SI Vault
Charles C. Niehuis
November 22, 1954
Arizona's famous Kaibab forest is so stuffed with big mule deer that every hunter has an eight-to-two chance of getting his venison this season
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November 22, 1954

Country Full Of Deer

Arizona's famous Kaibab forest is so stuffed with big mule deer that every hunter has an eight-to-two chance of getting his venison this season

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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.


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.

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