I must just have a penchant for being miserable. Whenever I plan my hunts, I feel compelled to find a trip that will strain my physical and mental limits, and then shove me past them. My search for a bighorn ram in Montana’s backcountry certainly fit the bill.
I promised myself that if I ever had the opportunity to hunt bighorns, I would do it the right way. I’d climb high and hunt hard to find and kill a mature ram. My plan was to use horses to pack camp into the backcountry and hunt the high alpine basins on foot. We left the wall tent and wood stove at home, and brought the backpacking gear with no room for anything extra.
Raingear (“It’s not going to rain!”), wool pants (“It’s not going to snow!”), cots (“We’re tough; we can sleep on the ground”), Jason’s pack frame (“I’ll be able to get the horses to whatever we kill”) and piles of other gear got cut and left at the truck, leaving us with a pretty spartan load. The voice of experience was prompting us to take care of the packstock first. Our inner weatherman, though, was way off.
Before long we were loaded and headed up the trail, tackling our first mountain pass right off the bat. A 2,000–foot climb put us at the top of a windy notch in one of the prettiest rock piles imaginable.
While navigating a tight stretch around a log, McCoy (one of Jason’s packhorses) went around the wrong side of the tree and caused a fairly impressive horse wreck. I bailed off Tucker and held McCoy’s head uphill so he would stop struggling while Jason pulled the packs off of him. With the packs off and a little encouragement, he got back to his feet, shaken but unscathed.
Daylight was on its last legs, too, with twilight nipping at its heels. We had a decision to make: Press on and hope the trail improves, or backtrack to one of the good camp sites we’d passed. Though we knew we were burning hunting time, the voice of experience won out. We headed back down the trail to a nice bench along a creek bottom and made camp.
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