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Lisa and her deer

Where there's a will, there's a way

My deer-hunting adventure in the Book Cliffs

By Lisa Graham
Habitat Office Manager
DWR Salt Lake Office

"You are successful." Those long-awaited words were so exciting to read last spring after 10 years of trying to draw a limited-entry buck deer permit in the Book Cliffs. I was in a group with my brother, Corey, and we were both going hunting!

Emotions set in as I started prepping for the trip, especially as I realized just how unprepared I was. This particular year, I didn't have a trailer to sleep in, and I was headed to a remote part of Utah where wildlife (including predatory wildlife) was abundant. Bears, cougars and bobcats all live in the Book Cliffs.

Cars and campsite

We didn't have a trailer for our deer hunt, but we made it work!

As I researched the area, "steep" was the word that best described where we were headed. I needed to be prepared.

I eventually put together a soft foam bed in the right-hand side of my Hyundai Tucson. The rest of my gear required some Tetris-style maneuvering: The cooler was stacked on the left side, along with my snow boots (since I didn't have hiking boots), a battery-powered lantern, my Coleman stove, a marshmallow-roasting stick and the 7mm rifle I'd borrowed from my dad. I was finally packed, and it all fit! My brother had his truck, shell and coolers ready to roll.

Day 1: The adventure begins

The Book Cliffs is an incredible place in one of Utah's most remote areas. On our travels, we passed roaming pronghorn and feeding deer.

We drove to the edge of a dirt road, and that's where our adventures really began. I started to see pinyon pine and Utah juniper trees as we headed for the higher-elevation divide. That's where I was finally able to get cell phone service and let everyone at home know we'd arrived safely.

We were unfamiliar with this super-steep sandstone and pine area. After discussing where we should hunt, we decided to stay near the watering holes. We'd seen a lot of animals drinking, and it was a good place to scope out what was in the area. Perfect! That's where our hunt began.

Day 4: Hiking and hunting

Following the biologist's notes in the Utah Hunt Planner, we had seen — and passed up — quite a few smaller bucks after a few days in our spot.

We saw which animals came to the watering holes each night. Like clockwork, around 6:30 p.m., it was a wild spectacle! Bucks and does came from all over to get a drink.

Water guzzler behind trees

Guzzlers store water for wildlife in some of Utah's most remote areas.

It was amazing to be encircled by so much active wildlife. The deer were fun to watch, and Corey and I would take turns pointing out different animals — it was one of the best parts of each day!

But we also remembered that we were there to hunt, and the deer we'd seen were all too little to shoot. I was looking for just the right animal.

After a few days, I had finally perfected how to camp in the SUV. And it was a hard hunt. The days were warm and nights were cool. I was very grateful for the steel fire pits and picnic tables that the Boy Scouts had teamed up with the BLM to build in some of the camping areas.

While hiking and hunting, I especially enjoyed seeing the guzzlers that Utah's Habitat Council funded to help our wildlife. Since I work with Habitat Council, I was proud to see guzzlers in the field.

As I was thinking about the guzzlers on the fourth day of our hunt, Corey spotted a deer grazing nearby. We made a quick plan. I grew up in a hunting family, but it was usually someone else holding the rifle. Now, it was my turn.

As I looked through the scope at the deer, I saw multiple forks on the antlers. Corey whispered, "Are you going to take that one?" I replied, "Yes," and shot almost immediately. In my scope, I saw the deer jump.

I quickly loaded another round and heard, "Do you see him?" I replied, "Yes," and shot again. This time, he dropped to the ground.

Lisa and her deer

It was a hard hunt, but I was excited to bring home venison for my family!

The adrenaline really hit my system! I had never felt that surge of energy before, and I could understand why it's sometimes called "buck fever." As I looked up, I realized I had shot hundreds of yards up a very steep mountain, and now had to go retrieve my buck.

I grabbed my gun, rope, knife and water and set off with my brother. Together, we hiked the mountain and just when I was out of breath, I saw the 3×4 that I had shot. The shots had gone through the neck and lung. We hauled the buck back to our camp for cleaning and quartering, and then placed the meat in our coolers.

The next morning, we drove to our locker to drop off the meat so it would keep cool. We gassed up and headed back up the mountain. We both were so exhausted that we made a plan to hunt in a different area, not quite so steep this time!

Corey and his deer

Sharing this trip with my brother made it even more special.

Day 6: A buck for my brother

We woke up early and started driving toward the beginning of the dirt road. From the driver's seat, I suddenly saw a tall buck not too far off the road. I pulled over, and Corey quietly got out and headed off into the brush to find the best angle.

He shot the buck once. The buck shook his head a few times and didn’t move. So, Corey shot again and down went the buck. It appeared to be another neck and lung shot.

The sagebrush was so tall that we looked for quite some time before finding him. It was pretty cool to see that his 4×4 antlers still had some peeling velvet.

So, we cleaned and quartered another big buck — without the steep hike this time — and were excited to take the meat and stories back to our family.

With some determination and hard work, we both harvested successfully during our hunt in the Book Cliffs. But the real treasure was the time we spent together in one of Utah's most remote, wild areas. Thank you, Corey, for being my guide and sharing the adventure!

Lisa Graham

Lisa Graham

Lisa is the DWR's Habitat Office Manager. She has a Bachelor of Science degree and loves spending time outdoors hunting and boating with family. She seeks adventure, enjoys playing piano and travels as much as she can.

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