Backcountry hunting experiences with horses, mules and men..

OntarioHunter

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I have posted the story elsewhere about giardia and crapping my pants in the saddle. I'm sure I left a lasting impression on the two ladies in the plane departing 35 yards overhead as I walked back up to the rear end of my packhorse buck naked from the waist down.

Yes, the misadventures are the adventures we never forget. Back in '81 I winged a spike bull at about 320 yards below me in a clearing. Wasn't absolutely sure I'd hit him but he peeled off from his cow and ran straight downhill to timber while his mom ran up the draw. So I climbed down for a look. The bull was tearing up the ground more than he should have and went around the big Engleman spruce deadfalls instead of jumping over, always going downhill. Something wasn't right. It was tricky tracking without snow but I stayed with him and eventually picked up a tiny bit of blood. This was my first time hunting this drainage. If I'd dropped the bull in the meadow, he'd been relatively easy to retreive with my horses. But he ran down into the bottoms filled with deadfall, bog, and a creek that in at least three places cascaded over cliffs in a series of waterfalls. The bull negotiated the first two falls but the third one was in a spectacular gorge. I caught up to him trying to pick his way around the south face and dropped him in his tracks. Thankfully he lodged behind a tree and didn't tumble 100' to the bottom of the falls. Turns out I only lightly clipped a rear leg hamstring tendon. Too bad he didn't get away. I quickly gutted him and then flagged a route around the two other falls and across the last spruce bottom to the meadow. Unfortunately I only had half a roll of flagging tape and consequently the last section through the bottom was poorly flagged. Called my brother when I got home and he agreed to help me get it out the next day. We both worked the same shift at the plant and were on long change days off which also happened to be during a holiday weekend. I had to shoe one of my horses before we left the next morning so were off to a late start. Because the country was too steep to ride we were leading the two horses. Leapfrogging worked best. Start one horse up the mountain and let her go till she could find a place to stand, catch up to her, and then let the other mare run up to her. That way only one horse was ever loose at a time. If both were loose, they'd make a beeline for the truck. Been there! We finally arrived at the last bench late in the afternoon. I still had to quarter the elk and get them thirty yards across the cliff face to the bench where the horses were tied up. Mike remarked that I should have brought Dad's WWII ammo packboard to pack the quarters. "I left it home so I wouldn't be tempted to use it. I'll carry the quarters over. If I lose my footing I can toss the meat instead of riding it to the bottom." He started to pick up a quarter and I told him to drop it. One of us needs to stay out of trouble at all times. Also, I was worried about his diabetes. It was now obvious we had a long night ahead of us. And it was starting to cloud up and looking ugly. I loaded the meat and we made it around the first falls okay. But at the second falls as my brother was leapfrogging to me, his mare lost her footing and started to slip down the rock face. He tried to catch up and help only to get pinned as she slammed into a tree. Broke his nose (again). Lucky that dead snag held or he might have been killed. With me pulling and him pushing (while bleeding profusely) we got Jeanie back on her feet and up the rock face. By the time we arrived at the last spruce bottom it was dark and raining hard. Two attempts to cross it failed as I lost the flagging trail. I tied up the horses and headed off across the bog with a fresh roll of tape and our only flashlight. I would flag a new trail back from the meadow through the maze of deadfall using Mike's shouts to guide me to the horses. I About half way back I tripped and broke the flashlight. Then everything was totally black. I literally could not see my hand in front of my nose. And the rain was pouring down. I blindly stumbled, fumbled, and crashed my way back to Mike's voice. Suddenly I saw a strange greenish glow in the trees. It was Mike. He popped a glowstick. First time I ever saw one. Great. I knew my flashlight has an extra lightbulb inside. But I'm shivering pretty badly so Mike will do the surgery while I hold the glowstick. And then he twists off the new bulb trying to screw it in. Nuts. Now we're screwed. We unloaded the horses, built a fire under the umbrella of a huge spruce, and hunkered down for the night. There was nothing for them to eat in the spruce bottom so the horses had to stand and shiver through the night. At daybreak the clouds cleared and while Mike was having a bite to eat, I went to load the horses. Couldn't do it. I didn't have enough gas in the tank. And of course I'm now very concerned about my diabetic brother who was near the end of his grub supply. I returned to the campfire, barely able to walk. Mike suggested we dump the meat and try to ride the horses out. I considered it and the thought made me tear up. Then the light went on. "Mike, did you notice if the birds had been on that gut pile?" I hiked back to it and sure enough it was intact. The heart and liver came back to the campfire and Mike cooked it all up in strips on the end of green alder sticks. That heart tasted like prime rib to me. Revitalized, I flagged the route through the bog, loaded the horses and we were off ... a day late. In the final stretch as we were descending the steep face of the Swan Range I could see Dad's pickup coming up the loop from the highway. He found the truck just as we walked through the timber. "Dad, the rule is no one is supposed to come looking unless I'm two days late." He smiled: "Well, I wasn't looking for you." I'll never forget that. When Mike and I showed up at the plant the next morning, foreman Louie just asked "What did ya shoot?" He did the math. Missing the first day back to work meant not getting paid for the holiday during shift change.
 
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