It’s hunting season in Montana and everyone’s gearing up to fill their freezers. Instead of packing your gear and game in and out by hand, a horse or mule can make your trip a whole lot easier. Here’s how it’s done.
There are two main types to consider when choosing a packsaddle for your animal: the decker and the sawbuck. Decker saddles have padding and are reinforced with wooden boards to help protect the animal during packing. Sawbuck saddles are simpler with two wooden crosses to tie or strap to. The breast collar in the front and the breeching in the back keep the saddles from sliding when going up and down hills. Make sure you can fit 1-2 fingers between the animal and these straps. Unlike the sawbuck, the decker has metal arches, which are less likely to break in the event of an accident.
To pack equipment, feed, or gear into the woods, you can use panniers that strap onto the packsaddle. Figure 1 shows a set of panniers that are light and strong, made of plywood and covered in fiberglass. Panniers also come in a variety of different materials including canvas, iron cloth, and vinyl. It’s important that the load is even. If you encounter a problem on the trail, you can match the weight of one pannier to the other by using rocks.
The easiest way to get your meat out of the woods and on the dinner table is to make a horse or mule do all the work for you. Figure 2 illustrates how to tie an entire deer to a packsaddle. The deer should lie over the saddle with its front end on the left and back end on the right. The head needs to be tied back with the antlers up to avoid injuring the pack animal. With a rope, tie the front legs with two half-hitches above the elbow joint to the cinch ring on the left. Use the rope to go up over the top of the deer and tie the antlers in place. Then secure the back legs by cutting a slit through the Achilles tendon, running the rope through the slit, and tying to the cinch ring on the right. If you have a bigger animal to pack out such as an elk, you can quarter the game, wrap it in a breathable material, and tie it to the packsaddle.
In Figure 3 you can see the simple knot called a clove hitch used to secure the load. You should use this knot to tie to the packsaddle as well. Make sure both quarters are pointing in the same direction and ensure that the load is tied really tight. When packing out a set of antlers, it’s crucial that they’re securely tied so they don’t gore the pack animal. With the antlers facing downward and prongs facing the front, loop a rope through the cinch ring, around several antler prongs, and secure it around the skull.
Riding to the Top
Horses They Rode, by Bozeman’s own Sid Gustafson, has been chosen as a finalist for the High Plains Book of the Year award. Published by Riverbend Publishing in Helena, Gustafson’s second novel is, according the High Plains Book Awards website, “a dramatic story of love, family, and changing cultures along the Rocky Mountain Front. The novel lyrically weaves the protagonist’s journey through women, children, horses, and Indian spirituality, culminating in a thrilling cross-country horse race. Gustafson’s beautifully crafted writing limns the intense and complex interactions between men and women, fathers and daughters, Native Americans and whites, and animals and nature. His storytelling is full of rhythm and surprise.” Sounds like a pretty good choice to us. To pick up a copy, stop by your local bookstore or visit riverbendpublishing.com. —MIKE ENGLAND