Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Arizona has a thriving population of Coues Whitetailed Deer. These tiny deer inhabit most of central and southern Arizona between elevations of 3,500 and 6,000 ft.
Rarely exceeding 120 lbs, with most bucks around 95-105 lbs, the Coues has become sort of a cult like creature among die hard southwestern deer hunters who specialize in finding these elusive animals with high end optics mounted on sturdy tripods and packed into remote drainages.
The deer live in the cactus, mesquite and palo verde at lower elevations; oaks, ocotillo and junipers in the mid ranges and pines at the upper elevations.
Unit 22, in central Arizona has good numbers of Coues deer in the central and northern sections of the unit.
The unit is rugged with some very remote and steep country. In the central parts of the unit, there is the Four Peaks Wilderness, the Mazatzal Wilderness the portions of the Hells Gate Wilderness areas.
Not officially designated as Wilderness areas, but just as rugged and remote are the Mt Peeley, Mt Ord, Two Bar, Eagle Peak and Fossil Creek areas in the central part of the unit.
Going farther north, around Pine and Strawberry, Arizona you can find Coues Deer in most of the drainages off of East Clear Creek, the Mogollon Rim, and the deep canyons that border unit 6A in the northwest section of Unit 22.
22 boundary – Beginning at the junction of the Salt and Verde Rivers; north along the Verde River to Childs; easterly on the Childs-Strawberry Rd. to Fossil Creek; north on Fossil Creek to Fossil Springs; southeasterly on FS trail 18 (Fossil Spring Trail) to the top of the rim; northeasterly along the Rim to Nash Point along the Tonto-Coconino National Forest boundary along the Mogollon Rim; easterly along this boundary to Tonto Creek; southerly along the east fork of Tonto Creek to the spring box, north of the Tonto Creek Hatchery, and continuing southerly along Tonto Creek to the Salt River; westerly along the Salt River to the Verde River; except those portions that are sovereign tribal lands of the Tonto Apache Tribe and the Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Community.
Coues Deer Habitat
Typical Coues deer habitat in unit 22 is scrub oaks, manzanita and juniper. There are several burns, old and new that also hold a lot of deer. Tonto National Forest does a lot of controlled burns in the unit also, which are always areas worth looking at.
When you first look at the game and fish regulations and see how many tags the department issues, you might be put off thinking that it will be a zoo and too much hunting pressure.
for 2020, there will be (3) rifle Coues hunts in unit 22. 400 tags in the first hunt, 375 tags for the second hunt and 50 tags for the last hunt in December. Tag numbers are the same as 2019.
While there are a lot of tags, much of the unit goes unhunted due to people not wanting to put the effort in to get into more remote areas. The majority of the hunters are going to be near easier access points. If you are in at least "decent" shape and have a pack and good boots, you can out walk most of the hunters and get back into the areas where you won't be bothered.
Link to 2020 Arizona Deer regulations - Deer Regulations
Archery Coues Deer hunts
Archery Coues deer hunts are very popular, even with low success rates. It is one of the greatest challenges in bowhunting. The deer are very nervous by nature and are rarely in vulnerable position.
The early seasons can be very hot and depending on the state of the monsoon season, very wet or very dry. Powerful storms are not uncommon during the August and September and temperatures in the triple digits are also the norm in lower elevations.
Sitting water, either in a ground blind or using a tree stand can be very effective if you have the patience to sit and wait.
Spot and stalk techniques will often offer more buck sightings, but long, slow stalks in the heat will be needed to get a shot off in most circumstances.
The December and January archery seasons are very popular because the bucks are up on their feet a lot looking for does and the temperatures are much cooler (even brutally cold in the higher elevations).
You can start to see some pre-rut activity the early part of December with the "rut" usually starting to kick off around Christmas. The most rutting activity is usually observed in January.
Most units have over the counter archery deer tags, but check the regulations because it changes year to year.
Trail Cameras can be very effective in finding a target buck, especially in the early seasons when bucks are more patternable.
When looking for spots to hunt the early season, the same map reading skills outined in the next section below apply if you are going to be using spot and stalk methods.
For tree stand and / or ground blind hunting, placing trail camera along trails leading to water and bedding areas is a great way to determine if there are bucks in the area and which trials they are using.
Look for north facing slopes with good saddles on the ridge line. The deer use these saddles to cross from the feeding areas on the south side of the ridge to the cooler, shadier north side. Place one or two cameras on each side of the saddle will usually be more effective than placing them in the middle. For some reason, deer and especially the bucks like to walk along the side of the saddle, rather down the middle. If there is a good population of deer, you shroud be able to see a clearly defined trail on one or both sides of the saddle.
Where to start looking for Coues deer?
Trail heads are good starting spots but you will likely have some company there unit you get down the trail to a spot where you can jump off and start hiking off trail to hidden basins and slopes.
When looking for spots to hunt, you need to concentrate on 3 things.
1. Water - There needs to be water nearby. It does not have to be a big tank or maintained drinker. In fact, those usually have roads nearby. Look for steep canyons with trees and heavy brush in the bottoms. Cottonwood trees especially are a good indicator. It might not look like there would be water in the bottom but there are often large pools formed by boulders and rock that hold water, even in the dry seasons. Below is an example for what to look for on a map. Steep canyon walls on the north and south side and an elevation around 4,000 to 5,000 ft. This is usually below the pine forest but above the mesquite and palo verde habitat that is hard to glass.
Google Earth is a great tool for finding remote water. You can load a KML file that will actually highlight most, if not all water tanks, in a blue color to make them stand out and easily visible. Link the to KML file for Arizona water is at the bottom of this post.
2. A glassing point. When looking at maps or Google Earth, pick out your glassing points before you step out for your scouting or hunting trips and put the coordinates in your GPS unit or phone based GPS so that you can find your spots in the dark. It is very important to be at you glassing spot BEFORE glassing light. Look for spots with cliffs, knife edges, main ridges with lots of finger ridges etc. You want a place where you are above the trees and brush and can see a lot of slopes, ridges, saddles etc. There are literally 1000's of these types of spots in unit 22. It is one of the most glassable units in Arizona. Below is an example of what to look for when using a map to find possible glassing points.
3. North, North East or North west facing slopes. Coues deer and especially the bucks love to bed down on these shady north slopes. During the early archery seasons and the October and November rifle seasons, bucks will spend the vast majority of daylight hours on these slopes. You can catch them feeding on the more open east and south facing slopes at first light and if not pressured they might even stay out feeding well after sunrise. Most however will seek shade and security right after sunrise. A north or North west facing slope in a burned area is one of the best places to be glassing opening morning.
Unit 22 Coues Bucks we found in a old burn right before the early archery season.
At the bottom of this post there is a link for downloading fire data to Google Earth. When you open it, it will outline past burned areas and if you click on it, it will tell you some facts about the fire like the size and the year it occurred.
Some Unit 22 Coues bucks and typical glassing areas we use for scouting
Unit 22 Scouting Packages and Downloads
We offer one and two day scouting packages in unit 22 (and all other units too) for Coues Deer, Mule Deer, Elk, Javelina and Bear. Go here for more info on these affordable options for DIY hunters.
Each scouting package will include the following:
1 or 2 days of scouting (appx 10-12 days before opening day)
Link to the same video on Youtube (set to private so only you can see it)
Maps marked with each location
Google earth KML File with markers for each location
GPX file for uploading the GPS coordinates to your GPS or GPS APP
Written description with pictures of each location
Unit Data - downloadable
We also have data that can be instantly downloaded. It an accumulation of data we have complied over the years on unit 22. It includes GPS waypoints, Photos, Google Earth Links and a written description of each location.
Links related to unit 22 Coues Deer hunting