Stiff competition on public lands doesn't hamper this bowman's amazing success on Southwestern whitetails and mule deer.
As these photos show, over the years Rick Forrest has enjoyed phenomenal success on hard-to-hunt desert mule deer and whitetail bucks.
It was 10 years ago when I first met Rick Forrest. For several years prior to that, I'd been using his unique Sonoran bowsight, and we'd talked by phone about desert bowhunting.
Rick's stories fueled my fire, so a friend and I traveled from Texas to southern Arizona to hunt Coues whitetails for the first time during the sultry early season in August 1997. When we met Rick in Tucson on the first day of our do-it-yourself deer hunt, he shared a few tips on where to hunt. On a topo map, Rick marked key waterholes to explore and ridges to glass. That hunt was a humbling experience.
For a week, my partner and I endured 100-plus degree heat and afternoon thunderstorms that left us hot and muggy. With puddles everywhere, hunting over water was a waste of time. In seven days I saw more rattlesnakes than I'd seen in seven years at home in Texas. We hunted hard but never loosed an arrow. Our lack of success just made me appreciate Rick's resumé even more.
One thing that stands out in my memory from that trip was Rick's archery skills. One day my hunting partner and I left the scorching desert and drove to town for lunch with Rick as he and a few coworkers were flinging arrows. At an honest 100 yards, Rick clustered his skinny carbon arrows into a group the size of a baseball. His practice groups were even more impressive at shorter, practical hunting distances. It was easy to see why Rick rarely missed when given shot opportunities on big bucks,.
Today, Rick is still shooting tight groups and still wrapping his tag around big desert bucks. Big mule deer and trophy-sized Coues deer are his specialty, but he also has bagged desert black bears, bull elk, javelinas, Merriam turkeys, and mountain lions. So how does he do it in the cactus-covered hills that intimidate so many others? Here's a closer look at one of the country's best bowhunters you've probably never heard of.
The Desert Deer Hunter
Rick Forrest was born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1962. His first bowkill, at age 16, was a javelina, and he has taken a javelina every year since. He took his first deer with a bow at age 17, and he has bagged a deer in Arizona every year since 1985. During the week he's a working guy, but on his free time he hunts with friends and family. His primary hunting grounds are the public lands in southern Arizona stretching down to the Mexican border.
"My favorite time to hunt big deer is during what I call the 'magic' time, the rut. Usually sometime during the last two weeks of December, the big muleys magically appear out of thin air. These guys are five to seven-year-old bucks that have managed to survive all the rifle hunts. They didn't survive by being stupid, or by living in areas where they're easy to locate. Only the rut brings them out during daylight hours.
"To hunt these deer I usually stay mobile, glassing from high points near the road or big canyons. I look for places where I can see for miles in all directions -- places where my big binoculars can do the walking for me. Most of southern Arizona has plenty of road access, and I like the mobility the roads provide me. I can get from one glassing point to another quickly. I have no problem with hiking into remote areas, but any time not spent glassing is time lost hunting in my book.
In January 2007, Rick used his rangefinder to help plan his stalking route and then completed the stalk with a pinpoint shot on this fine Coues buck.
"Generally, as the rut tapers off for muleys, the rut for the Coues whitetails starts kicking in full speed. That's when I switch over and head to higher country and look for the big Coues deer."
Rick thinks many hunters spend far too little time behind their optics. "Lots of guys glass for 15 to 20 minutes, don't see any deer, and move on. If I know there are deer in the area, I'll glass from the same spot for two to three hours before moving. To find deer in the desert, you must be patient. I have taken several good bucks from areas crawling with other hunters. From high vantage points, I've watched old bucks elude the 'bow hikers,' guys who just walk around carrying their bows with an arrow nocked. And I've watched bucks walk right by and bed down near guys glassing without a tripod. After a while, these hunters get frustrated and move on. That's when I make my move."
Good optics are crucial, too. Rick uses a tripod-mounted Zeiss 15x60 binocular to dissect the desert. His partners use Zeiss 20x60's with image stabilization. Around his neck, Rick wears the Leica 10x42 Geovid with a built-in laser rangefinder. He uses the rangefinder to measure exact distance to his target, of course, but he also uses it in planning stalks.
"If a bedded buck is 300 yards away, I range brush and rocks around him at 250 yards. I try to pick out a good landmark as a place to end my stalk. If I can locate a big boulder, say 50 yards from the deer, I'll stalk to that rock. Then I'll wait there for the shot."
Rick did exactly that to arrow a fine Coues buck on the final day of the 2007 season. He'd been following a much bigger buck in the same canyon in previous days, but the last day is the last day. In a howling wind, Rick stalked the bedded 8-pointer surrounded by three does. When he reached a big boulder within shooting range, Rick got comfortable and waited. The buck eventually stood and actually bred one of the does. When the buck had finished passing on his genes, he turned broadside and Rick pinwheeled him.
"My favorite way to hunt is spot and stalk, and I like to wait for a buck to bed before stalking. If he puts himself in a position where I can easily close the gap undetected, I'll make the stalk. Otherwise, I usually hold back and wait until he moves to a more stalkable location. Sometimes I have watched a buck at a distance for the entire day without making a move because he never presented a good situation. I'd rather not spook him. There's always tomorrow."
Waiting At Water
"When the big boys are not out, before and after the rut, glassing them can be difficult. During these times I switch to hunting water," Rick said. "It takes some scouting to find the right waterhole, and a lot of patience to sit there all day, but if you pay your dues, you will be successful. The big unkno
wn is the caliber of bucks coming to the water, and the only ways to find out are either to use trail cameras or to sit and watch.
"In the areas I hunt, rarely more than a mile or two separates water sources, which means the deer have several options. From this, hunters get the impression that deer rarely visit certain waterholes. I have found that the deer in these areas are on a three to five-day rotation, meaning that if I want to see what's in the area, I must sit from sunup to sundown for at least three days. It's painful, but it works."
Rick and his friends have had the best success over water between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. They usually hunt from Double Bull ground blinds. Rick's best waterhole is one many folks would overlook -- a dirt pond right by a busy two-lane blacktop road. Rick originally discovered it because he knew the trees growing near the road would be close to water. A short hike to investigate led him to a reliable hunting spot for both Coues whitetails and mule deer.
Rick has four children, ages 11 to 18, who love to be outdoors. "Waterholes are great places for my kids to hunt. Towing them out into the desert to spot and stalk with a bow would be very frustrating. By waiting in a comfortable blind near water, I can get them close shots with high odds for success."
On the sun-baked, concrete-like earth around desert waterholes, reading tracks can be tough. Some ponds that have little visible sign around them may be pounded by deer every day. Walking in loops around the water searching for sign on softer ground can reveal the needed clues.
Calling Mule Deer
Rick and his partners have also had success in calling mule deer. The buck Rick shot in December 2006, a big-bodied, tall-tined 3x4, came to a "can" call. When the buck got separated from his does, he holed-up in a patch of oak trees. Rick stalked in close, waited at the edge of the trees, and then turned the can over two times to make two soft bleats. In Rick's words, "That buck came on a string with drool falling off his lips. I shot him at 25 yards."
Years earlier, Rick's brother, Robert Forrest, shot a phenomenal muley buck in a similar fashion. Rick explained, "Robert stalked in close to this wide-racked buck, bedded with a single doe. Brush obscured a shot, so he waited. Then Robert spotted a group of quail hunters in the distance, walking down the same canyon. He knew something had to give soon. Robert blew on a grunt call three times, and the 190-class buck stood, drool dribbling off his chin and back hairs bristled, and walked toward Robert for a 40-yard shot."
The Ultimate Stalk
While Rick has shot many bucks big enough to make the record books, one of his most memorable trophies had nothing to do with size. One afternoon in early January 2007, Rick and his brother, Robert, decided to hunt close to home, and a short hike from Rick's house they glassed not deer but two mountain lions. The cats appeared to be similar in size, probably not full grown, but here was an opportunity few hunters ever encounter. And, as Rick put it, "Those cats would soon be killing who knows how many deer every week. So even though they did not appear big, I decided to attempt the stalk."
As Robert watched from a distance, Rick used a sheer bluff to conceal his approach, and when he peeked over the ledge, he was 33 yards from the cats. The closer one saw him draw his bow, but instead of running, it sunk low into the grass to hide. With a clear shot at the cat's chest, Rick let fly. When Rick and Robert regrouped, Robert said he saw two cats run behind a distant boulder but saw only one run out.
Following a good blood trail, Rick was close to the boulder marker and knew the cat must be dead from blood loss. That's when his brother said he could see a cat's tail flicking behind the rocks. At the same time, Rick spied his cat up ahead, dead as a stone, so he knew there was another cat in the brush. The live cat was much larger than the one he had shot.
It crouched behind a rock pile in thick brush, no more than 10 feet away, its piercing yellow eyes locked on the hunters. Too bad Robert did not have a lion tag! The cat let out a snake-like hiss and then, after a tense stand-off, leaped from the brush and ran away.
Only one week later, while hunting deer with neighbor Danny Hicks in a different area, Rick spotted another adult lion. Because Danny had a cougar tag, the hunters planned a careful stalk, and Danny arrowed the big tom at 30 yards. According to Rick's GPS unit, it was 1.4 miles from the spot where he had spotted the lion to the kill site.
While glassing for deer that January, Rick spotted a total of 10 mountain lions, more than most hunters will see in a lifetime. Rick's success on hard-to-see-and-stalk animals like mountain lions, Coues deer, and desert mule deer only verifies the value of tripod-mounted binoculars, infinite spotting patience, knowledge of the animals being hunted, stalking skill, and shooting accuracy. Rick Forrest is the complete package, a true desert pro.
Author's Notes: Currently, Rick Forrest shoots a BowTech Allegiance set at 80 lbs. draw weight, Easton Epic 340 arrows, 100-grain Sonoran expandable broadheads, and Sonoran Mini-D sight with nine pins. His other gear includes Cabela's Silent Stalker boots, fleece stalking booties to slip over the boots, and a Badlands 2200 pack. He wears open-patterned, light-colored camo to blend with the rocks and desert vegetation. For details on Rick's Sonoran Bowhunting Products, visit his website at sonoranbowhunting.com . The author is an outdoor writer from Claude, Texas.