In 2009, we drew 2nd Rifle Season (Nov 14-18) Tags for Deer in NM's Unit 16 (Gila Mountains) - the same unit we hunted Elk in in 2008. Since I had seen several good Mulie bucks (and Dad had seen a couple of good Coues' Deer bucks as well), we decided to hunt the same area. Much of the time we spent sitting on water holes. In particular, I sat over this waterhole (same one where I missed the bull elk last year)
This pond sits on a narrow strip of flat ground between two deep canyons, and is approximately 2 miles into the Gila Wilderness. The hike is rather easy, along mostly flat ground:
The first afternoon I sat a ground blind about 50 yards off the pond, resulting in only bird and javelina sightings. The second morning was much cooler (temps when I left camp were 26°F, with frost on the ground). IFirst, I saw a coyote, then at 7:54 a.m., three mule deer bucks came in for a drink. The first one was a yearling forkhorn. When I spotted him, I noticed another buck in back in the brush and quickly realized that he was a much bigger buck - a mature 4x4. No need to decide if he was good enough or not - he was a mature buck with a classic mule deer antler confirmation, which was what I was looking for, so I send a 165 gr TSX out of my new Kimber 8400 Montana through his vitals. He ran about 50 yards and piled up in the Cedars.
Of course, being 2 miles out, now the work began. I quartered and caped him, hung three of the quarters in trees, along with the head and cape, then packed the first quarter out and went and got Marla & Dad to help pack the rest out.
As you can see in the top photo, Dad's not used to packing quite so much or so far.
The next 2½ days I spent trying to help Marla find a buck (either Mulie or Coues'). We hunted a couple of different ponds, saw elk, 2 Coues' flagging as we hiked to a pond, and quite a lot of Turkey.
A couple of the mornings, temps were quite cool - lows in camp were 10°F resulting in quite thick ice on the ponds. Although we didn't see any more bucks, bird sightings were nice (we watched a large number of Ravens along with a Golden Eagle bickering over my buck's gut pile) and lots of Western Bluebirds.
Of course, we also enjoyed solitude and great scenery.
Although I didn’t get the buck that I saw the weekend and evening before the season started (I think one of the other guys on the lease may have shot him – from the photos, I think it may well have been the same deer) I ended up getting a really fine, old buck on the last Saturday morning of the season. Instead of carrying my 6.5x284 (or my stainless 300 WSM when it was raining or snowing), I decided to change my luck and carry my Africa rifle – my 9,3x62. Working the mesas had only produced close range opportunities the past couple of weekends, so I wasn’t too worried about the trajectory, and besides, I’d taken game with it out to 250 yards in Africa.
Anyway, Dad & I were working the edges of the mesas in the camp jeep early Saturday morning. We’d already seen a young mule deer buck (already bedded) and a mule deer doe, when we came to a point and Dad said “you ought to get out and check that canyon” . . .
so I did – and immediately spotted a buck about 250 yards out. It was a really damp morning, with dew all over everything – including my binoculars and scope. After wiping the lenses of the binos, I could tell that the buck was outside the ears and fully mature – my only criteria for a "last weekend" mule deer buck. I’m wiping the dew off the scope of my 9,3x62 and Dad is saying “I think you’d better take him” as I edge around the juniper bush and set up my shooting sticks and let him have it. The first shot was just a touch too far back (liver) but he staggered into the cedars, obviously hit hard . . . a few minutes later, he staggered out of the brush and I sent another 250 grain bullet his way (at 300 yards) anchoring him.
While Dad brought the jeep around (he had to drive back the way we’d came, drop off the mesa, then drive back into the canyon) I went down to check out the buck. I knew it was an older deer with a decent spread, but was surprised to find that my buck’s antlers were nontypical – he has 14 scoreable points (1” or more) along with another one that you could hang a ring on (15 pts, “Texas count”). The greatest spread on his antlers was 24”. He was also obviously very old, with patches of missing hair on his back, thinning hair on his neck, a distinct Roman nose. Upon examination, some of his teeth were worn to the gums, so I’d estimate him at 8½+ years old.