As the young Alabaman walked toward me and stuck out his hand, my mind silently translated the Spanish words emblazoned on the front of his colorful T-shirt. “The Archer of the Sun,” they read. I had met David Green one year earlier at the annual SCI Hunters Convention in Reno. SCI had been kind enough to offer me a couple of book-signings for my just-published book, BAREBOW!, and David had dropped by my signing table to take a look at the work. He’d had with him his lovely Mexican wife, Cristina, and I learned quickly that David was already well immersed in the culture of Mexico.
Our second meeting, nearly a year later, took place in the baggage-claim area of the Tucson airport. As we retrieved our bags and bow cases, I could hardly take my eyes off David’s remarkable T-shirt. The image on the front was dramatic, to say the least! A mythological Maya or Mixtec warrior was depicted with his bow at full draw, pointing a long arrow shaft upward at a 50-degree angle, and taking dead aim at the sun. Beneath one elevated foot, there lay prostrate the feline body of a young princess—either a fresh sacrificial victim, or a new conquest in the offing. Little did I realize then, as I stared at the fascinating picture, that it reflected almost precisely what would become the stunning ending of the Mexican adventure my new friend and I were about to embark upon.
The date was January 9, 2010. Our destination was the Chairababi Ranch in the mountains of northern Sonora, and our host was owner Enrique Molina. Enrique and his spacious Ford truck were waiting for us at the airport, and, as soon as David, I, and another new friend, Chris Durando, managed to get all our gear loaded, we headed for the Nogales border-crossing—an hour away. From there, it was another two-and-a-half hours to the Chairababi. We reached the ranch just as a gorgeous coral and magenta sunset gave way to the oncoming rush of a moonless night.
Our timing was perfect. I had planned this trip to the ranch (my tenth) to coincide with January’s “dark of the moon.” The Coues’ whitetail rut is usually underway by the second week of the month down there, and 2010 proved no exception. Because there had been no measurable rain in that part of Sonora since October, the dry conditions augured well for an exciting hunt, and our host assured us we could expect lots of action at most of the waterholes. A group of 14 bowhunters had just left the ranch to return home after a very successful week. Eleven bucks had been taken—all but one scoring high enough to make the Pope and Young Records. For me, this hunt with David and Chris was the ninth “Annual Invitational ‘Dennis-&-Friends’ Coues’ Whitetail Bownanza.” My first hunt at Chairababi had been in 2000. I was actually the first bowhunter to harvest a deer from the ranch, and—although my 2002 buck was just a small six-point—I saw dozens of much larger ones, including several, true Boone and Crockett monsters.
The wildlife resource, in fact, was so special that I made a proposition to Enrique. “If you’ll extend your hunts from five days to six, and start managing the ranch for bowhunting only,” I told him, “I’ll bet you could rewrite the Pope and Young Records for this species within a decade.”
“Furthermore,” I said, “if you’re willing to make those decisions, and set aside one week in January for me and a few of my hunting buddies, I’ll commit to making it an annual event!” Two years later, Enrique decided he liked my proposal, and thus the Annual Invitational was born. Because of the heavy demands the writing and promotion of my book placed on me, the number of friends I found time to solicit interest from varied a lot over those nine years. The numbers involved each January ranged from a high of 15 to a low of three. In 2010, we were only three, but it turned out to be one of the best, most exciting hunts of my life.
Unless hard rains have recently visited the ranch, nearly all hunting is done from treestands or ground blinds set up over waterholes. During dry conditions, the steep, very rocky ground makes spot-and-stalk almost impossible. One has to be prepared to spend from sunup to sundown (roughly 11 hours) at a single location, all by oneself. Enrique or one of his ranch hands drops you off within easy walking distance of your waterhole just before dawn and returns to pick you up at dusk. It is very seldom a day goes by without at least one P & Y animal visiting your stand- or blind-location. In 2006, when I had managed to harvest a beautifully-symmetrical eight-point in the late afternoon, he was the forty-second deer to approach my waterhole that day!
Getting a shot opportunity at such a buck, however, is anything but easy. Since they are hunted every day of their lives by a very healthy cougar population, I believe Mexican Coues’ whitetails are more skittish and highly-wired than any pronghorn antelope that ever lived. About five months a year, Enrique keeps a lion hunter and his dogs on the Chairababi to try to keep the cat population cut down to size. In the five months of 2009 that Juan was on the ranch, the old, sunburned, wizened “cowboy” was able to kill 33 lions. Quite a remarkable feat in anybody’s book!
Now that I’ve set the stage for the rest of the story, it’s time to return to my 2010 hunt with David and Chris. During our first day in the field, which I spent in a blind at a pond named “Copper,” 35 different deer came in to drink. Only one buck was clearly a shooter, and he chose to water on the far side of everything—about 30 yards distant. Hunting as I was, that day, with my recurve, I didn’t feel comfortable with the shot angle or range, so I let the opportunity pass.
On the second day, I hunted a different location—from a brushed-in ground blind, looking down on a mostly dry creek-bottom that contained several baseball-size puddles of clear, standing water, roughly 15 yards from my shooting window. There was no running water whatsoever.
Thirty-two different deer came to drink that day, and one was truly the proverbial buck of a lifetime. As he walked past me broadside at just 14 yards (measured later), I released my wooden shaft, tipped with a three-bladed Savora broadhead. The B & C buck ducked, and the arrow sailed harmlessly right over his withers. My shot was no doubt too high anyway, but I proceeded to make the same mistake about 40 seconds later—from 22 yards distant!
At the first shot, the massive eight-point had jumped forward 30 feet, but two does in his company were distracting him, and the old boy seemed confused as to what had just happened. For the second shot, he was motionless, broadside to me with his head turned away, yet I still muffed it—again on the high side!
Now there’s really no good excuse for missing shots like that, but I want to say—in my own defense—that I’ve always had problems with depth perception (and therefore “elevation”), when shooting through a tiny viewing window from inside a small enclosure. With no yardage pins attached to my bows for reference, 15 yards always looks to me like 25, and 25 like 40! As one would imagine, that monster buck of my dreams (whose rack I’d put in the 120-inch class) gave me no third opportunity.
Feeling more than a bit bummed out by my failure to capitalize on two such golden opportunities, I decided to offer that location to Chris for day three, and I would return to “Copper.” The good weather continued dry and temperate. It was all does, fawns, and immature bucks, however, coming in to drink at “Copper” that third day, and as the afternoon progressed, I started getting down on myself and cursing my incompetence of the day before.
Seldom do the deer of the Chairababi come to water after 4 p.m., but—when it does happen, during those last two hours of daylight—it is usually a buck to quicken the pulse of even the most veteran deer hunter. Day three produced just such a buck.
The time was pushing 5 p.m., and he simply appeared from nowhere, trotting right up to the edge of the pond, seemingly without a care in the world. Hesitating not at all, he lowered his head and started guzzling. I was totally unprepared for the sudden visit, having been caught with my eyeglasses on and a book in my hand. Even before I picked up my binos, I had realized instantly I was looking at an eight-point rack that possessed both good width and impressive height. The close-up view revealed a significant abnormality on the third tine of his left antler, but it caused me no delay in making up my mind to try to harvest this old buck if I could.
As quickly as possible, I nocked an arrow and brought my bow to full draw. Only then did I realize I’d forgotten to remove my glasses! Letting down right away, in order to take them off, I now knew I had an even more serious problem. Seeing the buck still drinking, broadside to me at an estimated 27 yards, I figured the shot was makeable—provided I could lean my body (at full draw) far enough off my three-legged stool’s center of gravity to create a clear shooting-lane through the only open “window” in my Double Bull blind that gave me a chance at him. Even while canting the bow substantially, I was still fearful that the tip of either limb might slap the roof or sidewall of the tent upon release. As I drew for the second time, I was also aware that time was running out. How much longer could I expect such a trophy animal to stand there slaking his thirst?
As soon as I felt my aim was “right,” the arrow was away. KERBAM! I was shocked at the loud sound of both limb-tips simultaneously striking the taut fabric of my blind. The buck, no doubt, was even more startled, and as the speeding shaft drew near its target the animal’s lightning reflexes launched him forward and slightly away from what appeared to be shaping up as a perfect double-lung shot. Upon his exiting the water in which he’d been standing, I was terribly disappointed to see my arrow embedded in the buck’s hip. It was certainly nothing like what I’d been expecting to see!
In less than two seconds, the heavy brush had swallowed up my quarry—leaving me to ponder what I’d seen, and what might be the prospects for recovery. I had heard no sound of the steel point striking bone. I did have the further impression that the shaft had achieved penetration of as much as 11 or 12 inches. Those two factors—combined with the visual image in my mind—actually began to make me feel quite hopeful as evening came on. Around 5:45, I left the blind and discovered an intact wood shaft 10 yards into the brush. It was stained solid red for the first 10 inches above the broadhead. The evidence confirmed my hunch of a severed femoral artery. Not wishing to push the buck or my luck, and feeling confident there would be a decent blood trail, I opted to let morning tell the story.
And what a story it told, indeed! Ten minutes of easy tracking took our search party 150 yards down into a steep, very narrow, brushy canyon, and to the spot where the buck had expired—very likely before nightfall. What was astonishing was that he was no longer there! Dislodged rocks and heavy drag marks in the dirt led us another 50 yards downhill, and suddenly the pieces of the puzzle came together.
We found my buck all right—almost completely buried. The only parts of him showing were his tail, one rear leg, and the tines of one antler. Clearly, a large Mexican puma had eaten out his mid-section and then buried him to “preserve” several more meals. Given all the bizarre elements of the shot and the delayed recovery, the reader will understand how very blessed I felt at being able to claim this trophy buck as my own.
Once Enrique, David and I had unburied the animal and tied it on Carlos’ horse, the search for Juan began. Juan had left the ranch house early in the morning and seemed nowhere to be found. The old lion hunter was finally located after several hours of running the ranch roads in Enrique’s truck. He was miles away from the site of my buck’s burial, so we loaded the dogs in the back of the pickup, and Juan struck out cross-country on horseback to meet us at the point where we felt confident a red-hot chase would soon be underway. We were not disappointed.
Before we released the hounds on the fresh scent of the big tom, I told David that—as much as I would love to “even the score” with the lion that had destroyed my trophy’s cape—I wanted him to feel free to arrow it for himself, if I proved unable to catch up with the dogs, and they succeeded in treeing the beast before dark. I knew David was half my age and stood a much better chance of reaching the final, dramatic climax of the chase.
It was wise that I gave David such a message. Four hours after the hounds were unleashed, and four miles away from the start of the race by crow-flight, my friend from Alabama—wearing his Flechador del Sol T-shirt—launched an arrow skyward and knocked a 160-pound feline out of the highest limbs of an old oak tree. It was the third and final tree in which the old cat had chosen to make his last stand.
Because I’d recognized early in the chase that the steep, rocky terrain was likely to prevent me from “being there” at the end, I’d suggested to Enrique he send me to drive his truck around to whatever road would be closest to the likely end-location of the afternoon’s drama. I finally found the spot he had described to me, and just as the blood-orange orb of the sun began to teeter on the near horizon, I heard voices and looked up to see the happy hunters coming toward me.
Only the dogs appeared more exhausted and bedraggled than the human hunters. I noticed some were nursing wounds sustained during their most recent jihad against the Cat Kingdom, and then my eyes sought and found the lifeless form of the big carnivore draped over the broad rear-end of Juan’s horse. Hyperbolically, I would have to say that David’s grin was even broader!
“Did you take him with your bow?” I asked, as I approached him with my hand out. The nod of his head and the twinkle in his eye confirmed what I had already known in my heart. When we’d parted company in the early afternoon, I hadn’t realized my friend was wearing his “warrior tee” underneath his normal camo shirt. Due to the heat of the sun and the long pursuit, the outer garment had been jettisoned hours earlier.
“In the moment of truth, David, when push came to shove and shout came to shoot, what was it like for you?” I queried.
“It was so cool, Dennis! It was just like on this T-shirt! I raised my bow-arm toward the sky, and this big tomcat was lined up directly between me and the sun. My arrow disappeared—never to be seen again, and this marvelous creature fell at my feet!”
I laughed and shook my head in wonderment at the amazing events of the day. They hardly seemed credible. Two passionate flechadores del sol had harvested from the Chairababi, in one 24-hour period, a P & Y Coues’ whitetail and (as things turned out) a P & Y cougar, to boot. The following evening, after the head had been skinned out by Juan, I measured the lion’s skull at a green score of 14 and 4/16. For the supposedly-smaller Mexican subspecies, it was one hell of a big puma!
During the final two days of our hunt, both David and Chris arrowed nice bucks, and David’s was an especially handsome eight-point that exceeded the P & Y minimums by a substantial margin. It seemed clear to me, as Enrique’s truck headed back to the Tucson airport on day seven, that David’s marvelous T-shirt had brought us all tremendous good luck—or, as David’s wife might say, mucho mojo. To this moment, I remain convinced it was so, and I made him promise he would do his best to get me a shirt just like it.
Editor’s note: This article is the forty-sixth of the BAREBOW! Chronicles. This is the first chapter of the Chronicles that was not previously featured in the author’s book, BAREBOW! An Archer’s Fair-Chase Taking of North America’s Big-Game 29. Dunn was the first to harvest each of the 29 traditionally recognized native North American big game species barebow: using only “a bow, a string, an arrow—no trigger, no peep sights, no pins—just fingers, guts, and instinct.” Each of the narratives will cover the (not always successful, but certainly educational and entertaining) pursuit of one of the 29 animals. One new adventure will be published every two weeks—join us on the hunt! You can learn more about the work, and the various editions of BAREBOW! available, by clicking here: http://www.barebows.com/. You can also follow BAREBOW! on Facebook here.
Top image courtesy Dennis Dunn