The rifle deer season in Arizona has started in most units with numerous hunts that are a week in duration.
In general, these hunts are conducted for just whitetail or mule deer where only one particular species can be harvested during that time, which makes it very important to be able to identify characteristics of each.
A telltale sign is that a mule deer has a distinctive black marking at the end of its tail and the antlers of a buck are forked as they go skyward above his characteristically long ears. When scared, they tend to leave an area in a pogo stick bounding style and may stop to look back as they leave a canyon.
While a Coues whitetail is much smaller in body size and can be easily overlooked when glassing a distant hill. If alarmed, they will raise that white flag of a tail that can be seen from hundreds of yards that lets a hunter know there is a deer leaving in a hurry. A buck’s antlers are distinctive in that there is a pronounced main beam with points extending from it as it slopes forward above its eyes.
The Payson area has the habitat where both species will forage in the same location, so it is very important to be able to identify the unique characteristics of each deer. Being in the field and observing deer is the best practice prior to the actual hunting season. In general, the lower elevations will have the mule deer, while the whitetails will be farther up the mountain, where the cover is noticeably thicker.
Be aware that both species will respond to pressure by finding those remote canyons and draws that are harder to reach for the hunter. After the first couple of days, the easy bucks have been taken, which means the person who is willing to hike that extra mile before he starts glassing will definitely increase the odds of bringing home the venison.
Knowing where the roads and quad trails don’t traverse the landscape is a good bet. A couple of canyons or drainages between you and the nearest road will definitely increase your odds of seeing more deer. But, this also means a hunter should be in good walking shape and be ready to use that pack frame to get his animal to the nearest road.
Once you have found one of these areas, let your eyes do the walking with a quality set of binoculars or a spotting scope. Take your time and continue to methodically pick those canyons and mountainsides apart by carefully gridding the landscape. It is wise to periodically go back over an area already glassed because the brush and trees can easily hide a browsing deer.
Being on a ridgeline at first light and watching a sunrise brighten a day is hard to beat, especially when you spot that whitetail or mule deer buck you have been waiting for.
The long walk in the dark, with legs aching and lungs burning, as you climb that mountain are all worth it as you put those crosshairs on that animal for the perfect shot.
Good luck on your hunt and enjoy the great outdoors, God’s creation.