The Last Mile

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with Jesse Kurtenbach of Wildlife Pursuit

As the short 5-day First Colorado Rifle Season came to an end, our focus shifted from hunting, to meat and camp extraction. In previous years, our family friend Gene had filled his tag early and spent his time riding his horses up and down with loads of meat while the other parties continued to hunt. This season did not leave us with that luxury.

The morning after the season ended we loaded the horses, Roughneck, Popper and Jack, with the meat from our harvests. Balancing the loads on pack saddles and in panniers to prevent any “rodeos” for the 6-mile trek down the muddy and rocky trail is essential. The trail conditions were horrible at best, with the melting snow it seemed as though there was a new stream coming off the mountain every couple of hundred yards. The trip down took us just over three hours.

A bale of timothy hay was split for the horses to give them a boost of energy for the ride back up to the top. Being the least experienced rider I had the privilege of riding Roughneck who had spent his prime years on a working ranch in Montana. This good ole boy turned 26 years old this year, meaning this would likely be his last trip out to the Rockies from the plains of Eastern South Dakota.

Next in the string would be Popper, Roughnecks pasture pal, carrying a load of hay for that night and the next morning. Gene saddled up on the younger, less experienced Jack, who had never been to the mountains and needed a little more guidance to navigate the dangers of the trail.

The horse ride up the mountain with the setting sun in our faces and a mountain stream at our side stimulates your senses in a way that few things in our modern life can. It became apparent on the ride up that the physical capabilities of the horses were starting to parallel the physical capabilities of my two hunting partners. There becomes a point in your life when the mind is willing but the body isn’t able. Four years ago these horses traveled back up this trail at the end of our trip with ease in about 2 hours. Today our trip up the mountain put us in camp after dark with only our headlamps and the horse’s keen eyesight leading us through the last mile of the woods.

We had one last night of sitting around a warm wood stove and talking about the memories of the past 4 years of hunting this wilderness. We broke camp that next morning, loaded up the horses for the last time and walked the final 6 miles out of the wilderness back to our vehicles.

An adventure like this puts a refreshing perspective on life after spending eight nights in the wilderness where life is simple: food, water, shelter, horses and hunting. You begin to realize how complicated our world has become and that it is good to take a step back and escape it all.

Typically, we end this hunt with a commitment to doing it again the next year. The conversation came up again, this time I cut it short and told the old man and his friend, “Let’s not make any important decisions when the mind and body are run down.”

Selfishly, I think about how this could possibly be the end of a 4-year adventure. I do know however, that we will be hunting together somewhere until either our minds or our bodies break.

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