What follows is a detailed account of one of my self-guided elk hunts. This typical elk hunting trip started on Wednesday night before the opening Saturday of the first rifle season, with all of the camping and pack gear loaded into the noses of two gooseneck 24’ horse trailers. All of our food was loaded in the back of one pickup truck, and the horse feed was loaded into another. Then it was off to bed as early as possible.
Our camp, looking down from the plateau on which we hunted.
We were up at 1:00 am on Thursday to load the horses into the trailers and hit the road no later than 2:00 am for the five hour drive to Steamboat Springs, where we would all meet for breakfast. After breakfast it would be another hour and a half drive to the parking area at California Park, most of which is on forestry service roads. Now the fun begins. We unload the horses, some of which have not been ridden since the previous elk season, and none of which have been packed since then. The horses are saddled while everything is placed on tarps to be weighed and packed on the horses. Tents and other camping items are loaded first, with each animal loaded with as close as possible to one hundred pounds per side. We leave the staging area at about 11:00 am and start the climb to our camp which is another seven miles away. We are walking and leading the horses, and anyone not leading a horse has a backpack loaded with about forty pounds of crap. About a mile from the staging area we will stop to tighten all of the packs and make any adjustments that may be needed.
We reach the camp at about 1:30 pm and unpack the animals and then eat a quick lunch. By 2:30 pm, one man per horse will start the trip back to the staging area, this time riding instead of walking. The remaining members of the hunting party are responsible for setting up the camp and corrals. The riders reach the staging area at about 4:00 pm and start to pack all of the horse feed and as much of our food as possible (eight horses consume about one hundred and fifty pounds of feed a day) before starting back to camp about 5:00 pm. This second load of supplies will reach the camp well after dark at about 7:30 pm. If all has gone well, the tents are set up, the corrals are ready for the horses and supper is either ready are almost ready.
After the horses are unloaded and unsaddled they are led to the beaver pond for watering and a rub down before being placed in the corrals and fed. No one eats until the horses are cared for. Supper is eaten amongst a tirade of bitching and griping about who had to do the most work or who had the most aggravating horse to deal with. All of this is in good fun. No one wants anybody to know how much they are hurting or how sore they are from the hardest work they have done since last year’s hunt. Dessert is a cold beer or a glass of good whisky (notice there is no “e” in whisky, meaning Canadian or American whisky, not whiskey from across the pond) before rolling into sleeping bags for a night of sound sleep. Camp rules dictate beer or whisky only after supper with a two drink limit per hunter. I do not condone the mixture of guns and alcohol. Our rifles are visually inspected upon delivery to the camp and then placed back into their cases, not to be touched again until opening morning of our hunt.
On Friday morning we sleep in until about 7:00 am. Part of the camp will lead the horses to the beaver pond for water before feeding them while the remainder prepares breakfast. About 8:30 am, each horse and a rider will start back to the staging area to get the last load of supplies. This will consist of the balance of food, if any, rifles and ammunition, and anything that falls into the wanted category. By now the horses are into the program and things go much smoother than the day before. The men left at camp complete any setup that is needed and sort out the food items. The pack crew will not return until about 1:30 pm. After the horses are attended to, we will eat lunch. After lunch we climb to the plateau on which we will hunt tomorrow to listen to the bulls bugling and watch some of the elk moving around in the valley below. Camp rules dictate that no one is to go into the hunting area before opening morning and there will be no shooting, target practice, or sighting in of rifles. If you did not check your sights before leaving home, or you dropped your rifle on the way into camp you are just S.O.L..