No Off-Season — Hunting Arizona's Deer Rut in January

No Off-Season — Hunting Arizona's Deer Rut in January

The weather has turned frigid, bows are hung up, and most of your hunting gear is stowed away in a cold dark place for the winter. The end of a hunting season and the beginning of a New Year is a time for reflection — whether you're licking your wounds from a tough hunt or reliving an incredible experience you had over and over again.

In these short days of winter, hunters dream of spring, when green grass emerges from the snow, bears reappear from their slumber, and gobblers start echoing at sunrise.

But what if I told you that you didn't have to wait until spring to hunt? What if your pursuit of big game didn't have to end when the calendar year changed-over? Instead, you could be spot-and-stalk hunting for rutting mule deer and Coues deer with your bow in beautiful weather. Arizona is the place to be in the "off season."

Spot-and-Stalk With A Bow

Anyone Can Go

So, maybe you're thinking that this sounds too good to be true? Surely, these tags must be so sought after, that it'd be like winning the lottery to get one for yourself? Not at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite. These tags are actually OTC (over the counter) for both residents and non-residents.

The archery deer season in Arizona runs the whole month of January, which will put you right in the mix for the heart of the rut. And if you happen to end the month of January with an unfulfilled tag, you can use that same tag and license for deer in August/September, which is a great hunt for deer in velvet. If that early fall opportunity doesn't work out, then there is another deer season the spans the last half of December. Towards the end of December, the Coues deer rut starts ramping up. In terms of Mule deer, I've seen heavy rutting activity during the opening weekend in December. The point is, between the first of the year, the early fall, or at the end of the year — there is plenty of opportunity for a bowhunter with deer on the brain.

A Successful Javelina Hunt

A Tag Trifecta

As if using your deer tag to hunt either mule deer or Coues deer during the rut in beautiful weather wasn't enough, there's something else. With a little bit of pre-planning you could add yet another species to the list. Javelina may be ugly as sin, but they are an absolute blast to spot and stalk with a bow. They're an especially great species for new bowhunters to practice their stalking and shooting skills.

To hunt Javelina alongside deer in January, you will need to put in for the spring draw in Arizona. The season spans almost the whole month, giving you plenty of time to potentially hunt all three species all at once. I say "potentially" because some areas are just more abundant with Coues, and some are more heavily populated with mule deer. Though, there are spots out there where both species can be found on the same hill. I suggest narrowing down your deer unit first, then applying for that unit's javelina tag to try and get that as an add-on.

The Arizona Landscape

Let's Chat Strategy

The hunting opportunity is there, and it is a blast to chase these critters with a bow, but this hunt isn't a walk in the park. In fact, success rates are pretty low for archery deer. A lot of the terrain is pretty open and rocky, giving the animals an advantage to spot you and/or hear you coming. My favorite strategy is setting up high behind binoculars on a tripod. Let your optics do the walking, keeping your movement and noise to a minimum.

Once you do find a buck, make a plan, and make it happen. Some hunters like to wait until a deer beds down and some hunters make a move while the deer is still on their feet. The rut is a very chaotic time for deer movement, so I've found being more aggressive will yield more opportunity.

Another option is finding a good water source with ample sign and waiting for an ambush-style shot opportunity. Down here in the dry climate we call home, water is life and could lead to success.

A Successful Arizona Deer Hunt

There is No Off-Season

As this article is being published (in January of 2021), I am out chasing deer just like I described. It's one of my absolute favorite times of the year and truly a bowhunter's paradise. While many places in the country will be knee deep in snow, I'll be soaking up the sunshine, watching bucks chase does, and trying my best to fill a deer tag. If you're one of those hunters that thinks this time of year is the off-season, think again. There is no such thing.

Josh Kirchner is the author of the book, Becoming a Backpack Hunter, as well as the voice behind Dialed in Hunter, a blog that not only documents his own journey, but provides gear reviews, tips/tactics for western hunting, and encourages other hunters to chase and achieve their goals. Josh is a passionate bowhunter that has been hunting with his family since he was a small boy. When he is not chasing elk, deer, bear, and javelina through the diverse Arizona terrain, he is spending time with his wife, daughter, and two herding dogs.

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  • I was born in and have lived in Arizona most of my life. The desert was my playground, I am old enough that I did not have electronics wasting my youth, for lack of anything else to do. Chris’ comment about the thorns is close to true however the comment about selling tags for revenue rather than management is totally wrong. Arizona Game & Fish Department (AZGFD) does an outstanding job managing wildlife & does not
    sell OTC tags just to raise revenue. Chris is also correct that it “is no walk in the park”. If you want to kill “wildlife” with little or no effort go to a private reserve that raises animal for “hunts”, an I am not bashing those businesses. For me and my friends that hunt here in Arizona and elsewhere the hunt, the opportunity to spend time focused on & enjoying God’s creation is the reward. Putting meat in the freezer is a bonus. There is an abundance of life in the desert & most people never see it because the just drive through it, assuming nothing could live in it.

    James Stewart on
  • Just clarifying but you are making it sound like you can take 3 different animals(coues, mulies, and javelina). I would hate to see someone come and make a mistake thinking that this info is correct. While you can chase both species of deer you are ultimately only allowed to take 1 deer a year regardless of species. Other than that great article to go along with some great gear. Best of luck out there.

    Ryan on
  • I know first hand that an Arizona archery hunt is no walk in the park. I think even the grass has thorns on it. You may have better luck stalking a deer walking on corn chips. the areas with high deer population has high hunting pressure as well I think the state of AZ sells tags as revenue rather than a management program.

    Chris DeBlieck on

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