October 28, 2007

Deer Roping

I had one of the most peculiar experiences of my life yesterday near Soldiers Hollow, where the Cross Country ski events of the 2002 Winter Olympics were held. It was the last day of the deer hunt here in Utah. While on what I thought was going to be a relaxing trail ride with my horses Target and Rory (I rode Target and ponied Rory) along the trail that follows the Heber Valley Railroad and Deer Creek Resevoir - just past the Rocky Mountain Outfitters dude ranch - Target stopped and pointed his ears at something moving in the scrub oak. We were less than two miles from the ranch. We stopped and watched when all of a sudden a good sized four point mule deer buck stumbled onto the trail. Deer don't normally shy from the sound of horse hooves, so we were very close - about fifteen feet away is all. I noticed that something was not right. The deer was dazed and limped. It had been shot through the right thigh. Which caused its leg to dangle in a most pathetic way as it tried to move about on three legs. After silently cursing the hunter that did this and left the deer to suffer, I wondered what to do. I did not have a hunting license and could not do anything even if I had brought my gun. The buck darted, to the best of its ability back into the brush and layed down in a thicket. I rode on for about another half mile until the shooting got too intense for me - I was not wearing hunter orange - and felt that I and my horses were too exposed to careless hunters. So I turned back. Again we came upon the buck, still in the exact same place. I decided to hurry back to the ranch and see if anyone there had a hunting license that could come back with me, take the deer and thus stop the suffering.

I rode into the corrals just at the moment a large group of dude string riders were heading out. I stopped the group and asked if anyone had a hunting license. One of the dude string wranglers, a young man named Ben Breedlove did. He agreed to ride back with me to take the deer. Ben got himself a fresh horse, we gathered up another saddle for Rory that would carry a set of panyards to carry the deer out if we got that far. The problem was, no one had a gun. All Ben had was his hunting knife. I rustled up a lariat. Our plan was to rope the deer and to use the knife to put it out of its misery. I didn't think the deer would be able to move very fast and this act of mercy needed to be done. Otherwise, the buck would have fallen prey to a mountain lion or died of infection from the gunshot would or given the deep snow of a Wasatch winter, it would not make it to spring given its lack of mobility. In additon, Ben comes from a family of twelve children and more than likely they could use the meat.

We headed back up the trail at a trot and in a little while came to the landmark trees that I had identified as the place where the deer was. As we came around a bend, Ben said "There he is." The buck was standing and a little lower than where I left him, but essentially in the same place. We backtracked a little, tied up the three horses to some trees, I took out the lariat and we headed towards the buck. We were a good thousand feet above the lake bed of Deer Creek Reservoir, which at this time of year is empty but very muddy and boggy. As we approached the buck, it did its best to head for lower ground since it could not climb the hill for higher ground which would have been his natural defense. The buck eventually went down the draw across the tracks, down more steep rocks and onto the lake bed. Ben and I followed knowing that if it got into the bog, it would be completely immobile. This turned out to be the case. The buck went into a boggy puddle and became mired.

Ben then took the lariat, waded out in waist deep mud and muck and after a few tries was able to loop the buck around the antlers. He then threw the rope to me. I held it steady while Ben administered a single thrust to the heart and ended the misery caused by the gunshot wound. Before doing so, he called out "Say a prayer for me!" I replied "I already did!" I told Ben that he had not caused this problem, he was only fixing it. Ben struggled out to the sandbar where I was and we pulled the buck out of the water, where I field dressed it. Together we pulled the big buck (much bigger that I had figured) through the mire onto firmer ground about 100 yards away. At about that point he got a call from his supervisor reminding him of his 4:00 PM ride. He explained the circumstances and she offered to bring a horse out to where we were (1,000 feet below our horses, that were tied up on the trail.) About a half hour later Ashley Wright showed up with a good horse. By then, I had the deer prepared to go into the panyards. We blindfolded the horse, that had never packed game before, loaded the front quarters on one side with the rear quarters and the head and antlers on the other, balanced the load and then took the blindfold off the horse. It reacted a little, but not too bad. Ben then led the horse along the shoreline back to the ranch. Ashley and I climbed the steep hill to the other horses, which were still there luckily, and rode back together.

Back at the ranch, Ben was on time for his four o'clock, I cleaned up the carcass and washed it out before I left. Ben would then have to take it to a meat packer, report the kill and order his meat cuts.

As I loaded my horses back into the trailer, I asked myself - "What this whole thing good or bad?" Though I gave up hunting some years ago, I still have the skill set. It is not right to wound an animal and then allow it to go to waste. In a situation like this, it is best to find a way to put the animal to use, since it would not survive anyway. The meat will now go to a large family. Through it all, I have to admit that I enjoyed passing a little of my knowledge onto the next generation - how to field dress, how the handle pack horses and how to pack out fresh game on an inexperienced horse. Back at the ranch, Ben shook my hand and said "Thanks Paul, I never would have able to do this without you."

In all of this, I see a higher guiding hand. Here the suffering of a majestic animal was shortened. A deserving family will benfit from the meat. A connection was made between generations. Overall, this was a good thing, the way it turned out - but had some hunter acted responsibly in the first place, it would not have happened at all.

I believe that the Lord sees the fall of every sparrow. All creatures are His and he knows them and watches over them. Some years back, I wrote my one and only deer hunting poem - mainly about a horse going over on me and my father and the miraculous escape we both had from this brush with almost certain death or injury. It is just one more example of how we are watched over. I must have been ten or twelve years old at the time.

He Was Watching Over Me
by Paul Kern

Hunting season came in the fall,
Buck fever had infected us all,
Pickups and Willeys, horses and men,
Converged at a ranch to reload and then,

Spread through the hills with rifles in tow,
To bag a big buck or perhaps just a doe.
So we met there at the fence on the west,
And drew up a plan to hunt out the best.

The pickups took off back and forth,
The Willeys and Jeeps chugged up north.
We rode double that early morning,
A spirited mare that gave no warning,

Her four legs up past her hocks,
Looked like slippers or maybe like socks.
“Slippers” was the name that she bore,
Though it was four socks that she wore.

Slippers was one heck of a mare,
Or maybe heck can’t describe her fair,
She was obstinate and overly fretted,
Spooky and wild and quite knot headed.

But her looks were a fine sight to behold,
Tall and lean, muscular and bold,
A real fine ride she could provide,
Provided you got on her good riding side.

And that we did the two of us,
Me at the rear but what's that fuss?
Slippers bulged hard at the veins,
As Dave pulled hard down on the reins,

To keep her calm but it just made her fear,
She rose up high in a two-legged rear,
While Dad and I for a moment we hung,
On the saddle right before she flung,

Both of us down hard on the ground,
She twisted and turned and then fell around,
Hooves a flailing and a churning the air,
One hit the ground just beside my hair.

The air rushed by grazing over my ear,
Loudly crushed gravel under hoof and in fear,
Slippers lunged and kicked herself to her feet.
Into her wild-eyed soul we had a peek.

Lying there I considered my fate,
I could’a been killed there on that date,
But I wasn’t and it was plain to see,
He was watching over me.

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