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#3218234 - 11/14/19 12:22 AM Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs"
DesertRam Offline

Registered: 04/26/01
Posts: 8806
Loc: Las Cruces, NM USA
I had little luck in this year’s big game hunting lottery, drawing just a javelina tag (that I only applied for since the kids want to go hunt the little critters) and a tag for my third choice deer hunt in a southern New Mexico desert unit. I hunted this unit several times in the early 2010s during the late October muzzleloader season, but this would be my first time hunting it with a rifle, a hunt I chose because it included the Veterans’ Day holiday that would allow me three days of hunting.

With numerous other commitments leading up to the hunt, I was not able to sneak away for preseason scouting. Instead, I would rely on knowledge gained during past hunts and my basic understanding of desert mule deer habits. Since school was also out for Veterans’ Day, my 14-year old son would be able to tag along on this hunt, a nice bonus. Last year I hunted the adjacent unit alone, which makes for a nice peaceful break, but doesn’t provide opportunities for fellowship and teaching. A week prior to the hunt, I mentioned the planned trip to a fellow Scout leader who I know is just starting to nurture his own inner hunter. When he expressed interest in the hunt, I extended an invitation to join us, which he accepted. We hunter conservationists have an obligation to share our passion for the sport, and to bring others into the fold whenever opportunity knocks.

Over the course of the next week, we finalized plans and readied our gear for the short hunt. Because this hunt is along the US/Mexico border, I opted to leave the fifth wheel at home and bring the Kodiak Canvas tent – no glamping this time! Work and school prevented us from leaving early, so Erik and I loaded up Friday night, preparing for an early morning departure that would hopefully put us in deer country at dawn. Too early Saturday morning we left home, stopped for fuel, and picked up our new hunting buddy Phil before hitting the road for the distant desert. We were only a few minutes late, arriving at our planned glassing location a little after sunrise. On the way in, we saw some early rising pronghorn already out and about.

Not long after, I spotted a small herd of deer grazing on a low hill. We watched for a while and determined that there was a small buck in the group. We decided he was too young, so we just observed the group. At one point Phil and I thought we could see a larger buck in the brush, so Erik and I made a loop around the hill to get the wind right and snuck up over the top for a better look. We popped over right above them, giving ourselves an easy shot, but that “big buck” was only a rock/bush. We had the little guy at just over 100 yards, but just couldn’t get interested in the youngster. They finally had enough of us in their bubble and made haste getting away.

We spent a couple more hours glassing before heading out to a new location to scout some dirt tanks (ponds) that I had located during preseason satellite scouting. We checked all three tanks and found sign of deer, coyotes, javelina, and, at one tank, a bobcat. As the day wore on, I realized that any self-respecting deer would be shaded up, so with no real deer options in mind, it made perfect sense to suspend the deer hunt and get serious. Yep, it was time to break out the Foxpro and see if we could rustle up a furry critter. Despite many attempts, I had so far been unable to call in a coyote for my boy. 14 years is way too long to without getting a coyote, and I was determined to bring one in for him on this hunt.

So we found a place to obey Tom Austin’s Rule #1 (Hide the Ride) and slinked over the hill to a spot from which we could see plenty of open desert. We’d seen good sign, so I was hopeful. I put the Shockwave out about 40 yards, got the three of us all snuggled up to a scraggly creosote bush, and started playing a nice miserable sounding bird distress. In less than four minutes, I spotted a red blur coming hard from the right – my side. Dang. I got Erik’s attention and he repositioned his sticks and rifle well enough to take a crack at the coyote as he slowed near the call. With a bit of coyote fever, he missed, and the coyote kicked in the afterburner to exit stage left. I figured I’d better get serious too, so as I listened to the sweet sound of Erik quickly running the bolt, I swung the AR into action, pressing the trigger as the crosshairs passed over the coyote’s chest. The sound of my suppressed rifle was overwhelmed by the second boom of Erik’s .308. Both rounds found their way home, and the big coyote did a couple 10.0-point summersaults before coming to rest facing from whence he’d come. I kept playing some bunny blues for another ten minutes hoping for round 2, but we got no takers. Soon after, Erik got his hands his first coyote, kind of. We share this one.

We made a couple more stands before finding a place to set up camp. On one of those we focused on a foxy looking rocky canyon. With our eyes on something other than a coyote, we set up just wrong enough that when that coyote came in, he busted us before getting in the zone. I hate that. After pitching the tent, we spent the evening glassing a large grassy open area in which I have killed two bucks in years past. No action this year, so the first day ended with grilled burgers rather than fresh venison for dinner.

Having seen a couple large deer tracks at two of the tanks we scouted, we opted to work those for the second morning. They were pretty far from camp, so we were up early for the drive. We’d get within a reasonable distance, then glass the tanks and surrounding country from the truck before sneaking in closer if required. After leaving the last tank, I spotted a couple deer waaaay out in the brush. The 10x binocular suggested one was a buck, and the 30x spotting scope confirmed he was a little 3x3. It also showed that he wasn’t much bigger than the doe he was with, so we decided he wasn’t old enough.

With no real plans for late morning, we elected to do a little more ground pounding to see if a couple places looked as good in real life as they do in satellite imagery. Some of these places turned out to be good spots for antelope, but not deer, to roam.

Of course, along the way we had to try for another coyote or two. On the walk into one of those stands, we stumbled into a large covey of Gambel’s quail. Beautiful little buggers, whose time doesn’t come until November 15 when season opens. For this day, we shot them with the camera.

We worked our way up onto a slight rise and found a nice grassy opening about 30 yards across that would be perfect for the Franchi 12 gauge Erik chose to carry on this stand. Sidebar – I bought this shotgun last year with coyotes in mind, and hunted it several times. I just never had it when a coyote came in, so it was still fresh. Things change. After setting up and playing about nine minutes of birds and rodents, in trots a nice looking coyote that Phil caught sight of. He stopped near the call, facing straight at us. Erik brought the shotgun up and pressed the trigger, only to find he had forgotten the safety! Mr. Coyote was very accommodating though, giving him time to click off the safety and take a shot. Unfortunately, most of the Hornady BB shot was soaked up by a creosote between Erik and the coyote, so only a few landed. Fortunately, Erik is pretty good with the follow-up, and the second charge of BB shot rolled the quickly departing coyote up into a dusty ball.

After some coyote action, we had to get back in deer mode. That was the reason for the trip, right? Is this a deer hunt with a side of coyote, or coyote hunting with a deer rifle along just in case? Tough call.  We made a wide loop through some previously unseen country, only to find that the nice looking terrain and dirt tanks I’d seen from the eye in the sky were behind locked gates. Bummer. Well, we’d just drive and glass our way back to camp. That proved pretty uneventful, though we did catch a few javelina out feeding in a grassy draw. We tucked that location away in our little pea brains knowing that we have four javelina tags to fill in early 2020.

Aside from those and a few does and fawns, the day ended uneventfully. Back to camp for dinner of Italian meatball soup and green chile stew, an interesting combination of old country and New Mexican dining.

The morning of the third, and last, day was a repeat of day 2. We knew there was at least one nice buck using one of the dirt tanks – we had seen his fresh track on top of our tire tracks leaving the tank. We proceeded there, arriving just after sunup to glass the wide open drainage in which the tank sat. But alas, no buck, just a doe and fawn leaving water for the day’s bedding grounds. On we went. After studiously glassing the spot where we’d seen the “last day three-point,” and not finding him, we made a plan to swing even farther out into the desert and look at another wider ring of dirt tanks. As we sat in the truck consulting the map, I glanced up and saw an odd shiny spot way out in the creosote flats to the west. I threw up the binocular and confirmed that it was a gray-coated old mule deer doe. Excellent!

Over the next hour or so, we identified about a dozen deer, including an okay three-point and a decent four-point buck. But there was a problem. This herd of deer was browsing around in fairly thick, head-high brush, in very flat terrain, headed for even thicker brush, likely to bed down for the day. Even though we had the wind in our favor, approaching would be difficult, if not impossible in that brush. There were two options: watch them bed and return in the evening with the hope of catching them on the way out; or, try a relatively frontal assault through the brush. With little time left to hunt, I took Erik’s advice and started planning a stalk (teenagers are very impatient). Between our location and the deer, there was an old fence, along which was a narrow rutted two-track. We figured if we could get there using the cover of our “ranch truck” that deer have seen and heard hundreds of time, we wouldn’t spook them with three human shapes charging down the hill in the open.

We identified some landmarks, notably a tall yucca near where the deer had been headed, and then made our move. We had Phil drop us off at a likely location and then take off in the truck. Erik and I crawled under the fence and started the stalk. Our plan entailed sneaking a few yards and glassing for deer, then repeating the process, drawing ever closer to the telltale yucca. When we had closed the distance to under 200 yards, a last sweep of the bino revealed antlers, ears, a shiny black nose, and deer eyes staring very intently at the two intruders. I whispered for Erik to hand me the Trigger Sticks, planning to set up and shoot the buck right on the point of the nose. The tall, thick brush seemed to allow few other options. He, of course, had other ideas. As I settled the rifle into the yoke of the shooting sticks, he turned quickly to his left and started trotting off to our right. Hoping for a break, I tracked his form as it moved through the brush. Fortune shined on us, and when the buck trotted through a narrow clearing in the creosote, the trigger on my Kimber broke crisply. I heard the sound of a solid hit as the buck vanished back into the brush.

As deer scattered everywhere, Erik and I heard the sounds of breaking brush and noted a small dust cloud not far from where the buck was initially hit. We stood quietly for a few minutes as the dust settled and the remainder of the herd made for the horizon. Soon, Erik’s impatient nature won out and we started our search. He took the lead, heading for the buck’s last known location. We easily picked up his deep tracks in the dirt, and then soon found an ample blood trail. I watched as Erik took up the trail and followed it to the downed buck.

I had enough cell signal to get a call out to Phil, who had driven a mile or so down the little two-track road to wait us out. I asked him to drive back so we could get some recovery gear. Erik and I hiked back to the road to meet him and got the wheeled cart. We all three returned to the deer for pictures and the chore of field dressing and recovery.

Back at the truck, we quartered the deer and put all the meat on ice. From there, we had only to return to camp and break things down for the return home, right? Wrong! There was still that tank, you know, the one with bobcat tracks. We just had to stop there and make a stand before heading out. The wind wasn’t great, but we snuck in close and set up the best we could in a tight brushy draw downstream of the tank. I started the stand with quiet bird sounds hoping draw a cat out of the thick brush. Nine minutes in, Erik and I both spotted movement coming right up the draw toward the call. Erik whispered “Do I shoot?” I responded in the affirmative, and eight feet shy of the caller this gal met a cloud of BB shot, dropping her instantly. We called for another 20 minutes hoping for a cat, but it was not to be.

From there, it was back to camp for lunch and the break down before heading home. What a fine trip we had. I got to spend quality time in the outdoors with my son, sharing valuable lessons about deer hunting and coyote calling. I believe we also brought another hunter into the fold. Phil is quite interested in the process and now looks forward to next spring’s hunt application time. There is some satisfaction in passing along this great hunting tradition.
"A person is smart; people are dumb panicky dangerous animals and you know it." K as played by Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black

#3218242 - 11/14/19 07:08 AM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
GC Offline
PM Junkie

Registered: 04/21/01
Posts: 16551
Loc: Missouri
You always have the best stories and pictures! Awesome hunt in interesting country, congratulations!
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.

#3218251 - 11/14/19 09:16 AM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
Bob_Atl Offline
Die Hard Member III

Registered: 01/09/15
Posts: 2157
Loc: in the field, or not..
Thanks for taking us along & great pics & great read.
.... rule #9 ....

#3218252 - 11/14/19 09:19 AM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
johnrr65 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 11/06/19
Posts: 30
Loc: Bali

#3218301 - 11/14/19 07:07 PM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
huntinaz Offline
Die Hard Member II

Registered: 12/11/08
Posts: 1023
Loc: Flagstaff AZ
Welp. I think I found my new hero.

Great write up, thanks
"The crows seemed to be calling his name, thought Caw."

#3218308 - 11/14/19 08:05 PM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
crapshoot Offline
Retired PM Staff

Registered: 03/22/02
Posts: 22273
Loc: Henderson,Nevada,USA
Great write up and pick. That Phil is a big galoot. Ida had him throw that buck on his back and pack it out himself. tt2
I carry a gun because a cop is to heavy.

Average response time for a 911 call is 10 min.
Average response time for a .45acp is 900FPS.

Remember, if you're not pissing off a liberal......You are one!
Ted Nugent

#3218800 - 11/18/19 06:48 PM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
Sock Puppet Offline
Seasoned Member

Registered: 01/17/10
Posts: 186
Loc: New Mexico
Excellent story and pictures!
It's better to burn out than to rust out. -Richard Cumberland

#3218863 - 11/19/19 06:52 AM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
AWS Offline

Registered: 02/01/03
Posts: 5240
Loc: NM
Looks like a perfect hunt with family and friends. Great pictures
After the first shot the rest are just noise.

Make mine a Minaska.

Heaven has rules and walls, He-l has open borders

#3221036 - 12/03/19 10:27 PM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: AWS]
10Bears Offline
Seasoned Member

Registered: 07/26/05
Posts: 148
Loc: Albuquerque, NM
Nice buck Troy. He has a better rack than the 4x4 muley I shot this year. You got to see some nice wildlife too. I did get to see quail, prairie chickens, coyotes, hawks and antelope..

#3221039 - 12/03/19 10:58 PM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
Matt1953 Offline

Registered: 11/28/09
Posts: 1294
Loc: Alamogordo, New Mexico
As always great job Troy and congrats Erik.
2012 Predator Masters egg shoot champion
2015 Champion egg beater of egg beaters

#3223077 - 12/17/19 12:00 AM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
desert dave Offline
Die Hard Member

Registered: 02/02/11
Posts: 588
Loc: California
Congrats troy excellent pics as usual!

#3226000 - 01/02/20 12:15 AM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: DesertRam]
Die Hard Member

Registered: 02/06/06
Posts: 732
Loc: NW Alabama
Great story and pics, familiar country. Wife is from Alamogordo, have family in Cruces, Ruidoso, and Capitan. Lived in Silver City and Reserve 10 years.

P.S. green chile stew may well be the best food on the planet.

#3226033 - 01/02/20 10:10 AM Re: Desert mule deer hunt goes to the "dogs" [Re: GC]
weekender Offline
Die Hard Member III

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 3855
Loc: NC
Originally Posted By: GC
You always have the best stories and pictures! Awesome hunt in interesting country, congratulations!

x2 on the above. Felt like I was a 4th person right here in the mix.


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