Basically a horse or even mules act as a beast of burden when it comes to getting your equipment, you, and your game out. If you have never been to a wilderness elk camp, you wouldn’t believe the amount of gear those animals are willing to carrying in. Once you have seen it try imagining to yourself how you’d ever get all that gear up without them. You’ll gain a whole new appreciation for these animals despite there sometimes difficult personalities. Thus I realized why it was that the horses and mules got so much extra attention and care from all of us guides, both early in the mornings and late at night when all the “hunters” are heading off for bed.
For an even better appreciation of horses and mules, walk up on a 500-600 pound elk that you just harvested. You will soon realize that you probably wouldn’t even have been hunting in that area nor would you be able to get your meat or trophy out, if it weren’t for the assistance in hauling and packing by your horse or mule.
Western hunting is deeply rooted with horses and hunting off of them – Its tradition. If you’ve never tried it, its an experience you will never soon forget. Just to gain a little appreciation for these animals you should still huff and puff over a few ridge tops, then you will realize how far and quick a horse or mule will take you in a third of the time. Driving the Colorado hi-ways the day before rife season opens, gives me a pretty good indication that westerners have figured this out as I see one out of every three vehicles pulling a trailer to go hunt somewhere.
Dawns only a few minutes away to the east as we unload the mules, clunking and banging as they spin themselves out of the trailer. I am by no means a “horse expert”, but I will admit that it does feel good climbing into that saddle. My hunters rifle sits tight in its scabbard, four rounds in the magazine and none in the chamber.
Soon we would be crossing a large sage draw, and begin climbing into the main ridge. On foot it takes me an hour or so getting to this point. But atop Trudy and the rest of our string, we arrive in twenty minutes. Alone on the mountain we continue climbing, trying to position ourselves close to some high-country aspen pockets.
The air getting warmer as we climb, probably because of the thermals now starting to take over, pushing the colder air down the slope. We dismount at one point glassing what we thought was a couple elk but turned out to be a muley doe and her fawns. When we begin to climb again, I am amazed at the sure footedness of my mule as she picked her way . Then it happens, I spotted a bull down the ridge we had been riding. “There’s a bull down there-not scared but moving parallel with us” I stated to my hunters. “We’ve got to keep the higher ground and move in on him as he is trying to move up this same ridge.”
My hunter jumps out of the saddle and I do too, fumbling to pull his rifle out of the scabbard in excitement of what is about to happen. I reminded him that its ok to chamber a round now as we were real close to the bull, listening as he bugled back to my call. “We are above him,” i whisper. I have never seen a hunter this excited before. “Is he big?” My hunter asked. “Yes a nice six point” I respond. The bull was down in a little aspen pocket below as we waited for him to walk out allowing us a shot.
We glass hard for five minutes, looking in every nook and cranny that the aspen pocket offered. Then out of no where he appeared; not just by himself, but pushing his herum of cows away from us up the other side of the ridge. Setting my hunter up on my shooting sticks, I quickly realized that this was going to be a tough shot. Given the yardage he held right where he needed and dumped the six point after I had stopped him with my cow call. Excited as we both were about the great bull and even better shot, my hunter told me; that it was a great trip one better than he ever had imagined but it was, The mules, and hunting off horseback that made the trip for him!