Another Crazy Hunt

If my hunts keep going like this, I’ll have to start writing comedy.
By Justin Stapley | Shooting Director

My friendship with Spencer Durrant began with a bit of bad luck during a crazy hunt chasing after turkeys. We didn’t bag a bird, which you’ll hear us discuss in our upcoming debut podcast episode. 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.

My recent archery hunt proved that wasn’t the case. 

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 we’re all familiar with. I inventoried all my gear and made my shopping lists. I even managed to find my old fly rod and reel, 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 ahold 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 within five years 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 a few years earlier on my first archery hunt. I’m sure most of you would understand if I leave this little spot nameless. Suffice 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 this 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 recent years, they’re finally letting loggers go after the trees killed by wood beetles. New, young growth is sprouting up everywhere.

One of the hikes I made took me up above 9,000 feet and gave me a spectacular view looking south towards 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 is the Shooting Director for Spencer Durrant Outdoors, and a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.

Congress Gives NRMA Green Light

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Back on February 14, I hailed the U.S. Senate’s overwhelming approval of the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) as a win for public land. Just 12 days later, I’m happy to report that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the same version of the NRMA the Senate approved.

The bill passed by a 363-62 margin. It now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature – which I think we can safely say he’ll sign. President Trump is always in need of a political win. Signing overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) is the kind of win the Trump administration needs.

What I’m most impressed with, however, is the sheer number of disparate factions that came together to make this happen. I’m not privy to what happened in other states, but I know the work done by folks here in Utah, and it may have restored my faith in the American legislative process.

Rep. John Curtis (R, UT) represents one of the most staunchly conservative areas of the country. In meetings with Curtis, he revealed how much behind-the-scenes work he’s performed to get energy developers and county commissioners together in Emery County – a rural area of Utah heavily dependent on the coal industry – to form new land usage agreements.

According to KSL.com, the NRMA establishes more than 600,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell as a national conservation area. This is a huge step forward in properly managing recreation and energy extraction in one of the most remote, rugged, and beautiful places in Utah.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a longtime left-leaning group seemingly always at odds with Utah’s conservative stage legislature, praised the NRMA.

On the opposite side of the aisle, Rep. Rob Bishop (R, UT) has spent years working on what turned into the NRMA. “This is a good piece of legislation,” Bishop said, as reported by KSL.com.

Bear in mind, this is the same Rep. Bishop who was slammed by Hatch Magazine on multiple occasions for his stance on public lands. Ty Hansen called Bishop the,”Grand Poobah of the Utah federal delegation and a brazen industry mouthpiece who despises anything federal.”

The New York Times had similarly harsh words, with writer Timothy Egan writing that, “Bishop is the villain … a grim-faced ideologue who clearly doesn’t like public land or parks.

The fact that Bishop calls the NRMA a good piece of legislation and Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood is quoted by KSL.com as saying, “This bill is a tribute to the power of collaborative stewardship where communities of place and interest come together to protect and preserve the places they live and the rivers they love to fish” is nothing short of miraculous.

Seriously, who could have ever predicted this? Even in the age of Trump, this bipartisanship came so far out of left field it may as well have come from a different galaxy.

Oh, and the NRMA addresses one of the long-standing complaints Utah’s congressional delegation has levied against federal land management practices – that they’re too overbearing and ignore the needs and input of locals. Senator Mike Lee (R, UT) cited that as the reason he couldn’t vote for the NRMA.

Well, someone in D.C. listened, because KSL.com reports that federally controlled public land in Utah actually decreases by 6,302 acres.

While we’re waiting on the largest unknown political quantity in American history to sign this legislation, I think we all need to sit back and celebrate what’s been accomplished here. Republicans, Democrats, oil and gas lobbyists, conservation groups, and regular citizens alike contributed to the success of the NRMA. If signed by Trump, it assures the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) exists in perpetuity. It also expands how money from the Pittman-Robertson fund can be used; namely, using those funds to build more public shooting ranges, since recreational shooters pay more into that fund than any other group in America.

While we wait for Trump to sign the NRMA, I’d like to personally thank Lisa Murkowski for sponsoring this bill. John Curtis for his work in bringing disparate factions in Utah together to add their two cents to this bill. Mitt Romney for being the lone senator from Utah to vote for it, and Rob Bishop for laying the initial groundwork for parts of the NRMA years ago. And I can’t say how happy I am that the leaders of Trout Unlimited and SUWA were willing to come to the table and make a compromise.

Ladies and gentlemen, you did well. And the sporting public of America thanks you.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Trout Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.

A Win For Public Land

Author Spencer Durrant with an arctic grayling in the Delta Clearwater River east of North Pole, Alaska. Photo by Benji Hadfield/@alaskankayak.

Why the Natural Resources Management Act is a huge win for sportsmen and women across the country.

By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor

Sportsmen and women in America got an early Valentine’s Day gift when the U.S. Senate passed the Natural Resources Management Act (NRMA) on February 13, 2019. It’s likely to sail through the Democrat-controlled House since it passed 92-8 in the Senate. The biggest wins include permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), protections for steelhead habitat in Oregon, and improved access to current federally-managed public land for hunters and anglers.

All eight senators who voted no are Republicans – Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Lee (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), Rand Paul (KY), Jim Inhofe (OK), James Lankford (OK), Pat Toomey (PA), and Ron Johnson (WI).

Lee opposed the bill because it “Moves federal lands policy in the wrong direction by failing to reform federal land acquisition programs and adding new restrictions to how Americans are allowed to use land already under federal control,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Deseret News.

Personally, I’m surprised Lee views the NRMA that way. It’s far from a perfect solution for public land management in the American West, but it’s an important step in the right direction. This bill brought disparate groups to the table where they actually made a compromise. Isn’t that what Americans of any political persuasion have been begging of Congress for decades?

I recently had the chance to sit down with Congressman John Curtis (R, UT) to talk public lands. During that conversation, Curtis told me something that’ll shock anyone with a passing knowledge of public land management issues in the West.

Both the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and members of the energy industry in Emery County (a rural slice of Utah with an economy based largely on coal) sat down to discuss which lands needed protection, and which could be used for further development. And, the bill requires public input – a big sticking point Lee had with this legislation in the first place.

This is what the bill actually states:

Sec. 1222. MANAGEMENT OF RECREATION AREA.


(1) IN GENERAL – Not than 5 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall develop a comprehensive management plan for the long-term protection and management of the Recreation Area.

(2) REQUIREMENTS – The Management Plan shall –

(A) describe the appropriate uses and management of the Recreation area;
(B) be developed with extensive public input*;
(C) take into consideration any information developed in studies of the land within the Recreation Area.
*Emphasis Added. View the full bill here.

Here’s the thing about public input – I absolutely believe we need more of it at the state level, especially when forming legislation as federally overwhelming as the NRMA. But that’s exactly what happened here with the provisions in the NRMA specifically regarding Emery County in Utah. I can’t speak for the provisions made for other wilderness designations in Utah, or the other states this bill benefits, but I’d imagine similar processes occurred across the country.

Wes Siler put together a great piece on all the benefits from the NRMA for Outside Online, which I highly encourage everyone to go and read.

Now, the other big win here is something Siler only briefly mentions in his article, but one that Steve Rinella and the Meat Eater crew dived deep into on the latest episode of the Meat Eater Podcast.

The bulk of wildlife conservation funding in America comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act, an excise tax on most hunting and fishing gear sold in the U.S. That includes ammunition, and for years it’s been suspected that recreational shooters were paying the lion’s share of the Pittman-Robertson tax, simply because recreational shooting uses high amounts of ammunition, and more people target shoot than hunt.

So the NRMA gives states flexibility to create new shooting ranges, and improve on existing ones, as a way of saying thanks to the recreational shooters who help support wildlife conservation, many of whom never step foot on public land to hunt.

The NRMA isn’t law yet – it still has to pass the House and get President Trump’s signature – but this is the closest we’ve come to major steps in the right direction for public land management in years. I’ve lived my entire life in rural Utah and made my career thanks to public lands in the West. This is a part of the country known for its disdain of the federal government – or any government, for that matter – and I give almost no credence to anything uttered by politicians.

If Trump signs the NRMA, assuming the House passes it, political lip service won’t matter because we’ll have new laws on the books to help preserve wildlife in America.

But more importantly, if this bill passes, it shows that conservationists and the energy industry can sit down together to wrestle a solution that works well for everyone.


Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, American Angler, Sporting Classics Daily, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, and other national publications. Connect with him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.