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Scouting plans don't always pan out

My sometimes fishing and hunting partner, Jose, who also happens to be my brother-in-law, was here on a visit for a few days. We had great plans of fishing and scouting the area for the big bucks.

Most of the time he and my sister were here, it rained. Sometimes a plan works and sometimes it doesn't.

I remember the first time he and I went scouting for elk. It was a combination of horseback riding, hiking, and mountain climbing. We prefer to call that scouting so people do not think we are totally crazy for risking our lives wandering around the mountains.

We arrived at the end of a logging trail with a pickup camper and a horse trailer in the early afternoon. Traversing the trail to this spot was a moderately hair-raising experience.

I could not wait to see what lay ahead. Since we had several hours before sunset, Jose suggested we saddle the horses and head up the mountain to do a little scouting. Since I had not fallen off the mountain getting to this point, I thought it sounded like a great idea. How much worse could it get?

While I was saddling the horses, I noticed one was quite nervous and jumpy. The other horse was calm, but was blind in one eye. When I asked Jose where he rented these horses, he was reluctant to tell me. Since I am the better rider, I took the nervous horse. We named him Snake since he could dart to the side with little or no provocation. One-Eyed Jack, named for obvious reasons, and Jose led the way up to the high meadow.

We followed elk or deer paths several thousand feet above camp passing grand vistas of beautiful scenery and trails across cliff faces with thousand-foot drops off one side. To reach the high meadow was exhilarating for both the scenery and still being alive. After the couple-of-hours ride to the break, we unsaddled and tied the horses out to eat while we went higher on foot where the horses could not climb.

There were signs of elk everywhere. Jose suggested we be above the high meadow before daylight the next morning. I suggested we leave camp at dawn because one or both of us would fall off the mountain in the darkness. If the elk were there at dawn, they would still be there at nine. If not, we would at least live to tell about it.

We saddled up to make the trip down, planning to be at camp before dark. I was leading the way while we enjoyed the panoramic vistas of green mountains and snow-covered peaks. When we came to the part of the trail with the thousand-foot drop off to our left, two guys and one horse became obviously tense. One-Eyed Jack remained calm since he could not see the precipice on his blind side. Snake shied a couple of times but jumped toward the right, jamming my knees into the cliff. I could handle a few gouges and bruises, considering the option of going to his left.

I heard a dull "thump" and glanced back. The steep trail caused Jose's saddle to slip forward. Jose fell in front of his horse when the horse lowered his head. Jack carefully stepped over Jose who, by the time I saw him, was firmly clutching the ground. With no other options, I continued down the mountain until I came to a wide spot in the trail. I dismounted and caught Jack, who was nonchalantly following close behind, unconcerned the saddle was on neck and he had no rider. Jose brought up the end of our small parade saying several words in Spanish I was not taught in high school Spanish class.

We re-arranged equipment and made our way into camp as darkness set in. During the next few days, we had a successful hunting trip after having had just a few problems during our scouting excursion.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.