Mule Deer Adventure: Crawford Mountains, Utah
Crawford Mountains Limited Entry 2005
Nine years of putting in for rifle limited entry deer with no luck in Utah. At the time I was going to college at Utah State in Logan, Utah. Muzzleloaders were really starting to become popular and more accurate at longer distances. I had a newer Austin and Halleck Muzzleloader with a stainless-steel barrel. It is by far the prettiest gun I have. The stock has like tiger stripes in the wood. When January came around to put in for deer, I looked at all my options. I really didn’t have my heart set on an area. I saw the muzzleloader deer hunt in December in the Crawford Mountains. Hunting deer in December during the rut sounded awesome! I had never heard of the Crawford Mountains, but drove by them several times on my way to Wyoming. They were only about and hour and half from Logan and I figured it would be a good option to scout and not miss a ton of school. School was starting to warp up in May and I was in the business building with a little tie before class. I decided to jump on the computer and check my email. I saw the email from Utah Division of Wildlife and was thinking oh boy, here we again Unsuccessful Bison and Unsuccessful limited Entry Deer. It had been the same old story since I was able to put in. I had never drawn anything. To my surprise it said I was successful on limited Entry Deer. I had to look at it like 3 times to believe it. I was excited and called my dad to tell him I finally drew something.
That summer I was working construction doing acoustical ceilings and called up my buddy to go scouting and camping with me. We loaded up the 4wheeler grabbed some food and headed out to Randolph, UT to learn the area. We found some dirt roads and took off on the wheeler. There was a lot of open fun country to see with a big loop around the mountain. On the top looking over the city there was a spot where people would drive up with their hang gliders and jump. We watched a couple guys do it and it looked fun. It was a fun trip to learn the area. I got a little concerned because we didn’t see a single deer. I was wondering if I would be hunting T-Rex. I made a few more phone calls and learned the area is 100% migration. The deer come down off south western Wyoming and migrate in my unit. I had faith it would work out. Also, I learned the later in the hunt the better it would get.
December finally rolled around, and dad came up to my apartment with the Ford and the wheeler. We prepared for a freezing cold hunt knowing the area of Randolph gets some of the coldest temperatures in the winter. We drove over Logan canyon and Bear Lake, then over to our unit. As soon as we got there, we geared up with warm clothes and got on the wheeler. There were deer everywhere with just a few other hunters. It was a cool feeling. As soon as we got started there was a nice 4-point buck with some does. We drove to a spot and hiked down a little canyon to glass. There was a really nice 4 point that lost his left side of his rack. If he had both sides, he would have been a buck to go after. We saw 4-point after 4-point. I was hoping to get something a little unique and in the 30” caliber. I had high expectations. I already had 3 4 points mounted and two were around 26” bucks. We had a fun time and headed back to the motel.
On one of our morning rides to the unit it was snowing hard. On the side of the road there was a nice 6-point bull elk with a smaller one. We pulled over and filmed him for a bit and were happy to see such a pretty bull. We were driving in the truck and the temperature said -19 degrees. We still were pumped and happy to be out there. Once you bundled up on the 4-wheeler it was too bad. We hunted for about 5 days and seen a lot of really nice bucks, but I hadn’t seen the one I wanted to shoot yet. There was one that was really tempting. Grandpa Ashton had passed away the year before on December 7. Dad and I thought a lot about him and how much he would love to be out here with us in his blue Jeep Wrangler and winch helping us find a big buck. There wasn’t anything else we could have been doing to put a smile on his face and to make it a little easier on us. His passing was super hard on me where I had spent so much time with him working and hunting.
It was December 10, my parent’s anniversary and time was starting to get limited for my hunt. I believe there were 2 days remaining. I remember stopping on the 4-wheeler to make us a little sandwich and have a break. We were still seeing lots of deer and there was a smaller 4 point that walked out. I can honestly say we were tempted to take him and call it a hunt, but I didn’t. About an hour later we came around the bend on the wheeler and saw a super tall amazing buck. I grabbed the muzzle loader off the front of the wheeler and took off after him. Dad kept going around the mountain and knew he would be able to glass up and possibly see where he went. Of course, my dad ran right into the buck and filmed him at about 100 yards for bit. The deer was moving quickly, and it was starting to get dark. The snow was high up past my thighs and I was trying to track him down. I thought I was going to catch him in the bottom where I could make a shot on him. I glassed and glassed and then looked way up on the mountain and he was clear up there. I was disappointed. There was a big old fallen down tree in front of me. I knew there was no way I was going to make it up there to get a shot before dark and my chances were limited. This was by far the biggest and best buck we had seen. I thought what the heck I’m going to take a poke at him with my muzzy. I lined the deer with my red dot scope and held about 4 inches above his back. The deer was 500+ yards away and would have been an excellent shot with my 300 Weatherby. I shot and there was about a 3 to 4 second delay and the deer jumped in the air and arched its back. He ran about 20 yards and bedded down under a tree. Honestly, I hate even telling people how far the deer was because it really was unbelievable, and I probably shouldn’t have taken the shot. I ran down to my dad who was below me on the 4-wheeler and we were both like WOW!! He saw everything from down on the wheeler. It was getting dark quick and we decided to try and go finish him off before dark. I hurried up the mountain to where he bedded in the deep snow. I got within about 100 yards and he jumped up and went over the ridge. I was going as fast as I could in the cold air and deep snow. I topped the ridge and saw him bedded again about 150 yards in the sage. I fired and missed. He jumped up and I kept tracking him in the deep snow. I found lots of blood and could tell he was struggling to go, but so was I in that deep snow. He went along the mountain which was open until he came to a big patch of Juniper pines. I was starting to get nervous and wondering if it was best to wait until morning. By the time I made it to the Junipers my dad had followed below at the base of the mountain on the wheeler. He was fresh and helped me track him down right before dark and I finished him off. Finally!! I got a nice buck. My dad got his camera out and filmed me telling the story, unfortunately the sound was off. I didn’t even get any good still shot with the normal camera of the buck in the snow. The deer was 25” wide and super tall. He had great deep forks and on his right side he has an extra squirrely point that is about 6 inches long. He was a sweet 4 x 5. He had broken and worn down his eye guards fighting during the rut. We hurried to gut the deer and load him on the wheeler. It had been a long day and we had a long way to go back to the truck. The wheeler was getting really low on gas and we were nervous we were not going to make it back. The temperature was starting to plummet. We were cruising along the main dirt road back to the cabin and the reserve light was on. There was a cabin light off in the distance and were thinking worst case scenario we go get some gas off them. As you get off the main road and back to where the truck was parked it was in a deeper canyon the had a lot of S turns. The deer was on the front, dad was driving, and I was on the back. He had the throttle down on those S turns and didn’t want to slow down to lose momentum and gas. It was icy as well and we were sliding all over the place. We hit one of the S turns loaded and did a full 360. The wheeler was starting to putter and as soon as we got to the truck I bailed off and got the ramp out and dad hit the gas as and threw the wheeler in the back of the truck. We were both super relieved and laughing that it all worked out. That night we drove back to my apartment in Logan. The snow was rough in the canyon and dad had me drive. It had been a big day and dad stayed the night with me rather than driving 2 more hours home. The next morning, we went and took a few pictures. Dad took the buck home with him and had a friend do the mount. That was a hunt I will never forget, and I had a wonderful time with my dad. To this day he is the biggest deer I had shot. I’ve helped some good friends kill some excellent bucks but he King, for now. I ended up getting that deer on December 10, 2005, the same day as my parent’s anniversary. I hope to someday get the opportunity to experience another fun hunt like the Crawford Mountains Muzzleloader Rut hunt.