All photo credits: Josh Kirchner
It’s hard to beat a good annual fall deer camp where families come together, welcome the coming of crisp fall air and spend some quality time afield chasing deer. Deer hunting across the nation is widely popular. From the treestand and ground blind to glassing the arid desert, it’s something that many of us look forward to every year and I’m glad that I live in a state where I can deer hunt regularly. While Arizona is mostly known as a trophy deer hunting destination, it also holds some fantastic hunts that a hunter doesn’t have to wait a whole lot of years to go on. Whether you’re a rifle hunter, bowhunter or even a muzzleloader hunter, Arizona has got some opportunities you shouldn’t ignore. We have hunts like this for both mule deer and Coues deer. Let’s see if Arizona works its way into the upcoming year’s hunting schedule for you.
Arizona is known for its famed mule deer bucks that come out of places like The Strip and Kaibab. These bucks are bucks that would make any hunter’s jaw hit the deck. Of course, the rub is you’ll likely have to wait more than a few years to go on one of these coveted hunts, if you ever get the chance. Not to worry. We have plenty of hunts for rifle hunters who want to hunt mule deer sooner rather than later. Your best bet at chasing mule deer with a rifle in Arizona is by focusing on the October and November hunts. These will be much easier to draw. However, just because they are easier to draw doesn’t mean that they aren’t great hunts. From the pokey desert floor up to the higher elevation pines, a hunter can find good mule deer hunting. Most units that you’ll be looking at on average will yield 160″ bucks and up. I wouldn’t say it would be uncommon to find a 180″ mule deer in these areas either for the hunter willing to put in the work. More importantly though, this is more about getting out and hunting and less about killing a giant — even though that could very well happen.
If a hunter is willing to play the long game and wait for their tag, then there is always our December hunts. These will take one right into the rut and make for a very exciting hunt. They are slim pickings, though, and will usually cost around 10 to 12 bonus points for a nonresident and eight to 10 points for a resident. Sounds like a lot, but that’s much better odds than waiting for a Strip or Kaibab tag. This is when the big boys will come out of the woodwork and show themselves as well.
While Arizona is known for its big mule deer bucks, we have something else to offer that is pretty unique to our state. Folks from all around hear about our beloved Coues deer and want to try their hand at them. And, when they do, they are hooked and left salivating for more action with the “gray ghost.”. Surely, this is a coveted hunt that you’d have to wait a good stretch of time for a rifle tag, though, right? Believe it or not, there is even more opportunity to hunt Coues deer with a rifle than mule deer. So much so that you could do this hunt every year in select units. Yes, you heard that right. Hunting Coues deer with a rifle every year. For the best odds at drawing a tag, you’re going to want to focus on the October and November hunts. Great hunting can be found from the desert floors all the way up into the pine country. Most units will give the opportunity to harvest a 100″ buck. No matter the inches, this is just a plain fun hunt.
Arizona also offers December rifle Coues deer tags for those willing to wait a little bit. On average, these are going to take around nine to 10 bonus points for a nonresident and between five to eight points for a resident. Keep in mind that this “rut tag” really only gets you into the very early stages of the Coues rut here. Christmas is usually the start and this tag ends on Dec. 31 with the heart of the rut in January. Still, this can be a great hunt to find a giant buck!
For those who prefer the muzzleloader life, we’ve got opportunities for both species there, too. The best thing is that it won’t cost a bucket load of points. About the same odds go for mule deer here as the rifle hunt with December being much harder to draw. Focus on the October and November hunts to draw quicker. The same thought process should be applied to Coues deer. However, there are a few muzzleloader Coues and muley tags that you could draw every year. These could be great for the hunter who wants to learn an area intimately for better success in the future.
Ah, yes. The crown jewel of Arizona if you ask me. Arizona’s archery deer tags are among some of the best in the state. While there are some tags that need to be drawn, specifically for mule deer, most of the state is over-the-counter (OTC). Your tag is not species specific either. This is great because there are areas where mule deer and Coues deer overlap. We have three archery deer seasons. The first is the whole month of January for most units. The second runs from the end of August (velvet) through the middle of September. And the third sits in the last half of December. The one tag you buy is good for all three of these seasons in the year until you harvest a buck. So, if you don’t harvest in January, come back in August or December. Arizona allows one buck harvest a year. So, if you play your cards right, you could show up right after Christmas, shoot a buck, then shoot another once Jan. 1 arrives! Of course, then you’d have to wait until the following January to hunt, but the point remains. Speaking of points. While hunting these archery deer hunts, feel free to also put in for the rifle hunts, too. If you draw and have not filled your archery tag yet, you get to go rifle hunting. If you have filled your archery tag that year, then you’ll have to sit out on the rifle hunt you drew. Or you can buy points and save up for a rut tag — all the while hunting with a bow until the time comes to draw.
As a youngster, I was blessed to have a dad who was willing to take me out and show me the outdoors. Those memories from our fall deer camp are ones that I’ll tell my children about someday while we’re making memories of our own. Yeah, Arizona is home to some pretty special areas that hold some pretty special animals. These areas get a lot of press, but in all honesty the whole state is special. Whether you prefer rifle, muzzleloader, archery or all of the above, Arizona shouldn’t be overlooked as “just a trophy state” that you’ll never draw a tag in. The opportunities here are great and so are those annual deer camps that we all love and know so well. Brisk air, a crackling fire, laughing and fresh tendies! Doesn’t get much better than that.