The most wonderful time of year is approaching, and I’m not talking about Christmas. Although, the holidays are indeed one of our favorite times, archery deer season down here in Arizona takes the cake. We get to hunt rutting mule deer and coues deer with our bows in the most beautiful weather the country as to offer at the time. For a bowhunter, it doesn’t get much better. This hunt largely takes place in the desert though. A place where not many folks are used to hunting. On top of that, spot and stalk is usually the name of the game down here. We sit up high behind our optics and survey the surrounding country looking for deer. Once we find them, we put together a game plan and try to close the distance for a shot. So, in light of all of that, we thought it would be beneficial to give out some practical tips on spot and stalk bowhunting in the desert.
Be Aware When Spot and Stalk Bowhunting the Desert
The desert is a pretty unforgiving place. Everything wants to poke and scratch us without any regard and zero remorse. Because of that, it’s important to really pay attention to where you’re walking and what you’re stepping on. Dropping boots for the final approach on a stalk is pretty common across the west. However, here things can get western fast. I remember a time years ago when I dropped my boots heading after a lust crazed mule deer buck. On my way a jumping cactus decided to embed itself deep in my sock foot. I wasn’t paying attention. Another thing that is a culprit of many injuries is catclaw. Catclaw is a bush that has thorns on it shaped exactly like a cat’s claw, hence the name. If not careful, one of these could catch your eye. I’ve seen it, and it isn’t pretty. So, as you are spot and stalk archery hunting our deserts, be aware of your surroundings. It’s a beautiful place, but can turn on one in a hurry.
Stalking critters with a bow is all about not being seen, having a good wind, and staying quiet. That last bit there might be the most difficult down here in cactus country. The ground that you’ll find yourself standing on is quite loud. Most of it is lose gravel and rocks. Not to mention the dry vegetation that has a way of making itself known at the most opportune times. The crunch that is so common here makes stalking animals with a bow much harder. Still doable, but much harder. One just needs to be cognizant before and during their stalk. Small rocks are much louder to step on than big ones. Beat down cattle trails can also be found here and are gold for a quiet approach. In both scenarios watching your foot fall is imperative. How delicately one places their foot can be the difference of a bloody arrow and a walk of shame back to the glassing spot.
A few gear items can help here as well. Super hard soled boots are going to be louder than soft sole. One can also purchase something like a StalkZone Sneekerz. This is a booty like product that a hunter can wear over their socks. It’s meant to keep the foot fall noise to a minimum for that last 100 yards of a stalk.
Be Ready for a Longer Shot
Hunting down here in the desert is a different ball game than midwest hunting for instance. The average shot taken on a whitetail deer in that neck of the woods sits around 20 yards. While getting to 20 yards on a coues is possible, it’s also highly unlikely. From their switched on nature to the crunch we just chatted about above, things are not in your favor. So, in order to up your odds take the time to really try and extend your effective shooting range. 60 and even 80 yard shots are an every day thing down here. I know that may sound crazy to some, but we don’t bat an eye at those distances.
Extending your range is not only a great way to increase your odds down here in the desert, it’s also a great way to make those shorter shots even more accurate. On top of that, it’ll magnify any slight inconsistencies on your part as a shooter. Through this process one needs to really be honest with themselves though. If 60 yards is just not happening for you and arrows are flying all over the place, that’s fine. Don’t shoot that far then. This is all about knowing your bow and your ability.
Always Have Water
Remember, we are down here in the desert. The desert is a dry and unforgiving place with very little water in most places. For that reason, make sure that you’ve always got water on you somewhere. Some of these stalks can be an all day occurrence. And it still can get somewhat warm down here in December and January. Personally, I’ve always got a 3L water bladder filled up in my backpack. It makes drinking water quick and easy with the hose right there on my shoulder. If that isn’t your thing, consider picking up a Nalgene bottle to throw in your pack.
For those looking to backpack hunt, water actually needs to be scouted out, just like the deer you’re looking for. And if one can’t find water, then they’ll have to pack water in during or before their hunt. This is something that is super common down here. A week out from season, folks will head out and stash water where they plan on camping. Upon their arrival, water is at the ready and they don’t have to worry about it. Doing this also takes away the chore that is filtering water, which means more time for hunting. Bottom line with all of this, MAKE SURE YOU’VE GOT WATER.
Make it Happen!
Bowhunting can take one to some pretty incredible places. And while spot and stalk tactics are relatively the same across the board, each one of these destinations will tend to come with challenges of their own. In the high country of Colorado for instance, one doesn’t need to worry about sitting on a cactus. Here in Arizona though, that’s pretty common. I once scooted right onto a prickly pear cactus while making a final approach on a coues buck. After that, I was the guy at the top of the mountain, pants around the ankles, and picking thorns out of my legs. I’m sure it was laughable if anyone was watching from a far. So, take it from us. We hunt this desert stuff all of the time and are familiar with subtle adversities it throws. While the points above don’t tell you the secret to killing a big buck, they’ll definitely help out along your journey of spot and stalk bowhunting the desert!
Written by Josh Kirchner of Dialed in Hunter