Ray: A Winter Desert Hunt in New Mexico

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family's Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.

Any coverage of late season deer hunting in the Southwest is not complete without mention of January bow-only hunts in the desert. In states like New Mexico and Arizona, archers can hunt Coues whitetails or desert mule deer. Early to mid January can mean peak rut hunting for both species.

A couple of years ago, I bought an over-the-counter tag in Arizona. Hunting with a friend who knew the country well, we glassed and stalked public land south of Tucson. Prickly botanicals like prickly pear, saguaro cactus, mesquite and cholla were everywhere. Using large tripod-mounted 15x binoculars, we found the mouse-colored whitetails high in the desert hills. Eventually I stalked and arrowed a nice little 8-point. Coues deer are tiny compared to northern whitetails, mature bucks weigh about 100 pounds, and his little rack "only" scored about 85-inches. That's a solid buck considering 100-inchers are whoppers.

Another year, I hunted mule deer in southern New Mexico. This time on a private ranch. The rut was popping and I saw several quality bucks hazing does. The best buck I saw, a symmetrical 160-inch 4x4, stayed just across the fence on land I could not hunt. I tried rattling and grunting to him, sometimes whitetail tricks work on rutting mule deer, but he had too many does to come to my side of the fence.

It was cold, below freezing every morning, but considering the rut and the lack of water in the dusty desert, I decided to sit near a half-frozen water tank. Deer and elk rubs were everywhere on the cedars surrounding that plastic water tub.

Late in the evening, I spotted movement. A 4x4 buck was coming through the oaks and cedars, headed right for the frozen tank. Sipping on the edge of the tub where the ice was melted, he quenched his thirst. When he turned broadside, I launched a Gold Tip carbon arrow tipped with a G5 Montec broadhead. The 3-blade broadhead smashed through the buck's chest. He went down in sight. The 200 pound desert buck's symmetrical rack was the color of chocolate. It was a great way to start the new year.

Spot and stalk works on desert bucks. So does sitting water, even when it's cold. If you want to try something different this winter, consider a trip to the desert. It's one of my favorite ways to end the deer season, or is it to start the next one?