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."
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 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.
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.
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.