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Hunting the Book Cliffs of SE Utah pt 2

Upon finding out that she had drawn the Book Cliffs tag my sister in-law quickly sought the services of ‘Team Scream” (see “poor guides” in part 1) which is our unofficial outfitter name (based on the Halloween novelty t-shirts we use to fulfill the blaze orange requirement). The Books were definitely calling again and the opportunity to spend time with family again was too good to pass up.

The Books can be an interesting place. Much of the herd migrates from higher elevations to the lower country depending on the weather. For rifle tag and even smoke pole tag holders scouting can be next to worthless. Even as few as one or two days before the hunt starts, the deer may be in full migration mode and a place you may have seen plenty of deer a week earlier may no longer hold hide nor hair. This can be one of the more frustrating particulars when hunting the Book Cliffs especially if you’re one who likes to put in plenty of time behind the glass and on the ground during the summer months. However, it is wise to make at least one trip to learn the area, know where Utah / Colorado state line is as well as know the Indian Reservation boundaries. The Books is a huge area, but it’s also a very easy area to become lost, disoriented, or cross unit and state lines if you are unfamiliar with the area and lack the proper navigational tools. With that in mind I would highly recommend anyone thinking about a DIY on the Books to take at least one scouting trip to become familiar with the area. Having already been to the Books 3 or 4 times the previous year, we felt pretty good about our knowledge of the area and the deer migration patterns. This in turn saved us an unnecessary 5 hr drive and several hundred dollars in fuel.

It was decided that we would leave very early the morning before the hunt to head down to the Cliffs, get camp set-up and then do some evening scouting of the area. We figured this would be more worthwhile than heading down 2 nights before and then try to set-up a camping spot in the pitch dark and then be forced to redo something the next morning that we likely screwed up in the night. After making a few pit stops along the way we made it to Cliffs, found a great camp spot and had camp set-up all by 1pm. We ended up being only about a mile east of where we camped the previous year and we all felt pretty good about the way things were shaping up.

The beauty of the Books at sundown

We decided to have a quick light lunch unload the ATVs and boogie over to the area where we located the majority of the deer the previous year. We arrived at the spot, got set-up with our spotting scopes and then waited for the evening to come. As the evening hours passed and the night drew nearer it became very apparent very quickly that the majority of the deer were not in the area. Over the course of a couple hours behind the big eyes, we located only a few does and just two little fork horn bucks. This was like a punch directly to the gut, from the big kid in high school.
At dark we returned back to camp to regroup and then formulate the plan for the next morning. We decided our best point of attack would be to try and be set-up before sunrise in the area where my wife had shot her buck the year before. This area is maybe 200ft lower than the area we scouted that night, so a little bit of change in elevation but nothing drastic.


As we arrived to the spot we threw on our packs and decided to head onto the trail and up into the cedars, hoping to catch the herds out in the open still feeding. As luck would have it, we weren’t the only ones with the same idea and maybe a city block into our walk we ran into another large group of hunters who had scattered themselves strategically across the valleys looking into the openings. So hopefully without screwing the other hunters up, we snuck our way back out and back to our machines. By this time we now had good shooting light and a few deer started to appear. With that, it also seemed like many of the 300 plus hunters for the area were showing up as well. Obviously, after being skunked in the higher country they were heading down to gauge the situation down lower. We were a little less than optimistic about finding a good opening morning buck, with the new found hunting pressure in the area. So we decided to do some exploring and hopefully find somewhere new.

Few does and a small spikey

We quickly remembered an area we had talked to some fellow hunters about the previous year. The hunters had seen some nice bucks, and one of them took a very respectable 4 point in the area. Without really having a plan B we decided to head that direction. As luck would have it on our way to the new area we ended up spotting a very nice 4 pointer with about 7 does busting it through a field and heading into a very thick pocket of cedars. We hustled to the other side of the pocket in hopes that the buck wanted to keep moving and head somewhere besides the thick pocket he currently resided in. After a few minutes of not seeing anything, I started to notice a few feet and heads sneaking through the pocket. I told my brother and sister in law to get ready the does were working there way out and the buck may be with. We sat on the east side of the pocket where there was a small, maybe 50 yard opening before reaching another much larger pocket of cedar. Only a few short minutes later I managed to pick the buck out sneaking very suspiciously through the cedars. I whisper to them that the buck is heading to the opening and that she’s going to get a good chance at him. We were somewhat set-up at edge of the opening probably 60 yards max away for him waiting for him to continue out of the cedars. However, this old buck was a smart devil and knew he was vulnerable when he entered the clearing, even with us being very quiet, down wind, etc. he knew he shouldn’t be in the opening for long. Maybe 5-10 yards before the opening he busts out of the cedars like a banshee with nothing on his mind but getting to the next pocket of trees. As he’s busting through the field I look over and see that buck fever has visited my sister in law and she was having trouble finding the running buck in her scope. She and my brother were having a hard time getting set-up on the shooting sticks, locating the buck etc., We tried to get the buck to slow down with a series of doe bleats, whistles and even yelling stop in hopes that one little hesitation on his part would be all she would need to seal the deal. He didn’t stop, and just kept picking up more speed. She did manage to squeeze one off at him but didn’t lead him enough and had a clean miss shooting maybe a foot behind him. He was home free with acres and acres of thick cedar as his cover. I had to start laughing a little, not that she missed but at the whole series of events. It reminded me of the very first deer hunt my wife went about 7 years earlier and how big of a nervous wreck I was, hoping that she would have a good experience and that she’d still want to be married to me after the hunt was over. It’s a weird feeling of extreme responsibility taking a spouse on their first hunt, but when it’s all said and done whether successful or not, it’s an experience I wouldn’t have traded for anything.

So after letting the newlyweds compose themselves a little and overcome the emotions that come with buck fever. We decided to break out the GPS and head to the other area we were hoping to check out.

To be continued……

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