Living life to the fullest
"Life has no limitations, except the ones you make." — Les Brown
By Makeda Trujillo Hanson
Southern Region habitat program manager
How do you begin to write a story about one of the greatest hunters and hunting writers of the last several decades? Well, I won't pretend that I have any ability to tell an eloquent story, especially through writing, but I will describe a person and an experience that has given me fond memories and taught me lessons I hope to carry on.
Shay, Joe and Patrick packing in the blind.
Hunting was instilled in me at a very young age. My family was outdoors every weekend, and our annual vacation was the archery deer hunt. I actively participated in archery leagues and attended archery shoots. Whenever I had an issue, my dad would point me to an article to read on how to fix it.
My dad was a loyal subscriber to magazines like Bowhunter, and we would watch videos of the great bowhunters of the times. One specific video I remember watching was a hunt with Dwight Schuh and Larry D. Jones. There was a part where one filled the other one's backpack with rocks when he wasn't paying attention. It was probably so memorable because my dad decided he would do something similar, except instead of rocks, he filled backpacks with drink cans so there was something to drink besides water when you got to the top of the mountain. I cherish childhood memories of hunting with my family and the traditions gained. I feel like hunting provided me with a relationship with my dad that other girls may not experience.
With hunting, I valued not only the time spent outdoors with family enjoying nature, but the hunting community and the people I met along the way. When I was a teenager, social media was making its debut. I made connections with people across the country because of a shared interest in hunting. I traveled to parts of the country I never imagined seeing. I found mentors and made friends that have lasted through the years.
This year, one of my mentors from 14 years prior reached out to me. Shay and his friend were interested in hunting the Book Cliffs. We talked about the drawing odds for non-residents and he and his friend decided to put in. His friend was aging and his health was fading. He knew this year was going to be his best chance at having a memorable experience hunting mule deer in Utah. When May rolled around, it turned out that not only did Shay's friend draw an archery Book Cliffs tag, my dad and brother did too. I was thrilled to know that I was going to be able to go on a limited-entry hunt with my family and one of my mentors.
As Shay and I began talking more regularly about the hunt, he kept referring to his friend Dwight until finally one day he asked me, "Do you know Dwight Schuh?" I was shocked! The hunter that I grew up watching on videos, and the editor and author of Bowhunter magazine that my dad read religiously for years, was the friend that was going to be hunting the Book Cliffs this year with my dad and brother.
In June, Shay messaged me saying that Dwight was nervous his health wasn't going to allow him to make the trip. Dwight has been fighting incurable multiple myeloma cancer since 2011. He had to change his drugs because his body was rejecting his other treatments. He was fragile, and his health was going downhill fast. By July, Dwight was feeling a little better and called me to discuss the hunt. We talked about places to find water and set a tree stand or blind. Throughout his life Dwight had been a phenomenal spot-and-stalk hunter, but his health wasn't going to allow him to hunt that way. Fortunately, sitting water seemed like it was going to work in his favor since most of the state of Utah hadn't seen any precipitation in several months.
Dwight beginning a stalk in his socks.
Finally, after months of anticipation, the hunt arrived. My husband Patrick had some experience in the Book Cliffs and knew of a spring that could maybe work for a blind. He and my brother Joe set up a trail camera to see what was coming through a few weeks before the hunt. The day before the hunt, Patrick and Joe hiked to the spring to retrieve the camera. Lo and behold, my husband had left his card reader at home, and trying to download pictures through the phone was taking several minutes a piece. Despite not knowing exactly what was coming to the spring, Dwight said that the area was "really turning him on" and decided that he would like to set up a blind on that spring. So Dwight, his daughter Emily, Shay, Patrick and Joe hiked a couple hundred yards down a steep hill to set up the blind. I stayed back at the trucks to try and retrieve photos. Little did I know that it would take so much time to set up a ground blind.
With decades of experience, Dwight could anticipate every twig that could cause a potential problem. He knew exactly where to place rocks and how he wanted everything leveled to make the perfect shot. Three hours later, the blind was ready. Then, that afternoon, it rained and it continued to rain for several days. For Dwight both the tree stand and ground blind he set up were not producing any deer.
Unfortunately, my husband and I weren't able to stay through much of the hunt. We had to work, and we also had our own general season archery tags to fill. Shay had to leave earlier in the hunt for work, too. So people were left to their own devices, quite literally, to keep me in the loop. With limited cell phone service, Emily would send information through text to Shay, and Shay would then forward the texts on to me. Updates on Dwight's hunt came few and far between, but waiting to hear the daily story kept it exciting.
Poor weather, poor health and other obstacles were not going to stop Dwight Schuh! He drove into the early morning hours to get to the Book Cliffs, his daughter took 10 days off of work and they were going to experience every bit of the hunt. What Emily described as "epic hail and lightning storms" surrounded them on a remote ridge near the roadless area of the Book Cliffs. One slip and fall could have led to serious injury for Dwight, and due to his illness he was at a high risk for a catastrophe. I think the rest of us were more worried about any injury than Dwight was; his daughter proved to be one of the strongest women I've met — both physically and emotionally.
Dwight and Emily with Dwight’s 2018 Book Cliffs buck, shot at five yards.
The weather remained stormy. Any plans for shooting a deer from a blind or tree stand seemed futile. It was up to Dwight to try to attempt to harvest a buck through spot-and-stalk. He located a decent buck and went into a canyon looking to find him. In the meantime, his daughter spotted eight more bucks in the same canyon. After several hours, Dwight had unfortunately spooked some bucks that ran into a larger bachelor group and ran them off. By that time the bucks were getting ready to bed down. Stalking a bedded buck was preferred by Dwight. He spent hours on the ground that day, but didn't produce a shot. He was seeing plenty of deer and getting a lot of action. Exactly what he hoped for.
That evening I got news that my brother Joe had harvested a pretty nice buck.
The next day, Dwight got the opportunity to stalk three bucks in their beds. He got to 40 yards and got busted. With only his socks on, Dwight continued stalking bucks for several more days.
Several days into the hunt I got word that my dad had shot a buck at the last light one evening. They were able to retrieve it the next morning, but not after some coyotes had helped themselves to the hind end.
After hunting hard for nine straight days, Dwight was still at it. He and Emily had been seeing a ton of bucks, but Dwight hadn't gotten any shots. Dwight was physically getting tired. He and Emily were leaving in two days.
The following morning, Emily received the text from Dwight we had all been waiting for: "I shot a buck and I'm coming back to camp to get you." Receiving that news was elating!
Next to come was the recovery. For me, that is always the most nerve-wracking part of the hunt. Was it a good shot? Will there be enough blood to track? Will the animal perish before I reach it, or worst case scenario, will I accidentally bump it?
Not knowing anything other than a buck had been shot, I started to wonder about all of those things. I was hoping that after all the hard work Dwight had put in that the buck would be found and he would reap the rewards. But, who was I kidding? This is a professional we're talking about (not that they can't have bad days). I got a text less than an hour later that the buck was down and had been found. The last tag had finally been filled. Dwight shot the buck at a thrilling five yards on his last day to hunt.
The people in this story from left to right: Dwight Schuh, my mom, my dad, Shay, me, my daughter Merriam, my daughter Emberly, my husband Patrick, my brother Joe.
Emily said, "It was a pinnacle experience of my life to pack out a buck for Dwight Schuh — it was probably not the buck he envisioned 18 years ago when he started putting in for the tag, but given his present day physical challenges and ability, and after 10 days straight of wall-to-wall hunting with so many foiled attempts, I can assure you filling this tag is a victory, and he is thrilled."
One of the best parts of hunting for me is hearing about the different experiences that people have throughout the day — what they encountered, how they messed up, what they learned. Experiencing nature at its finest is one of the greatest appreciations I have in life, but sharing those experiences with people I care about is even better. As I mentioned in the beginning, I learned and was reminded of a lot of things through this experience. Value the experience you get, push through the hard times and enjoy the people who surround you.
The subject of this story is Dwight Schuh. He is a man who has accomplished so much in his life, especially when it comes to hunting. He inspired my dad through his writings, but I never could have imagined that I would get the chance to meet him and be inspired by him for the person that he is. He is a very humble man with so much dedication and spirit. He seems to have no fear and allows no obstacle get in his way. When we were talking one day, I remember telling him that I didn't know how to give advice to someone who has had the hunting success he had. I had told him of the quality and average bucks on the Book Cliffs and what to expect. I felt pressure that he'd want to shoot a 200-inch buck, which are few and far between on the unit, and I didn't know how to help him. He informed me that there was time in his life, when he was younger, that the size of the animal was really important to him. He said he had come full circle in his life and was just excited to see deer and get an opportunity. I'm glad that I was reminded that no matter the outcome, if you know you worked really hard to achieve something, you should be proud of it.
The real hero in this story for me, however, is Emily. She was alone with her ailing father in the middle of nowhere, hours from any help even from air support, enjoying the time she got to spend with her dad and watching him fulfill his Book Cliffs hunting dream. Instead of encouraging him to stay safely at home, she made her dad a priority and supported him through the process. It is a selfless thing to put your fears, worries, comfort, job and everything else aside in order to help someone accomplish what they love. Emily is one of the strongest people — physically, mentally and emotionally — that I've had the opportunity to know. She exudes an appreciation for life and for the experiences along the way. She was so appreciative for the help that my family provided, what little it may have been. The pride she had in helping her dad was infectious.
I feel so fortunate that I got to experience this hunt. I'm glad I got to share it with my parents, my brother, my husband, my kids, my mentor and one of my idols. I will forever cherish the memories made and I will more fully value the experiences that are to come and the time I get to spend with the people I love.