Coues Super Sets
by Darren Choate, Editor In Chief
The difference between success and failure during early-season archery hunts is as simple as having the right set; however, finding the right set is not as simple.
Early one morning, a few summers ago, I was out scouring the woods for a new Coues set. Some of my Coues sets had been encroached on by elk and deer hunters looking for new places to hunt. Although my actual stand sites were untouched by these intruders, I am not one to hunt near others, if I can help it. So, I had a reason to scout for a few new spots. As I rounded a bend of an old skid trail, several Coues bucks popped up from their beds, off to my right. After glassing the bucks, I turned my focus to my left and there stood a heavy-based, well-developed Coues buck. The buck was big, considering the calendar was just nearing the end of June. After things settled down and all of the bucks had moved on, I took a closer look at the spot where the biggest buck had stood. It was a well-used trail, so I opted to hang a trail-camera to monitor the area. After hanging the cam, I backed out, hoping this new spot would produce evidence of a few big Coues bucks to hunt come fall.
When I went back to check the cam a couple of weeks before the start of the early archery season, I was extremely disappointed to find the rancher had released cattle on the pasture. It’s not that I am against cattle growing, but the cattle activity had definitely put a damper on the deer activity. In fact, I did not have a single picture of a deer; rather, just a bunch of pictures of four-legged, wannabe cheeseburgers. The early-season archery hunt was right around the corner, and it was going to be difficult to find another Coues location worth hunting. Still disappointed, but headstrong, I continued my search. By the end of the day, I had two more spots that seemed viable, at least. During the week of the beginning of the hunt, I checked one of the cams and was happy to see a few pictures of some good Coues bucks. With the hunt just days away, I hung a couple of stands, and anxiously waited for opening day.
Opening weekend, Juniors-only Editor, Colton Choate, and I hunted the new set. Over the weekend, a few mule deer does passed nearby our ambush site, but nothing else. The second weekend, I hunted alone, and did not see a deer while on stand. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, again! Eventually, the season ended without even a Coues deer passing by our new. A few weeks after the hunt ended, I made some time to check the second camera that I had hung earlier that summer. I plugged-in the SD card, opened the folder, and I about fell out of my chair. Of course, this camera had hundreds of pictures of several Coues bucks during the hunt, including a couple of giants!
SET-ting the Stage
As Colton and I looked through the pictures, we were sickened by the fact that we had obviously hung our stands in haste. At this point in the game though, all we could do was turn our attention to next year. With that in mind, we looked back through the pictures to catalog the biggest bucks. In fact, we named a few. First, was “Big Boy,” a giant, non-typical buck. Second was “Crab Claw,” a buck with a couple of extra points and an easily identifiable set of small G-3 points. Additionally, there were a couple other solid three point bucks, but no names were bestowed on them at this point. The following year, a few of the bucks showed themselves again, and some didn’t, including “Big Boy.” In 2011, Colton and I hunted the spot without success; just a few mule deer does and a couple Coues does showed up while we were on stand. In 2012, “Big Boy” surfaced, as well as another mature, shootable buck. This buck had small kickers on its G-2 points, which aptly provided the name, the “G-2” buck.
As the 2012 season approached, the G-2 buck topped the hit list, just below “Big Boy.” Filming for our first season of our web show, Western Whitetail TV provided a host of hunters a chance at the hit list. This year, I was relegated to camera-man, which meant no shot at any of the bucks in the area. The only hunter to have an encounter with the bucks within shooting-distance was pro-staffer, Shelton Boggess. After one of the busiest mornings on stand, with deer coming and going, the G-2 buck approached our set. The big buck paused at 35 yards, turned broadside, took a few steps and stopped to look our way. Just as he stopped, Shelton launched an arrow, which flew harmlessly over the buck’s back. While a few others tried, the 2012 season ended without a harvest.
On the first day of September, 2013, I was perched 20-plus feet above the ground, waiting for a giant velvet Coues buck. It was my third day hunting this set, this year. The wind was calm as the new day dawned. However, the calmness didn’t stop my scent from drifting downwind, ever so slightly. Although it probably took a half an hour to get there, some distant deer caught my scent about 200 yards to my west, and they started to blow. I assumed this was probably a large group of mule deer does that frequents the area, and I wasn’t too worried at the time. It was 6:00 AM and all I could think of was the two giant Coues bucks, “Big Boy” and “The G-2 Buck” that had ventured to the small pool of monsoon moisture to get a sip just after 8:00 AM, just two days prior. I continued to hope that the eight o’clock hour would bring the bucks back again. Anxiously, I waited for the two hours to pass.
At 8:00 AM, I was on full alert. I checked the wind with my windicator; it was good, over my left shoulder and away from the approaching deer. Then, from the direction the majority of the deer approach, came a “Wheew!” I checked the wind again—NOT good—it was drifting right down the trail where the big bucks approach from. Not wanting to give away my location and ruin the spot for several days, I contemplated climbing down and leaving the set. A moment later, I felt the wind on my left ear again, and I settled in. Twenty minutes later, I caught movement to my left. Immediately, I knew it was a deer, but thought it was one of the mule deer does that was hitting the pool for a quick sip of rainwater. Then, I saw the whip of a whitetail, and I knew it was at least the right species of deer. The deer continued down the trail—I only needed the deer to take a couple of more steps to make a positive ID. As the whitetail rounded a bend in the trail, I saw antlers. Right away, I realized it was “The G-2 Buck.”
Fifty yards out, the buck paused to investigate its surroundings. It seemed all was well, and the buck continued its approach. As the buck passed on my left, I couldn’t help but notice how small its body appeared. A small body is normal for the Coues deer; an average buck weighs right around 100 pounds on the hoof, but this deer seemed unusually small. Knowing there was a bigger buck around; I made the decision to pass “The G-2 Buck.” The buck made its way over to the small pool and starting lapping water with its tongue. It was then that I noticed how large “The G-2 Buck’s” antlers really were. Its main beams wrapped around and up. The added length of the buck’s antlers had made the body of the deer appear much smaller. Now, I was second guessing my original thought on passing the buck. Cautiously, I reached for my bow.
With my bow in hand, I waited for the right shot opportunity. The buck drank water for several minutes, pausing on occasion to check its surroundings. A couple of times, I was sure the buck spotted me high above in the tree. Finally, the buck turned to leave, offering me a broadside shot at a known distance, 24-yards. The buck’s first two steps were amazingly fast, and I thought its quick pace would put the deer behind a tree and out of my shot window. However, the buck stopped just as quickly, completely broadside. My Mathews was at full draw, peep and pin carefully placed just behind the shoulder on the bottom third of the buck’s body. Trigger depressed, the arrow took its flight. In a millisecond, I heard the crash of the arrow hitting wood, and watched the buck leap into the air, turn, and walk away. Had I missed? Just as the thought crossed my mind, the buck hunched a little, and I knew I had not missed. The buck struggled to make its get away, but perished instead, just 35 yards from where it was hit.
Still in a state of shock from what had just transpired, I sent Shelton a quick text. Moments later, my phone rang; it was Shelton. The excitement in his voice was overwhelming; I could tell that he was happy for me. Shortly thereafter, my best hunting partner, Colton, showed up to aid in the recovery and to offer his congratulations. Amazingly, Shelton made a two-hour drive to help as well. I was exceptionally proud of my “G-2” harvest, and I was more proud to share the moment with a couple of young hunters.
Hunting Coues deer with archery gear is one of the most challenging hunts in the US, if not in the World. When hunting Coues bucks from a stand, it’s imperative to scout early and often, with every means available. Success may also hinge on spending time on stand, identifying deer movement that trail-cameras don’t catch in order to home in on the best stand placement for a given micro-environment or set. It takes patience, and may even take a few years to find the best set, a Coues Super Set.
Darren is the Founder of Western Whitetail. Prior to his career in the outdoors, Darren served as an Airman in the US Air Force. As a freelancer, his articles have been published online and featured in magazines such as Western Whitetail, Western Hunter, Quality Whitetails, Cabela’s Outfitter Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, and Rocky Mountain Game & Fish Magazine. Additionally, Darren spent time as the Editor In Chief of Whitetail Journal, Bowhunting World, Predator Xtreme, Archery Business, and Hunting Retailer magazines with Grand View Outdoors. He is a voting member and supporter of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA). Although he lives in elk and Coues country, Darren enjoys hunting across the country and writing about his experiences.