Tuesday, August 11, 2020

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Moab, UT

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    A Page Out of the Book Cliffs

    Page 71, Horsing the Books, Part 4

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    AJ Rogers
    AJ Rogers
    Times-Independent Columnist

    It was the first half of the 1970s and the Rogers clan from Thompson, Utah were cutting their teeth at horse packing into the roadless Book Cliffs area of the East Tavaputs Plateau, along the northern edge of what most call southeastern Utah. I might call the area eastern central Utah instead. But what do I know?

    Our first hunt for general season elk in that country was grand but fruitless. Right after that the elk hunt became a limited entry situation where only about 30 bull tags per year went out to a few very lucky folks. We did get to hunt cow elk in that beautiful backcountry off and on, but it was 1980 before one of us, me to be precise, drew a big bull tag.

    In the meantime, we had great adventures hunting buck deer from Went Ridge across the Buck Ridge country, and the She Canyon country, the Little Creek ridges and canyons, and on over to the East Willow Canyon and all its tributaries. It would take about 10 minutes or less to cross all that in a Cessna, but all day on horseback, and then only if you knew where you were going.

    a painting of a california miner walking a pack horse
    Image courtesy of the Oakland Museum/Wikimedia Commons

    It makes me shake my head at myself when I think back at some of the dumb stunts I pulled in those days whilst attempting to become an honest to goodness big game hunter. It was a huge chore because I always got buck fever so bad that I couldn’t think straight when it really mattered.

    For instance, one of my first bucks taken out of the roadless country was a pretty nice 27 inch 4X4 with good mass and nice forks. It was early evening on a cloudy afternoon when I rode my horse down out of the pines into a little green saddle on a spine we eventually named Thunder Ridge. I was 21 years old and my brand new wife, Susan, was riding just behind me.

    The buck mentioned above was standing on the far side of the clearing with his head up and looked ready to jump. I leaped out of the saddle hauling my Winchester .270 from the scabbard as I went. The first shot was off hand at about 60 yards but clipped him a little low and forward in the brisket. Away he went down through the quakies headed for She Canyon. I left my horse standing and took off on the run. After two or three minutes I glimpsed my buck standing below looking back up to see if I was after him.

    I only had a second to make the shot, or so it seemed in my muddled mind. I must have been very enamored of that buck’s headgear and apparently aimed at that instead of the boiler room. Away he went, and so did I. A moment later I took another shot as the buck crossed a clearing. He was slowing and stopping more often, so I figured I must have done some damage with one of the shots.

    I was finally able to lean my rifle on the branch of a tree where I forced myself to a semi-semblance of calm and put the fourth round through the neck, which ended it all. As I dressed the buck out, I realized that at least two of my rounds had hit the antlers instead of the vitals.

    The damned buck fever sure had me bad that time, as it always did in those days when such things were so extremely exciting. I eventually learned to make reasonably good shots at game and save the jitters for those moments spent hiking over to claim my prize. No true hunter who honestly has the spirit of the hunt in their core can say that they have not been affected by buck fever, or buck ager as some call it. It takes experience to control it and a seriously ethical hunter practices such things just as he practices his marksmanship.

    While I was taking care of the bloody chores, my dad, hearing the shots, rode up the ridge, gathered up Susan, and found me down the other side of the ridge. Another friend we called Spigot was in the right place to catch my horse, which was apparently headed for camp. It had come past him as he was busy cleaning a smaller buck of his own about a quarter mile from mine.

    He could tell from the shots about where I was, so he finished his chore and brought my horse to me. I then took 10 minutes and backtracked my buck up the ridge where I miraculously found the tines that I had shot off his rack. Things like that were pretty dang important to me in those days. They still are for that matter, but all in all I suppose I truly hunt for the meat. I cannot imagine going through a winter without some deer or elk in the freezer.

    Anyone who is seriously into the sport of hunting should always strive to do their best to assure they treat all wild game with the rich respect it deserves. That means learning to do things right and efficiently, while doing it legally in all aspects of fair chase. It takes a lot of time in the woods to learn the proper ways, even with the right early life training from older folks. Too many “wanna-would-be’s” approach the hunt as a lark, without proper care, passion or training. The outcome is generally not what it should be for them or the game. It is up to us all to share what we have learned and to police our ranks. Hunting is a wonderfully rewarding experience when we try hard to do it the right way. Getting to learn those things in the Book Cliffs was pretty special.

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