Avalanche Outfitters Hunting, Riding, History and Outdoors
From a young age everyone’s heroes are cowboys. We all grow up playing cowboys and Indians. Some kids pretend they are rodeo cowboys, while others pretend they are Billy the Kid robbing a bank in the old wild west days. Being able to go on a horseback ride is a way to get away from reality and experience the west perhaps in a way that seems to take you back to your childhood days. Depending on the length of ride that you choose there are a few things that you can do to make it the most enjoyable for you so it will be a ride to always remember.
One of the most overlooked parts of a summer horseback ride is the attire worn. When you head out on your trip shorts and sandals may be what’s right on top of your suitcase, but proper clothing on a horseback ride can make or break the day. Depending on the area you are riding the terrain can vary. The particular area I guide in Colorado has a vast range of terrain, from sage brush to berry bushes all the way to pine trees and open meadows. Therefore, when you are on a horse you must be aware of branches that hang low or hinder the trail at times and rub up against your legs or wack you in the face. In order to keep our trails as rustic as possible we prefer not to chop trees or branches unless they become dangerous to riders. Therefore, wearing some sort of long pants is your best bet to keep from getting scrapes and scratches on your legs. Not only is that a benefit but it also keeps from awkward sunburns and tan lines at the end of the day.
Sunscreen is a huge amenity overlooked. Whether you are on a horse for 30 minutes or 6 hours sunscreen is something that needs to be worn, especially in the high country. Backs of necks, tops of ears and faces are a very common area for burns to occur. This proves the helpfulness and reason behind cowboys’ hats. Sunburns seem to occur very quickly atop a horse and there’s nothing worse than enjoying your ride just to be sore the next day from sunburns. Being sore from riding however, is just a part of the experience.
To stay on the topic of the sun, we will move to headwear. Most ranches should supply helmets but they are usually an optional piece for people over a certain age. Wearing a hat can be a game changer to your experience. Remember you are most likely going to be in and out of trees, and not in a constant shaded area. Wearing a hat and sunglasses can help keep sun off of your face and out of your eyes. I advise children absolutely do wear a helmet during their horseback ride for safety. If you are having trouble with your child not wearing a helmet don’t be afraid to ask your wrangler for some assistance. The wranglers are usually pretty good at persuading kids.
Most places you attend will have water or some sort of concession stand around. The option I recommend is to bring your own water bottle full of water. You will most likely have your own saddle bags on your saddle to put small items in so bringing an extra bottle or 2 would be beneficial. It’s surprising how much water you will drink out on a dusty hot trail. It will prove to you why those cowboys in the movies loved running their horses full bore into a nice cold river on a cattle drive.
Next is the footwear you choose to ride in. Over the years I have seen every type of footwear come through the ranch. Ask any person that has been around a horse for a period of time and ask how well horses are at stepping right on your toes when you least expect it. The horses don’t mean to intentionally step on you, its just that sometimes you both happen to place your feet in the same place at the same time. Please don’t wear sandals. They are a huge concern and are common eye candy for your wrangler to comment on. Wear some sort of close toes shoes that offer a tiny layer of fabric or leather and will help a ton on the chance that your horse may cross paths with your toes.
Being attentive to these 5 things can make your horseback ride the highlight of your summer. Don’t be afraid to ask about any concerns or questions you may have about your ride. The wranglers are there to educate you, keep you safe and help you enjoy your ride to the fullest extent. Do not be afraid to ask them questions, tell jokes and make them part of your family for the afternoon. One last little note, bring your camera! Then you will have proof that you got to be a cowboy or girl for the day! Please just make sure your camera has a wrist strap or neck strap to keep it safe just in case it slips from your hands. Many cameras and phones find their final resting place in the middle of a dusty trail. Most importantly have fun! Enjoy your experience with us and happy trails!
It was September of 2004, the morning was wet and had a like sprinkle of rain coming down. We had our horses saddled and were going for a ride looking for elk in the mountains of Colorado. Our good friend Dan Eckert was taking my dad and myself out for a day ride. We road all morning through pine trees, open meadows and aspen groves. We came into a small aspen grove with grass three feet tall but not 30 yards in front of us lay 3 bulls. Their wet antlers shining in the little sunlight that was pushing through the grey clouds. The grass had amazing contrast of greens and yellows with the bright white and black trunks of the aspen trees in the background. I could not believe at 14 years old that I was sitting atop a horse in the Rocky Mountains staring at 3 elk that had no clue we were even there. It was at this point that in my life that it all became clear of what I wanted to do in my life. I wanted to become an outfitter, I wanted to live the life of riding horses into the mountains and come out of the mountains with horses packed full of meat, antlers and camping gear.
The elk stood and their dark necks, and yellow bodies just seemed like a perfect fit to their surroundings. They were made to be in this terrain, of open meadows, pine trees and aspen groves. As they finally sensed we were there they froze and locked eyes with us, all their senses keying in on us to try and figure out predator or fellow prey. They slowly turned their backs to us and began to make their way from us slowly. They moved with such grace quietly through the grass and downed trees. Within moments they were gone, completely disappeared like ghosts into shadows.
I have always had a passion for hunting, I was 5 years old when I made my first hike with my dad in an area of Colorado called bear paw. I don’t remember a lot of it but one of the things that stuck with me the most was wanting to hike the entire way without dad having to carry me. I almost made it, but my little legs just couldn’t make it the last bit and dad had to carry me. I have always cherished hunting with my dad, always trying to learn everything I could from him to make myself a better hunter. My hunting passion came from him walking behind him for many years trying to place my feet just as he did to be as quiet as possible. I wondered how he could step on a pile of sticks or leaves and not make a sound, but when I stepped in the same exact spot it was like walking across a piano keyboard. He would turn around and look at me give me the hand signal to be quiet and step easy. It took years for me to master this Indian style of hiking so quietly.
I began working for a dude ranch, where my passion for outfitting increased. Taking dudes out daily into the woods and teaching them about the wildlife, terrain and history of the land. In the fall id pack in drop camp hunters, 3-8 horse strings lined up behind me taking hunters into the woods with their gear and dropping them off for a week. My favorite part was loading meat and packing out antlers for these successful hunters. Even though these were not my antlers or meat I felt a sense of pride in being able to pack these hunters out of the Colorado Mountains. Then came the year I went to work for Dan as a guide. My first season with Dan was in 2011 a five-day archery hunt, in the same area we had ran into those three bulls seven years prior. We made an evening ride the night before we began hunting just to see if we could spot anything a little way from camp. This is where we had seen a nice six-point bull, and his small harem of cows coming out of a wallow in the aspen trees.
I guided for Dan that year for three seasons, one archery and two rifle. Although none of the hunters I guided personally killed an elk, I was still having the time of my life. We had packed out many bulls though in some tough conditions. We rode some days for 12 hours in search of elk, blowing snow and wet conditions. The 3am mornings saddling horses before the hunters stirred, scarfing down a breakfast before leaving camp for the day and not returning until well after dark where hot meals and a fire awaited us. We would then unsaddle horses, unpack saddles full of meat and topped with antlers. The long hours, early mornings and cold days were the highlight of my year. These days guiding helped to drive my dream of one day owning my own business and making a living by combining my passions.
The stories that are told in elk camp around the night fire are some of the best stories you will ever hear. Guys and gals from all over the country in one remote area around a fire brings you back to a different time. There is something about sleeping in a wall tent with a wood stove, waking in the morning to a stale smell of campfire smoke and horse sweat stuck to your clothes from the day before is something not many can experience. Guiding these hunters in search of elk and deer is a feat not many get to experience. But in the end whether a hunter fills their tag or goes home empty handed, the experience of a hunting camp in the mountains is one of the most amazing experiences one could ever endure.
When you combine elk hunting with wall tents and horses the experience turns into something comparable to the old west. Most elk camps have modern amenities, such as cots, propane stoves, modern rifles, and food has gone from beans and potatoes to steaks, tacos and desserts. But at 4am when you swing your leg over that saddle on that horse, it’s as if you travel back in time once again. As you leave camp and it disappears into the trees behind you, suddenly there’s a feeling of complete freedom, a sense of being one with nature. These are the days that I have always cherished, the dream that I have always wanted, and a dream that I have accomplished. I plan to live this life, ride these mountains, and meet all these wonderful new friends until the day I die. The newest dream is to spend my last days in these mountains, ill hopefully be working until the day of my funeral and quite possible even show up late.
The one thing I ask is that I never know when the last time I ride a horse will be.