By Erik Barber
Rutting deer and warm weather are the perfect combination for bowhunters to beat cabin fever. While most archery seasons wrap up in January, Arizona’s deer hunting action is just heating up. Best of all, you still have time to plan your trip and take advantage of Arizona’s late archery permits, which are available over the counter.
For under $400, you can buy a late archery license in Arizona, valid January 1-31. In addition to escaping the winter weather that blankets most of the country at that time, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of hunting Coues deer – small desert-dwelling relatives of the whitetail – during their peak breeding month. The license allows you to shoot either a Coues deer or mule deer, making for plentiful stalk opportunities.
Coues deer blend in well to the desert landscape. In fact, they’re so difficult to see they’ve earned the nickname “the grey ghost,” because once you spot them, they can seemingly vanish into the desert landscape. As a result, you’ll need optics to locate your quarry. Plan on bringing binoculars, a spotting scope, and mounts for each to be used on a tripod. Because you’ll spend most of your time glassing, an adapter that mounts your binoculars to your tripod is crucial for reducing eye fatigue and identifying a subtle tail flicker or antler shimmering in the sunlight.
Bucks will be active all day during the rut. Use topographic maps to identify glassing knobs from which to search for deer. After you spot a buck, quickly identify any unique terrain features and pin his location on your map before starting your stalk. Bucks don’t stay stationary for long during the rut, however, so use your time wisely.
Deer hunting might be the primary attraction that draws you to Arizona, but you can also take advantage of other opportunities. Consider picking up licenses for small game and Javelina during your trip. Depending on the unit, Javelina can be plentiful. Combined with the antelope jackrabbit (an almost 9-pound rabbit), you’ll have a target-rich environment with plenty of options to fill the freezer. If you enjoy hunting upland birds, don’t leave your shotgun at home, as Gambrel and Mearns quail are also found in the area.
Whether you’re an Arizona native or a non-resident from afar, start planning your late-winter rut hunt today. If there’s a better recipe to beat the winter blues than soaking in the sun, bow in hand, with a pocket full of tags, I’m not aware of it.