All these photos of fancy shooting. Figured we needed a tale of a more usual hunt.
Now, a week in Colorado for deer and elk. November hunt with rifles. My hunting partner had bought private land vouchers for deer. We expected snow and big rutting deer. When we picked up the vouchers we asked where we were supposed to hunt. We were in for a shock. The gentleman informed us the vouchers were to be used to purchase hard to draw fourth season deer tags. But, we were not to hunt on the property? What?
After some cussing and some debate we decided to give things a go anyway. We picked some areas to try in a nearby wilderness area. We hunted high and hard for a couple days seeing little. We then chose an area over a 14,000 foot pass, landlocked by miles of private land. We loaded up the pack horses and headed over the mountain for the happy hunting grounds. After a rough all day pack in we arrived at the spot we'd chosen on the map. We set up camp as darkness fell.
Morning revealed a semipermanant outfitters camp along with six hunters and thier guides a quarter mile down the trail. Two days, few elk, one huge bear, and one hasty miss later, it snowed. Twice we woke to knock the snow from the sagging tent. Morning revealed a solid foot and still coming down fast. We decided we'd better get out while we could. Several hours later we were climbing the treacherous switchback, nearing the pass.
As I came around the next to last switchback my stomach fluttered briefly. We were on a quakie covered hillside falling steeply away for half a mile. The trail was running 200 yards between switchbacks. This two hundred yards was drifted to my horses eyeballs. The trail was gone, buried. There was no room to turn or get down. Rusty didn't hesitate. So, I let him have his head.
Halfway across Lady hung back on the lead rope. Rusty was scrambling and needed his head to plow across. Thirty yards further I was able to pull up. Nobody was behind me. I waited for several minutes. Then Russ' packhorse came around the bulge in the mountain. As Russ' packhorse should have been last and there wasn't any way horses could pass on the trail this had to be bad.
Catching up the packhorse I rode the last couple hundred yards to the summit and tied the horses in some trees. Hustling back down the trail I hollered for Russ several times. I could hear nothing in the howling wind. The wind was coming straight up the face and blinding me. The tracks I'd made moments before were already drifting over.
The slide marks in the snow showed where Lady had made a misstep. Not being able to recover, she had tried for the trail just ten yards below. Wether following Lady or slipping himself, Russ' horse had gone down too. Russ had jumped clear, and there were three slide marks disapearing in the trees and blowing snow. I ran down switchback after swithback as the slide marks continued to cross the trail! At one point, Lady had slid off a rock and fallen a solid twelve feet.
Finally, I came to Russ' horse tied to a rootball sticking from the side of a sloughed off hillside. Russ' tracks contiued out onto the hillside. At least he and his horse were ok! Following his tracks I found Russ peeling gear from Lady as quickly as he could. We got her pack off and got her back on the trail. Miraculously, she seemed unhurt.
After loading her again we headed for the top. As we came the to switchback before the nasty section (the whole thing was nasty), I stepped up the hill and shoed her past. I wanted her to have room to scramble if she needed to. Russ did the same with his horse. Trailing the horses, we watched in horror as Lady came to the final switchback. Despite the snow nearly to her back, and the already broke trail making the corner, she walked straight out onto the steep snow covered slope. Mabey she was still shaken from her tumble, or blinded by the driving snow.
Three steps and she knew she'd made a mistake. She tried to turn back but lost her footing. We watched helplessly as she slid and tumbled out of sight smashing trees and looking like a small avalanche. Trading Russ' horse for mine I headed down the mountain after Russ. Several switchbacks later I followed Russ' tracks out onto the mountain and cut Ladys slide mark. Russ was an hundred yards down the mountain collecting things from Ladys pack. Lady was another sixty yards lower piled up against a gnarly old dead tree. She looked like a dead elk, tangled in lash rope and manty.
I slid and cursed my way down the mountain collecting a pannier and a bedroll. As we aproached Lady she started to struggle to stand, startling Russ and I who had thought her dead. Calming her we worked to untangle her from the lash cinch, manty and mangled pack saddle. Eventually she stood. Bloody, soggy, battered, and trembling. She seemed not to be seriously injured! We were 150 treacherous yards from the trail. It seemed an impossible distance.
Leaving Lady, we each worked a load down to the trail. Russ headed back for the rest while I headed back to where I'd tied Rusty. We stripped Rusty's saddle and strapped the broken packsaddle to him. A long, frozen fingered half hour later Rusty was loaded. Lady was ever so gingerly working her way to us. Breathless minutes later she slowly stepped to the trail and nuzzled Rusty. What a champ!!
Fearing broken ribs, I cinched my saddle on her loosely. We once again headed for the pass. Half an hour later we made it, lungs burning, nostrils frozen together, and icecicles hanging from our beards. The downhill side of the mountain was only half as steep. After Russ and the two packhorses broke trail Lady and I followed. Even after the passing of three horses the snow was still over my knees.
Long cold hours later we arrived at the truck. I'd cinched up and climbed on Lady a mile back. She seemed to be doing allright. Just for fun, Russ' horse decide to buck at the last gate. As I watched him ride it out, I grinned. He'd come a long way since that first horse ride a few years back.
I didn't take any photos on this trip. Sometimes we get too busy hunting. This photo is a deer Russ killed in a nearby area a few years earlier.