Coues Deer Hunting Basics
The diminutive Coues whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus couesi) of the Southwest is small in stature, but very large when it comes to a challenge. One particular deer hunter has hunted big game on five continents and has yet to pursue an animal as wary and the little Coues whitetail.
Range and Habitat
Coues (pronounced both “coos” and “cows”) are a slate-gray, smallish whitetail with the most limited range of the huntable American deer subspecies. Arizona’s Mogollon Rim forms their northern range boundary, while the Colorado River forms the western boundary. They stretch eastward across Arizona into the southwestern region of New Mexico. To the south they range well into old Mexico, with the Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Durango holding good numbers and the deer reaching as far south as the state of Sinaloa. They like mountain and foothill country, usually between 3000 and 8000 feet, preferring scrub oak and mesquite country filled with grassy bowls, jumbled rocks, and a plethora of thorny plants and cactus. No hard population estimates exist, but most experts seem to agree there are maybe 50,000 Coues deer in the world. The deer was named after Dr. Elliott Coues (who pronounced his name “Cows”), an army surgeon stationed at Ft. Whipple, Arizona Territory, in 1865-66.
Spot & stalk hunting is the primary tool of the Coues deer hunter. Most hunters climb to a high vantage point before first light, then glass long and hard for moving bucks. The same technique is used in the evening. Tripod-mounted binoculars in the 15x50 and 20x80 class are used by many serious Coues deer hunters to help them locate these miniscule deer at long distances; the minimum binocular power should be 10X. Many bowhunters employ tree stands set over water holes and in saddles, a deadly technique if the area has been scouted thoroughly. During the rut, rattling and grunt calling can be very effective as well. Coues deer are easily the most skittish deer species in North America. They have excellent eyesight, smell, and hearing, and will leave the country at the first hint of trouble. Great care must be taken when both glassing for, then stalking in on, Coues bucks.
Coues deer have the same antler configuration as their whitetail brethren, and for record book purposes are scored exactly the same, they're just smaller. For example, the minimum Boone & Crockett score for whitetails is 170 points; for Coues deer it is 110, and it is very hard to find a buck this large. The minimum Pope & Young score is 65 points. World-class bucks have a classical 10-point whitetail rack. However, most large bucks have an 8- or 9-point rack, with medium mass and a spread approaching ear width.
In most cases, public land Coues deer hunting involves hiking medium to long distances over steep, broken country. Often it means packing the meat out on your back. (Fortunately, a large boned-out Coues buck, cape, and antlers will weigh only about 50 lbs.) Those who condition themselves to meet these challenges have the best chance at long-term success. In some areas in Old Mexico, Coues deer hunting is conducted on tightly-controlled private ranchlands where it is possible to hunt them primarily by driving backcountry dirt roads and glassing from or near the vehicle.
Guns & Loads
Coues deer are easy to kill cleanly. While shots can be of short to medium range, they can also stretch “way out there.” Thus, flat-shooting cartridges in the .243 to .30-06 class, as well as a variety of light magnums, are superb. Variable-power rifle scopes (2-7X, 2.5-8X, 2.5-10X, 3-9X, 4-14X) permit adjusting power up or down depending on both the distance of the shot and available light conditions. An all-time favorite Coues deer rifle is a Weatherby Vanguard MOA rifle chambered for .257 Wby. Mag. topped with a Nikon Monarch 4-14X scope. A laser rangefinder an essential tool. Bowhunters should use flat-shooting set-ups, have pins set to at least 50 yards, and practice shooting uphill and downhill at distance.
By The Numbers
Height at Shoulder: 31 inches. Ave. weight: Bucks, 100 lbs.; does, 75 lbs. An extremely large buck might weigh 135 lbs.