During a recent visit to the PSE Archery PSE Archery factory for the new 2020 Catalogue Photoshoot, I realized that the archery deer season was opening during that same weekend in Arizona, so I decided to extend my visit for a couple more days and try to tag one.
The term OTC comes from “Over the Counter”, and refers to those hunting tags that you can buy at stores over the counter. You do not need to apply for them or draw, you can just go and buy them at any time. These tags will allow you to hunt during the different seasons in public lands, and are a great example of the american philosophy that hunting is a right own by the citizens. You do not have to be rich, own a lot of property or be lucky, everyone one there has access to good hunting opportunities. 🙌👏
We stopped by the Game & Fish department since as being from Spain, we thought it was going to be easier to fill up all the information. They were very kind and in a few minutes we had everything we needed. As a reference the archery non-resident antlered deer tag is around $300 plus the general hunting license another $160 aprox.
Despite getting the tags is really easy, understanding all the hunting rules can be complicated. There are many different hunting areas, different season and regulations, so reading about all this is important, and you can find it explained at the Hunting Regulations booklet, that you can pick at some retailers or download online, about 140 pages long. Do not assume things, since some regulations can be very different from what we are used to in our home countries. Be sure also to have access to a GPS and maps since hunting areas can have patches of areas that can be hunted, and it is your obligation to know where you are hunting. The good thing about Arizona with private land is that unless marked and specified with signals, you can hunt on it.
I was lucky to have the help of Jason Marsalla, one of the PSE engineers that is not only skilled manufacturing bows, but one of the best Desert sheep guides I know. He knows the state, the animals, and the country better than anyone, and was going to be a huge asset for my limited time in Arizona.
The thing I like the most about hunting Public Land and OTC tags is that you success is defined by the amount of work and effort you put. You are competing not only against wild spooky animals but agains other hundreds of hunters. You have to outwork everyone else to increase your odds, there are no shortcuts or advantages, everyone is competing with the same rules and conditions. Typically the same hunters are the ones that get successful year after year, and thats because they are willing to put more time and effort than normal people going to more remote localions, spending more time in the field, or prescouting more than the rest.
Jason was able to put some time before my arrival to check different spots to have a better idea where to go, since he wasn’t sure what the best spots would be this time of the year. The hunting season roughly goes from late august to the end of the year, and it is not often that people want to experience the high temperatures of the summer while having all fall and winter to hunt, specially when the deer rut when they are more active is during the winter time (December/January). Hunting seasons here go with the calendar year, (January 2019-December 2019), and not like in Spain where the season would be the natural period where the deer have horns (September 2019 to February 2020).
One of the things that surprised me a lot when I made it to Arizona was to see the country so green and with so much vegetation. I was expecting a desert during the summer months where the temperatures where over 40ºC/ 100ºF to be way more dry and brownish. The reason for this are the Monsoons. The Monsoon is s traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea. The Arizona Monsoon takes places during the summer months, and we experienced it first hand by almost getting fried by a lightning stroke during one of the storms.
When you buy an antlered deer tag, you can choose either from shooting a Coues Deer or a Mule Deer. I soon discovered the huge appreciation of all the local people towards the course deer, an species I didn’t know much about it. On the other hand, I grew up reading my hunting idol Randy Ulmer, who often wrote about chasing big mule deers around the country. For this reason mule deer was my deer of choice, despite all my friends advising me I was wrong, since whitetails are a much harder animal to harvest.
The most effective way of hunting in such a dense and flat terrain is having eyes on the sky. This means having a spotter located on the highest advantage point that you could find, and have him find the game and tell the hunter where should he go to get it. This is a team work and if successful, its a joined success between the spotter and the hunter. If you get to be by yourself, it is a whole different thing. There are now landmarks, no good reference points, and by the time you get to where you saw the animals, there are very little chances that they are still there. At the same time it is thick forest, so you have to walk in any case super slowly, and for the final approach removing the shoes and walking in sock its advices in order to increase your chances of getting into bow range.
Everything came to the last afternoon of the hunt. We had already been hunting in that area for the last six days, and after a couple of failed stalks, the rapport between my partner and I was pretty good. There are no many people that you can understand each other so well as I did with Jason. We think alike and this helped a lot. I had a blaze orange shirt that I could pull to be seen easier, and already learned all the different local wildlife names, the Prickly Pear cactus, the Cholla, the Mezquite tree, Palo Verde tree,… It was getting dark and I was getting anxious but finally got a call, Jason had located a shooter buck. I literally run to the location he described to don’t lose any time. I dropped my pack and removed my boots, it was time to get sneaky. I start closing the distance slowly with a good wind and it wasn’t long when I get to see one of the bucks between the trees. I keep working my way in but I was running out of light quickly. I got to 40 yards of the three bucks but I didn’t have any clear shooting lane. It didn’t look like they were going to move anytime soon, and I didn’t have much time left. I started looking hard with my binos for a hole in the mesquite tree in front of me, and finally found one no larger than 10 inches. This wasn’t enough for the arrow arch, so I was going to have to aim with my 25 yard pin to the hole, and put the 40 yds pin on the buck. I got a deep breath and tried to align the hole with the biggest buck, the first pin with the hole and the second pin with the buck…
The arrow flew perfect and did not get any deflection on the mesquite, hitting the buck really hard on a complicated angle. The buck runs and after 50 yards tries to lay down, but since the arrow was still on it, he stands up and keeps walking away slowly. Jason quickly runs out of light and can not tell where it goes. We check the blood and make the decision to leave it for the following morning, hoping the blood would not dry or the coyotes would not find it. Lucky for us, after a slow tracking job where the buck was giving blood every single step, I was able to locate the buck untouched. I couldn’t believe my eyes after such a long night where all posible scenarios passed by my head. Beautiful non typical mature mule deer buck down, I couldn’t be happier and couldn’t thank Jason enough. This was our deer, the result of our joint effort and teamwork. In debt for life mi amigo!
The only good thing about hunting flat country is the pack-out of the animal. Heading out to the car with all the bucks meat is the most rewarding moment in hunting.
In the USA is very common to shoot animals in velvet during the early season hunt, something that most people in Europe are not used to it. They are hard horn and fully grown, just about to rub their velvet off. I personally like them because I are up reading about bowhunting, and most of the time bow hunts take places during the early season, as archery is the first method of hunting that season opens in America.
If you want to keep the velvet it is important to take it to a taxidermist as soon as possible, so they freeze it or inject some acids to the horns to remove all the blood inside. If you don’t take care of this right away, the horns will start to rot.