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THE QUEST FOR DEER IS WILD-GOOSE CHASE

SHARE THE QUEST FOR DEER IS WILD-GOOSE CHASE

My sleeping bag's packed, the rifle's cleaned and polished, I've got my buck permit, and even an antlerless-deer permit.

I know . . . didn't I see Bambi as a child? Well, the truth is, I like venison, and doe meat is as good as buck - especially when I think of all those poor does overgrazing the land and dying during the winter. (That's what the Wildlife Resources people say is happening in many parts of Utah.)And besides, I'm an amputee (left leg), and the chances of me spotting a buck are remote since I'm pretty much stuck in one small area and can't climb where they generally roam.

But the pros or cons of hunting are another column. My beef (or venison) has to do with how a bureaucracy can kill a hunter's dream.

In the past, my brothers and I have hunted in central Utah, but our success has been marginal.

Truth is, I end up sitting on a hillside, freezing in the early mornings and then staring into the warm sun the rest of the day. Did I mention deer? That's the point - I've seen one doe and two fawns in the past two seasons and haven't fired my rifle in three years. My brothers have been more successful, but not much.

Though I love being in the outdoors with my brothers and friends, this year it's either get a deer or . . .

So I convinced them to try somewhere else. I figured an area in which the Wildlife Resources Division is offering a lot of doe permits must have a lot of deer, so we applied for and received antlerless permits for the hunt in Morgan County's Lost Creek area.

It's beautiful country. But - we've never hunted there. The topographic map from the U.S. Geological Survey office in Salt Lake City shows numerous canyons and dirt roads through ideal deer country. Just about any one of the canyons would be great hunting.

The next step? Just find a spot for me to relax and watch for a buck or a doe. No problem, you say. That's what we thought.

Do you know how much public land there is in Morgan County?

We were shocked to find out that more than 90 percent is privately owned. Sure, there's a 1,300-acre state preserve near Henefer - but no vehicles are allowed. That tidbit of information was about as welcome as the "No Trespassing" signs that are posted throughout the hills and canyons of Morgan. If we were rich we could get some horses and go on the preserve or pay a bundle to who-knows-who to hunt on private property.

So, first, where do we hunt with this special buyer-beware doe permit in this land of inaccessibility, and, second, why is the state selling hundreds of general-season doe permits to hunt on basically private property?

After 15 long-distance phone calls and a seven-hour search in Morgan, we still haven't found an answer to the first question, but I think we've found an answer to the second - the Wildlife Department basically takes the money and runs.

To date, the department has issued 350 antlerless permits for the unit, unleashing a horde of "beggars" on the private landowners. The landowners I talked with are sick and tired of the hunters that bother them each season - not just the deer season, but all the others, too. (Of course, the landowners don't complain too much about the money they make on access fees, leasing their lands to hunting outfitters or out-of-state groups.)

And though I talked with several Wildlife officials, not one knew a single landowner who is willing to let hunters on his or her property during the season opening to thin the doe herd. You'd think that if the landowners and Wildlife officials were in agreement on the need for antlerless-deer permits, there'd be more cooperation between the two groups - maybe even a list of cooperative landowners.

Maybe the division expects all 350 hunters with doe permits to tramp around the two-section 1,300-acre preserve? Let's see, that's one hunter for every three or four acres - and that doesn't include the hundreds of hunters who have regular deer licenses and plan to hunt in the area.

How many incidents of trespassing will occur because of frustrated hunters?

One landowner says on opening day the hunters crawl over his property like ants. A few years ago, he said, a hunter came to his house and demanded that his wife give him the key to their gate. So much for begging.

Sure, the proclamation warns hunters that most of the land in several units including Lost Creek is privately owned, but I never would have guessed that the amount is more than 90 percent in the Lost Creek area. For those of us accustomed to the government-owned open spaces of central and southern Utah, the idea's unimaginable.

Oh, and by the way, are there any Morgan landowners out there who have a spot for a few honest but naive Hunts?