Draw strategy and tips for Arizona Mule Deer and Coues Deer
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Every year in the spring, the deer regulations are issued by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and hunters start to make a plan for applying and drawing one of the tags.
Some hunters prefer to apply for the same hunt or hunt unit year and after year and others want to hunt new areas. Each strategy has its own pluses and minuses.
Hunting the same area every year lets you build up a valuable base of knowledge for the unit You know the roads, where to get supplies, where to camp, which areas hold deer and which areas do not. You get to know where the deer hang out when there is no pressure and where they go to hide when the hunters arrive.
Hunting new areas is fun too. You get the challenge of learning a new unit, seeing different habitats; Thick forest, open deserts, high desert chaparral, etc. new units and season can also offer a better opportunity to draw a tag or, if few tags are issued, have a more enjoyable hunt as compared to some of the hunts that have a lot tags, but you can draw almost every year.
Arizona has a lot of choices when it comes to deer hunting. We have mule deer, which inhabit almost the entire state and we also have the Coues white-tailed deer which prefer areas above 3,500 feet in elevation in the central and southern portions of the state.
When most people think of Arizona Mule Deer, they think of the Kaibab Plateau and an area known as "The Strip". Both areas are in far Northern Arizona and competition for these tags is fierce.
Arizona offers archery and rifle hunts on The Strip (units 13A and 13B) For the Kaibab (Units 12A West, 12A East and 12B, archery and rifle tags are also issued, but there are also muzzleloader tags available for unit 12 East.
Arizona also has good mule deer hunting in other areas of the state. but not as widely known.
Unit 3A/3C is a unit that improved greatly when most of it burned 2002. After the burn the deer population increased because of better deer habitat. Some very nice bucks were taken in the years following the fire. It is not as good as it was right after the fire, but it is still very good and the tags can take some time to draw. There are both archery and rifle tags in the draw for this unit.
Arizona units down on the border can also provide some good mule deer hunting. Units 36A, B and C and unit 35A and 35B have good populations of mule deer (and whitetail deer). These are desert mule deer. These tags are not nearly as hard to draw and the previously mentioned Kaibab, Strip and 3A/3C units but they are not usually a guaranteed draw either. These units are very "glassable" in most spots and while the overall population of mule deer here is lower than than the "famous" spots, they make up for it by generally being more visible because of the lack of trees and thick, north covered slopes that deer up north hide in when the pressure is on.
If you like rugged and steep areas to hunt. Places that, with some effort, you can get away from roads, road hunters and other people, units 27, 29 and 23 could be your best bet.
These units are in central/eastern Arizona and offer numerous wilderness areas and roadless areas to hike into and get away. Unit 22, in Central Arizona is also a place where hiking into the steep and deep areas can be rewarded with less pressure and less skittish deer. All of these units usually have rifle and archery tags available. I say usually because there has been an increase in season changes and modifications lately, especially for archery tags.
If you are willing to wait for a Strip or Kaibab tag, prepare yourself. A unit 13 tag will likely take you a decade or more to even have a 5% chance. That said, every year a guy or gal with 0, 1 or 2 points draws a tag. Its not impossible, just highly improbable.
Unit 13B is considered by most the best mule deer unit in the state and some even say the entire country. It is a very isolated and desolate area that requires some logistical planning to hunt. Extra gas, tires, water, etc and willing to be out of cell phone coverage most of the time. 13A is similar but closer to "town" (there are real no towns out here). Great deer are taken in 13A also.
Archery tags are offered for both units. These are early season hunts and most often are concentrated around water sources. The draw odds for archery are not much better than the rifle hunts.
Suggested Draw strategies
The Strip Application suggestion for both rifle and archery tags.
13B - First choice
13A - Second choice.
Kaibab Application suggestion:
12A - first choice.
Rifle: (willing to wait as long as it takes)
12A West Late - First choice
12B late - 2nd choice
Rifle (better draw odds, but still a chance to draw a great tag)
12A West late - first choice
12A West early - second choice
Rifle (best odds, but still could take several years)
12A East early - first choice
12A West early - second choice.
Want to hunt Arizona Mule Deer as soon as 1-5 years?
Rifle (possible to draw in year one, but not as likely for a non-resident)
Unit 3a/3c - first choice
Unit 27 - second choice
Unit 12A - first choice
Unit 3a/3c - second choice
Want to hunt as soon as 1-3 years?
Unit 27 - first choice
Unit 20C, 10, 7, 37B, 35a, 35b (pick one, no particular order)
Arizona's "other deer" is a sub species of white-tailed deer known as Coues Deer. These are small, skittish and nervous deer that have gained sort of a cult like following over the years. They like areas above 3,500 feet in elevations and are most abundant in souther and central Arizona.
The bucks like to hang out on the north slopes most of the day, where they can hide from predators and hunters. They will feed on the south and east slopes very early in the mornings and are much easier too see in these more open areas.
The preferred and most popular way to hunt Coues deer is by hiking to high vantage point with a day's supply of water and snacks and a good pair of binoculars mounted on a sturdy tripod. Hunting Coues deer is an optics game, for sure.
Another effective way, especially for archery hunters, is tree stand and ground blind hunting overlooking water, trails, pinch points (mountain saddles and steep north facing benches).
As far as units, there are several that are considered "trophy" units but in reality, any unit can produce a giant buck. It takes age, which usually means getting away from the road and doing a lot hiking and scouting. Coues bucks are known to be extremely territorial. Most of the year, they will stay in their preferred area and not leave unless forced to by fire, lack of water, etc. They have a home range that is sometimes only square mile or less, often and little as 1,000 square yards. This habit makes the early seasons (archery and first rifle seasons) a great option of you can scout pre-season and find a buck. Once you find a buck in the summer that you like. there is a very good chance you will find in the same place or very close by in August-October when hunting seasons start.
There are also later season in most units and some units even have 3 or more additional seasons. These are units like 36B and 33 that have high deer numbers. Most units will have at least two rifles season per year.
Units 33, 36B, 27, 32, 22 are some of the better units to hunt due to high deer numbers and good access (public land). 32 can be tricky to navigate around the private land, but once you do there is plenty of public to hunt.
Unit 36B, down on the border, probably has the highest number of Coues deer in Arizona. There is abundant water due to a large number of cattle tanks. There are countless draws and ridges that are covered by oaks on the north slopes and yellow grass on the south slopes, which is great Coues deer habitat. These tags are usually pretty easy to draw, especially the two early season hunts. The downfall is that the early seasons have a lot of tags (other hunters) and it hot.
Unit 27, as mentioned before in the Mule Deer section, is rugged and steep. There have been some fires in the past that have opened up a lot glassing opportunities that were too thick to glass effectively before it burned. There are good numbers of deer here and if you are willing to hike you can have some good areas to yourself. Its not a unit for the hunter that has trouble hiking, sometimes very steep slopes.
Like unit 27, units 22 and 23 are rugged areas that require some hiking and have had fires that have increased to areas to glass. The deer in these units are more isolated. Meaning that that there will likely be some areas that you might like after searching over maps and Google Earth and look like for sure deer hot spots, but won't hold any Coues deer, for what ever reason. The upside is that if you find a buck in the summer or right before season, he will likely be there for you when the season starts. These units, in my opinion, offer a better chance at a bigger buck than say unit 36C, but also a bigger chance of eating tag soup.
Unit 33, or as I call it , Coues Deer Utopia, has it all and Coues deer inhabit almost every square inch of it except for the cities and towns and even then seeing buck in town is not uncommon, especially during January.
High up in the Catalina Mountains are pines and steep, thick slopes, The Rincons to the south are more rolling hills and border the National Park, where deer can escape hunters and grow old. The eastern edge of the unit is traditional desert with cactus and mesquite and palo verde, In these lower elevations, Coues deer number are lower, but the chance at a bigger buck is higher because less people hunt there.
Suggested Draw strategies
Late Rifle "rut" hunts (willing to wait for the best tag)
33 (last December hunt) - First choice
23 (last December hunt) - Second choice.
Late Rifle "rut" hunts (willing to wait for a tag, but better draw odds)
33 (last December hunt) - First choice
36B or 22 (last December hunt) - Second choice.
Late Rifle "rut" hunts (willing to wait for a late tag, but best draw odds)
36B (last December hunt) - First choice
30B, 21, 6A (last December hunt) - Second choice.
Rifle: (willing to wait, but good chance to draw this year or next)
33 (first October hunt) - First choice
27, 22, 36b (first October hunt) - 2nd choice
Rifle: (I just want to hunt a good unit as soon as possible)
33 (November) - First choice
36A (November) - second choice
36B November, 36C November, 34A November (third, forth and fifth choices)
Most archery hunts are still over the counter. Check the regulations carefully each year because it changes year to year.
Best hunts are in January. Usually good weather, rutting deer.
Popular hunts are the December hunts, between Christmas and New Years day.
Early hunts are hot but the deer are patternable and still in velvet. Not as skittish.
Scouting Packages and Downloads
We offer one and two day scouting packages in most units for Coues Deer, Mule Deer, Elk, Javelina and Bear.
Go here for more info on these affordable options for DIY hunters.
you can find more information on our scouting trip here -
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 locatio
Unit Data - downloadable
We also have data that can be instantly downloaded. It an accumulation of data we have complied over the years while scouting and hunting
It includes GPS waypoints, Photos, Google Earth Links and a written description of each location.