Updated: Jun 8
Southern and central Arizona is home to the majority of Coues Whitetailed Deer in the united States. These tiny deer inhabit most of Arizona between, Flagstaff and the Mexican border at 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.
The three major mountain ranges within unit 33 are the Catalina's, The Rincons and the Little Rincons. All harbor a sizable whitetailed deer population. Unit 33 has long been recognized as a unit that holds trophy class Coues bucks and a large number of these small bodied deer.
The north end of the unit includes Mount Lemmon. This large mountain has hundreds of finger ridges, especially on the east side, that are covered in oaks and junipers at mid elevations and giving way to mesquite and cactus as you go lower.
Coues can be found in all of these habitats. I believe there are larger numbers of deer in the oaks and yellow grass slopes at the middle of the mountain but there might be larger bucks, that don't get hunted as hard in the lower portions and even down into the mesquite flats. The downfall of hunting them there is the limited and more difficult glassing opportunities.
Coues can be found all the way at the top also, in the pines. It is a good area for the archery hunt if you like to tree stand hunt.
The south end of the unit includes the Rincon and Little Rincon Mountains. These areas offer a variety of habitat too; oaks, mesquite and these areas offer a great chance to hike away from pressure and get into some areas that might have older deer. These mountains area a little farther way from Tuscon and seem to get a little less pressure, but they still get hunted hard near the roads and trail heads.
Unit 33 Boundaries
Beginning at Tangerine road and AZ Hwy 77; north and northeast on AZ Hwy 77 to the San Pedro River; southeast along the San Pedro River to I-10 at Benson; west on I-10 to Marsh Station road (Exit 289); northwest on the Marsh Station road to the Agua Verde road; north on the Agua Verde road to its terminus then north 1/2 mile to the Coronado National Forest boundary; north and west along the National Forest boundary; then west, north, and east along the Saguaro National Park boundary; continuing north and west along the Coronado National Forest boundary to the southern boundary of Catalina State Park; west along the southern boundary of Catalina State Park to AZ Hwy 77; north on AZ Hwy 77 to Tangerine road.
Coues Deer Habitat
Typical Coues deer habitat in unit 33 is scrub oaks, manzanita and juniper. There are several burns, old and new that also hold a lot of deer. The Coronado National Forest and the AZ State Land Trust are largest managers of public land in unit 33.
The middle elevations around Mt Lemmon hold a lot of deer. There are many ridges covered in oak and juniper that Coues deer love, coming off the top of the mountain and down to about 4,000 ft elevation.
To the east of the control road, on the back side (east) of Mt Lemmon, there are a lot of cactus and mesquite lined washes that also hold a lot of Coues deer and also mule deer.
These lower elevation areas are more easily accessible but harder to glass and probably a few less whitetail than at slightly higher elevations. There are a lot of cattle tanks (water) in these lower areas however, which is always a feature to look for when scouting and hunting in the desert.
In the Rincons and Little Rincons access is not as easy, but this can keep hunting pressure lower than in the northern half of the unit.
The main access will be on Forest service RD 35, which you can get to from the Mescal exit off I-10 a few miles west of Benson.
This road is fairly well maintained, but there are several places where it crosses creeks and washes. If it has been raining, you should be cautious when crossing the deeper ones.
To get the best areas it will be about a 15-18 mile drive on this road. Take what you need with you because it is a long drive back to get fuel, food, water, etc.
The base of the Rincons are mostly oaks and mesquite covered washes. There are very few roads but there are some trail heads, Miller Creek and Turkey Creek, which will get you away from the main road and into some really good Coues Deer areas to glass.
If you are willing to hike and possibly backpack into some more remote areas, the the boundary of the Saguaro National Park is a good location to try. Obviously, you cannot hunt in the park but you can hunt the National Forest side of the fence. This is a little higher elevation and offers better glassing points to look over wide sections of land.
Getting a tag in unit 33
The game and fish department issues firearms tags in unit 33 through the draw lottery system. There are several hunts to choose from. There are 5 separate general season (any weapon) hunts starting in October and going through the end of the year.
The tags are fairly easy to draw except for the last hunt in December which is one of the hardest Coues tags to draw in the state. The October and November tags usually have a a high draw rate success (70-100%).
There is also a muzzle loader hunt in unit 33 during November. With the advances in muzzle loader rifles and bullets, this has become of more popular hunt recently.
There are also youth only hunts in unit 33 during October and November. These hunts are for kids 17 and under accompanied by an adult. These hunts are for ANY ANTLERED DEER, meaning they can legally harvest a mule deer or a whitetail. There is no youth muzzleloader hunt in unit 33 for 2020. Youth must have completed the hunter education class.
And finally, there is the very popular early and late season archery deer seasons. These are all over the counter tags and can be purchased from the game and Fish office or most anyplace that sells hunting and fishing licenses.
The archery deer seasons in unit 33 start in August. The deer are in velvet and though it will be warm, the bucks can be more visible due their preference to stay out of the the thickest brush with their soft antlers. They are still Coues deer though and will be very skittish as always. recent burns are a great area to hunt during the August and September hunts as the monsoon rains will have produced the best feed in these burns.
Hunting water is always productive too, as long as the monsoons have not left water standing in every wash and rock crevice.
The late season archery hunt starts in mid December. It will be much cooler, possibly even very cold and deer will be hard horned and in the more thickly brushed areas on north and northwest / northeast facing slopes most of the day. You can find bucks on the sunny south facing slopes early in the morning, especially if it is cold. They also start looking for does a little bit during this hunt, especially the last 4-5 days, between Christmas and new years. Does are more likely to stay on the warmer southeast sides of the ridges this time of year so you might find a buck cruising the ridge lines after sun up trying to nose check does using the rising thermal.
Check out our blog post for Unit 22 Coues deer for some more tips on using maps and Google Earth for your scouting and hunts. including how to easily locate water sources and what to look for for on maps and google earth when seaching for glassing points, bedding areas, etc
Unit 33 Scouting Packages and Downloads
We offer one and two day scouting packages in unit 33 (and all other units too) for Coues Deer, Mule Deer, Elk, Javelina and Bear.
You can find more information on our scouting trip here - More Info
Sample Scouting Video
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 33. It includes GPS waypoints, Photos, Google Earth Links and a written description of each location. Downloadable Unit data