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Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

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Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

Old 10-20-2007, 09:29 AM
Typical Buck
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Default Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

"How am I going to get this/these elk back to the truck?"
It is a million dollar question, and one that deserves a realistic answer.

Here is a our "packing out" story involving snow, mud, plenty of vertical,3 elk downand 16 miles in one day.... all with relative ease.

Pointers Listat the end.

From Part I: “On the way out, we paused at the point where we could hit cell service and called Sombrero for two more horses to be delivered to our campfor the next morning; tomorrow was going to be a packing day.”

Well, as it turned out, the next day was NOT to be a packing day. We picked up 7 inches of snow overnight and it was still coming down hard and steady. While it wouldn’t be hard to walk in it (muddy and slippery though) the problem was that the trails to this area are somewhat sketchy, especiallythruthe aspen stands and these trails were alreadycovered in aspen leaves, so staying exactly right on track, even with GPS was not going to be easy. Plus, strange horses will follow an established (beat) trail withoutmuch struggle whereas poking here and there thru a blanket of snow can lead to differences in opinion between you and the horse. Plus, we had to pace our events to ensure that we could get two trips in and out completed in one day. We were also a little beat up from the day before, so I made the call to Sombrero to delay the horses to bright and early the next morning.

We spent the rest of the day catching up on sleep,visiting some of the neighboring camps, and mostimportantly getting all our stuff “just so” for the upcoming packing trip so that when the horses were delivered in the morning we could just get right on and get going and not miss a beat.

Rental horses can be anadventure and in this case we were renting these two for just one day; therefore,itbecomes a case of “make do with what you get” and sometimes that is a problem. [Note: if you rent for the week, and especially if you have a history with the horse rental outfit, then you a have bit more control over the horses you get.] Sombrero jumped our two horses out of their trailer and led them over towards our camp. The mousy colored little mare in the lead was antsy and looking for a spook behind every sagebrush, every tent, every vehicle, everywhere…. I thought to myself, “Great, I don’t like her at all.” The other horse, a large white gelding, was a happy, go lucky, "Good Time Charlie," the kind I would love to have two of. There were no other horses on the trailer to trade for, so that was it.

I outweigh my partner by 45 pounds and have way more horse experience, so I took the little Mousy Mare and let my partner have Good Time Charley. Since horses sometimes get “juiced up” on their morning feed (kinda like a kid that has eaten too much sugar), I had no qualms about asking the Sombrero cowboys to hold onto their halterswhile we got on and then have them help adjust the stirrup lengths with us on horseback.

Mounting up, small stirrups (versus my big hunting boots, could only get my toes in --- a real suicide rig, my bad, my other pair of oversized stirrupswere off with our other horses) combined with the big pannier bundle tied behind the saddle made for a tall obstacle to clear with my trailing leg. Sure enough, I bumped the pannier bundle and for a moment my boot tapped her on the rump. I could feel her ready to recoil under me while I was in this compromised position and working my leg on over. I was glad I had the Sombrero cowboys holding on. When it comes to rental horses, pride is not a virtue.

Before heading into the woods with their narrow trails, tight places, trees and rocks. I took us on down the road in the opposite directiona ways to see whatI was going to be up against with the Mousy Mare. I figured if I was going to have a rodeo in the process of showing a horse who is boss, thenI may as well do it where the ground is flat and softer, and there are plenty of folks to pick up the pieces ifI didn't prevail. Other than fighting thru her spooking and balking episodes while walking past other camps, cars, etc. I felt myself getting the upper hand over her with out having to resort to physical abuse, so we turned around and headed back to the trailhead and into the woods. Good Time Charley behaved well the whole time, just as I had read him and my partner was having no trouble at all.

The Mousy Mareapparently was a “mountain horse” and was much more at home in the woods than around camps. The trails were muddy and slick and if there was any grade at all, then I let her work it at her own pace, sometimes leaving skid marks one to two feet long on the trickier spots on the muddy slopes. On the level stretches I had to keep after her though, otherwise we could walkfaster on foot than what she was volunteering to travel. Once I was comfortable enough with her that I felt I could ride without one hand on the saddle at all times, I broke off a small (18” ) aspen twig and would just tap her on the butt when she lagged…. she didn’t like that at all, but it got her going without any abuse. Agrrrr, for a pair of cowboy boots and spurs and we’d straighten this whole thing out, but it was a case of make due with what I had.

By the time we got 4 miles back in where the elk where hangingin the trees, the Mousy Marewas breathing fairly hard and had broke into a sweat. I told my partner that we should load the smaller of the two cows on her right away while we had her tired. As we were getting ready, I was holding the pannier bundle and showing it to her and it seemed she could care less. “This is looking promising,” I thought. Then the wind shifted and blew towards her and the smells of previous killsthat were embedded in the panniersreached her nostrils, what a transformation…. bug eyes, flaring nostrils, snorting, and coiled muscles. Great, I knew we were in for a rodeo if we tried to load her up. If there were four of us we might prevail, but with just two of us it begged for a different solution.

That was when I recalled a Remington painting of cowboys blindfolding a bronc so they could get it saddled and get a rider on board. So we got the pannier bundle away from her and got her settled down and then I eased off my orange sweatshirt while my partner sweet talked her and petted her. I was standing by her shoulder and touched her shoulder with the sweatshirt bundle, rubbed it right up her neck…. no problem and then I spread it right up over her head. She was somewhat surprised but they are used to people fooling with putting on halters and bridles over their head so perhaps she thought it was going to come and then go. Not so, I spread it firmly over the top of her headand positioned it down over her eyes and then tied the arms in a knot under her neck. She got a little goosey when she realized it wasn’t coming off, but then just stood there rather than trying to move around where she couldn't see.

My partner continued to sweet talk her and hold onto her halter rope, and:
-- On went the saddle panniers
-- In went the front quarters (to the back)
-- In went thehind quarters (to the front)
-- On went the head (in the middle ofthe saddle seat)
-- I tidied up the package and then addedthe lashing rope (Bosco/Arizona hitch), and then

Off came the blindfold, she looked back at the load like “what the hell happened? --- Oh crap!” She seemed to resign herself to her fate from that point forward and by day’s end she was one tired horse and totally pliable. We put 16 miles on them that day during which time they were either hauling us or elk the whole time. The first trip out we both walked and led the loaded horses. On the second trip, with only one elk, we led the loaded horse and then took turns between leading the pack horse and riding the spare horse --- how refreshing!

As wecame down the road towards our camp on the final run at 7:30 PM, Sombrero’srig was up ahead, spotlighting our camp to see if we were back so they could pick up the horses that night rather than make a special trip the next morning. I was worried we might just miss them so I called out, “Hey Sombrero!”The spot lights turned our way, the connection was made, so we didn't miss our accelerated horse handoff.The Sombrero cowboys helped us off load the elk, then they checked fortheir equipment andled our steeds away to the trailer. They also bought back the extra bale of hay and the bag of grain we had purchased since we expected keeping them overnight. We were now relieved of the duty offeeding or watering the Mousy Mare or Good Time Charley. Great, now we can get these elk hung in the trees and then get right down to food, fires, friends, stories, and libations.

3 elk out in one day, 16 miles covered safe and sound, no blown knees or backs, no heart attacks and we both felt reasonably refreshed!

The handling of the meat and the packing it out is a significantpart of anelk hunt. Not as much glory as the hunting and the killing;not as giddy as the libation and partying and bonding with friends, but it can be a very satisfying part of the hunt. Additionally,the questions you get asked by hunters you meet on the trail affirm that you are in a good place.

That is my "2007 Elk Packing Report" and I stand by it.
Life is good.
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Recap Of Useful Packing Observations and Techniques For Saddle Panniers:

1. Clear distinct trails help with rental horses, they'll trust what they can see more than they will trust you, so if necessary wait a day if the weather is going to pass, if it is snowy your meat is not going to spoil.

2. If you don't like one of the horses delivered to you, if they have others on board the trailer you may be able to trade the "bronc" out for a different horse.

3. All other things equal, geldings are less problematic than mares.... they don't ovulate and they are less b!tchy.

4. If you have to engage ina "prove who is boss" session, do it close to camp, close to people, and on soft, cleared ground (gopher mounds are a good sign).
5.Buy your own pair of oversize plastic stirrups (orange) that are hunting boot friendly (wide and slick) before you leave--- usually it is easy to swap them out and then put the oldstirrups back on again.

6. Make sure the stirrups are adjusted properly for length.

7. If the horserental personnel are there and you are ready to go, have them help get you on board for the initial go around.

8. Consider suspending your "pannier bundle" from the saddle horn along your right leg rather than tieing it behind the saddle.

9. Don't tie your horse solid to a tree while loading it unless you absolutely feel you can trust it; otherwise, with a broken halter your horse can "take off" on you and you may not catch up with it.

10. If your horse is obviously going to "fight you" getting the saddle panniers and meat on board, then consider blind folding the horse before it becomes hostile to all interactions.

11. Resaddle the horse if necessary to make sure the saddle blanket extends a good FIVE inches inFRONT of the saddle, this can look odd compared to normal and the tail end of the saddle blanket may even go underneath the tail end of the saddle just a little --- this is okay. Moveing the saddle blanket forwardprotects the top of the pack horse's neck/shoulder so that the front of the saddle pannier (which DOES typically extendFOUR inchesout from the saddle) does not CUT the horse as there is a lot of weight on it a that point and the pannier material is not gentle. [If you have forgotten and spot the problem belatedly, then use a piece of rope thru the "saddle horn/pommel" hole of the saddle pannier and back to the saddle horn to "lift" the weight off the unprotected neck.]

12. Make sure yourcinch is tightened the way you want it before you load the saddle panniers, it is very difficult, almost impossible, to tighten the cinch with fully loaded saddle panniers lashed into place.

13. When you hang your quarters in the tree use a 6' (minimum) piece of cordage. It will make the getting the quarter up into the tree easier. It will give you something easy to hook the scale into for weight balancing. It will give you something to tie the quarters where you want them to be in the saddle panniers viz a vizthe saddle and each other. It will also give you something to use to secure the head in place.

14. Use a scale to be sure your pannier loads are balanced to within a pound or twobetween left and right, add a rock to the light side if need be. A scale with a sliding plastic tab that manually stops at the highest indicated weight makes the weighing process easy.... you don't have to read itwhile holding the load up off the ground.)

15. Most panniers have "D" rings at the upperlip of the "pocket", we have three 10' ropes on each saddle pannier for "tidying everything up" and "pulling it all together."

16. We use oversize/orange/condura saddlebags as a "packing accessory" to contain the "extra stuff" like scales, unused mannies, plastic bags, extra ropes, cow heads [in the big middle pocket, (grin)], clothes, lunches), etc. and we work this right over the center of the load, threading it thru the elk legs that are sticking up in the air and then easily buckling them to whatever is handy (usually elk legs).
[Note: With saddlebags this big, be careful if using them as "typical saddlebags behind the saddle seat" on horses that you haven't got to know yet or that arent tired yet; as they are pretty "floppy" and can get some horses a bit excited.]

17.Using a lash rope or the panniers that have all the connective/securing strapping will help keep your load on the horse where you want it (I'm a lash rope guy myself.)

18. After you have loaded up and are heading down the trail, beware the first time you come to a narrow spot in the trail where the saddle panniers will likely rub against a tree. A green pack horse can get excited about the sensation and/or the sound and bolt towards you if you are leading it on foot.

19. Watch out for differences between the trip in and thetrip out. Spaces on the trail whereyou led the horse thru (usually between trees)on the way in will now be too narrow for a pannier loaded horse to fit and you will have to walk around that spot or thatpair of trees. A good horse will refuse to step into a space that is too narrow.

20. Add a 10 foot piece of rope to the lead line (that is attached to the halter), if you are leading your pack horse on foot. Then when you come to a little gully with a "steep down and then right back up" spot you can have your partner hold the horse back while you get down and mostly across the gully (gullyette?) with about a 20' lead line and then you just "wind it up" from the other side and the loaded horse does not have to break his momentum going up the other side and you don't get run over or passed while you are slipping/scratching/crawling up the slick/muddy uphill side.
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Any one have any additional pointers for packing out mucho elk over distance (where ATV's are not allowed [Thank God!])?
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Old 10-21-2007, 08:02 AM
Typical Buck
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing)

I know that the "killing part" is the part that titillates most readers on these forums, especially for those who are in love with the idea of elk hunting; however,....

For those who are in love with the reality of actually doing a successful elk hunt, the packingaspect is more than just a minor detail. You ain't gonna just drag them out like a whitetail. Not having a truly workable plan canresultin elk meat rotting in the woods, abandoned, which I have seen as folks were too beat up or weak to hike back into the woods and haul therest of it out on their backs.
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Anyone have any additional horse/packing experiences or tips to share that may help folks have a successful pack out?
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Old 10-22-2007, 12:09 PM
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing)

I have a couple pointers!!!
Only rent horses from someone reputable and reliable! If you don't know an outfit, then buy you a pair of Manniers!!! (Panniers for man) I can carry two quarters at a time, one if back and one in the front. Bone it out and you can carry more. Just depends on how far in and how bad the trail is for walking!

I am not a horse fan. Friends say I am too much of control freak, probably so. I have neither the patience nor the perserverence nor the needto have my own horse. My wife is the horse lover in our family. WE will have them again I am sure!! I have ridden and been around horses that I would take up the trail after an elk. I wouldn't be able to take a horse of hers hunting as she knows that it would come back with scars it didn't have before. One never knows how a horse is going to react to blood and guts until you get them around it...hello rodeo!!! Or even if that gentle broke "good time Charley" will be so gentle once we get him out of Texas. Seen it go the other way many a time.

In the end, I am hard headed and still strong of back.........all things being equal, I would make 4 pack trips walking backwards before I would mess with horses!!! Huffing, puffing and loving every minute of it!!! I can think of no better way to leave this world.....dead along the trail, hauling out elk quarters, in the middle of the magnificient Rocky Mountains!!!

Thanks for the info EKM. Reading your story and the mental image of that mare giving you what I call "the crazy one-eye" reminds again of why I will carry mine out on atv, or me if that is not possible!
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Old 10-23-2007, 03:44 AM
Nontypical Buck
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

Ecellent post! Great info. Thank you.
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Old 10-23-2007, 07:53 PM
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

Reading your post brings back some of my own recent memories I'm assuming I packed out my elk in the same storm that you dealt with... Lot of work - but it's all worth it in the end.
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Old 10-25-2007, 08:40 PM
Nontypical Buck
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

Great post EKM! Have you ever read the book Horses, Hitches & Rocky Trails? You would enjoy it, if you have not read it. The author is Joe Back.
Joe gets right into the "meat & taters" of packing with stock in the backcountry. Much the same as your last post did.
Thanks for taking the time to write it, I enjoyed reading it.
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Old 10-26-2007, 07:14 AM
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

That was some good reading EKM ,thanks. I'm with red I carry my own pack ,at least up to this time in my life ,I'm 46.The bull this year took me a trip a day for 4 days.I call it the labor of love.I shot a moose in alaska it took 10 packs ,2 miles one way.So anything after that looks eazy.

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Old 10-28-2007, 09:19 AM
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

Packing them out on your back with a frame is really earning it. Slow and steady and it is half the fun of a kill. That is what makes elk hunting so special.
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Old 10-29-2007, 08:56 PM
Typical Buck
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

I admire the "brawn andgumption" of many here who take the approach of "I am the horse" and all I need is time (and Ibprophen?)to get the job done.

In the past I hadwished some of the folks in my camp would demonstrate a similar attitude of “work hard and get it done” when it came to simply setting up camp(s) [main and spike] versus wanting to “show up late and leave early” and stick someone else with the work. [:'(]

And that was working on level ground where they didn'tevenhave to carry stuff very far at alland still some would want to whimp out; heaven forbid they shot an elk and were left to their own devices to get it out on their own.

Got a good bunch now though.
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Just a few questions for the folks who actually have done it DYI hunting elk at elevation:

(1) Where do you draw your line in terms of:
-- (a) distance from truck/truck access point,
-- (b) vertical from/to truck,
-- (c) forecast temperature conditions for the necessary time after your shot [:'(]
before you will pass on taking a shot due to the ethical pressure of carcass/meat preservation and care? [and then move back closer to the road]
[I know the “screw it, I’ll shoot it, and worry about whether it makes it out okay later; let the chips fall where they may; no one will ever know but me” attitude would never occur in our fine Internet gang here, as the ethics bar is always oh-so-high!]

(2) Do you ever hunt with more than one elk tag per man? [8D]
[i.e. more elk down = more elk to pack out?]

(3) What do you do in that early season when the temps hit the 70’s…. 4 days? Dang…. "green" meat? We’ve had to trim off "green" meat during the “in camp” butchering/packaging/freezing session on the last batch of meat taken out on the tail end of just a 2 day pack session (took six elk out and it was warmish [October]).[]

[Once you've smelled green elk meat you will never forget it [:'(].
Also, all the other meat you smell afterwards, even if it is fine, tends to smell spoiled("This cut of elk is fine! No it isn't can't you smell that?"). We've even went down the road to a neighboring camp to pull in someone elsefor an "unbiased opinion"(and clean nostrils) to serve as atie-breaker.]

(4) What % of the average cross section of John Q. Public hunters (newbies included) do you think are capable/willing to do the “brawn and gumption” approach you use, even with attitude and bravado aside, i.e. physically and long term pain tolerance-wise…. capable?

(5) What % do you think the hunters in #4 above EVER try to approximate the packing challenge (weight and distance) before leaving home…. just to see if they can even come close to accomplishing it or not?
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Again, I admire the "brawn andgumption" of those here who have actually done it.

Just trying to reconcile the abandoned game bagged quarters hanging in trees that I have seen rotting when we went back in on our last trip to fetch out the spike camp, versus the “it’s no big deal…. just do it” that is obviously accomplished by some….

Perhaps it is a case of the Marines…. the proud, the few…. we're just looking for a few good men….
and then on the other hand….

Let's see, 3 elk, 1 hide, 3 heads.... let's just say 12 quarters (to be on the light side )....
Two guys, one trip per day, that is six days (12/2=6).... yikes. I guess I'd have them "earned" at that point.
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Old 10-30-2007, 07:54 AM
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Default RE: Colorado Elk Hunt: 1-2-3 Down (Part II - Packing With Horses)

I appreciated your post as well, but as someone who has never worked with horses and who has heard horror stories of horse wrecks where a friend of mine was nearly killed I would only use them as a last resort and then only if I hired someone to help with them instead of just dropping them off and picking them up.

As far as packing an elk out on foot, I think 8 miles one way would be quite a chore and without more than 1 hunter per elk it would be close to impossible if the temperatures were warm. 3 elk and 2 hunters 8 miles from the road would be quite an ordeal even if temperatures were cold. I think the foot method is something that is primarily used when the elk is down a mile or two from the road. Hiking 8 miles in and setting up a camp for a week is something that would be difficult to do on foot to begin with.

Talking with a friend who lives in Wyoming, an interesting twist is in Wyoming just outside the park where the bears are as interested in your elk as you are. The priority there becomes getting the animal quartered and getting the meat moved off the kill site asap before the bears get to it.

As far as the % of John Q. Public being in a situation where they are 8 miles from the nearest trail without a horse I would think the % would be pretty low. The bulk of them are never going to be more than a mile or two off the road I would guess so they would rarely be in that situation. Even at a mile or two some are not going to be capable of getting the job done.

The first elk Ihauled out, (my dad shot it and I was his pack horse)I was amazed at how big it was, and it was a cow. I had thought that myself (about 34 at the time), my dad (about 78 at the time) and my nephew (a very small 14 year old at the time) were going to just drag it back to the truck. We couldn't even budge it! Thankfully we were about 400 yards from the road and after some work the elk was in 5 pieces and we could haul it out to the truck. My dad was barely able to get up and down the steep hill by himself and my nephew wasn't much help either, so basically I hauled the elk to the truck by myself and even though it was only 400 yards it was work!

When doing the foot method I think deboning the meat is a definite help, but I think many newbies (including myself when Ihauled out my first elk) really don't know how to do that. I really think more people would debone in the field if they realized how easy it was, especially if you are going to butcher it yourself, gutting it is just a waste of time.

Oh well, I just thought I would add my thoughts on the subject. Coming more from a newbie perspective for sure. I shot a Mule Deer last week that was 3/4 mile from the road and it was a chore hauling it out on foot by myself (400' elevation change, uphill of course). It took about2 1/2hours to cut it up and haul it back to the truck on foot with 3 trips. I was taking it pretty easy, but it was still work.

When I try to put it in perspective for deer hunters who are going after thier first elk, A bull elk is the equivalent of about 4 or 5 200lb deer and a cow elk is the equivalent of about 3200lb or 4 150lbdeer.
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