They looked for the deer in the canyon surrounded by sheer cliff walls, but had a hard time finding it. They finally spotted the buck mule deer with an impressive 8-point antler rack on a narrow ledge.
"We came around a bend and there he was bedded down on a ledge about 5 feet above the water," DWR conservation officer Sean Spencer said. "He blended into the wall and was pretty hard to see."
Spencer realized the buck couldn't swim far enough to escape from the canyon. He and his supervisors talked about lassoing and dragging the buck to a spot where it could find freedom or tranquilizing and moving the animal. Spencer worried the buck would flail and fight the rope and may drown if kept in the water. Drugs to tranquilize the buck were at least three hours away.
He asked National Park Service ranger Noel Rupel and Utah State Parks rangers James Morgan and Cheston Slater if they were game to try a live capture.
Figuring it would be easier to subdue the animal while it was in the water, Spencer climbed on the ledge to flush the buck into Lake Powell.
"He stood up and started to run. It was the coolest thing. He got to the end of the ledge and jumped. He tucked his feet and Supermanned it right into the water," Spencer said. "It was like watching those dogs jumping off boat docks. It was pretty wild."
The men then began the water rodeo using the boats like horses in a steer wrestling competition, creating a chute around the animal. The only rope Spencer had was a heavy dock rope and he had a hard time catching the buck in the lasso.
"It was too heavy. I kept missing and he kept ducking his head," he said. "We finally had to get him lassoed from both boats and then I was able to grab his antlers."
Then the real fun started. The men hauled the deer onto the boat in an attempt to tie his legs for a boat ride to freedom. The buck didn't see it that way.
"Once we got him on the boat and he felt something solid under his feet, the fight was on," Spencer said. "Those antlers were razor-sharp. We just kind of piled on him until I could finally get him hog-tied and get a blindfold on him."
Spencer took a couple of kicks to the arms and shins from the buck, but otherwise the deer and the men survived the encounter unscathed.
They ferried the buck across the reservoir to an area without sheer cliffs where it could roam and find food.
"We got him off the boat and turned him loose," Spencer said.
Spencer has seen a lot of crazy things during his year-long stint as a conservation officer at Powell, but he is unlikely to forget fishing for a deer.
"I told my supervisors that maybe this was the best catch of the season, but that I wasn't sure a lasso was a legal method of take when fishing for bucks," he said.