Nearly twenty years ago, while scouting fruitlessly for mountain goats in a remote Idaho unit, I ran into an old cowboy. Discouraged, I asked him where I might find the goats in that God-forsaken country. He moved his chaw into his left cheek, smiled and said,
I did and soon he was scratching a map in the dirt with a short stick. The next weekend, I made a 10-mile trip by horseback to the remote peak he said held goats. Just a minute after setting up the spotting scope, I could see furry white dots scattered amongst the cliffs. Had it not been for horses, I might have never found that country.
My grandfather was a sheepherder in the 1940’s and relied on horses to make a living. He passed all that knowledge to my father who made sure I had the chance to experience one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind: the saddle horse.
I’d rank horses near the top of my “must-have” gear list. The majority of the big deer I’ve killed have come on horseback hunts deep in the backcountry. Horses get me in, help me hunt effectively, and get me and my buck back out. However, horses are not without challenges and danger. Logistically, they are a lot of work. On some hunts, horses are more trouble than value. Often, once I’m in the deer country, I don’t need to cover much ground. The bucks don’t and it’s just a waiting game to catch them in a stalkable position. On these hunts, I’m often caring for horses as much as I’m hunting. I wish I could train them to go home and come back the last day.
Yet on many hunts, especially when the snow piles up and the hunting gets good, there is no better gear than a good saddle horse. In a comfortable camp with wood heat and a place to get dry and recharge every night, I can really put the pressure on the bucks. I’ve hunted as long as 15 days in relative comfort from a good horse camp. It is often on these hunts that I’m succcesful—I can wear the bucks down before the hunt wears me down. Without horses, after about four days of crawling in a cold tent that I can’t stand up in, home starts sounding pretty good.
Although I’ve had horses from earlier than I can remember, I’m really no expert. Many a cowboy and professional trainer far exceed my knowledge and experience. However, I have paid a pile of tuition to the school of hard knocks over the last 40 years of consciousness. I thought I’d start a new blog category—”Got Harses?”—and share a little horse sense with those interested. Check in the next few months as the scouting season gets rolling. I’ll share some stories, tips, and videos on how I care for, train, use, and enjoy horses. Our horses are some of my best (and worst) friends, so there’s rarely a dull moment. Even if you never put a boot in a stirrup, you might learn a bit about hunting as our ancestors did.