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Coues Deer Hunting and Habitat

Bob Humphrey

coues buck

A whitetail is a whitetail, right? Well, not necessarily. Depending on which reference you consult, taxonomists recognize somewhere between 30 and 40 different subspecies of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), ranging from the giant borealis subspecies of the north to Florida’s tiny Key deer and various other petite races throughout Central America and even parts of South America. Interestingly, in their record books and scoring systems both the Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young Clubs lump all subspecies but one into a single category. 

That outlier, the Coues deer (Odocoileus virginianus couesi), is segregated out as it is morphologically different and geographically isolated from most other species, except those on the southern end of its range, which spans much of Arizona, southwestern New Mexico and the Mexican states of Sonora, Hermosillo, Chihuahua, Durango and Zacatecas. The biggest difference between the Coues and others is size, with adults standing only 32-34 inches shoulder height and averaging around 100 pounds live weight. They also appear to have longer ears and tails in relation to their bodies and heads, presumably an adaptation to the arid climate they inhabit.
Coues aren’t known for sporting particularly large racks, a 100-inch specimen being considered a trophy by any Coues enthusiast. The typical and non-typical archery records are 130-1/8 and 144-1/8, respectively, while the B&C typical and non-typicals are 139-6/8 and 196-2/8, respectively, the latter being quite respectable by any standard. 

Bet You Didn’t Know - The Coues deer was named for naturalist Elliott Coues who, from 1876 to 1880 was secretary and naturalist to the United States Geological and Geographical Survey and in 1883 was a founding member of the American Ornithologists' Union. The correct pronunciation of his last name, and therefore, the deer’s is “cowz” - rhymes with plows, but it is commonly mis-pronounced as “cooz.” 

Coues Tipping

Despite their diminutive stature, Coues deer are ardently sought after, their pursuers awarding them something of a cult-like reverence for the challenge they present. Some of this is attributable to harsh climate and rugged terrain they inhabit, preferring scrub oak, Manzanita, mountain mahogany, juniper and piñon pine thickets at between 6,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level. What they lack in physical stature they more than make up for in elusiveness, and their uncanny ability to seemingly vanish into the bleak habitat has earned them the nickname, Gray Ghost.

coues deer

Not surprisingly, seasons and regulations are rather complex and variable among and betwen different areas. In general, archery seasons begin early, in August and September, followed in some areas by primitive weapons or muzzleloaders and then regular firearms seasons spanning from October through January, with some areas limiting hunting during the late December through mid-January rut to archery only. Some areas and weapons require draw permits while OTC and surplus tags are available in others. Prospective hunters would be wise to begin planning well in advance, possibly a year or more.

The predominate method for both archers and gun hunters is spot-and-stalk, typically consisting of long hours of hiking and glassing punctuated by the occasional stalk if and when a suitable animal is located. Much like mule deer and other southwestern whitetails, Coues feed predominantly during the cool, dark hours of twilight and night, then find a shady spot to bed for the day. Early season archers sometimes try to pattern bucks and hunt around water holes.

High-quality, long-range optics, including binoculars and spotting scope, and rifle scope for firearms hunters are a must. Other important items include good hiking boots and a frame pack. You’ll also want a camo pattern that blends in well with the environment, Like Mossy Oak Brush or Mountain Country.

Where the Coues Come Home

In terms of geographic area, numbers and size, Arizona is the clear front runner for a Coues deer hunt destination. Coues range over much of the state with highest densities occurring in the south. Five of the top 10 typical archery records come from Arizona with only two from Mexico (Sonora) All 10 non-typicals were taken in Arizona. Four of the top five B&C typicals also came from Arizona, the fifth coming from New Mexico. Within Arizona, Pima and Gila Counties dominate the record books but trophy class animals are taken throughout the range.

Should you opt for New Mexico the choice becomes easier as Coues occur predominantly in Grand and Hidalgo Counties in the southwest corner of the state - units 22, 23, 24, 26, and 27.

Coues Finishing

While they inhabit similarly rugged terrain and presumably feed on similar vegetation to mule deer, Coues deer are much more highly regarded as table fare, the flavor of their meat often referred to as mild. As a result, you can prepare them the same way you would cook a corn-fed whitetail from Iowa or Ohio, or an Alabama pine goat. Check out some venison recipes and prepare a Coues the same way.

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