Sports Afield, Dec 2001 by Parker, Jameson
Why so many hunters are stalking the diminitive Cones whitetail
THE CODES DEER (it's pronounced "cows," though no one does) is a subspecies of the whitetail, but hunting them bears the same relationship to whitetail hunting that stock car racing does to negotiating your way through the supermarket parking lot on Thanksgiving weekend. Forget sitting in a stand. Think of climbing 1,500 feet of loose, volcanic shale to glass with a 60X spotting scope.
Forget rolling farmland and hardwood forest. Think of using your Leatherman to pull cactus spines out of a sensitive and intimate portion of your anatomy Forget thermal underwear. Think of shaking scorpions out of your boots in the morning.
Brad Ruddell, vice president of Weatherby, called to invite me to hunt with him in the San Antonio Mountains on the western slope of the Sierra Madres in Sonora, Mexico, and I had my passport in hand before I hung up the phone. The Coues is North America's second smallest deer (the smallest is the endangered Florida Keys deer), weighing in between 90 and 110 pounds. The largest Coues-if that's not an oxymoron-are found in Mexico.
These beautiful little deer-they look like a whitetail that's been left on the high-heat, spin-dry cycle too long-- were named, eponymously, by Elliot Coues, an Army lieutenant, amateur biologist, serious ornithologist, and an editor of Lewis and Clark's journals, who was stationed in Arizona in the 1880s. Initially thought to be a separate species, Coues deer are found only in Mexico and along the border in Arizona, New Mexico, and southeastern California.
This is harsh and rugged land and in Mexico, by law, you must hunt with a licensed outfitter We were hunting with Kirk Kelso, owner of Pusch Ridge Outfitters, who has six different ranches, totaling approximately 70,000 acres, under private lease. The ranches are roughly 20 miles from the nearest paved road, and in Mexico, that means really back of beyond.
Here, hunting is done by the glass-and-- stalk method normally associated with mule deer, elk, and even sheep. The distances are so great, and the deer so small, that it takes a while to educate your eye to find them. Firstrate optics are paramount, and the stronger, the better I was hunting with a pair of 10x40s and found them barely adequate. Brad was better equipped with 15X binoculars mounted on a tripod, but even so we were continually taking turns with our guide's 60X spotting scope.
Our guide was Jim Reynolds, a Tucson native who has devoted his hunting life-his wife might just say his entire life-to Coues deer. Only two men have bagged more trophy-book Coues deer than Jim, and his expertise proved invaluable. Not only is it hard to find these animals, but it is extremely difficult to judge their racks. Coues deer are subject to a biological law known as Bergmann's Rule, which states that the farther from the equator members of a given species exist, the greater their body mass will be. They are also subject to a biological law known as Allen's Rule, which states that the extremities of warm-blooded animals will be smaller in the colder (northern) part of their range than in the warmer (southern) part.
What this all means is that, once you have found a Coues buck, you are looking at an animal with a small body and very large ears and tail, so good luck judging the rack. Twice, on the first day, we saw bucks that interested me, but Jim just laughed. And when we finally found a buck that he deemed worthy of stalking, I couldn't see the difference.
In addition to good optics, bring sturdy boots and an accurate, flat-shooting rifle in whatever caliber you feel most comfortable with. Any of the Weatherby magnums, from .257 through .300, would serve you well. I was shooting a .300, Weatherby Magnum built on their Outfitter model and was delighted with it. You may take more than one deer in Mexico, and I was lucky enough to have two tags. My first shot was at 254 yards, close for Coues deer, my second was over 400, a shot I would never have attempted without a magnum cartridge and bipod.
There were six of us in camp and at the end of the week, all six of us had taken deer. While they were all excellent trophies, three of the heads qualified as record-book Coues deer-the biggest of the smallest.
Copyright Sports Afield, Inc. Dec 2001
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