The Craziest Hunt
Sometimes the deck is stacked against you.
This is an updated version of a 2019 post from SpencerDurrant.com.
Usually, when bad luck plagues a hunt so thoroughly, I tend to think I’ve got all the bad luck out of the way for a while. It usually doesn’t work out that way. A few years back, on the archery hunt with my dad, the bad luck just kept rolling.
The snowball effect began before I even made it onto the mountain to chase deer with my bow. For once, I tried to get ahead of the mad-dash packing fiasco all hunters are familiar with. I inventoried all my gear and made my shopping lists. I even managed to find my old fly rod and reel, to go fishing during the heat of the day when the deer are hiding and napping in the thick scrub oak, which, to my amazement, still worked.
I deflated from my excitement rapidly when I got back from Sportsman’s Warehouse, and my wife set the water bill in my lap. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill billing notice. We’re talking an extreme anomaly or a severe leak. Worse yet, it was Friday night. I wouldn’t be able to call city utilities until Monday—the day I was headed out hunting.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning. I still had no clue what was going on with my water, but I’d thoroughly checked my house and grounds for any immediate problems and requested a work order from the city. I’d only lost a day. At least that’s what I thought.
The next morning, I woke up to sunlight shining through my window. My phone had died during a power outage, so the alarm that was going to wake me at six didn’t go off. Instead, I woke up at nine-thirty.
I finished packing, ended up having a conversation with my neighbor about the water problem, and didn’t get to my dad’s house until after noon. We hitched up his camper to his truck, the ATV trailer to mine, and got off thinking we had enough time to get to Cedar City, head up the canyon, and still hunt in the evening.
Yeah, that’s not how things were happening on this trip.
As we were getting close to Nephi, I suddenly found myself way ahead of my dad. I slowed down to 60 and drafted behind a semi for a good twenty minutes, waiting for him to catch up. He never caught up, but I got hold of him on the phone (via voice command folks, I promise). He told me his steering was getting squirrelly when he tried going over sixty.
We stopped in Nephi but couldn’t find anything wrong. I figured it was just wind pushing his outfit around through the canyon. To be safe, though, we crawled along at 60 miles per hour to Cedar City. When we finally got into town, it was way too late to head up the canyon. We crashed at my grandma’s house for the night.
The next morning, we got up, headed up the canyon, and set up camp. The first hunting we were able to do wasn’t until Wednesday evening. We started with an ATV road hunt through some trails where we’d seen a lot of deer in previous years. At this point, it was my bow’s turn to give me problems.
I’m pretty proud of my bow, though I get crap for it sometimes. After all, it’s a 1970s single-cam. But I’ve dropped two deer with it and love the classic wood look. However, the manual screw-in site pins apparently weren’t designed with ATV engine vibration in mind. Just a half-mile down a trail, I heard a subtle plop-plop and looked down to see my pins falling off my bow.
Amazingly, I found all my pins but couldn’t sight it back in again until the next day. I’d practiced reflex shooting before and felt confident out to about 20 yards, so I wasn’t too mortified.
Not that it mattered. The lack of typical August rainfall seemed to have disrupted the usual late summer deer patterns. We didn’t see anything.
Thursday morning, I planned to hike down deep to my breadbasket area. Same place I’d dropped a four-point back in 2014 on my first archery hunt. I’m sure most of you would understand if I leave this little spot nameless. Suffice it to say, it’s one of my favorite spots, both for the success I’ve had there as well as the family history in the area.
But even this sweet spot wasn’t good enough to overcome the current of crazy that was this trip.
While driving to where I usually start my hike, my check engine light comes on. When we stopped and turned the engine off, we could hear the radiator fluid boiling. Since it was too early for a shop to be open, we hunted for a few hours (saw nothing, again). Then, we headed down the canyon.
The head gasket had blown, and the negative pressure kept the radiator fluid from circulating, which caused the engine to overheat catastrophically. How I was able to haul an ATV trailer all the way down to Cedar City and then up a mountain before the problem manifested itself is beyond me.
My dad had to head home early with his camper, so he could make a second trip back to get the ATVs. I finally got into the deer and spotted a few big bucks Saturday night but lost daylight before I could stalk close enough for a good shot. And that was that. I helped my wife pack up and leave in her car Sunday morning and came home with my dad Sunday afternoon when he came to get the ATVs.
It was sure a crazy hunt, but it wasn’t what I would call a bad hunt. Cedar Mountain was looking beautiful that year. Navajo Lake and the other smaller lakes nearby were full for the first time in years. In response to some of the fires up there in the previous years, they were finally letting loggers go after the trees killed by wood beetles. New, young growth was sprouting up everywhere.
This was also the last hunt up Cedar Canyon where I stayed at my grandparents’ old cabin in Duck Creek Village. My grandpa had passed away that year, and the cabin was too much for my grandma to take care of. There were so many memories in that cabin, and the way my grandparents decorated their cabin not only reflected them so well but was connected to a lot of family history. Without a truck and my hunting options limited, I had time to take plenty of pictures of the cabin and fully document that amazing place.
One of the hikes I made took me up above 9,000 feet and gave me a spectacular view looking south toward Zion National Park. Southern Utah is truly God’s country, and even though my trip had been the hunt from hell in a lot of ways, I still got to walk in places that are the closest thing a mortal man can come to heaven. Sometimes, that’s all a hunter really needs.
Justin Stapley received his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Utah Valley University, with emphases in Political Philosophy and Public Law, American History, and Constitutional Studies. He is the Founding and Executive Director of the Freemen Foundation as well as Editor in Chief of the Freemen News-Letter. @JustinWStapley
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