Every deer hunter easing through the frost-jeweled covers of the Kaibab North National Forest in Arizona is comforted these mornings by a statistic—he has an eight-to-two chance to get a deer. If he gets a deer, it's better than 50-50 that it will be a buck. These are the odds established for the average hunter during last fall's open season. In New York, by way of contrast, only one hunter out of 18 gets his deer. But the Kaibab is unique, producing more record nontypical Rocky Mountain mule-deer trophies for the Boone and Crockett Club's discriminating judges than any other single deer range in the country.
The Kaibab offers better deer hunting this fall than ever before, in spite of the mounting hunting pressure which has risen from 500 hunting permits in 1946 to 12,000 allotted in 1954. Perversely enough, the more deer that have been shot off, the better the fawn crop. Last winter nine out of 10 does had a fawn trailing them.
Kaibab Mountain, forming the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, has long been recognized as the finest mule-deer hunting range in this country. The Paiute and Navajo Indians discovered it first, gathering there every fall for a hunting and trading session. Westward-traveling pioneers, seeing all this venison-gathering and buckskin-tanning activity, called the region "Buckskin Mountain." But the name didn't stick. Major John Wesley Powell, making the first official survey of this part of the country, called it "Kaibab," taking the word from the Paiute Indian tongue meaning "mountain lying down." It is an apt name for the flat-topped mass of land rising from desert levels to a subalpine elevation and having more than a million acres. Natural barriers, the Grand Canyon on the south and barren desert the rest of the way around, isolate the resident deer herd.
Teddy Roosevelt was the first big-game hunter of prominence to discover the fine deer hunting there. He saw some huge bucks on the mountain, and after he became President he set aside the Kaibab Mountain as the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve and defined its primary purpose as being for the production and preservation of its mule deer.
A DEER BEHIND EVERY BUSH
That was back in 1908. Predator control followed and hunting was prohibited on the national refuge. The deer population doubled and tripled. By the early 1920s there was, figuratively speaking, a deer behind every bush. More alarming, it was soon discovered the deer had eaten every leaf off those bushes as high as they could reach and were starving. One winter it was officially estimated that some 40,000 deer perished.
Hunters couldn't see any sense in that. They yelled for and got their first hunting on the Kaibab in 1924. But it wasn't until the 1940s that the Arizona Game and Fish Commission began to take an active interest in North America's finest mule-deer herd.
It is safe to say that it is the man with the rifle—the fellow who likes good deer hunting—who really brought a progressive deer-management program to the Kaibab. It is his money, paid in special-permit fees, that financed it. Already more than $100,000 of sportsmen's money has been spent on range improvement and deer studies. It has been a good investment, proved by reams of statistics issued annually by Arizona's professional game managers showing deer-population trends, hunter-success percentages and buck-doe-fawn ratios. This is dry reading until you boil it down to the basic information that four out of five hunters get venison if they hunt on the Kaibab.
The veteran trophy hunters of the Kaibab, perfectionists all, suffered a rude upset in 1948 when Dean Naylor of Phoenix, on his first deer-hunting trip to the Kaibab, chanced upon a big buck. Naylor thought so little of the head, which has a 38-inch spread, that he disposed of it to Jeff Sievers who now owns the trophy, rated fifth by the Boone and Crockett Club.
A STRATEGY FOR THE BIG BUCKS
In spite of Naylor's unplanned success, the serious trophy hunters of the Kaibab have developed a definite strategy for bagging the bigger bucks on Teddy Roosevelt's pet game preserve. Their hunting effort is coordinated with the season and the natural drift of the deer. More than half the mountain, shaped roughly like a tetrahedron with a broad base to the south along an east-west line, is above 6,000 feet elevation. The highest portion goes above 8,000 feet and forms the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Three hundred thousand acres of the higher ground is Grand Canyon National Park land, the rest of the mountain is U.S. Forest Service land.
The higher country is heavily forested with spruce and western yellow pine, with large patches of aspen—all of this is the deer's summer range. The big bucks hold close to this cover during the early part of the Kaibab hunting season, which ran from October 13th through the 24th.
The bigger the bucks the smarter they are and these have learned that the Grand Canyon National Park is a safe place during the hunt. It is possible for a deer hunter to leave his rifle in camp any evening and drive across the boundary, a three-strand barbed-wire fence separating the Kaibab forest land where hunting is permitted, to the Grand Canyon National Park land where hunting is illegal, and see a score or more of worthwhile heads. These big park bucks stand and stare back thoughtfully at the hunters.
With the coming of winter storms to the mountain, the entire herd will begin to drift off to the lower and more temperate wintering grounds. These are the long, open and sparsely brushed foothills that are exposed to the sun. These same low ridges lead to trails that work down and off the mountain to warmer and more hospitable mesas below.
As the deer migrate they follow routes established by deer families. Three-fifths, and perhaps more, of the deer drift off the mountain to the west. One-fifth go off to the east, and the rest scatter to the north. Very few go south off the North Rim and directly into the Grand Canyon.
HUNTING ON THE WINTER RANGE
Almost all of the wintering range, with the exception of some of the mesas in the Grand Canyon, is open to hunting in late November (the 19th through the 28th this year). It is during this migration that trophy hunters get a crack at the craggy "park bucks" which drift back into the forest and east and west of the mountain.
The experienced Kaibab hunter knows of this seasonal migration and stages his hunt accordingly. He takes this late season offered by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. Though the deer have been alerted by several weeks of hunting, the head hunter figures there are certain advantages to waiting. For one thing, the deer are down and out of the heavier timber, especially if the top of the mountain is blanketed with storms. The more open country allows a trophy hunter to size up his buck before making the kill. The shooting is also more sporting on the open ridges since it is at a longer range and necessarily has to be cleaner and more accurate. Most of the shots on top of the mountain (in the heavy timber) are under 100 yards, but the shooting on the ridges is around 200 yards and sometimes farther. But this is no trick with a 'scope-sighted rifle.
The trophy buck is six to nine years old and at the peak of its physical development. It has an almost uncanny sense of self-preservation and is skilled in taking advantage of shadows and brush which camouflage its fall coat of blue-gray.
A trophy seeker who has steeped himself in the craft will spend a couple of days acquainting himself with the area he plans to hunt. He finds the most difficult terrain to travel in because he knows that big bucks go to areas of least disturbance—rimrock country, steep and difficult slopes, rocky and broken ridges. This is the country that discourages the ordinary hunter and makes it safe territory for big deer.
A consistently successful Kaibab trophy hunter does most of his hunting early in the day, arriving at the locale for his hunt at daylight or before. The hunter knows, as do the game technicians who make the buck-doe-fawn counts, that twice as many bucks will be seen in the early morning as in the evening.
THE FLICK OF AN EAR
Two or three hunters working together make the best combination for working the Kaibab. While one walks the crest of a ridge, the others can scour the breaks and pockets. Every possible hiding place should be scouted, for in spite of the bigger bucks' size—180 pounds or more—they have a unique ability to hide.
A hunter does not expect to see the whole animal, unless it is in full flight, or unless he has been very careful in his stalk. More than likely he will see no more than the flick of an ear, the movement of a head, a shift in position, or a silhouetted portion of the animal. Deer will be browsing in the early morning, and if a man is quiet he may hear the movement of brush or the clatter of rolling gravel. Deer feed as they walk along. This is a protective measure against sneaking predators such as mountain lions.
When a deer has eaten its fill it seeks a place to bed down and to chew its cud. Big bucks forage before daylight, especially if there is a moon or starlight, and finish feeding before the sun tops the ridges.
I once helped a hunter scout out North Canyon on the East Rim of the Kaibab. We arrived at the end of the road in his car at daylight. With him walking the rim, and me 50 yards below, we began hunting up-canyon. We passed two still hunters, seated near rock ledges and less than 200 yards apart. Not more than 100 yards beyond them I squatted, to look under the low branches of a clump of spruce trees and saw the antlers of a buck just as the deer laid its head down. Here was the stalker's seldom-achieved opportunity, a sort of hunter's hole-in-one. I shot the buck as it lay in unafraid comfort, its paunch full of fresh browse.