Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 Utah Rifle Deer Hunt

What a year it was for hunters who took the field for the 2012 Utah general season rifle deer hunt!  Over the past decade, the hunt has been less than stellar as warm temperatures have seemed to keep the deer pinned up in the nasty timber of the high country, with the storm systems waiting until the week after the hunt to reveal the big bucks to us!  That all changed this year as a cold weather system pushed through the west dropping temperatures and a few inches of snow in early to mid October.  The buck I had been hunting during the muzzleloader hunt (that I could never find) made his appearance in town, 16 miles from where I had been hunting him a week before the rifle hunt!  No wonder I could never find him.

Zach Owens, Mike Marshall, and Spenser Owens with Mike's 2012 rifle buck
Muzzleloader success was somewhat low this year, especially for good bucks, and this seemed to be a likely repeat before the rifle hunt.  The first 2 days of the hunt were fairly warn and dry, but this slowly changed mid week as another round of cold weather moved into the west.  Central and Northern Utah were greeted with several inches (and feet!) of snow, down south it was just a few spitting showers and cooler temperatures.  That is all we needed to bring the big boys out, however! 

I want to share a little about my hunt today, and a few success photos from viewers of our site.

Camping: a bike race on kids bikes?  Why not!
Day 1: Depressing!  If this was to be a pattern for the hunt, I was in trouble!  All of the deer had left my honey hole!  The area had been filled with deer a week before now held not even a track!  The day closed with seeing only a handful of does, and very little sign.  I knew many deer went low already, but surely not everything.  Tomorrow I would go up under the rim to see if the big one I jumped on the muzzleloader had held tight.  It was the most quiet opening morning of a general hunt I could recall.  We heard 1 shot that day.  What a blast hiking and riding 4 wheelers with the kids though!  Camping was a pure relaxing joy, after a tough month of hunting elk already.

Day 2: Indescribable!  My morning started out with more of the same.  We loaded the kids up and went for a little ride.  Nothing.  Towards the end of the ride we finally jumped a fair buck, which the kids were encouraging me to shoot!  Trying to get an angle, the buck split!  But hey, day 2 and a good buck, things are looking up! 

What could have been!
Next came the news.  A text message from a friend confirmed what I knew would happen.  Someone in had shot my big, crazy looking buck from the muzzleloader hunt in city limits!  He had been hanging there for a week, I knew it would happen.  A lesson in what not to do, the buck was shot in city limits, within 300' of a home and building, and on land marked "no trespassing".  The buck was taken by law enforcement officers.  I can't believe I had spent 6 days looking for the buck, only to see him go out like that.  A massive brute, he was 31" across, and very unique.  The rest of my day would be filled with feelings of anger, frustration, and disbelief.  I needed to regain my focus.

So, I decided to head out for an afternoon hike where the big typical 4 point had been on the previous hunt.  Starting into the aspen stand it was only minutes before I was seeing over turned leaves from a few deer I was pushing.  The crunchy leaves were impossible to sneak through, and I had my doubts!  I moved out of aspen, and into adjacent mixed conifer, where I was able to ease along much more quietly.  Approaching small clearings, I heard the tell-tale sound, that  "thump, thump" of a deer bounding.  Holding up, I could see movement beyond the 1/4 acre clearing.  They had to be bucks.

Porter Evans with his 2012 rifle buck.  What a toad!
Easing to the clearing I could now make out antlers at 70 yards.  First glance showed a wide frame but no height to the rack.  Second buck wasn't big at all.  Buck number 3 was behind a bushy fir tree, I could only see his body, but by size I'm sure it was a buck.  He wouldn't budge, I didn't dare move.  I glassed back to buck number one.  What the?  What was I thinking, this was a VERY nice 26" buck, tall with great forks.  I don't know how I missed that the first time.  I raised the .300 WIN, placed the crosshairs on my Vortex Diamondback 4-12X40 scope and fired.  The deer was knocked off of his feet and hit the ground pawing with front legs trying to get away, rolling out of my view.  Surely he was down!

I shuffled another shell and approached the kill site cautiously.  Nothing.  He wasn't laying where he should be.  No blood, just nothing!  But I had knocked him right off of his feet.  Surely he was close.  I located where he had jumped up and joined the other 2 bucks.  He was running strong, no signs of distress in his pattern.  Over big white aspen logs for 1/2 mile and not a drop of blood or a glimpse.  Finally, I heard them bounding off again.  This buck didn't seemed to be hurt at all.  What had I done?

I have not missed a buck in years.  At this point, I felt everything from anger, despair, to a feeling of just wanting to cry.  There went my perfect chance at a trophy.  Chances like that don't come along every day during a general hunt.

Day 3, Out for Redemption!  After a rough night of replaying my nightmare from the previous day, I had finally raised my spirits, and rediscovered determination and optimism.  We loaded the kids and headed for another ride.  Daylight greeted us with two-2 points crossing the road.  A glimpse up the hill and there he was, a nice 24" 4 point.  This one is mine!  I jumped out, found him broadside at 150 yards, and fired.  My off-hand shot had missed.  Another shot on the run, missed again.  The buck was gone over the ridge.  What was going on?  I missed!  Again?  I picked up a small rock at 100 yards and fired, shattering the rock.  Oh, it wasn't the gun by any means, it was me.  The feeling was one of total despair and depression.  What was I doing?  I never miss!

And on to the End:  I spent the next few days trying to deal with anger and frustration, trying to stay optimistic as  the emails and texts of big bucks flooded my inbox.  I had blown 2 chances, I'm sure I won't have another shot at a big one.  Back to the the yearly ritual of shooting "Bambi".  The next 2 days were rough.  With the storm approaching I was sure I would see a lot more deer.  I had another big buck coming in perfectly, only to have my excitement spoiled by someone out on a horse ride for fun.  They booed up the 28" 3 X 4, I never had a chance.  Hunting in cold wind, rain, and snow I was seeing little.

Thursday brought around another morning road hunt, which we were quick to get into a small bunch of deer.  A buck was at the front, and while he was not big, he wasn't "Bambi".  With a nice lean on the door post of the truck, I was able to place my shot and bring him down.  Not the trophy I was after, but the relief of being "done" after one of the longest hunting seasons of my life, and regaining my confidence in shooting was so worth it.  Meat in the freezer, that's why we do it anyway!


Oh, The Lessons Learned!  I always look back on my hunts, jotting down some memories, and making plans for next year.  As I look back as always, I obviously did not hit my goal this year.  Was the deer hunt a failure?  Oh, by no means!  I'm 31, I've been hunting big game for over 15 years, you would think a guy hunting for that long would have it all put together.  My friends, there is always something to learn!  I heard so many veteran hunters say that deer didn't move as they normally do this year.  There are so many cards at play with hunting, there is always something to learn or improve on!  For me, remaining positive and finding little things to continue on will help me immensely in the future.  I learned a lot about getting around in dry conditions where it is hard to sneak.  I found that it's not just about the chase, I have missed out on so many little things hunting the past few years as I have become to "serious".  I've learned not to rush things, be calm, go through the motions, don't shoot too early, hunts can get better as time goes on.  If I had held out 2 more days, deer again started moving and a lot of big bucks hit the ground, some in my favorite areas. 

I don't care who you are, or how much homework you do, I am convinced that the game species and mother nature always have the upper hand.  That's why it is so important to hone skills, and to not be afraid to try new things when it comes to hunting.  A great deal of luck is associated with getting the big one, but honing skills will improve odds.  Money doesn't accomplish everything!  Great gear enhances the hunt, but if you don't get out there and use it, your money is doing nothing for you.

Mat and Randy Houston's bucks packed up for the trip home
I want to thank my wife who had seen very little of me all summer as I was on fire assignments, then put up with me being gone for another month hunting my hunts and with friends.  This has truly been my most memorable hunting season, and I owe a huge part to a very understanding wife.  Thanks for letting me do what I love, for putting up with me when I was frustrated and low, and for lifting me up, pushing me to be optimistic and helping me carry on.  Here's hoping to her having a tag next year, I missed her by my side through these hunts.  She shares the passion for the outdoors that I have, but sacrifices a lot of time to stay at home and raise our kids.  I love you girl!  As the kids now get older we will focus much more on her hunts for sure!

Thanks to good friends and good times throughout the hunting season!  The memories are awesome!  I look forward to next year, and many more next years down the road! 

Be sure to check out all the photos currently entered in our "Bucks, Bulls, and Fins" photo contest on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/suhuntandfish

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