Make no mistake, I’m a neophyte. I’m a total amateur when it comes to packing a string of burros (or any critter) into the backcountry of the Rockies. But it does call to me, it appeals to my sense of adventure and I look forward to finally escaping to the road-less areas far beyond the furthest trail-head where I can venture 10, 15…perhaps even 20 miles into a wilderness where few have hunted. I’ve done a fair bit of backpacking into the back country, sometimes solo other times with a trusted friend to help split the load and safely make it back from some of the west’s and Alaska’s more breathtaking scenes. Those were fantastic experiences, the best hunts of my life but now I’m into my mid 40’s and those 5 mile plus packins with 3-4 days of supplies would prove far less enjoyable to me given the lost hunting time due to the inevitable recovery I’d need once I finally arrived to my base or spike camp.
I grew up in central South Dakota, where the “road-less” areas consisted of about 4-square miles of prairie or river breaks. A tough pack there was breaking down an entire deer or antelope and getting it out in one trip. That wasn’t required very often due to the fact we could drive a pickup to 99% of the end of a successful hunt. There is no wilderness in South Dakota save for perhaps a couple of secluded canyons in the Black Hills and that’s a big stretch. My Dad wasn’t the horseman, he ran the farming side of the operation. My uncle was the true horseman, he packed in his youth but his greater interest lied in pulling teams of horses both large and small as well as mules and donkey’s. He still enters the Frontier Days parade every summer and drives his team there, well into his 70’s now. He loves it and indeed a bit rubbed off on me as I’d watch him at play.
Like Eric, I’m also a military man and that’s where we met. The burro’s were certainly one of the original logistical necessities to keep any Army supplied and moving forward. The concept still appeals today and being smaller and easier to care for, they are a favored choice with many hunters. I do look forward to joining him on a bowhunt for elk or mule deer in the very near future. Getting far away from the roads is the key to peace, tranquility and into quality hunting opportunities in this day and age. We need more road-less areas, not less. Gate closures keep stress off the wildlife on the winter range and no vehicle areas help to maintain critical habitat that is fragile to many who favor 4 wheel transportation instead of using the two feet God gave them and exerting boot leather.
There is something about packing a wall tent and stove into the road-less areas that is romantic to me. The clean streams, the crisp fall mornings far enough from mans hand that it just invites herds of bugling elk to the sanctuaries of these undisturbed mountain parks. Waking refreshed each morning with a comfortable mountain camp courtesy of the 4-legged friends tethered and grazing each morning. True back country comfort instead of the grueling 100 pound packs of years past complete with ever aching muscles and the potential for further damaging these old knees and ankles. I’ll take the pack string whenever I get the chance in the coming years. Either bummed a trip along with a friend or hired as a drop camp operator the benefits are palpable deep into the wilderness. Should success come the benefits and responsibility are immense. In truth, I lost a large portion of my first bow killed bull nearly 20 years ago because I’d bitten off more than I could chew alone. It was dicey on a next morning September recovery but not having access to pack animals was the nail in the coffin. In the day it took me to break down that bull and finally get the precious meat to the locker I’d lost over half of it to spoilage. Never again…
Aesthetically speaking I can’t think of anything more picturesque than the photos of a successful back-country hunt lined up on a Rocky Mountain horizon. I dream of it in the near future and for those of you fortunate enough to live that lifestyle, I’m jealous! Hopefully someday I’ll see you on the mountain and you can share a tale or two about your stock and a memorable hunt over a warm fire in the crisp air of the back-country while gazing at the most beautiful sky on earth. I look forward to it.
About Dana Rogers
Dana Rogers is from Box Elder, SD and writes freelance features for BowHunt America, Bow & Arrow Hunting, Petersen’s Bowhunting and several other state and regional publications. He also contributes to Western Whitetail and when he’s not working as a USAF CMSgt he loves to bowhunt the western and plains states for a variety of Big Game.