To our surprise in 2019 Dallen drew a Durst Mountain CWMU deer tag.
Durst Mountain has a special place in our family heritage. The core of the current Durst Mountain CWMU was originally a combination of multiple homesteads and purchased property by my Great Grandfather and his brothers.
Conrad Smith was the first of the Smith's in my lineage to settle in the Morgan valley in the 1800s. Conrad had a son named Hyrum and Hyrum built a home that had a barn and chicken coop and other structures on the old highway road in Morgan right at the bottom of Pine Canyon. I'm guessing you would call this location North Morgan but the location is close to Stoddard.
Hyrum had six sons: George, Arnold, Harvey, Adrian, Wesley and Luke.
Near the very center of the CWMU is a location called "The Head." Currently at "The Head" (41.112257, -111.645717) are two of the original homestead cabins.
The Head is located at the top of the mountain near where many of the large canyons all converge (Yence, Dry Creek, Cooper, Big Hollow, Devil's Holler). The larger of the two cabins at The Head is that of my Great Great Uncle George Smith. This cabin is in its original location where George and his family lived to complete the homestead process for five years.
This great 13x15 buck was killed by my Great Grandfather Arnold Hyrum Smith. This buck was sneaking out of the top of Dry Creek (41.112269, -111.634464) and shot from the hip by Arnold at close range not far from The Head. Pictured here with Arnold's buck is a good family friend Clem Martin.
The smaller of the two cabins at The Head is that of my Great Grandfather Arnold Hyrum Smith. This cabin was originally located in Yence Hollow about a mile southeast of its current location at The Head. Here are the GPS coordinates of the original location of this homestead cabin in Yence. (41.093844, -111.637879)
After the homestead process was complete a team of horses was used to move the cabin up next to George's cabin at The Head.
The deer pole on the two Smith cabins at The Head. My father who spent his childhood on this mountain told me that while they raised cattle they always ate deer meat.
Adrian Smith started a homestead with a cabin not far from the rifle range in North Morgan. Here is where that homestead cabin was originally located 41.062705, -111.671825.
While this homestead was really not far from town and much lower on the mountain than the other two homesteads, Adrian's wife struggled with being able to live there. So to complete the homestead Arnold Hyrum Smith took over Adrian's homestead and finished it out. One of the often-told family stories of this cabin was when a mouse ran across the cabin and Arnold pulled his pistol and shot it with him and his wife Inez in the small cabin. And as you would guess Great Grandma wasn't too happy with my Great Grandfather.
Adrian's/Arnold's cabin was later moved and is currently located on a few acres of Smith family property at the bottom of Pine Canyon at 41.060087, -111.691326.
Harvey had a homestead in Big Hollow. Harvey at one point in time offered to sell his section of homesteaded land to Arnold but Inez feared that George would get upset that Arnold had a greater percentage of control over the ranch and possibly physically harm them. George had a reputation of being cantankerous. As I understand it George ultimately was the reason that all of the ranch with the exception of Harvey's section was sold out of the family, with it sold to the Kippen family in 1962.
Harvey's daughter Marjorie, married Dewey Taggart and Harvey's property has passed down through the Taggart family to this day and this Taggart section of property is in the middle of the Durst Mountain CWMU but not a part of it.
My Great Grandparents and their children, my Great Aunts and Uncles, in the yard at the bottom of Pine Canyon. Left to right: Helen, Verl (Grandpa), Inez, Dean, Arnold, Floyd (Uncle Whitey) and Vada. As I write this the only one currently living in this photo is my Great Aunt Vada.
My Grandpa Verl Smith in his youth.
With this brief overview of my family's heritage on this mountain, you can see how very special it was to for Dallen and I to have the opportunity to hunt mule deer on the ranch. As a youth I dreamed of making it in the NBA and buying back the ranch... well that plan didn't work out for me.
Back to Dallen's hunt.
As we prepared for the hunt here are some of the things Justin the outfitter told us over the phone that caught my attention:
- They only kill about 5 deer on the ranch every year.
- Expect the best bucks to only be 23" wide.
- They don't have big bucks like they had in the past.
- Most of the bucks they harvest are management quality of size.
- We send all of our hunters through the gate at the bottom of Dry Creek (near Devils Slide).
The days the outfitter gave Dallen for his hunt were October 29 through November 2, 2019. These dates were great. Thank you, John and Justin! We both liked the dates as it didn't mess up rifle hunting with my younger boys the week before and at this pre-rut time of the year, the bucks would be out moving more. What we weren't expecting was such a severe cold front to move in the night before the hunt. Seven degrees during the day is a little cold to be out in but we were prepared for the cold.
This buck was taken by Lloyd Preece in 1929. Family members say that it was taken not far from The Head in the quaking Aspens on the south side of Big Hollow (in this general area 41.100467, -111.646711). It reportedly has a 38 2/8" outside spread and has a gross score of 249 1/8". This photo is taken in Arnold Hyrum's yard at the bottom of Pine Canyon. The guy on the far left looks just like my Grandfather Verl but according to the Preece family, this buck was shot in October of 1929 and at that date, Verl would have been only four years old. So, Verl's father Arnold Hyrum is probably who this is, although I'm still a little suspicious this was taken in the 1940s and not 1929.
I appreciate Justin taking the time to talk with me. I did feel he was underrating the quality of the deer herd living on the Durst Mountain CWMU. He is running a business to get his clients the best bucks they have to offer, this is his job. I can see that one might be concerned that the two public hunters could potentially take something that they would like to hold on to and he probably would like for you to hire him to guide you. While some may prefer a guide and there is nothing wrong with that, we prefer the do-it-yourself approach to hunting. Dallen and I like to explore and find the critters on our own. The DIY approach is just more rewarding for us and the process is more of the reward of the hunt than the size of the antlers and eating tag soup is just as rewarding. It's all about the experience and hard work being on the mountain.
Unlike most outfitters that like to promote the size and quality of deer they have to bring in business, Durst Mtn CWMU is very secretive on what they have. You can't find an image of any animals they are taking on the property. I'm not sure of all the reasons for this but I suspect it relates to the two main owners of the property. I suspect most of their tags are used by the owners, their families and business associates, unlike a typical outfitter that is selling his tags for as much money as he can possibly get and would benefit from promoting the quality of deer they have.
This buck was the first buck my father ever killed and it has mass for days. It was killed in the top of Dry Creek somewhere in this location (41.112679, -111.624157). Dad has told me stories of incredible bucks that got away in this general area of Dry Creek. He says when the pressure was on the big bucks headed into the thick upper part of Dry Creek back in the day.
With a good spotting scope, there are areas where you can glass up bucks on their property during the year and especially in winter when the deer come out of the high country. There are some good bucks. While they don't post photos of the bucks they take I have seen photos and heard of the 200-inch giants that are being killed just off the edge of their property in November on an adjoining CWMU. They probably have some giants and a lot of mature deer if they are only killing about five deer a year as I was told. Another thing to note about Durst Mountain is that the deer have a great wintering range to survive to live to mature ages on this mountain.
The only thing I felt was a little annoying from this hunt was how Justin the outfitter would not let us use the North Morgan gate. I asked twice to be able to access the property through the main gate in North Morgan but was repeatedly told "all their hunters" use the gate at the bottom of Dry Creek. I wish they would have let us but I fully understand why. They are obligated by the DWR to give you access to the property not necessarily the easiest access to the best hunting on the property.
The Dry Creek gate we had to use near Devil's Slide is on the absolute opposite side of the property that I wanted to focus Dallen's hunt. I was not familiar at all with that side of the property but we made the best of exploring it on the way in. And my assessment was spot on with what we found in the brief time we were in that area. I don't believe the best place on the ranch to find a good buck is on that corner of the property but I only spent a brief amount of time in that area. I'm sure with a lot of time you could find some decent bucks on that side of the property, maybe.
Another interesting thing in relation to the Morgan side of the ranch. The map of the CWMU boundaries that the outfitter sent us had printed "Not part of the ranch" on the Morgan side of the mountain. What part is not part of the ranch? Well if you just look at their map it would make you nervous to hunt any of the Morgan side of the mountain. But here's the deal, the part that is not part of the ranch is the piece of Taggart property (Harvey Smith's homestead) in Big Hollow. If you ever hunt this CWMU use the maps provided by the DWR and I recommend getting OnX Maps on your phone as well.
On this hunt, we tried to come as prepared as possible for just about anything. Although we don't have ATVs, they would be quicker for accessing the property and burn less fuel going the great distance from one side of the mountain to the other.
Given the time of Dallen's hunt, we were very grateful to be riding in the warm jeep. It was snowing off and on and only 7 degrees outside much of the day thanks to an extremely cold, cold front that came through.
The road we used to come through Dry Creek and work our way up the mountain might be accessible with a 4x4 truck but it had some washed out dips to cross that really needed an ATV or lifted Jeep necessary to get through them. Even with my Rubicon using my lockers front and back and 35" AT tires aired to 12 pounds, I had to chain up the front wheels to make it on the steep trail in the snow.
So Dallen's hunt started off with us heading up Dry Creek in the dark of early morning making fresh tracks through several inches of fresh powder that had fallen that night.
It started to get light not long after we passed through the gate and we started stopping and glassing frequently as we worked our way up the mountain. That whole east side of Dry Creek is pretty thick oak brush and we found very few deer in there. We did find a few bucks and one heavy, mature 23" wide three-point. I didn't get a photo of this buck, but he looked to be at least 4 years old, a buck we would have been tickled to harvest on the public land we normally hunt. The buck did get Dallen excited and I had to tell him to hold off knowing we would find much better.
As we worked our way around the west side of Dry Creek we glassed bull elk everywhere, I mean everywhere. I'll bet we saw somewhere close to 50 bulls that morning. We also found 4 bull moose and a couple of cow moose as well. Man this place would be a trail camera paradise for me if only I had access.
As we got closer and closer to The Head we started seeing more and more deer but the bucks were all young. Our plan was to take inventory of what we could find as we worked our way from the eastern corner of the property to the western corner of the property. In particular, the area around the canyon named Rocky, a steep canyon with no roads in it.
Many of the large bucks the Smith family took in years past were all up around the uppermost part of the mountain near The Head. Although my number one area to focus Dallen's hunt was in the western corner we really wanted to spend a lot of time up near The Head as well.
As we slowly crawled up the mountain in my Rubicon we would pause every so often and glass for deer. At one point it started snowing fairly heavy so we stopped for an hour and ate some snacks waiting for the storm to pass.
After the snow stopped we started crawling again. Have I mentioned how much I love my Rubicon? What an awesome hunting rig, keeping us warm and dry and climbing up through some steep terrain with the snow reaching around a foot deep in the shady steep areas.
Once we were up on top we really started seeing a lot of deer and it didn't take long before Dallen spotted a good one. By the time I saw the buck all I saw was his heavy back fork over some brush as he headed up toward a ridgeline to cross into the next canyon. We decided instead of chasing after him on foot to drive near a half-mile past him and then hike back down the ridge he was headed over. With the fresh snow on the ground, we kept a close eye for him and any tracks in the snow. As we approached and then passed the area we figured he was headed over we found zero tracks in the snow. We both turned around and I told Dallen that he has to be right in here. Before I could really say the words out went the buck running across the canyon and boy did he look nice. I ranged him at 250 as he paused before going over a ridgeline. Dallen touched off a shot that went right over the top of his back. Come to find out Dallen dialed 2.5 MOA above the 200 yard zero his 300 WSM X-Bolt was sighted in for. Oops, he didn't need to dial at all to make the shot. The rifle was sighted in for 200 yards. In his defense, the turret on his Leupold scope has MOA hash marks all around the outside edge and I have a sticker on top of the turret with yardages to dial. So in the excitement of seeing such a great buck, he looked at the wrong numbers to dial.
We sat there for a moment with the buck out of sight over the ridge trying to take in what all just happened, wondering if we missed our chance on this great buck. Then moments later the buck appeared running like a bat out of Hell up the other side of the main canyon. I was ranging and Dallen was on his sticks ready for him to stop. I kept giving Dallen ranges on the buck and when the buck paused at 486 yards Dallen instantly fired and down the buck dropped. Holy smokes was Dallen excited. What an incredible moment to share with Dallen. Being so upset that he dialed the scope wrong to moments later dropping the buck in his tracks.
The shot across the canyon.
A selfie to record the moment before we hike across the canyon.
The view through my Nikon P1000 with an 83x zoom of Dallen's buck down.
Big smiles from Dallen after getting his buck.
We sat there forever watching to make sure he didn't move or get up before we hiked back to the Rubicon to get the gear we needed.
We made it back to the Jeep and geared up with the packs, footwear and clothing we needed to stay warm and get the buck back to the Jeep.
The anticipation of seeing this buck up close as we hiked across the canyon was intense. We were both so excited. Seeing his excitement as he walked up on the buck was priceless. What a cool experience to share with Dallen.
Coming out heavy. Got to love packing out mule deer. Dallen had the head and half the meat and I carried the other half of the meat on my back.
After getting the buck boned out and packed back to the Jeep it was starting to get dark. With it being only 7 degrees outside and it being dark I did not care to drive a couple of hours back out the way we came in. Knowing we could be off the mountain in no time using the main gate in North Morgan but having twice been turned down to use that gate I looked at the map and figured that it would be quicker to circle to the north and loop back to the gate we came in. But could I make it around this road or would I run into a gate an hour into the drive and then have to drive even farther to get out? With this in mind, I tried calling Justin and he didn't pick up so I sent a text message to Justin and John with a photo of Dallen's buck asking if we could get out on the road looping to the north. John replied and ask me to call. On the phone, I explained our desire not to have to take the long trail back out through Frank Hollow and John asked "so you're done with your hunt?" which of course we were. When I confirmed that yes indeed we were done with our hunt he said "since you are done with your hunt just drive down to the main gate in North Morgan and here is the combination to it." That was very nice of him and it saved us a bunch of time getting off the mountain.
Interestingly as we headed down the mountain toward the gate in North Morgan we ran into fresh chained up truck tracks in the snow that came in and out of the north Morgan gate that day. We were told we would have the mountain to ourselves other than the other public hunter and all the hunters use the gate near Devils Slide, so it was was probably workers going in to work on the cell tower or something.
The outfitters John and Justin Hansen are very nice people. You have to respect that they are fulfilling their obligations to the state in giving you access to the property albeit not the easiest access and understand it's a business for them to produce the best quality of animals for their property owners and clients. I totally understand. If I was in their shoes I would probably do the same. I probably tipped my hat too much on my knowledge of the ranch and the bucks that were on the side of the mountain we wanted to hunt by asking to use the North Morgan gate and telling Justin that was the side of the mountain we planned to hunt. Oh well, it worked out just fine for Dallen. We are both very excited to get the buck that he got. Yes, we both feel that we probably could have found a better buck but his buck was just too nice to pass up.
Our only regret from the hunt was Dallen filling his tag really fast. We really wanted to explore the ranch for 5 days, in the mountains that our ancestors spent so much time of their lives in.
Awesome buck Dallen! I was so glad to get to experience this hunt with you.
We had all sorts of gear loaded in the Rubicon prepared to survive on the mountain in extremely cold temperatures. Two things I didn't take I would take if I were to do this again would be a good large hand saw or chainsaw to cut downed trees out of the trail. And the other thing would be a couple of extra containers of gas. We burnt near a half a tank of gas getting from the gas station in Morgan to Devil's Slide then up the mountain and back down to Morgan. If we had to turn around and come out the Devil's Slide gate we might have burnt 3/4 of a tank of gas in the one day.
Coming up through Frank Hollow in Dry Creek at first light. Dry Creek is beautiful but I feel it is more of an elk and moose area than a mule deer area. Notice the two-track road, it's the width of a side-by-side ATV. I doubt any vehicles besides ATVs ever use this road, a perfect road for my Rubicon. :)