I was in the kitchen after breakfast when my husband entered the basement door and called up the stairs, “Your assistance is requested.” Puzzled by the tone of his voice and the strange choice of words, I hurried downstairs. There, when I found beside my husband two men wearing orange vests, I exclaimed, “You got an elk!”
The successful hunter said he was eighty five years old, and our mutual friend suggested perhaps we could help get the meat out of the woods. Always eager for an excuse to work my ponies, I of course said yes!
I hurriedly did chores, and we re-arranged our day and were down the road with two ponies in the horse trailer with all the necessary tack within forty-five minutes. We drove to a gate across a logging road and parked. It was a glorious fall day, and I soon regretted that the only orange hat I have is a stocking cap. While one hunter went ahead to begin dressing the carcass, I put pack saddles on my two old hands. Because I’d never packed out a kill before, I chose ponies for whom very little would be new. Traveling to a strange place, walking through the woods, standing tied with full tack, and packing strange loads were all on these ponies’ resumés. In fact the last time I’d used one of the pack saddles was on a similar mission in 2008, only that time we were packing in fence materials instead of packing out meat.
When we arrived at the kill, I had both ponies smell the fresh blood. Neither seemed bothered – a good sign – so I hand grazed the ponies for an hour waiting for the loads to be ready. The decision was made to have the ponies pack out the quarters, so when the hindquarters were bagged, I worked with Torrin, desensitizing him to the feel, smell, and warm weight of the load. We found that the plastic bags bothered him, so we put the quarters in their plastic bags inside cloth game bags, and he did fine. Hanging the hindquarters on either side of the pack saddle was definitely the easiest balancing of loads I’ve ever done. They were naturally close to the same weight. I used to carry a scale to weigh panniers to make sure the load was balanced. No need this time. Because the elk was a yearling, the forequarters fit nicely into Mya’s panniers. I was pleased she didn’t express discomfort about the plastic bags as she has in the past.
The mile-and-a-half walk out went uneventfully, and all four humans counted the outing a success. My husband remarked that the ponies even seemed to enjoy going along, which was definitely true. Packing out a carcass for a hunter is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so it was a dream come true to have the opportunity. Being able to do it for the first time on a beautiful day with an easy walk made it even better. And the hunters brought me a piece of hide to hang on the paddock fences to desensitize the other ponies to the smell. I’ll be recruiting from their ranks if there’s a next time!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
Stories like this one can also be found in the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.