2005 BookCliffs Deer hunt
I've always wanted a non-typical mule deer. Something about those heavy horned critters with points jutting out every which way filled my dreams for years. Honestly, I thought I might run into a typical with a sticker point but nothing truly "non-typical".
Back in the end of 2003 I decided to abandon my attempt to draw a Utah Paunsagaunt or Henry Mountains deer tag. Sure there are some unbelievably big deer there but the odds of drawing it were so poor I decided it would be 10+ years before I drew a tag. I had a lot of bonus points so I decided I'd rather try for some easier to draw areas and perhaps hunt them twice in the time it would take to draw for one of the premium areas.
In looking over the state areas map I settled on the Utah Bookcliffs. Years back they let an overabundance of hunters hunt the unit and it was decimated... but lately they have slowly been bringing the area back by restricting the amount of hunters allowed in there. In looking over the draw odds I noticed I was just a couple points from being guaranteed a tag. That sold me on it, I would apply for it for the following 2004 season.
I was disappointed when I got the "UNSUCCESSFUL" message and even more so when I later found out I had a 1 in 2 chance to draw it. That's ok, I knew I would be virtually guaranteed a tag for the 2005 season if I stuck with it. Sure enough, at the first part of July I got my result back "SUCCESSFUL" for the Utah Bookcliffs Any Weapon hunt (ie: rifle).
I immediately began tracking down every friend or person I knew who had hunted it to get information on how and where to hunt a unit I'd never even been to. What was interesting is everyone informed me that the Bookcliffs deer herd is quite interesting in that it migrates north as the winter approaches. I also learned that during the Archery, Muzzleloader and finally Rifle seasons, the herd would be in completely different areas, all dependent on weather and other factors.
I planned a scouting trip out there in August and on a tip from a guy who knew the area and had pictures of terrific harvest's from years past, visited an area he swore I would not see a single thing in... but that it would be crawling with deer come rifle season. His words were prophetic, I did not see hide nor hair of a deer, not even a track at the countless waterholes I stopped to check out. It was slightly worrisome but he assured me the deer would be there come hunting time.
As the season got closer, I began packing up probably 5 times a much gear as I would have needed, just in case of emergencies. I thought I was well prepared but in hindsight I wasn't even close.
The Utah Bookcliffs is a remote area... some of the most remote and unexplored country in the continental United States. It is tough country... you learn to bend to it or it will break you.
My initial plan for the hunt was drive out Thursday morning and establish camp, then scout Thursday evening, Friday morning, relax Friday afternoon maybe shoot some rabbits, then continue scouting Friday evening. I figured I would have a good idea where to be come Saturday morning and the beginning of the hunt. It was a good plan... but in actuality, the nightmare was about to begin.
Thursday, the commute from hell
I headed out Thursday morning according to plan and arrived at the end of the paved road around 1pm, so far so good! I traveled a whopping 6 miles when I heard my trailer tire blow. Ah crap! Well I had thrown in a floor jack and star wrench and I had spare tires so I figured it would be a 30 min pain then I'd be off. I jack up the trailer and try to budge a lug nut... it wouldn't move! I tried more and more, but none would break free! Momentary panic set in, then I got an idea. I took the handle off the floor jack and duct-taped it to my star wrench forming a 'cheater' of sorts. I climb under the trailer and lay into it and was rewarded with it grudgingly turning! YAY! The day is saved... I keep working with it but after a minute I notice something odd. It didn't seem like the nut was backing off the stud. I had a horrible sinking suspicion and put a finger around on the backside of the hub and felt the stud end and turned the nut... ah hell, sure enough the stud was stripped! I was so screwed as I knew nothing short of a cutting torch was going to get this thing off.
With nothing else to do while sitting in the middle of absolute no-where I tried to loosen the other 4 lug nuts. One by one they all came loose without stripping the stud. Soon a oil field truck came by and stopped to give me a hand. He didn't have any equipment other than a cell phone but ended up staying with me for 3 hours while we got things resolved. We used his cell phone to call my brother who actually was out in the Bookcliffs helping me scout, we reported my location and he said he would come back to help but would be over an hour away.
We sat there pondering what to try... vicegrips on the stud, patching the hole, all failed. Suddenly we see a truck coming along down the road and they guy helping me says 'hey that's a pipe welder truck, they will have a torch on it!'. I wave and the guy stops. I inform him of the situation and he immediately climbs out, fires up the torch and cuts off the stud. I thank him with a lot of gratitude and he says 'ok is that it?' I say yep, I have a spare tire, the other lugs are loose so I can get the flat off. He says ok good luck and takes off down the long dusty road.
I climb back under and begin taking off the other 4 lugs... they grudgingly unscrew until they get right to the end of the stud then they tighten down... I put a tad more elbow grease on one and suddenly the stud strips! Oh lord please stop with the bad luck! I tell the original guy who stopped to help what happened and he couldn't believe it. I work at the other nuts and got 2 off, but another stripped as well.
Son of a .....
In retrospect I should have pulled the hub and let the welder weld the studs to the hub... but I didn't so I was totally screwed now. We wait another 30 min and off in the distance I see a white dodge hauling butt towards us, I say 'looks like by brother' ... he gets within 300 yards doing about 60 when I hear BAM FLAPFLAPFLAPFLAP and he begins to fishtail, sliding right up within 20 yards of my truck. He blew a $200 Michelin E rating tire... had a 5' rip right through the sidewall.
Ok yea, this day is just getting WAY better all the time...
Then I notice his back window of his truck is broken out, he shakes his head and says the strap broke that was holding his ATV in place so it rolled forward and broke out the rear window! UGH!
So we replace his tire with his last spare then look over the trailer. He was in disbelief along with us that 3 of 5 studs stripped (I was also in a panic the rest of the weekend incase we blew a tire on the other hub... I mean if one side is defective the other probably is too right?). We decide to draw the trailer 2 miles back the way I had come to a well site and hide it and my truck out of site while we made a run to Vernal for parts. It was late afternoon about this point so I was worried about stores closing. We got the truck stashed with the trailer barely making it... totally destroyed that rim LOL. We make the run to Vernal arriving there right at 6pm where my brother is able to work out a deal at a closing tire store for another spare but unfortunately no-one was open with trailer parts so we returned to my truck.
We unhook the trailer and leave it while I take my truck and camper and head for the spot I want to camp. My brother followed me. We went slow, not wanting to blow another tire and arrived at a good campsite around 10pm. So much for getting there early and scouting that evening! I tell my brother 'screw the atv's, lets just crash for the night'. He says nah, lets go get'em. I said geeze its over an hour back down there then another hour back. We wont get to sleep until midnight or later. He says ya that's about right, now lets go get them. I shrug and say well ok, then help him offload his atv. We drive all the way back down there, 20 mph so we don't get a flat, load up my spare into his truck while I drove the other one back. Its now 12:30am and we finally have both atvs to camp and I am beat like you wouldn't believe... my brother was worse, he'd left to drive out there at 5:30am the previous morning. We quickly fire up the heater, set alarm clocks then crash for the night.
Friday, opening day Eve
6:30am Friday morning the alarm goes off. We get ready, fry up some sausage and hash browns then take off as the sun was just hinting at a sunrise. This was the area I had scouted the previous august with zero deer... almost immediately we began seeing deer. I was very relieved let me tell you. The migration had started and the deer were definitely moving in. Within a mile or so of our camper we saw our first 4x4 buck, right off the side of the road. We travel another 20 miles or so, counting another 10-15 4x4's and misc other bucks. Things were definitely looking up!
Sadly I noticed we had forgot to fill up my atv on gas before we left for the morning, having burned most of it the prior evening while I drove it back. Grudgingly we started back for camp around 9am. Amusingly that ended up being one of the biggest strokes of luck of the weekend!
While on the way back, we suddenly notice a really nice wide 26' 4x4 buck. He was 300 yards away and very obviously rutting and following a doe. We sat there on a major road, on atvs, clearly in sight and this fool of a buck walked up within THIRTY yards of us! My brother snapped a couple pictures of it.
The deer eventually walked right past us, across the road and was gone. We sat there talking about it when 2 guys in a truck drove up. We sat there chatting for a minute when my brother exclaims 'Geeze look at that one!' I turn and there is a 28' 5x6 walking past us at 80 yards, also headed into the same area as the 26' buck went. We knew this was a good area, if nothing else it had the bigger deer. We chatted with the guys in the truck for a while then we parted ways and returned to camp.
Trailer repair 101
We had a quick lunch then headed back to fix the trailer. We arrived and pulled the whole hub off (I should have pulled both in retrospect) and returned to vernal where we were able to get the hub repaired. We also bought two new bigger, better, heavier tires. The trailer store owner literally laughed when he saw the blown tire... he said 'boy guys, these are just bia ply tires... they are just big bouncy balloons and you guys are out driving on needles out there in the bookcliffs!' He dug out two new steel belted radial tires on rims and said 'you really need these'. I bought them without question. Amusingly the guy was incredibly friendly and actually charged me for the rims only... NOTHING for the work repairing the hub and he threw in a tube of grease to lube the bearing with for free. It is nice to run into very nice people in life. Me and my brother both talked about the 'quality' of people we met out there... truly some of the best selfless people I've ever run across.
We returned to the trailer, re-installed the hub, put on one of the 2 new radial tires and headed out for camp. Its now 4pm Friday afternoon and arrived in camp with the trailer and all our gear. My brothers now put 300 miles on his truck just helping fix the trailer.
So we relax for half an hour or so then head out to scout for the evening. We decide to try a more remote area and saw a lot of deer but the bucks were a lot smaller. Very few 4x4's and nothing bigger. We talk things over and decide that come first light the next morning, opening day we would be up on top where we saw the bigger deer. We figure a lot of other hunters would hunt from camp up to where we would start, if we didn't see anything we could always hunt out way back down.
With the following days plan decided on we head back to camp. After probably 3 miles my brother comes along side me on his atv pointing down and I see his now completely flat tire. We are over 20 miles from camp.
Ugh. I offer to drive it but he declined and took off, hanging off the left side to minimize the weight on the flat. We arrive in camp an hour later, and fix some dinner and get ready for the next day.
I make absolutely sure both my atv's are full on gas as well as bungie on a spare can of gas. Due to my brothers ATV having a flat I am happy I decided to bring both mine and my wife's... I just had a feeling to take a spare atv, it was good I had. We set our clocks 30 min earlier just to be sure we have enough time.
We joke that we absolutely have to have used up all the bad luck in the world by now and all that will be left is good luck. Ironically that actually more true than not.
Opening Day, Its here!
We get up early opening day and have another of my famous sausage and hash brown breakfasts then I load my gun into my atv and we head out. It was a beautiful morning, more stars than you can count, and no real dust from previous vehicles... it seemed we were indeed the first ones headed up on the mountain. A 20' wide 2x2 runs across the road in front of us and my brother yells to me 'so you want that one?' I just smile and we keep going. We arrive where we saw the 2 big bucks the morning as dawn was approaching. We scour the area with spotting scopes and seeing nothing, we start traveling hill to hill, working the area with our spotting scopes. We soon see a nice rutting 24' wide 4x4 running with a bunch of does and some other misc bucks. He would be a shooter any other place than the Bookcliffs opening day. I tell my brother we are looking for the next class up, hopefully something non-typical with trash points.
We split up, keeping in contact with radios and we each see tons of deer, lots of small bucks but nothing remotely worth wasting 7 years of drawing time on. We meet back up and start to work our way to lower elevations. We begin to see more and more hunters so we split up and work our way down small jeep trails, glassing canyon after canyon.
I get down in a very pretty 'deer'y' looking canyon that must have held at least 75 does as I hiked down to a ledge where I could see better. Suddenly my brother yells over the radio 'HOLY CRAP DUDE, I'M LOOKING AT THE BUCK OF MY DREAMS, GET OVER HERE'. He gives me directions to get to him and I run back up from the ledge I was on to my parked atv and take off.
A Mild disclaimer about my brother. He's a mule deer fanatic. He spends a lot of time filming deer on winter ranges, does taxidermy professionally etc etc., He's really good at field judging them so when he says a buck is nice, it is really nice. He knew what I wanted to find... or should I say hope to find, so when he hollered out that he found a shooter, I knew it would be one. I finally find the road over to him and saw him, which ironically was about 400 yards from a major road. I pull up and he's very close to shaking. He immediately says see those 3 deer over there, the closer two are does, the farthest one is the buck, just shoot it now... DO NOT LOOK AT THE ANTLERS!
LOL he thought I would take a look at his antlers, get buck fever and miss it.
Deer of my dreams at 150 yards.
Well I dig out the gun and jack in a round then settle the crosshairs on the farthest deer. Its in deep sagebrush from my angle and his head is down while he feeds. The other two deer I could clearly see their heads and knew they were does so I held on the 3rd and continued to watch it. I wasn't going to shoot unless I knew it was a buck. After a good minute or so, with my brother getting more and more giddy and saying, 'trust me its big enough, just shoot!' the deer I'm watching suddenly lifts its head and I see the top of his rear tine's branching out all over, I could see he was pretty wide and heavy. Because we were in clear sight only 400 yards from the main road, a road a lot of people are now driving up and down frequently, I squeezed the trigger and at the report of the rifle, the deer dropped from sight.
My brother took a deep breath and said 'if that's not something you want you have my permission to kick my butt'. We talk for a moment then walk over to take a look at him. I couldn't believe it as we got closer to it. I saw the antler rising up out of the brush and knew it was pretty wide. As we got even closer I saw the mass of the horns and began to see the trash hanging off the right side.
WOW! It was amazing to me. Sure people kill bigger stuff but darn it, most people don't kill anything near this big in their lifetimes. He had nearly everything I had hoped for in a non-typical buck. Nice heavy mass on the antlers, true trash points branching out all over, not the little sticker point stuff some deer get. His bases were amazing, heavy with lots of sticker points coming off it, all rough and gnarly with bits of pinion pine wood embedded in them from rubbing and tearing up trees. His cape was perfect, no flaws and absolutely beautiful. His neck was completely swollen up from rutting. He looked huge.
It took a while of looking at it before I could bring myself to leave long enough to grab a camera and return. We spent a good 20 minutes or more prepping him and taking good pictures. For me it's a deer of a lifetime and one I wanted good pictures of to remind myself of for years to come. After a few minutes of shooting pictures a truck drove past with 3 hunters in it. They saw the antlers and cameras and came over for a closer look. They were suitably impressed. Then 2 ATV's came by with a father son duo, they saw all the people gathered up and came down for a look see too. Then if that's not enough another guy and his son came walking down through the sage and came over to take a peek.
Everyone congratulated me and I could see the excitement in their eyes knowing that there are some nice deer out there and they had a good chance of running into something nice as well. Slowly people returned to their hunting, we finished our picture taking and began to take care of him.
The ride back to camp was moderately anti-climatic. I had expected to hunt the 9 days of the season plus the 2 days of scouting. To be finished by 9:30 am and headed back to camp felt strange. But I have to admit I spent a lot of time looking at the shadow of the antlers behind me, as they were cast off to my right on the return trip. I felt like I was 14 again having taken my first buck.
I never thought I would fulfill my Non-typical mule deer dream... but after nearly endless bad luck, it seems fate rewarded us with just enough good luck to fulfill a dream.
His main frame is a 5x6 with several more trashy points at his base giving him a 8x8 points (counting eye guards etc).
Pictures are worth a thousand words, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves
Me and my brother Mike
From a distance, it gives you an idea of what he looked like
Look at the shredded pinon pine in his bases
Truely the hunt of a lifetime. Thank you everyone who helped out!