Imagine riding into your camping spot, and along the way seeing some elk here and there, and then arriving to your location to find you are surrounded by 600 head of elk. That is precisely what happened last weekend when Joe and I and the four best friends headed to the mountains. The elk sightings began before we even hit the trail. While driving to the trail head a herd of about 15 came at a dead run over the top of a huge ridge and across the road in front of us, and finally came to a stop in the pasture on the other side. I have never seen elk with their tongues hanging out and panting like dogs, like these were. They were given a run for their lives.
Here is a glimpse of the weekend: Yolanda and Taz taking a break before crossing the Wiggins Fork. We had to step off the horses here anyway to walk down the steep hill to the river bottom. Wiggins Fork- We crossed the river and rode along the opposite ridge before climbing over the top. Do you see the drive line? Sheepeater Indians, a branch of the Shoshone, used this as a drive line for hunting. We passed another structure further up the trail coming home. Camp View through my binoculars of some of the hundreds of elk across the valley from where we were camped. To the west, there was another small group and we could see one spike still with his horns from last year. Ponies eating their cubes with elk watching from above. Time for human supper! We always carry this grate for cooking, it’s lightweight and portable. Note from Joe- Always double your paper plates if you don’t want greasy pants! The herd moving in behind the tent at dusk. During the night they stampeded by us. Sliver of moon. Waking up to Taz grazing by our heads. When I opened the front tent door, a group of about twenty elk stood 50 yards away, along with a single mule deer and our three horses. Boiling drinking water from the creek for the day. Last summer with the strict fire bans across our area and much of the West, I bought this jet boil for hunting season, and the day before our elk hunting trip the ban was lifted and we didn’t take it. So we tried it out on this trip, it really does boil fast. I used Folger’s coffee “tea bags” and enjoyed a nice cup of coffee too. Elk watching us and the horses with curiosity. On the way out. 10 Tips for Camping with Horses in the Mountains
1. Hobbles- Take hobbles for your stock and know how well they can use them. If it’s the first time you are putting them on a new horse, as we were with Slim, monitor them until you see how they do, or practice at home first. Some horses need encouragement to move forward if they are not used to wearing them. Similarly, know if your horses are skilled hobble-hoppers and will leave the country in them. It is no fun running through the woods chasing hobbled horses, trust me. Some horses cannot handle mormon hobbles and do better in the kind that look like handcuffs and have just a chain link between them, like Strawberry. See what works for them.
2. Feed situation- Know the feed situation for the area you are going into. Prepare for how many nights you will be out and how much stock you have. Weed-free alfalfa cubes are about $10 for a 50 lb. bag from feed stores and can easily be packed in. We packed in one bag (split in half into another empty feed sack) in order to feed our four horses for one night. Give horses the option to drink before bed if they cannot access the water themselves during the night.
3. Keep at least one animal secured during the night- Even if you know your horses and their habits, keep at least one animal secured during the night if you are leaving the others out hobbled or in an electric fence corral. Secure horses on a high line, in a sturdy corral, or to a tree. Electric fence can get stampeded through and some horses can really move on hobbles. You don’t want to wake up and be left on foot to search. Strawberry cannot do mormon hobbles and we left her chain link pair at home, so she was chosen to be kept in a small corral overnight.
4. Headlights- Headlights are valuable to have as they enable you full use of your hands to check on horses at night or to go catch them in the dark.
5. Bring your glasses and sleep next to them- This is really only for those who wear contacts and are blind without them, which would be me. I always bring my pair of glasses and sleep with them next to my head. When you have to get up in the middle of the night to catch and re-tie horses or check on what that noise was, you want to be able to quickly see what you are doing. I don’t want to be blind if I have a bear in camp at night.
6. Banamine- Always pack a dose of banamine with you. Yolanda almost died four years ago on my first multi-night elk hunting trip with Joe. We were fifteen miles into the wilderness. We left from Brooks Lake, and on day two of the hunt the horses munched on some green grass during lunchtime. Two hours later, still an hour from our camping spot, Yolanda promptly stopped in the trail and laid down with me still on her. I got off in a hurry and luckily she didn’t break my rifle when she rolled on it. She coliced on that green grass and I spent the next three hours walking in circles with her while she sweat and shook and then finally took a crap. I was lucky she pulled through it and always carry a syringe of banamine. You can buy it from your local vet.
7. Bear Proof- Bear proof your camp for the safety of you and your stock. Check your saddlebags for any food or scented items and store them away with your food during the night, either hung from a tree with a lash rope or in a designated bear-proof pannier. Listen to your horses at night, they will make some noise if an intruder enters camp. If your horses are restless or making a fuss, get up and check. I sleep with a .41 and bear spray next to my head (alongside those glasses and my headlight), and Joe’s pistol between us.
8. Trash- Have a plan for packing out your trash. Especially if there is a fire ban! Bring a plastic grocery sack if it’s an overnight, or a real trash bag if longer. Also, remember to pack out aluminum foil, tin cans, and other objects that don’t fully burn. Make sure bags are heavy enough that they won’t rip in the panniers and make a mess. Also, for multi-night trips make sure to hang your trash at night, or secure it safely in a bear-proof pannier with the rest of your food.
9. Feet and Shoes- Check the condition of your horses feet in the days before heading out overnight. Make sure no shoes are missing, and check to see if any trimming is needed.
10. First Aid- Many items in a human first aid kit can also be used on horses to stop bleeding. I always carry a small survival kit and a full human first aid kit in my saddle bags. I choose not to carry additional first aid for the horses, but a homemade kit would be easy to make. I have in the past had to duct tape frozen water bottles to Yolanda’s leg overnight to prevent swelling while in camp. While working as a camp cook I carried a ziplock bag with antiseptic spray “Blue coat” and gall salve, as those were the two most common injuries that routinely occurred with those horses. Common sense and precaution will help prevent many injuries, but accidents happen. Have a plan and have some first aid gear for where you are and what you are doing.