Bear’n Down for Coues Deer
by Shelton Boggess
Arizona offers hunters the unique opportunity to hunt black bears during many of its whitetail hunts. Since I was 10, it has been a goal of mine to harvest a mature black bear in my home state of Arizona. After years of buying over-the-counter bear tags and not filling them, I went into the 2013 fall season with the confidence to add a bear harvest as the eighth in my pursuit of the Arizona Big 10. Simultaneously, I was hoping to find a giant Coues buck too.
My buddies, Davis Boyer, Colton Green, and I left the day before the opener of bear season, with a last minute decision made to check out a spot that would be rough hunting, but had potential for finding bears and maybe even a few Coues deer. I knew the unit I had drawn for deer historically produces nice deer, but at that point, I had never seen what I considered a giant.
Along the way, another one of our friends, Cody Sandri, met us in camp mid-way through the hunt. He was there to help glass, but at the last second, he had grabbed a bear tag too. We hunted hard for three days in some of the roughest country Arizona has to offer; finally, our hard work paid off and we found an area holding quite a few bears.
On the second morning, we decided to glass a sunny slope below us for deer. As soon as the binos hit my eyes, a doe and tiny 3-point appeared, so I decided to take a few photos. I turned the 15×56 Swarovskis down the canyon wall for the photo op and ended up on the wrong deer. As I got my camera ready, I saw the deer was a buck. As he raised his head out of the Manzanita brush, I was unable to breath; this buck was a giant! Now, I was absolutely flipping out. Davis, who had never been around Coues deer before, couldn’t figure out why I was so excited. I watched the buck feed at 160-yards. I remember telling Davis that without a doubt, this buck was 110–115-inches, and probably the biggest buck I had ever seen. Right away, I named the buck, “The Moose Coues.” Because of his palmated left antler.
That weekend, the bear hunt ended with success. Cody was blessed with the harvest of his first bear. Knowing the giant Coues buck was there made it difficult to leave that Sunday, but I promised myself that I would be back to keep tabs on “The Moose Coues” before the deer hunt.
I almost was unable to keep that promise to myself. Thankfully, my 16-year-old brother, Bennett, was able to take a day off school, and we headed back to see if the buck was still around. With an action-packed fall, I had missed several days of church, but I wasn’t going to miss this one, which meant we had just a couple of days to scout. I carried my gun with me in case we had a chance at a bear, but was worried about what would happen if we killed one, with just the two of us. The first morning out, we glassed up a good buck on the same hill where “The Moose Coues” was spotted, but were unable to confirm it was the giant buck before it dropped out of sight.
That afternoon, we set up again to glass, and right off the bat, I glassed up a big bear. Quickly, we got everything set up, and waited for the bear to step out and feed under a few oaks. Sure enough, the enormous bear sauntered out of the cut. The bear was on a mission; it went from 350-yards out to 600-yards out in about a minute. We were discouraged as we watched a real trophy going farther and farther away. At about 1,500 yards, the bear stopped and began rooting around. Then, in the same field of view, a dark chocolate bear stepped out. This bear “dwarfed” the bear we had been watching; we were blown away by his Grizzly-like appearance. It was obvious that the two bears did not like each other’s company, and all of the sudden, the bigger bear did the exact same thing the smaller bear did, just in reverse. In about a minute, the giant bear was only 350-yards away. I laid down, dialed in my scope for the correct distance, and let one fly. The bear was facing us and took the bullet right in the chest. Immediately, it took off running through the thick oaks. When the bear paused, I put another one in him, and then he stopped. I was on such an adrenaline surge that I couldn’t hear anything. I shot again and then heard Bennett yell, “He’s down, he’s down!” We were both in shock. And, having a history with tough bears, I laid with the crosshairs on him for 15-minutes making sure he didn’t move.
My mind raced as I realized what we had just done. After nine years of determined hunting with seemingly never ending mistakes and challenges, I had my first bear on the ground; a true giant, especially for Arizona. I took the bear the way I love hunting, spot-and-stalk, with a serious emphasis on glassing. We skinned the bear to get the meat cold, and then hiked back to camp; we arrived about midnight. My dad and our friend, Colton Choate, drove all the way to camp that night, so they could help pack out the meat in the morning.
On the three-mile hike back to my bear the following morning, we glassed up “The Moose Coues.” My dad agreed that he was a buck worth pursuing, but he told me not to be upset, if he didn’t score what I thought. I didn’t care because the character of the bucks’ antlers trumped all numbers. It seemed like it was going to be a “no brainer” hunt. We quartered, boned-out the estimated 400-pound bear, and then packed it back to camp. My bear taped out with a green score of 20 3/8”; a number that will qualify him for the Arizona State Record Book. The weekend was a good one; a bear down and a giant buck relocated. The best part however, we were able to honor the Sabbath and made it to church that Sunday.
Twelve days later, the eve of deer season, Davis and I got out of class, raced back to what we now call “bear camp,” and ran to our glassing/shooting point hoping to lay eyes on “The Moose Coues” one last time before open day. We never saw the giant buck or any deer for that matter. I had never seen the buck in the afternoon, so I wasn’t worried. After dark, my dad brought in my two brothers, Bennett and “little” Davis to help glass. They could only hunt a day and a half, but I figured we could pull it off as the buck seemed to be so well patterned. Before daylight, we hiked in and got into position with Davis and me on the shooting point, my dad looking at one angle of the hill, and Bennett and “little” Davis up on top watching over everything. I joked, saying, “There was no way this buck could get away from us living in such a small basin with so many pairs of optics waiting for him to make a move.” Wow, was I wrong! Opening day, we never saw a buck, and we only saw four does. That was discouraging, as I never took my eyes out of the binos the entire day. I know I shouldn’t have, but I was getting impatient and began talking about shooting a smaller buck or moving camp and heading to more populated areas. My team’s encouragement helped me to stick with the original plan. On day two, we were back in position. My dad and “little” Davis decided to try to glass the backside of the basin to see if the buck had moved around the hill. Bennett went into his spot, but after it got too hot, moved and glassed a different canyon. Davis and I were seriously discouraged now.
At this point, we had been glassing for over 20 hours in one small basin. All of the sudden, a deer stepped out of a Manzanita thicket at 135-yards into a 10-yard opening. Instantly, I knew it was a buck and it only took a split second to realize it was “The Moose Coues.” In one smooth motion, I laid my tripod down and rolled over onto my gun. I centered the crosshairs on his chest, and after confirming that Davis had eyes on the buck, the gun roared just before the buck vanished into a thicket. I jacked another shell into the chamber, but the buck was out of sight. I panicked! Davis assured me that the buck was down! Two weeks after my bear harvest, in the same general spot, we celebrated the harvest of another magnificent trophy. It’s always a special feeling when lifting one of God’s coolest creations—antlers—out of the brush, and this was no exception.
“The Moose Coues” gross scored over 110-inches. I consider it an incredible blessing to harvest both a giant bear and a giant Coues buck in the same season. For that blessing, I give special thanks to my awesome team, who was there with me all the way; and praise to our Creator, who blessed our family with the passion to hunt and a love for the outdoors. If you get a chance to put two tags in your pocket, I encourage you to take full advantage, just make sure one is good for a Western Whitetail.