What would be the best Pack Animal for Backcountry Elk

What's the Best Pack Animal For Back Country Elk

  • Llama

    Votes: 20 22.0%
  • Mule

    Votes: 36 39.6%
  • Horse

    Votes: 16 17.6%
  • Goat

    Votes: 2 2.2%
  • Hunting Buddy

    Votes: 28 30.8%

  • Total voters
    91

OntarioHunter

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I am surprised to see so many photos of panniers used for elk hunting. I hated the things. A simpleton's way of packing. Stuff in them shifts around and if the animal has a wreck and rolls down the hill the panniers and load will either pummel the horse or get smashed to pieces. I always tied my loads in mantas (pronounced mannies). Sling the front quarters with basket hitch and hind quarters with barrel hitch. In a wreck the load flies off the animal (unless finished with a diamond hitch). Of course tying loads on an animal requires some expertise ... but not a lot. I can still wrap and tie up a load blindfolded. Easy. I could probably put one on a horse blindfolded too but never tried it. Well maybe not barrel hitch.

Edit: I suppose the advantage to panniers when packing meat is the load goes on the animal quick. I could never get the livestock to stand head uphill when trying to load. For whatever reason they insisted on standing sidehill. That meant on one side I'm trying to throw the meat on the horse up over my head. Then run around quickly to the uphill side before the horse falls over and toss that quarter on at knee level. Of course it's a lot easier when it's a two-man job. But I was always solo. Yeah, for that job panniers would have been easier to load. But I still would prefer the rope-and-manta emergency ejection option in case of a wreck.
 
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marksjeep

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My buddies like my mules. I'm still figuring them out. We've had the mules and horses long before I started using them for packing. So the packing is an newly added benefit. It comes with a pile of work at home and in the field, but I enjoy it and I enjoy learning how to do it. It's added a new dynamic to hunting, no doubt.

Sawbuck vs. Decker packing is mostly a regional thing. Deckers are much more traditional in the northern states; Idaho, Montana, Washington. Sawbucks are much more traditional in the SW. I pack on both but I prefer the decker.
 

OntarioHunter

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My buddies like my mules. I'm still figuring them out. We've had the mules and horses long before I started using them for packing. So the packing is an newly added benefit. It comes with a pile of work at home and in the field, but I enjoy it and I enjoy learning how to do it. It's added a new dynamic to hunting, no doubt.

Sawbuck vs. Decker packing is mostly a regional thing. Deckers are much more traditional in the northern states; Idaho, Montana, Washington. Sawbucks are much more traditional in the SW. I pack on both but I prefer the decker.
I can load a sawbuck slightly faster in most situations (except barrel hitch). No need to pull the rope through the Ds. The decker's half-breed allows it to carry heavier and odd shaped loads more safely. Packboard and padding in the half-breed distributes the load evenly across the animal's ribs. I have packed sawbucks with half-breeds but for some reason they are rare. The disadvantage of half-breed is animal gets overheated more easily in hot weather. Traditional sawbuck with no half-breed breathes better which is perhaps why they are more popular in Southwest.

Barrel hitch doesn't work as well with traditional sawbuck. The rear loop can slip around the end of the tree and get between it and saddle pad. Good way to cause a saddle sore. With a decker the half-breed keeps the ropes away from the tree. All of this is nonissue if using panniers.
 

HUNTNNW

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Nov 13, 2012
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Having owned a horse and multiple goats, goats can not be beat. Their singular (& most important) downfall is the disease issue.
Which is pretty much the only reason I don't pack with goats anymore.

Nothing carries more pound for pound, requires as little maintenance or consumes as little water. An in shape 200 lb goat can do 50-70 lbs.
None of the other stock can (nor should) safely haul 30% of their body weight.
yup! why i own goats and not to include I can haul up some bad roads where trailers cant get.

Are you talking Movi? and if so why wouldnt use them? test your herd
 

SuperX

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Are burros not a thing anymore? I know they're sure footed and can carry 100# or so each. They used to be the gold standard
 

diamond hitch

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I've used horses most of my life at both work and play. Most of my cargo days have been with deckers and half breeds. In the early years I could get a used FS pack saddle for $30 and rebuild the wore out leather parts. The last new one I bought cost $251 and I looked last year and they were over $500.

I've used wooden panniers for camp and grub, made a kitchen pannier similar to a chuck wagon with a fold down front and drawers.

For a number of years I packed placer gravels in canvas panniers (3 straps and leather ends). I've also used them for camp gear as well as mannies. Top loads are nearly always mannied. Wooden panniers worked the easiest for a base for packing sluice boxes and pumps.

Diamond hitches and lash cinches are critical components to top packs and adverse terrain. Experience is a critical component to success. As is attention to detail.

I have packed as many elk out on riding saddles as pack saddles. They work well if you know what you are doing and have worked with your stock. Whole deer can be a challenge in a riding saddle or a calf elk. The horns are difficult to keep out of harms way. Deer are even a bigger challenge When they are frozen. I might be past those whole deer days by myself except for camp meat size critters.

I never got to work with mules. The big outfits had them but the most horses I ever had at one time was 11 but I couldn't ride them all enough. Mules just weren't all that common.

One of the most memorable stock day I remember was when everyone decided to ride stock to high school one spring. It was a memorable moment specially the ones that tied their ponies to the merry go round.
 

OntarioHunter

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I've used horses most of my life at both work and play. Most of my cargo days have been with deckers and half breeds. In the early years I could get a used FS pack saddle for $30 and rebuild the wore out leather parts. The last new one I bought cost $251 and I looked last year and they were over $500.

I've used wooden panniers for camp and grub, made a kitchen pannier similar to a chuck wagon with a fold down front and drawers.

For a number of years I packed placer gravels in canvas panniers (3 straps and leather ends). I've also used them for camp gear as well as mannies. Top loads are nearly always mannied. Wooden panniers worked the easiest for a base for packing sluice boxes and pumps.

Diamond hitches and lash cinches are critical components to top packs and adverse terrain. Experience is a critical component to success. As is attention to detail.

I have packed as many elk out on riding saddles as pack saddles. They work well if you know what you are doing and have worked with your stock. Whole deer can be a challenge in a riding saddle or a calf elk. The horns are difficult to keep out of harms way. Deer are even a bigger challenge When they are frozen. I might be past those whole deer days by myself except for camp meat size critters.

I never got to work with mules. The big outfits had them but the most horses I ever had at one time was 11 but I couldn't ride them all enough. Mules just weren't all that common.

One of the most memorable stock day I remember was when everyone decided to ride stock to high school one spring. It was a memorable moment specially the ones that tied their ponies to the merry go round.
I have two pairs of pack boxes out in the storage shed. They have no straps, only handles on the side for lifting which also hold the basket hitch in place. Also a notch in the front at bottom of box to catch the backside rope coming up for the knot. Very secure once tied to the horse. They open through a top lid which is a bit inconvenient but the boxes also served as seating and table. I made them with a slight angle on backside so they settled on the horse better than square boxes. A curved backside would probably be best but I wasn't sophisticated enough woodworker in those days to handle that. The boxes are handy for organizing stuff and of course protection. Downside is economy of load space and weight of box. Simply throwing stuff onto a manta and bundling it up can be very economical for load space and weight but getting the loads balanced is tricky. Much easier to reach into boxes and reshuffle things as needed. Keeping a manta load from shifting during the trip can be a problem if not packed carefully. And at the end of the trail there's nothing to sit on or store stuff. I think the biggest mistake people make with boxes is designing them too long. Then they stick out too far and horses bang into things.

Diamond hitches are too often a fashion statement. Only use them with a top pack and top packs should be avoided if at all possible. I used them a lot because I typically only had two horses. My packhorse was usually loaded to the max. But I learned from a great teacher.

Packing on a GOOD riding saddle can be done but, as you indicated, better know what you're doing. Saddle with a crouper is a must. I added the hardware to my roper so I could move over my pack saddle's breeching when not needed.

Yep, throwing unwrapped blood and hair on a horse can be tricky. Did it with a deer once and almost got away with it. When I pulled the doe off my horse at the truck, she spooked and broke the lead rope buckle (pack animals are bowlined over the ears but she was saddle stock that day). I had to follow her down the road several miles with the stock truck before she settled down. Lesson learned.

A couple of times when teaching high school in eastern Montana I rode my horse to school. It was about seven miles one way. My Lab was usually at school every day sleeping on the couch the maintenance guy had set up in the boiler room. She walked with us to cafeteria at grade school for lunch and played with the little kids while we ate. Those were great times. Gone with all the transplant development there now. It was too close to Billings.
 
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OntarioHunter

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Are burros not a thing anymore? I know they're sure footed and can carry 100# or so each. They used to be the gold standard
They don't ride well. Usually a bit too short for the job. And not a comfortable ride. Better to have an animal that is dual purpose. Also, finding the tack to fit them can be difficult.
 

diamond hitch

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Good comments. I ride with breeching anbreast collars on my saddle just like my deckers. Often I use pack pads to give extra cushioning to protect my horses. Matching the tack and loads to the horses is important. Loads must be balanced and set not too high or low. They can carry a lot for a short distance and not too adverse of terrain. If it is a long distance pack- lighten the load.

some horses don't walk straight going down hill and may pitch their load to one side. Pay attention and keep them adjusted. They have individual characteristics and can be somewhere between dependable and annoying given the day.
Never found elk quarters to not pack well however big bull front quarters can drag on the logs with short horses and short partners tend to bitch about tall horses. Plan accordingly.
 

OntarioHunter

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Good comments. I ride with breeching anbreast collars on my saddle just like my deckers. Often I use pack pads to give extra cushioning to protect my horses. Matching the tack and loads to the horses is important. Loads must be balanced and set not too high or low. They can carry a lot for a short distance and not too adverse of terrain. If it is a long distance pack- lighten the load.

some horses don't walk straight going down hill and may pitch their load to one side. Pay attention and keep them adjusted. They have individual characteristics and can be somewhere between dependable and annoying given the day.
Never found elk quarters to not pack well however big bull front quarters can drag on the logs with short horses and short partners tend to bitch about tall horses. Plan accordingly.
For the uninitiated, pack saddle pads are larger and thicker than regular riding saddle pads. The downside to using a pack saddle pad for riding is it can tend to roll around a bit, hence the need for extra support (breeching and breast strap found on pack saddles). Pack saddles have extra support for carrying dead weight. Live weight on a riding saddle works with the horse. Sorta like the pendulum effect I spoke about when hiking and swinging arms. Also larger and thicker pack pads can overheat a riding horse unnecessarily. The sweatier a horse gets, the more likely to develop saddle sores. In cold weather it's usually not an issue.

I had a great pack horse. If the load shifted out of balance she would run up alongside the riding horse and get in my face. "Here, fix this!" She LOVED punching cows but her paddling messed up conformation was a real killer. Ouch! Only used her for that sparingly. The way she was built that kind of work would have broken her down. Trail work was fine. She lasted to age 24 which was a pretty good run.
 
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OntarioHunter

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You can make it as complicated as you want, but it is pretty easy to pack elk halves on a riding saddle if the horse will tolerate it. It is a 2 man job to load them though.
View attachment 182551
Putting bloody meat and fur on a horse requires a VERY good animal. Not something I would advise for most animals or packers. I always wrapped elk quarters in mantas, hauled the quarters well away from the gut pile, then brought the horses and tied them up right next to their loads. Let them have a good smell of it while I took a break. Then load them up. Not about making things complicated. Rather about making things less complicated in the long run. I had a couple of great horses that knew about packing meat but I could never see any point in potentially asking for trouble simply to put on a fashion show. I wrapped the meat. And yes, I packed quarters on a riding saddle, because I only had one pack saddle. But it was not preferred. They are not designed for it. The ropes are being held in place with skimpy saddle strings instead of wrought iron D's or oak sawbucks.
 

MTTW

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I have seen green horses pack elk halves, but carry on with the packing lessons by all means.
 

OntarioHunter

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Right. And I have seen green horses rodeo for five minutes with just a pair of old tires packed on them ... which would not be unexpected behaviour for a "green broke" saddle horse. The smell of blood and sight of strange fur can unnerve the best of horses. Even when wrapped up, meat always made mine a bit jumpy at first and they were not unfamiliar with it. Yeah, you go ahead and throw raw meat and fur on a green horse. And get ready to put it back on ... again and again. Everytime the load shifts around they think it's come back to life. Been there. I'll be watching ... with my hip waders on.
 

diamond hitch

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Early on an old packer showed me put some fresh blood on their nose. Never had a problem after that. That's all they could smell. I keep 25 ft of half inch rope on the saddle. Works good for tying or dragging. I avoid nylon as it stretches to much. Hemp works best. I braid a loop in one end to speed things up. After the quarters are in place I use the loose end through the stirrups and back up to the horn to stabilize. It's worked well for at least 60 elk and likely more.

Erickson in Ennis makes a good combination riding and packing saddle with lots of extra metal rings and holes in the cantle. Makes packing simple.

I try to get out of the woods the same day if possible. I've only lost meat a couple times and I learned my lesson and some tricks.

I pack the hind quarters just under the pommel and cantle. The rope starts on the horn and Goes around the rib section. Hair to the horse. I tie the the achilles together on the rump.

on the front half I run a loop through the third rib. Ribs up, legs back. I set that one in the saddle and get the other quarter and run the rope through the third rib.I lift the quarter up to the other quarter (about a hand width and tie it off. Give the first wuarter a push and the should be centered. Tie the loose end around the horn with a half hitch then down to the stirrups and back to the horn with another half hitch. Tie your excess under the stirrups and you are off and running. It takes about 15 minutes with breaks for an old fart.

I skin them, scrub and trim them at the barn and wrap them in sheets. Its really pretty simple.
 

SuperX

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They don't ride well. Usually a bit too short for the job. And not a comfortable ride. Better to have an animal that is dual purpose. Also, finding the tack to fit them can be difficult.
Thanks, I was only thinking pack animals - goats and llamas don't ride well either though I would love to see someone riding a goat into the mountains :)
 

OntarioHunter

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I find braided poly rope that resembles hemp (NOT ski rope) worked well. Not as stretchy as nylon and doesn't bind up when wet. Not as slippery for knots. Hemp is great but getting harder to find.

I presume you're talking about McLelland saddle for riding and packing? I tried one but didn't find it very comfortable. Can't imagine a long ride sitting in one. I have actually ridden fair distance in to elk on a pack saddle with padding between the bucks. It works but definitely better to have stirrups to spread the weight.

Interesting info on the riding saddle method of packing elk quarters. I simply basket hitched front quarters same as pack saddle. Loop end goes over the horn, as I recall, then across the load, around the cantle, across the seat, down the back side of the load, under the bottom of it, up to the crossing rope to be knotted off. Rope tied to saddle with off side cantle saddle string. Fur side towards animal and hock down (but wrapped in manta). Very useful to have a saddle with Cherokee roll cantle which also helps hold rope in place. Stirrups tied together loosley underneath to keep them from slapping. Hind quarters were always loaded on pack saddle with barrel hitch. They are more sqirrely.
 
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diamond hitch

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No this a regular riding saddle and quite comfortable. He used to advertise in western horseman in the 90s. I have ridden on a decker with a lot of padding but at my age not likely. I have packed a number on my Portland and is was built in 1928. I would hesitant to pack on one of those 60s saddles with a little horn and no cantle or pommel. Not much to wedge to.

cushman you are right but I have kids. When they have lots of go it's not for long and you need spurs. When they are about right they get married and leave. Better get used to doing it alone. Partners that are still working are good for two weeks. I wear out a number of them.
 

OntarioHunter

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Thanks, I was only thinking pack animals - goats and llamas don't ride well either though I would love to see someone riding a goat into the mountains :)
Once I was clobbered by giardia during early season hunt in the Great Bear. If I hadn't had a horse to get on (with GREAT difficulty!) I would probably still be up there. Wow, that bug hits like a bolt of lightning and left me weak as a kitten by morning. An interesting story. I rode past Schaeffer Meadows airstrip and two married couples were loading up in a plane. The trail goes down the left side of the airstrip and crosses into the trees just below the end of it. As I hit the trees, the shit hit my britches ... in full force. Slid down, threw my chaps and jeans over the saddle, and walked into the woods to toss my briefs. Just as I got back to my pack horse's tail end buck naked from waist down, the plane zoomed overhead thirty yards above me. Those two gals were sitting on that side and their eyes got big as turkey platters. I can easily guess what was going through their minds: "My gawd, how long has that guy been in the woods?" I was so sick I didn't care. But I bet those two ladies never set foot in a wilderness again. Hope I didn't ruin any domestic relationships.
 
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