By Tony Mandile
One balmy August day in the year 2000 mirrored many of the days Sergio Orozco had spent hunting deer since taking up bowhunting in 1991. The 30-year-old fireman had driven from his home in Nogales, Ariz., to the southern part of Unit 34A and arrived well before sunup. After hiking to the top of a ridge, he set up his tripod and binoculars and began glassing the rolling hills and ridges in search of a decent Coues deer buck – Arizona’s diminutive subspecies of whitetail.
Several hours of searching turned up only a couple of small bucks and several does. As the temperature approached the triple digits typical of a summer day in the desert, Orozco started back to his truck.
“My canteen was empty, so I decided to go fill it, rest a bit and sort of regroup for a late-afternoon hunt. I had walked along a cow path for less than 10 minutes when a deer jumped up, and I immediately knew it was a buck.”
The deer had been bedded under a bushy mesquite tree that was less than 30 yards off the trail. It ran down and across a small canyon, and all Orozco could see was its huge velvet-covered antlers as he disappeared over the far ridge.
“I knew he was big,” Orozco said. “After I filled my canteen, I went back to the area where I last saw him, but I couldn’t find him again.”
Over the next few weeks of the early archery season, Orozco returned to the same canyon many times. “I hunted that area hard for the rest of the season and never found the buck again,” he said. “I was out there scouting every weekend, even after the bow season ended in September and while the rifle seasons were going on.”
October went by; November passed. Finally, on the weekend before the December archery hunt began, Orozco once again found the buck. It was feeding in a small clearing amidst a bunch of mesquite trees.
“He had moved a bit farther north from the first place I had seen him,” Orozco recalls. “Even though the velvet was gone by now, the height of his antlers and a distinct drop tine convinced me it was the same deer. Naturally, I was thankful a gun hunter hadn’t killed him.
“I spent at least 12 days chasing him during the December archery season and even put two stalks on him. On the first one, I got within 60 yards before a doe winded me. They were gone within seconds. I stalked him the second time after I had glassed him while he was bedded in a thick patch of ocotillo cactus. I thought it would be easy, but once I got into the ocotillos, I found out different. I was about 30 yards from the buck, trying to make my way between all the ocotillos, when he saw me move. He was up and out of there in a flash,” Orozco said.
The December 2000 hunt ended, and either the weather or Orozco’s work schedule prevented him from hunting again until the afternoon of Jan. 10. An hour before sunset, he glassed a doe. Then he found the monster buck bedded next to a barrel cactus in nearly the same spot he’d stalked him two weeks earlier.
“He was clear across the canyon, maybe 200 to 300 yards away. There was only about a half-hour left before it got dark, so I decided to leave him alone until the following morning. As I continued watching the buck, I heard a noise on the ridge above me, looked up and saw my friend, Pete Mendoza. I signaled him to come down. While waiting for him, I kept my attention on the trophy buck. Pete had a chance to see him, too. It was the biggest whitetail either of us had ever seen in the wild. Jokingly, I told him, ‘You better have your camera ready, because that buck will be mine tomorrow.’”
Restless, Orozco didn’t get much sleep that night. “I was up early, ate breakfast and drove to the area, arriving about 15 minutes before daylight. It was overcast, with the temperature in the low 30s as I started to glass. Ten minutes later, I picked up three does in the valley. Then a respectable 3×3 stepped out of a thicket of trees.
“I would have settled for this buck any other time, but now the only deer I had in mind was the big one,” he continued. “I stayed there a bit longer to no avail. At 7:15, I decided to move to another spot that overlooked a valley and some rolling hills.”
Almost immediately Orozco saw three does moving among the mesquite trees, and then another doe – followed by the big buck. The buck obviously had romance in mind; the rut was in full swing.
“As soon as I saw him, I started shaking,” Orozco said.
As he tried to calm his nerves and put together a plan, he watched the buck chase the harem of does all over the hillside. One doe raced over the top; the buck followed, and Orozco did likewise. He realized having fewer eyes and noses to tip off the buck would help during a stalk. At the same time, he was concerned about losing the deer after they had
disappeared over the hill.
“It took me about an hour to get to the top of the ridge where the doe and buck had crossed. Once there, I glassed about every opening and under and behind every tree and cactus in the area. I found them 15 minutes later in a flat valley less than 200 yards away. About 11:30, he bedded down only 150 yards from me in a fairly open area near three mesquite trees,” he said.
With the wind in his favor, Orozco started his stalk down a small canyon, which he thought would put him within 40 yards of the bedded deer. Instead, he wound up 80 yards away with the buck facing him. Orozco went to Plan B, opting to follow a creek bed that would take him behind the deer. He removed his daypack and shoes, leaving them behind to retrieve later, and slowly made his way to the mesquite trees. When he got there, the buck was nowhere in sight.
“I had last seen him near the tallest tree, but he was gone. I used my binoculars to search among the trees and found he had moved about 10 yards away to another tree, probably because it was shadier. Now, after seeing him close up, my knees began shaking and my heartbeat sped up. At a distance, the buck’s antlers looked big; close up, they were huge. Hoping to somehow settle down a bit I dropped to one knee for a couple of minutes. Although the shaking didn’t quit entirely, I slowly inched along the creekbed. Then I almost blew it.”
Orozco inadvertently kicked a small rock that clicked as it rolled downhill into a larger one. He ducked low, using some tall grass to hide from the deer, and then watched the tips of its antlers as the buck’s head swiveled around to see what had made the noise.
“His eyes aimed right at me,” Orozco said. “After an eternity, which in reality was only about 30 seconds, the buck turned away.
“Not wanting to wait any longer, I nocked an arrow, took a few steps so I could see his vitals and drew my bow just as the buck’s head had turned toward me again. By then it was too late for him to react. I heard the arrow thump as it connected.”
The buck jumped up, wheeled around and raced along the path Orozco had taken toward him. After running about 40 yards, he stopped and looked back. Except for making odd movements with its tail, the buck gave no indication it had been hit by Orozco’s arrow. Orozco shot again. The buck jumped when the arrow hit him in the neck and, with four great leaps, he disappeared over the hill.
Orozco’s nervous excitement returned. He also realized that his sticker-filled socks were uncomfortable. Rather than follow the wounded deer, he retrieved his shoes, drank some water and then searched for his first arrow. He found the latter stuck in the ground where the deer had been bedded. Bright red blood covered the arrow from the point to the fletching. It was a good sign. Finding a blood trail, Orozco followed it to the spot of the second shot and found that arrow, too. It too was covered with blood.
“I continued along the blood trail up over the next hill and spotted the buck. He had gone down in a heap under a mesquite tree in the bottom of a small canyon. When I got down to him, I jumped and yelled, even though no one was around to hear me. For me, killing that buck was the greatest thrill of my life,” he said.
Although Orozco knew the buck was a trophy, he didn’t realize just how much of a trophy it really was. He called a friend and asked him to measure it.
“When my friend asked me how big it was, I told him it would probably score maybe 100 to 115 points. When Tony arrived, he was speechless,” Orozco said. “The gross score he got was 150.”
After the 60-day mandatory drying period, Jimmie Engelmann, an official measurer for the Pope and Young Club, recorded a gross score of 144 6/8 and a net of 132 6/8 for the typical category. The buck’s distinct drop tine alone resulted in a 6-point deduction.
In May 2003, the P&Y Club officially recognized Sergio Orozco’s outstanding trophy as the world record with an official panel score of 130 1/8 – which shattered the previous record by more than 10 points.
The main Coues deer habitat in 34A consists of the Santa Rita Mountains, including the Mt. Wrigthson Wilderness Area within the Coronado National Forest. Some of the state land that surrounds the national forest is borderline whitetail territory at lower elevations.
Deer densities are average this year because of a decade of drought. The bulk of the population lives in the southern half o
f the unit, and many of the bucks are 1 to 3 years old. Yet here, as at most places, some older, trophy-class bucks that will score 100-plus are still available to hunters who put in a bit of work.
The drainages around Squaw Gulch and Temporal and Mansfield canyons near Patagonia at the southern end of the unit are highly popular, but the key to hunting quality deer here is getting away from those crowds.
Fort and Hog canyons, farther north along the east side of 34A near Sonoita, have always been popular and still hold decent deer numbers. Access has become a bit more difficult, however, because the local homeowners have shut off the traditional route from Highway 82. Now the only access to them are USFS roads 92 to 795 and then 4111 from the Gardner Canyon area, or by way of Santa Rita Road, which is two miles north of the junction of highways 82 and 83.
At the southern edge of the Santa Ritas, the steep, rugged terrain around Alto, Josephine and Bond canyons harbors some respectable bucks. The state land southwest of Josephine Canyon, where Ed Stockwell killed the world-record Boone and Crockett buck in 1954, and USFS Road 143 is somewhat flatter.
Upper Sawmill Canyon, east of Madera Canyon, is a good area if you like to glass. Take Highway 83 south to the Gardner Canyon turnoff (USFS 92), and go west to USFS 163 at Fish Canyon and follow it past Kentucky camp. The road continues west and then north before intersecting 165. Take USFS Road 165 west into Melendrez Pass and hunt your way down into Sawmill.
One of the more popular access points is the road that climbs Mt. Hopkins toward the Whipple Observatory. Take exit 56 off I-19, which is 35 miles south of Tucson, and follow the signs to the observatory’s visitor center, where the paved road turns to graded dirt. There are seven miles of prime whitetail country from there to the locked gate at the observatory. Several 4-wheel-drive roads branch off the main one along the way and also offer good hunting.
Archery hunters may buy tags over the counter and may kill one antlered deer per calendar year.
Over the last five years in 34A an annual average of 1,072 archery hunters have killed an average of 48 bucks, including a smattering of mule deer, for a 5 percent success rate.
Coronado National Forest, 300 W. Congress St., Tucson, AZ 85701; www.fs.fed.us/r3/coronado; (520) 670-4552.
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