Take the Shot? A World-Class Coues Deer Offers A Challenging, Long-Range Shot In High-Wind Conditions – Presented by Springfield Armory

A precision rifle combined with accurate ammo and premium optics make tough shots doable. Even on tiny game like Coues deer.

A World-Class Coues Deer Offers A Challenging, Long-Range Shot In High-Wind Conditions. The Hunter Is Using Cutting-Edge Long-Range Shooting Gear. Should He Take The Shot?

“Oh My Gosh! That’s a huge buck!” My shouted whisper was snatched away by the wind, bouncing off a mountainside in Mexico a few seconds later. My friend and hunting buddy Jordan Voigt had just spotted a Coues buck across the bend of a jagged canyon, and it only took a glance through my binocular to see that it was a really good deer. Even at 514 yards.

We had started the day high on the same ridge, crawling out of our bivy tents at dawn and making our way Ninja-style to a little jutting point. There we settled in to glass miles of classic Coues deer habitat. The wind was strong, battering our backs and shoulders and creeping its cold fingers inside our collars and down our necks. We spotted a few does, which were holding tight to heavy brush and feeding on dry mesquite beans littering the ground under the older trees. It was the third day of our hunt. I had killed a great old warrior buck the noon before, and our plan called for us to exit the backcountry during this day’s noontime so we could resupply, as well as join some friends for a traditional Argentinian dinner. After a couple days of freeze-dried food, that sounded like heaven in Coues country. We shivered behind our binoculars and huddled on rocky shelves below the rim of the cliff, trying to escape the brutality of the wind, telling ourselves that if we glassed just a little longer a buck would show itself.

Coues deer country is often rugged and steep. Stalking close can be done, but only rarely. More often long, cross-canyon shots are necessary.

There were three of us on this adventure; myself, Jordan, and another friend and hunting buddy Natalie. This was Jordan and Natalie’s first hunt for the elusive “Grey Ghost”, the diminutive Coues whitetail of the American Southwest. They (the deer, not Jordan and Natalie) have earned their nickname honestly, being some of the most illusive creatures alive to spot and stalk amid the cactus, dense brush, and hip-high grass of their native mountain terrain. They’re tiny things, with a big, old mature buck tipping the scale at just over one hundred pounds. That’s barely bigger than your neighbor’s German Shepherd, and hunting the little deer calls for an accurate rifle and precise shooting. And more often than not, long cross-canyon shots.

The brand-new 6.8 Western cartridge is well designed and built for distance. It’s an ideal all-around cartridge for western big game.

RIFLE, SCOPE, AND AMMO

Jordan was hunting with a bolt-action rifle chambered in the brand-new, cutting-edge 6.8 Western cartridge. It was an accurate setup, turning in an average group size of less than three quarter minutes of angle. Most of the 100-yard groups could hide under a nickel. Lightweight Talley rings mounted a snappy Leupold 2-12X44 VX6 HD riflescope atop the action, and a superb Javelin Pro bipod by Spartan Precision quick-attached to the forend via a rare-earth magnet. The rifle was zeroed at 200 yards, and a drop chart showing ballistic information and “come-ups” for every distance from 200 to 1,000 yards, at average local elevation and temperature, was pasted to the side of the rifle’s forearm. Jordan had used the rifle to ring targets out to six hundred yards and more the day preceding our hunt, and I had no doubt of his ability to place an accurate shot when the moment arrived.

The ammunition nestled in the magazine on Jordan’s rifle came from the Browning factory, loaded with a new 175-grain Sierra Tipped Game King bullet designed specifically for the new 6.8 Western. The diameter of the bullet is .277, exactly the same as a .270 Winchester. Long, sleek, and streamlined, the bullets sport an extraordinarily high G1 Ballistic Coefficient of .617. Starting downrange with a muzzle velocity of 2,834 feet per second, the round packs terminal energy and momentum far beyond any distance a reasonably intelligent person would want to shoot at a little critter like a Coues buck.

Photo 4

The best Coues deer hunting is often found while living from your backpack.

We finally gave up on spotting a buck from our windy point, and slunk back to stuff our bivy tents and sleeping bags into packs and swing them aboard sore shoulders. Determined to hunt along the way we stayed high, finally running out of ridge above a big bend in a canyon. We decided to stop and glass for a while, and I hadn’t even found a comfortable rock to sit upon when Jordan hissed “big buck!” jolting us into full-throttle predator mode. I put glass on the buck, gulped my heart back down where it belonged, and settled my spotting scope onto the deer to verify what a quick glance through my binocular had told me. Sure enough, the buck was a monster. Wide, heavy beams swept out and forward, with long brow tines and G-2s, 3s, and 4s reaching toward the sky. I never could get a perfect look at the buck’s left antler, but if it matched his right side – and every glimpse I got said it would – we were undoubtedly looking at a record book buck.

When we first saw the buck he was standing broadside on a jumbled boulder face that a goat would struggle to maintain its balance on. By the time I set the spotter up and Jordan found a field position to shoot from the deer had walked under the canopy of a giant old oak tree that overhung the cliff side, stopping with only his right antler and shoulder visible through a hole in the tree limbs. He was quartering slightly toward us, but remarkably, we had a good shot at his shoulder and the vitals beyond. Jordan gallantly asked if Natalie wanted to take the opportunity, and once she’d refused settled in behind his rifle. The distance was 514 yards. He checked his chart and adjusted the turret on his scope. His position was steady, but there was a problem:

The wind. The wind was ripping left to right, sweeping in jagged bursts up and across the canyon. I’m fairly confident in estimating wind up to about fifteen miles per hour, and this air was maintaining significantly more velocity that that. The gusts, I surmised, were ripping through at 35 to 40 miles per hour. Depending on what the wind was doing at the buck’s position, and in the 500-yard void between, the Sierra bullet would drift somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 11 minutes of angle. That’s equivalent to between 20 and 55 inches. Jordan would have to make a long range downhill shot with a violently gusting crosswind at one of America’s smallest big game animals. Through a hole in a tree.

But this was no ordinary buck. It was the biggest Coues buck I’d seen in my life; one that would very likely score well into the all-time Boone & Crockett record book. Would it be wise to push our luck? To try to make that shot regardless of the complications? We studied our options.

Could we sneak closer? Coues deer are notorious for seeing any movement and just disappearing. This buck was across a canyon, with no good cover for stalking. Our chances of finding him again later were not good either. The forecast called for continuing wind through the day and following night, so we couldn’t simply wait it out. We were between the proverbial frying pan and fire.

The author with a pack full of Coues meat and topped off with a nice set of antlers.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

Place yourself in Jordan’s shoes. You’ve drawn a coveted tag, flown to Arizona, worked your rifle out to long distances, and backpack hunted in the backcountry. You’ve done everything you could to prepare for a tough hunt, and a tough shot, at a hard-to-find animal. You know your rifle, and are confident you can make a good shot at greater distances than you now face. And you’re looking through the crosshairs at the buck of a lifetime.

But it’s impossible to figure the wind. What is it doing at 150 yards? At 250? At 400? Will it remain steady long enough for you to squeeze off a good shot, or will it gust at the last moment, drifting your bullet an additional 25 inches? You just don’t know. YOU DON’T KNOW.

Do you take the shot?

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED (TRUE STORY)

Jordan and I watched the wind. We tried to watch dust, cobwebs, debris, anything – to get an idea of what the wind was doing in between the deer and our position. We watched for any kind of pattern in the gusts. And then, agonizingly, we decided it would not be wise, or ethical, to take the shot. So we slid through the rocks and the ocotillo cactus and down the steep side of the ridge, trying to close to within 300 yard of the buck. If we could get that close, we could kill him. At 327 yards the buck spooked, bounded up his cliff like a mountain goat, and disappeared. Except from our dreams.

We didn’t get that buck. Nor, I believe, did we ever regret not attempting that shot. Passing was the ethical decision. Jordan did get a good buck a couple days later, with a first-shot kill at nearly the same distance. That day, there was no wind. But that is another story.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Jim February 19, 2021, 2:31 pm

    I started guiding in Alaska in 1980. There were still a few men and woman that actually wanted to hunt then.

    Some still wanted to camp and enjoy the outdoors.

    Could find their way without a map or a compass.

    Could stand and shoot accurately enough to take a deer at 100 yards.

    Cared about the game they were taking.

    Could actually cook real camp food over a fire.

    Could carry, on their back, all of their gear and food for a 2 week sheep hunt.

    Hunting in America is dead.

    DRIVING to a shooting spot, with all of your space tech junk, and terminating an animal while you video tape it is pathetic.

  • Ted February 19, 2021, 5:43 am

    Your story reminds me of a deer hunt from many years ago. I still think about it. We were hunting in Eastern Or. For Mule deer. My partner and I were on one side of a canyon. We were scoping the other side. One of the largest Mule Deer I’ve ever seen came out of nowhere and walked a spine to a flat area and stopped. We did not have range finders then. Both of us braced on our vehicles and watched him thru our field glasses and scopes. We discussed taking the shot. We estimated maybe 400 yards plus. We never took the shot. He stood there and soon several does came up from the lower part of the canyon. We watched them go back up the hill and disappear. I still think of that magnificent buck and glad we did not shoot. It was the ethical thing to do.

  • David Watkins February 4, 2021, 6:26 am

    On the contrary if you can only see his shoulder and vitals through the hole in the branches that would be slight upper hand you know it’s not going to wound the animal to the point where you can’t get to it in time to save it’s agony and meat. I don’t care what people say about this subject but I personally don’t think you should make an animal suffer any longer than they have to. And that goes for any living animal’s life your going to end. A few years in the past I hit a deer with my Nissan pickup it had a brush guard on the front but it was a push bar brush guard with the u-shaped coming up from the two frame rails and the leaf grills that come off that well I hit a doe at about 40 miles an hour maybe 45 came out of nowhere, middle of the night. And I noticed it had walked off about 10 ft into the bushes and it looked absolutely fine it moved absolutely fine but there was a rod in the back of my head pushing me towards it and with great so I walked back there with the flashlight and sure enough there it was standing there so I walked towards it really slowly and it tried taking a step and went down on its two front knees and got back up so I started petting it really slowly and as a gentleman pulled up and watched what happened he was The Man behind me he asked me if I wanted to get my rifle or his rifle to end it and I told him he can go get his I’ll just hang out here and I felt that heartbeat go from about 250 BPM two around 70 or 80 by the time he got back she wouldn’t have died for a few weeks but she would have died nonetheless with the broken appendages that she had my point is when I started feeling that heartbeat go down my appreciation for me being there and not any other person that wouldn’t have even walked into the woods after it to check if it’s okay or notso in those regards the respectable incredibly respectable decision in my opinion as well any Hunter who’s willing to accept the fact that he won’t get it and possibly just hurt it and potentially hurt or hit something or someone else in the reach of the bullet in the process. Is an absolute respectable hero in my book!

  • EJ7447 February 2, 2021, 10:58 am

    Great decision……ethical hunting is something we need to teach those who are new to the pursuit of game.

    • Aram von Benedikt February 3, 2021, 1:00 pm

      Thanks EJ7447!

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