muzzleloader.

Trying to fit this hunt into our busy fall schedule was becoming difficult, and with having hunted this unit two times before, I decided that we would not scout but just show up opening morning to begin our hunt. Driving through the night we arrived just before daybreak, loaded our packs, and headed out to glass. Just as it became light enough we spotted two bucks running down the ridge, and I headed off down the drainage to try to cut them off. As I was making my way down the mountain I looked back and saw four guys with big backpacks walking through the area the deer had come from. After failing to relocate the deer I made my way back to Jason on the glassing point. He asked if I had seen the drug traffickers coming out of Mexico, and it finally dawned on me that the men I had seen were not hunters. This was the first time I had ever seen any drug traffickers in this unit, but I had been advised of the issues before by the border patrol. According to Jason these guys were packing huge packs made out of blankets, and the lead guy was setting the pace for the others. They did not stop to rest, and it was obvious they were on a mission. Within the hour there was border patrol on foot and on horseback moving through what I considered the prime deer area. With all the traffic in our hunting spot we decided to try a different area in the unit.

Jason and Robert with Coues Deer

With each passing day we found ourselves getting farther from the road and finding better bucks. On the fourth morning Jason spotted a really good buck bedded under a tree out in an open flat 800 yards away. After Jason and I went over our hand signals the stalk was on for Jason. He made good time stalking in and settled down 125 yards from the buck. Then, incredibly, a border patrol helicopter began circling directly above us, and I am assuming they picked us up with thermal imagers because we were in camo and well covered by the trees. The helicopter continued to circle above us and the bedded deer. Then it landed about 400 yards north of the deer, and we could hear the men talking. We waited to see what would happen. Thankfully, after walking the ridge for about 10 minutes, the men loaded up into the helicopter and flew away. Much to our amazement the deer stayed bedded and seemed unphased by all of the excitement around him, but a second nice buck changed position and was now visible to us. Jason waved me over, and within record time I, too, had closed the distance to the bucks.

Jason had never killed a Coues deer before, so he had first choice of the bucks. Both bucks looked like they would score about the same. The first was a nice symmetrical 4-point, and the second was a giant forked horn with a lot of mass. Jason decided he would shoot the first buck that stood up. In this country I had learned that during the muzzleloader season you can shoot one of the bucks out of a bachelor group and the other bucks will usually stand around. We were gambling this would happen again. We waited about an hour before the big forked horn stood up. Jason made a perfect shot, and the buck dropped in his tracks. The other buck bolted about 10 yards, then turned and walked back to the downed buck. I had a clear shot, and the second buck fell within 10' of the first. It is such an unexplainable rush when everything comes together better than you could have imagined!

Robert with Coues Deer

We gathered up our gear, and I was on cloud nine as I walked up on my biggest Coues deer I have taken to date. Jason’s buck had more mass than I had ever seen on a Coues deer. We were 6 miles from the truck and 2 miles from camp. Once we finished taking pictures and breaking down the bucks we packed the deer back to camp. After breaking down our camp our packs became much heavier, and the going was slow back to the truck, which we reached in full darkness. We spent the next 24 hours making our way home to Montana. Later, when we scored the bucks, we found out that my buck scored 100" and Jason’s scored 101"!

Hunting the Coues deer along the Mexican border in New Mexico and Arizona does have its problems with illegals and drug traffickers. Here is my strategy for this hunt:

Jason with Coues Deer
  1. I let my wife know the area I am going to be hunting and when I am due out of the field. I also leave her the contact info for the border patrol in that region. I would recommend carrying a cell phone, satellite phone, or SPOT device.
  2. I always carry a side arm. It is nice to have a backup weapon if you find yourself in a bad place, especially when hunting with a muzzleloader.
  3. I camp off main trails and keep a quiet camp. I do not camp near a water source.
  4. I usually rent a small storage unit in the nearest town to store my extra gear. The last thing I want is my truck broken into.
  5. If I do spot drug traffickers or illegals, I keep my distance. Do not approach illegals or drug traffickers; you can call the border patrol instead. Most people crossing the border do so at night and then sleep during the day.

Above all else, safety is the number one goal! Know your surroundings and keep others informed of where you are! This was my third hunt in that area, and I will continue to hunt the country along the border. It is always a fun hunt with a lot of Coues deer.