Desert Obsession

By Ernie Banuelos

Desert ObsessionErnie Banuelos
Arizona, 2010, DIY, Public Land

My favorite time of the year had finally arrived - January in the Arizona desert. To me, it means only one thing, and that is the desert mule deer rut.

On the second day of the season, I was nearly in range of a beautiful 4x4 buck that had only one doe. I couldn’t believe that this early on I was getting the opportunity of a lifetime. It usually takes days of glassing until your eyes burn just to find a good buck.

As the doe walked toward the mesquite tree I was hiding behind, my heart beat faster; I knew the buck would soon follow. Suddenly, I heard a loud grunt and the doe was running right at me with buck in tow.

The buck, obviously irritated with the unreceptive doe, cut her off 20 yards in front of me. My heart was beating so hard I could hear ringing in my ears. I couldn’t get a shot even though he was well within range, so close in fact that I could smell him.

The thick brush of the Arizona desert didn’t allow for any shooting lanes in the wash, and the only hope I had was if the doe walked uphill directly in front of me. Out of pure dumb luck, that’s exactly what she did.

Then came the sound of hooves on rocks and I glimpsed hide and antlers through the cholla cactus and mesquite branches. As the buck walked toward my lane, my body trembled. Just before he entered my lane, I drew, and as soon as he was in the clearing, I grunted. He kept going, so I grunted again loudly and finally he stopped. I set my pin on his ribcage, squeezed the release and watched my arrow fly. After a detailed search and inspection of my arrow, I realized it was a clean miss; definitely a disappointment because I know how hard these bucks are to find, but I was still excited about the encounter and what was still to come. I had the whole month of January to fill my over-the-counter tag.

The Arizona desert is cruel and harsh, and I’m amazed by the animals that call this place home. The brutal summer heat and winter cold really punish wildlife and vegetation. Summers can be extremely dry, and when the summer monsoons come, the washes and roads cause devastating floods. That’s why I’m so passionate about desert mule deer. When I see a mature buck, it makes me wonder about all that he has gone through to have survived for so long.

Desert Obsession

For a full account of Ernie's adventure, go to page 37 in the July/August 2010 issue of Eastmans' Bowhunting Journal.