Pack It Up, Pack It In

It’s hunting season in Montana and everyone is gearing up to fill their freezers with lots of meat. 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.

Saddling Up
There are two main types to consider when choosing a pack saddle 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 a little simpler model 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 case of an accident such as a pack horse falling down a hill onto its back.

Packing In
To pack equipment, feed, or gear into the woods, you can use panniers that strap onto the pack saddle. Figure 1 shows a set that are light and strong, made of plywood and covered in fiber glass. Panniers also come in a variety of different materials including canvas, iron cloth, and vinyl. It is 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.

Packing Out
There are several ways to get your meat out of the woods and to the dinner table. One way is to pack it out, piece by piece using your bare hands, but a much easier way is to make a horse or mule do all the work for you.

Whole Animal
The animal 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 pack saddle. A simple knot called a clove hitch secures the load. You should use this knot to tie to the pack saddle 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 is crucial that they are securely tied so there is no chance that they will 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.