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Ghosts of deer hunts past

Sun Advocate Columnist

"Utah deer hunting sure has changed over the years," Uncle Spud proclaimed as we sat on the back porch cleaning our rifles and sharpening our bullets.

"Yeah, I remember the 1950s and 60s," I told him. "Utah had the best deer hunting in the world back then."

"We hunted a lot different in those days," Spud reminisced. "People hunted more for meat than horns. We had big buck contests where the winner was the deer that weighed the most, not the one with the biggest antlers."

"And guns have changed," Spud continued. "Years ago most people used 30-30 carbines or something similar. An ought-six was considered a big gun. Hardly anyone used magnum rifles back then. Magnums were used for shooting elephants in Africa."

I remember that very few people used a scope," I added. "Using a scope was like cheating."

"That's right," he said. "You were admitting you were an old man with bad eyes if you broke down and bought a four-power scope. Most guns back then were not drilled and tapped for a scope anyway. You had to buy a scope and take the gun to a gunsmith to have the thing mounted."

"Almost no one carried binoculars. If you couldn't see horns with your naked eye you just didn't shoot. It was just as well. The old 30-30 wouldn't reach past the range of your baby-blues anyway."

"We dressed a lot different, too," I said. "For one thing, we didn't have all of this waterproof gore-tex stuff. People wore wool to stay warm when the weather was wet and we used oil and wax to help keep the water out our leather boots."

"Red was the color for old time deer hunters," Spud remembered. "Hunter orange wasn't available until the late 1970s. For a few years hunters could wear yellow in Utah, but they finally decided it wasn't a good color for hunting in the quakies."

"Everyone camped in tents," I added. "I remember seeing the road on Nine Mile's Cottonwood Ridge lined with tents back in the 1950s, dozens and dozens of them. Hardly anyone had a camper or a trailer back then."

"Our vehicles were different, too." Spud smiled. "Four-wheel drive outfits were rare. There were a few army surplus jeeps around, but most pickup trucks were two-wheel drive with 15-inch tires. Everyone carried tire chains, sheepherder jacks and shovels."

"We didn't have ATVs either," I reminded him. "Horses and tote-goats were as good as it got. A tote-goat was a small motorcycle-type contraption with a tiny two-cycle gasoline engine and a chain drive like a bicycle. They were most famous for making lots of smoke and noise and rearing over backwards when you went up a hill."

"For years they closed Utah schools for the deer hunt," Spud smiled. "It was a big deal all over the state. Upwards of 250,000 deer permits were issued each year and checking stations showed that hunters enjoyed very high success rates."

"But there were deer everywhere," I offered.

"That's true," Spud concurred. "For 50 years Utah produced some of the biggest and best bucks ever taken, and lots of them. There was a time when a person could buy three or more deer tags in a single season. They even had special late season hunts to cull the herds and cut down on winterkills. During that time, half the population of California and Texas came to Utah to hunt deer. It was a big shot in the arm for Utah's economy."

"I remember driving through Nine Mile Canyon and counting hundreds of deer between Gate Canyon and Soldier Creek," I said.

"It was that way all over the state," Spud reminded. "The fish and game people offered special incentives to try to lure people to hunt on the Henry Mountains and Elk Ridge. People just wouldn't go there to hunt because it was too far away and they could always get a good deer closer to home."

"Things have sure changed," I said.

"That's true," he agreed. "Today we've got to travel a long ways to find a good buck."

"Where are you hunting this year?" he asked.

"I'm going to Wyoming," I said.

"I'm going to Colorado," Spud affirmed. "Next year I hope to draw for Arizona or Nevada."

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