Friday, December 29, 2006

On the Road Again with the RMEF

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation National Convention is coming up February 22nd through the 25th. Outfitters Supply will be exhibiting at this show for the 8th consecutive year. It will be held in Reno as it was last year, but I've been to conventions in Portland, Denver, and Albuquerque as well.

If you have never attended this convention I highly recommend it. I have a difficult time getting away from the booth to take advantage of some of the fun things going on, such as the elk bugling contest where the best callers in the world compete for the world championship. If you are a hunter this is where you need to be to - not only see the latest in equipment but to learn directly from the manufacturer how to use it . There are experts on everything from masking your scent to becoming invisible using the latest in camo. The people who actually invent this gear are in their booths just waiting to talk to the public. It really is a valuable place to hang out for the serious elk hunter.

There's also plenty for the not-so-serious hunter. You'll find everything from artwork and furniture to log cabins and Alaskan halibut fishing trips. I'll be displaying just about everything you'll need to enjoy the backcountry while on horseback. There are auctions, prize drawings and a drawing to win the guided trip of a lifetime.

After hours, as if I need to remind anyone, the Black Jack tables, slots and the delicious buffet at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino beckon from just across the street. Bill Engvall will be performing at the convention as well. Why not really make a trip out of it, and head to Lake Tahoe for some chartered fishing?

I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I'm guilty!

I admit that I often take for granted how fortunate I am to live in Montana. People from other parts of the country can't fathom the opportunities for trail riding we have.

Within 50 miles of home, I can ride in four different wilderness areas, a national park and literally millions of acres of other federal and state lands.

I don't need a permit or permission. I can routinely view wildlife from grizzly bears to big horn sheep. I can ride into a high mountain lake and fly fish for native cutthroat trout, enjoy the view of countless Rocky Mountain peaks or ride through meadows carpeted with wildflowers.

I'm quite sure I could ride a different trail every weekend for the rest of my life. There is always something new around the next turn, over the next mountain. I can't wait for spring. I think I'll oil my saddle!

By the way, if you get the itch, we have a corral behind the store and you're welcome to use it!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

How To Start a Pack Horse or Mule

I'm following up on a question from Steve on an earlier post. In my experience, most good horses and mules take to packing very easily. Let's assume the animal is broke, or at the very least has had a lot of ground work, been sacked out, etc. First, saddle him with a pack saddle and let him get used to the breeching around his rump. Lunge him or run him around in a round pen until he seems comfortable. Then, tie a couple of empty Clorox bottles to the saddle, one on each side, with some string or rope. Put some small rocks in them so they make lots of noise while you trot him around. This will help your pack animal get used to odd sounds emanating from the packs. If your prospective pack animal is on the calm side, this should not take long.

Next, I like to put a set of Ralide-West panniers on with tin cans and rocks in them and go through the same exercise. Then, I like to do a couple of rides up my “training trail.” This trail starts off by crossing a short wooden bridge. I figure I might as well find out immediately where the problems might crop up. Then there is a creek crossing followed by some turns through a boggy area. I prefer the Ralide-West boxes because they are virtually indestructible. The quality of panniers enters into play because there are a couple of places where an inexperienced pack animal will whack a tree with the boxes. Usually, after two times they learn that they have to move out away from a tree to keep from getting that hard pannier jabbed in their ribs.

By the end of that 14-mile round trip, I usually have a pretty good idea if there are any problems that need special attention. It’s hard to make a good pack animal by merely practicing at home. If you have gotten this far without serious trouble, it’s time to just do it.

One last thought: don’t try to make a pack animal out of a horse or mule that didn’t make it as a saddle horse. A calm disposition and willingness to work are very important.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas tree hunting in Montana!

I trekked through the woods Sunday, and it hit me - I wasn't chasing that elusive 7 point bull anymore. No, this time I was hunting for the perfect Christmas trees. I went a lot further into the woods than I probably needed to, but this time the hunt ended perfectly, with all three Christmas tree permits filled (not all mine!). The mountains are loaded with snow, and it should be a picture perfect winter, with plenty of water in the spring. We've been lucky the last few years in the Flathead Valley of Montana; many other parts of the state, and the nation, have really been struggling with water shortages.

The horses and mules have their winter coats, and I have my fireplace, ready to settle in for winter. Like most humans, I don't grow a thick enough coat to help much if I do get hurt or lost in the woods. If you are out there trekking around, please be cautious, and follow common-sense rules. Most importantly, make sure someone knows exactly where you are going, how you will get there, and what time you should be home. For a few tips on dealing with hypothermia, please visit my article, "Survival Tips: Preventing Hypothermia"

Hopefully we'll hear from Bernice soon as she heads back out on the trail, heading for Tucson, Arizona. Don't know who Bernice is? Be sure to read up on this amazing Long Rider from Trego, Montana.