2012 Utah General Muzzleloader Deer

I’ll begin by saying that I love the “hunt diary” style stories… so here is my experience from the 2012 Utah general muzzleloader deer hunt:

I knew my summer would be busy and I could see the writing on the wall early in May/June.  I was able to get my trail cameras placed, but that’s about it.  I hit the jackpot and placed them in quality locations right from day one.  Lots of early summer bucks got the adrenaline going, but then the elk moved in & the deer were gone.  I went six weeks without getting a picture of a deer.  With each batch of pictures I got more discouraged, this spot had been “Plan A” since I stumbled into it last year.  I didn’t want to, but it looked like I should put together a contingency plan.  As the weather cooled and the elk started to rut they moved out & as fortune would have it… the deer moved in.  I started seeing lots of activity, especially in the evenings, and picked up multiple pictures of several decent bucks.  I would be happy with any of them.  “Plan A” was back on!

I’d be hunting with my grandpa, uncle, dad, and brother.  Grandpa is getting older, so every year counts as we all understand that these times are likely very limited.  Making it even sweeter, this year we would be hunting out of the cabin that Grandpa built with his own hands 30+ years ago.  It was sold in 1993, but we bought it back last year.  In my opinion it is the epitome of a “hunting cabin,” small & rustic with mostly the bare essentials but a few creature comforts.  There are few antlers on its walls, so the goal this year was to change that.  Things started to get exciting & I starting getting my stuff together… the build up to departure on Tuesday was killing me.

Tuesday I barely made it thru a half day of work.  I couldn’t take it any longer and checked out earlier than planned.  I arrived about 3pm at the cabin and helped Grandpa burn some branches & debris that accumulated over the summer due to fire restrictions.  We watched a storm roll in down the canyon.  The clouds were dark and seemed to touch the valley floor as it steamrolled towards us.  Just before it hit us with everything it had the most brilliant rainbow.  It looked like it was coming out the back door of the neighboring cabin.


My dad, brother, and uncle all arrived just after dark, about the same time the rain let up.

Opening Day

Opening morning finally came and my plans were set.  I jumped in my truck just before first light and headed for “Plan A.”  As I rounded the bend, I saw the reflection of truck lights in my headlights.  I pounded my steering wheel, cursed vehemently at the truck, and turned around to head for my next option.  I wasn’t really sure what that was though.  I returned to the cabin and started walking up to a nice vantage point just to the east.  About halfway up the hill I glassed up a doe and her fawns, and then noticed an ATV at the bottom of the hill.  By this time I was already halfway so I continued up.  At the top I met up with the guy, I apologized & asked him if he’d seen anything, then hiked back down the other direction.  I decided to head over to a little spring area just to the north where I’d had my cameras last year.  The brush was chest high and still wet from more overnight rain, so by the time I got there I was soaked.  Definitely not how I had envisioned my opening morning!  Needless to say I was a bit disheartened.

I decided that I would give “Plan A” a try again that evening if nobody was parked there already.  Both parking spots were empty so my dad & uncle hiked in with me.  We spent a couple minutes trying to figure out where the best vantage point was and sat down.  After about 30 minutes a doe stepped into a clearing 150 yards away and fed leisurely.  She moved through and another deer soon entered the clearing.  I put antlers on him.  He looked like a good 2 point, and I debated with my uncle whether or not we should take the shot.  He was feeding perfectly broadside, but the distance had us both uneasy.  We decided to wait and see if he’d continue his current path and provide a closer shot.  We lost him because the trees in front of us blocked our view & and didn’t see him again.  Not one minute after we lost him we were startled by the blast of a muzzleloader.  It made all of us jump, we had no idea other hunters had come into the canyon behind us.  We decided that it probably wasn’t worth sticking around the area because of the commotion.  Had we decided to sit a little lower at the edge of the trees instead of above them we would have had a nice 40 yard shot at him… bummer, now we know where to sit next time.

Day 2

My back was hurting pretty bad when I woke up Thursday morning.  I decided to jump in the truck & ride the roads for the morning with the group.  Going down a narrow little dirt road 3 grouse crossed our path.  Grandpa had traded his muzzleloader for a .410 (he’d filled his tag the night before – funny story for another time) and let the birds have it.  We had fun with birds all morning, they seemed to be everywhere.

For the evening I decided to give “Plan A” a try again.  Both parking spots were empty so I headed up the mountain all by my lonesome amid thunder from a nearby storm cloud.  I had a clear idea of where I wanted to be this time.  I hadn’t made it to my destination when I spotted a single deer in a clearing directly across from me.  One look through the binos revealed antlers… good ones.  I ranged him at 137 yards.  I figured if he continued on his current path he would come out near the water hole providing a much closer & clearer shot.  I began making preparations when 2 additional deer stepped into the clearing at the water hole.  A look thru the binos revealed antlers on both these deer… really good ones.  For a split second I thought to look them over & pick out the best one, then I realized I’m on the Utah general deer hunt on the Ogden unit (of all places) in an area where we typically haven’t been blessed to see “nice” bucks… so any buck is a good buck.  I’d take the first good shot presented without hesitation.  I ranged the first buck as he stepped clear of obstruction at 112 yards & everything went into slow motion.  I waited… safety off, hammer back, controlled breathing, sights steady… finger on the trigger.  The first buck walked straight towards me… no shot.  The second buck stepped clear and also walked straight toward me… no shot.  Was I going to get a shot?  Should I just take a bad shot?  Doubt and anxiety crept in.  The first buck then turned to look back at the third buck.  There it was… broadside.  Breathe, squeeze… BOOM!  Nothing.  Huh?  He just stood there, took two startled steps backwards & turned to run back up the hill from where he had come.  I reloaded frantically.  He turned back & resumed the previous broadside position searching for the origin of the blast.  I was ready for a second try & decided to take a quick look thru the binos.  No visible injury… crap, a complete miss!   I held slightly lower… breathe, squeeze, and BOOM!  I saw the force of the impact as his whole body seemed to shudder.  He lurched forward & ran into a clump off trees from which I did not see him leave.  I scrambled to reload again, just in case, but the shot looked good.  I sat on the hillside, amongst the sagebrush shaking like a leaf surrounded by my scattered gear, empty reload tubes, and the sulfuric smell of spent black powder.  It was 4:45 in the afternoon.  I turned on my radio & tried to contact the rest of my party.  About 5:05 I finally got a response.  I related an abbreviated story over the radio & reinforcements were en route.  I waited an additional 15 minutes before I left my perch & went to where my buck was standing when I shot.  I looked for the point of impact & found blood.  I knew which way he ran, so I headed up the trail.  I walked up the trail 100 yards or so fully expecting to see him piled up in the trail… but nothing.  I was certain I was following his tracks but I wasn’t seeing any more blood.  Trails merged & the tracks were intermingled and lost.  The rest of my group arrived & took up the search in earnest.  From the impact site we found blood and matter on the adjacent bushes… then nothing.  We took every trail the in the direction he ran for several hundred yards… nothing.  I went back to the last drop of blood and went on hands and knees looking for the next drop… nothing.  From a hundred yards or so down the hill my dad let out a yell… “I found it!”  I was ecstatic!  But, he had not found my buck.  He had found the radio that had fallen off my brother’s belt earlier during the search.  My heart went to my toes.  With daylight fading quickly, we spread out & started the grid search.  The further from the spot we got the more sick I felt.  I was caught in that unholy place between cursing, crying, and throwing up.  We searched until dark & between the five of us all we could turn up was 10 feet worth of blood trail right where he was initially shot.  All night I relived it.  Sometimes in slow motion, other times in fast forward, and other times something like still frame photography… mostly the scene of me standing at the site of impact looking up at where I was sitting when I shot.  It makes me sick to my stomach each time.  Then came the predictable parade of reassurances… “It happens to everyone”, “Did I ever tell you about the times that has happened to me?”, etc.  None of which I wanted to hear but politely pretended to listen to their stories.  I said very little, ate dinner, took a bath, and went to bed… only to relive my evening over & over as I lay in bed unable to make peace with the transpiring’s of the evening.

Day 3

As to be expected, I just wasn’t into it at all.  I wanted to continue the search but trucks parked at the spot deterred me from hiking in there.  Right or wrong, as much as I wanted to find my deer I didn’t have the heart to ruin their morning hunt.  I rode with Grandpa all morning hoping that we wouldn’t see another buck.  Gratefully, we didn’t.

I went back into “Plan A” right after lunch to look some more for my buck.  I knew it would be a long shot… looking for circling birds, any foul odors.  No such luck.  I decided to spend the evening there and sat where I had shot from the previous night.  The only activity was a trio of moose, two bulls and a cow, at the top of the bowl that were in full rut.  Right when the sun went down I finally had some action.  A doe and her two fawns walked down to water.  Human scent must have still been very strong because she stopped cold several times.  She continued through the water hole and her twins followed.  Just then I noticed a head between two aspens.  I could see antlers & double checked thru my binos.  This was another spectacular buck, whether he was the one I shot the previous night or was in the group, or an entirely new buck… I don’t know.  He also stopped cold at the edge of the water hole as well & in one quick bound he passed through the only shooting lane I had.  A slight glimmer of hope returned for my evening.

Day 4

I hiked into “Plan A” again, hoping to get another chance.  This time I would sit directly over the water, leaving me a short 40 yard chip shot if a buck were to come in.  After about 30 minutes of sitting, I heard footsteps getting closer from up the bowl.  I caught a glimpse of a dark figure moving slowly thru the trees.  A bull moose… and he was walking on the very path that I was sitting just off of.  I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I completely froze.   At 40 yards I got a little nervous… at 20 yards I started to get scared… and at 10 feet I realized it was too late.  I readied my gun & stood up.  The bull startled but didn’t move.  I moved backwards, still facing him with my gun ready.  I put 20 yards between us again but now I had nowhere to hide, I was in the middle of the clearing near the water hole.  He put his head down and made two quick huge steps toward me, stopped, stretched his neck out and threw his head back.  I swear that thing was thirty feet tall! Then he turned back to tend to his cow.  I stood there shaking, watched him trail the cow up the hill, and took a quick personal “inventory.”  It was still early, so I took the next 2 hours to continue searching for my buck… always keeping one eye on the moose since they did not completely leave the area.  Still no sign of my buck.

I returned to find the rest of my group admiring the nice buck that my brother had shot.  He had brought up his 5 year old son after returning to work a half day on Friday.  It’s a great buck & he let his 5 year old walk up on it with him.  Needless to say my nephew thinks his dad is “more awesomer than Iron Man.” 

I headed for home to provide my wife a needed break after being alone with our 4 small children since Tuesday.

I received a text from my brother telling me that Dad had shot a little 2 point for his first muzzleloader buck that afternoon.  They had to look for 3 hours to find it, I wish I could have had the same ending!  The story behind this little buck is the kind of stuff that lives on only in legend.  He missed his first shot and killed the buck with his second. When butchering the deer they found the bullet in near perfect condition… no mushrooming, polymer tip intact, you could probably put it in a new sabot and shoot it again. The bullet entered just behind the front shoulder and was found in the cartilage just in front of the opposite rear leg. The mystery is since the bullet was recovered… why was there an exit hole? He did say that the gun kicked unusually hard the second time. We thought maybe he accidentally put 2 bullets down the barrel, but then he couldn’t find his ramrod… so we figure in all the excitement he shot the ramrod as well, accounting for the exit wound. It wasn’t a long shot so I guess it could be possible. It’ll be a long time before he hears the end of this one!  Even though the antlers are small, we have put them on a small plaque with an inscription that says, “The Ramrod Buck, Muzzleloader 2012.”  We still can’t wrap our heads around the event and have made additional trips & spent several hours trying to locate the ramrod to provide closure to the happenings.

Day 7

I got the “all clear” to give it another try Tuesday night. So I headed for my little secret spot and sat where the moose chased me from. I was hoping that the weather front forecasted would have the critters up and moving a bit ahead of it. I arrived at my destination about 4:30 and sat until dark. As fate would have it I didn’t have a single deer come down to water. Such is life & hunting I guess.

Wrap Up

It was a great deer hunt. My grandfather has hunted since he was a little boy and proclaimed this year to “exceptional” in terms of the quantity of bucks and deer numbers in general. It seemed like every doe we saw had twins, so here’s to hoping for another mild winter (but please let us have a wet spring!?!) for another good crop of youngsters next year. I know there are a lot of guys complaining about the full moon, etc. We definitely did not see the effects of it! We saw at least a dozen bucks every day & 3 of the 5 in my group tagged out with my buck being unrecovered… so 4 of 5 took shots.

For years I have sat back and listened to my dad, uncle, and grandpa share stories of their past hunts from years ago and wondered why we were unable to generate such stories.  We made them this year for sure!  This year was special.

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