Guide School Student Journal
DAY 1 – Monday
Well, here goes. About mid-morning I drove to the big cattle ranch near Philipsburg, MT where Cody and LeRee’ Hensen operate the Royal Tine Guide and Packer School. The place is great – surrounded by mountains, with big stands of pine and fir spilling down into the foothills and draws where the ranch actually lies. Cody tells us the ranch is bordered on three sides by U.S. National Forest, and elk, deer and bear can move freely onto the ranch. Some huge elk herds move down during the fall and winter here on the ranch and then move back up onto summer range after calving out in the spring. Quite a few stay on the ranch year-round too. Can’t wait to get out and take a look at them. What better way to learn to be a guide than to practice on the real thing?
When I drove to the cluster of white canvas wall tents where the school is actually conducted, I figured I’d hit the jackpot. It looked just like the backcountry hunting camps I’d seen in the magazines. Base camp lies along a great-looking trout stream with timbered foothills as a backdrop. Horses and mules graze loose in the mountain meadow that surrounds camp. Just add the echoes of bull elk bugling come September and this camp must be like heaven on earth.
Royal Tine only takes eight students per class, with at least two instructors at all times. The Hensens, Cody and LeRee, actually live at camp with the students and Cody does most all the instructing himself. LeRee does all the cook student instructing plus cooking. That way every student gets plenty of instruction and experience the right way.
The students all arrived this morning, and we started at noon with orientation – introductions, overview, and some basic camp and conduct rules to keep things running smoothly.
Then we jumped right into horse/mule identification by coloration and distinctive markings. Buckskins, bays, sorrels and blacks, duns, roans, etc., all with different stars, snips, blazes and brands. It’s a lot to remember at first, but we’ll have to know the stock we work with here at school and out in the real world and be able to identify it without sounding like greenhorns. After that we took a hike up onto the ridge behind camp and I saw my first elk herd – all cows and calves, but what a way to start off!
Topped it all off with a big supper. If LeRee’s cooking is always that good I’ll be in trouble by the end of class.
Better cash in for tonight and get some sleep. Tomorrow we’ll start off early. I didn’t draw camp jack duties, but my turn will come soon enough.
DAY 2 – Tuesday
No trouble getting up today – I was primed and ready to go!
After a big breakfast at 6:30, we started with wrangling, catching and haltering horses, then learned some basic “horse” knots: sheet bend, manger knot, and various night hitches. Made sure I took good notes.
We progressed to leading horses through an obstacle course of bogs, deadfall, etc., then learned roaching and grooming, including pulling the manes and tails. After lunch we covered the parts of a bridle, practiced bridling, then worked on bareback mounting, riding and reining. An hour-and-a-half of bareback riding broke us in pretty well – in and out of thick timber then up and back down a plenty steep ridge face.
The next two hours were spent in a rap session with Dan Cherry, the author of So You Really Want To Be A Guide. After another big supper, we had the evening to study our books and notes before taking a quiz over the day’s subjects. Never dreamed a guide would have to study so much!
DAY 3 – Wednesday
Up by 6 a.m. to wrangle the horses before breakfast. We had breakfast at 6:30 again, and class started at 7:00 as usual.
Each of us caught, haltered and brushed down the horse he was assigned yesterday, then we went over the parts and terminology of a riding saddle. There’s more there than I ever realized. A guide could really sound ignorant without knowing those basic terms.
To get ready for shoeing horses this weekend, we practiced picking up a horse’s foot and holding it between our knees with our legs bent into a sitting position. Shoeing might just be harder than it looks. We all had trouble holding a hoof for even two minutes at a time. Well, at least we’re getting to practice. Maybe we’ll be ready by Sunday.
After learning the basics and practicing saddling and bridling, we packed lunches and rode for the rest of the day. We found there’s a little more to it than just sitting in a saddle like a sack of salt. Lots of steep uphill climbs and downhill scrambles, fighting through thick timber, bogs and deadfall taught us plenty about mountain riding – and mountain horses. Sure beats walking!
Found two shed antlers and saw two cow elk while we were riding. Cody figured the lone cows were either calving late or had new calves hidden nearby. We saw a yearling bull moose on the way back in and experienced a mountain thunder storm real up-close and personal. The horses handled the lightning okay, but most of us figured it was plenty close for comfort.
DAY 4 – Thursday
The day was spent learning 3 different rope splices – crown splice, end splice and eye splice. That seemed a bit tricky at first, but we all got it down.
Then we went into learning basic leatherwork and repair plus the tools used for the trade. We won’t all be expert saddlemakers, but at least we know how to do simple repairs or stitch together any equipment. Cody gave each of us a skinning knife, so we practiced our skills by making a knife sheath. Some of us finished up pretty fast, so we made axe scabbards too.
DAY 5 – Friday
Map and compass course. Started with a video(powered by a generator), then worked through a 7 page worksheet on using a compass and reading topography maps. First we took some bearings and triangulations around camp. Then we drove to a mountain several miles from camp and took some bearings toward some elk wallows that, according to the map, were 3 miles away. It was a cool feeling when we hit them dead-on.
We also covered GPS use which included marking and finding way points plus using the UTM system to find and plot way points from a map and enter into our GPS’s. Cody stresses the importance of being efficient with a map, compass and GPS for the safety of our clients as well as ourselves. I also realize now that there will be a lot of hiking and riding in the dark to get to prime hunting spots before daylight and to stay there until dark. I have to say that I feel more comfortable that I wont’ get myself or my clients lost and I’ll be more apt to check out new hunting territory.
DAY 6 – Saturday
Wrangled at 6 a.m., breakfast at 6:30, up to the tack shed by 7. In our classroom session today we went over shoeing tools, basic hoof anatomy and steps for shoeing a horse or mule. Then we caught and haltered our assigned horses to start practicing the real thing.
We started out by pulling the old shoes off the horses, which wasn’t too difficult. But after Cody demonstrated how to trim the hooves and put new shoes on, we found out that part isn’t near as easy as an experienced shoer makes it look. Now we see why he has us practice the “shoer’s squat” all week. Those upper leg muscles really start to scream. Fortunately though, we all got a few shoes nailed on with no casualties to us or the horses.
Late afternoon Cody demonstrated different horse restraints (twitches, scotch hobbles, etc.) for use in extreme situations. Tough day, overall, but definitely educational!
DAY 7 – Sunday
Same routine. Wrangled at 6:00, breakfast at 6:30, and class at 7:00. Spent about an hour at the hitching rails learning 10 basic knots and hitches. Just hope I can remember them and their applications. Cody says for every one missed on tonight’s quiz, we have to tie it correctly 20 times in a row before we’re done for the night.
About mid-morning, we started shoeing (Again!). We were all sore this morning, but it went pretty well. Most of us got our requirement done by the end of the day. Each student must shoe at least 1 horse and 1 mule. (Any that didn’t finish today will have to make it up later.)
We topped off the evening with a great supper and a little entertainment watching the instructors restrain and shoe a couple of younger horses.
DAY 8 – Monday
Most of the students went to Missoula, 1.5 hours from camp, to check out saddle shops and sporting good stores. A few of us stayed at camp and took advantage of the chance to fish. We did pretty well and one guy landed a 3 pound trout out of a nearby stream. The fishing is great around here. Make sure you buy a fishing license.
DAY 9 – Tuesday
After our usual early-morning routine we started with “classroom” out by the tack shed, learning the parts of a Decker pack saddle. From there we started into cargoing, or “mantying” – wrapping up loads into canvas tarps and lashing them with ropes to make packs to be loaded on horses or mules. We started out with hay bales and boxes, which were fairly easy, then progressed to odd-shaped bunches of tools or odds-and-ends of duffel, fishing rods, rifle cases and camp gear. That got to be a challenge, but we’ll have to be ready to do it when working for an outfitter.
After lunch we reviewed saddle parts, then learned how to fit a Decker saddle to a specific horse or mule. Once everyone had his saddle adjusted to the pack mule he’d been assigned, we worked on packing: first, the basic basket hitch, then some variations of it (crow’s foot, poor-man, etc.) Next we learned the barrel hitch, then how to pack elk quarters and antlers. Hope to use that a lot once I go to work as a guide – better get to studying for tonight’s quiz!
DAY 10 – Wednesday
My turn for Camp Jack chores. Got up before the wranglers to help LeRee around the kitchen tent while she cooked breakfast. First, I lit the coleman lanterns, then built a nice fire in the stove and got the Cowboy Coffee boiling. Made sure the woodrack was full, plenty of kindling cut and the water buckets were full. Cody is very adamant about not graduating us or placing us as guides if we aren’t dependable as students.
Classroom started with advantages of mules over horses, then a lecture on packing pointers and “do’s and dont’s”. Then we reviewed on mantying and Decker packing; everyone packed loads on a mule and we took a five-hour ride over all kinds of obstacles and terrain, each leading a single pack animal.
DAY 11 – Thursday
Got to sleep a few minutes longer, but still had to get up and wrangle this morning. Started off learning the history, uses and parts of a sawbuck saddle, then launched right into sawbuck packing. We mainly worked with panniers and the single (one man) diamond hitch. After everyone pretty well got the hang of it, we did more review on mantying and Decker packing, then took another 5-hour ride, taking turns leading 3 loaded pack animals. We had a few rodeos and a good education – a pretty good day in itself, but we weren’t done yet.
At 9:00 p.m. we wrangled the stock in again for night-packing experience. Started packing up at 9:30, but we weren’t loaded and ready to head out until 10:30. About that time it clouded over again. We packed in the rain this afternoon, but fortunately it only drizzled tonight. The bad part is the cloud cover made it pitch dark. We definitely learned what night packing is like – didn’t get back till 3:00 a.m.! No one rolled any saddles, but we had lots of too slow adjustments that kept us out a long time. Good experience. We learned the importance of working quickly!
DAY 12 – Friday
Cody went easy on us – breakfast wasn’t till 8:00. He normally would have started at 5:30 as usual, like we would working for an outfitter, but he’s found that in a class-type setting the students don’t pay attention after a night like that without at least reasonable sleep.
Started at 8:30 with backcountry fire starting, in the snow/rain. We were limited to our knife and a lighter, and each had to get a fire going – more of a trick than some of us thought. After instruction, demonstration and practical pointers we each had to start a second fire. Amazing how much easier it is once you learn some of the “tricks of the trade.”
From mid-morning on we had a lecture on horse first aid and nutrition. Cody explained a horse’s digestive system, nutritional needs, plus pros and cons of various feed types. Next came the talk and demonstration on first aid. For example; Colic is a big thing to be aware of when dealing with horses and mules and how to treat it. If left untended, an animal would have a slow and painful death. Cody also gave a list of various items an outfitter should have in camp regarding the stock first aid kit — panalog, banamine, ace, etc.
He’s great at taking very technical information and putting it into terms the average person can understand and use. He really knows horses.
DAY 13 – Saturday
Bighorn sheep hike up nearby Rock Creek drainage. This is probably the most desirable area to draw a bighorn sheep permit in the lower 48 and it’s right out Cody’s back door!! Sheep experts say it’s the most likely area to produce record book heads.
Saw elk in 3 different locations scattered in small bunches due to spring calving time plus a couple of black bears. It was a sow with cubs. There were a lot of bighorn rams spotted most of them mature with 2 being exceptionally large. Cody said they would make the record book. We stalked to within 40 yards and took some great photos. Very exhilarating and educational. What a day!!
DAY 14 – Sunday
Test Day. Same wrangle and breakfast time as always, then started testing. Glad I took advantage of the study time to practice yesterday. Our test sure separated those who worked at it from those who didn’t. We had to wrangle in one horse and one mule to go with a third that was already saddled, then start packing. After mantying 4 bales in 8 minutes or less, we had to load 2 pannier boxes to within 5 pounds of each other without using a scale, then tie a diamond hitch correctly. Then we had to lead 2 mules and Decker-pack 2 more, using a basket hitch on one and a crow’s foot on the other.
Cody’s obstacle course put us to the test: crossing creeks, bogs, deadfall, heavy timber, a real tight squeeze between two trees in particular, and even a dead beaver carcass that drew a few snorts from the mules. Those who had practiced did well, but those who didn’t … failed. One did his packing so well he didn’t have to get off his horse even once to adjust his loads. One did so poorly he rolled not only two pack saddles, but an entire mule to boot! My extra practice paid off.
DAY 15 – Monday
Caught up on rest, did some laundry, fishing and errands.
DAY 16 – Tuesday
Finally getting into the hunting part of things. Started with lecture/discussion on what elk see/hear/smell and how to keep them from sensing your presence. Also discussed how to better use our own sense of sight, sound and scent as hunters and guides.
After that we rode up into elk country and practiced bugling set-ups at elk wallows (hunter/guide positioning using wind, travel routes, available cover and available or self-made shooting lanes).
Spent entire rest of the day practicing still hunting, bugling and set-ups.
DAY 17 – Wednesday
Today was a blast! We practiced our hunting skills by splitting up into small groups and the instructors acted like a bull elk. We had a hunter with us (fellow student) and we had to stalk the “bull”, set up the “hunter” and bugle them in. Boy, the instructors made good elk. They would run off if we were being too noisy or if the wind was wrong. GREAT PRACTICE!!
In the afternoon, back at camp, Cody lectured on more hunting and stalking techniques, elk habits and prime habitat plus the importance of glassing and good optics and what to look for when scouting.
DAY 18 – Thursday
Another excellent day. Lecture/discussion on blood-trailing of wounded game, then spent the rest of the morning out in the woods practicing on simulated blood trails like those of actual wounded elk. Pretty realistic trails, and plenty challenging. Outright tough to follow at times, but I guess they’re getting us ready for when we are actually tracking our hunters wounded game that needs to be recovered.
Busy day this afternoon. We covered knife sharpening, discussed field dressing, skinning and quartering game. The we caped sheep heads for practice; learning to turn the eyes, lips ears and nose. This way, when we help our hunter harvest an animal, we’ll know how to properly care for their trophy.
DAY 19 – Friday
Spent most of the morning on tree falling techniques and the uses of axes and crosscut saws. Rounded it out with a review of camp equipment, wall tent set-up and camp layouts.
This afternoon, we worked on scoring trophies by the Boone and Crockett scoring system. We were graded on scoring 2 mule deer racks, 2 elk racks, sheep horns and a bear skull. I hope to put this to use in the near future!
DAY 20 – Saturday
First aid and CPR day. A lifelong friend of Cody’s and a local EMT, Jason George, comes to the school and instructs the course. Granted, this class is long and very mundane, but it is needed to receive a certification in 1st aid and CPR. It is mandatory to show proof of this to obtain my guide’s license when I go to work for an outfitter.
DAY 21- Sunday
Morning off. But back at camp in the late afternoon for a hearty dinner and to make the pack trip preparations, such as pack up all the non-perishable groceries and check the horses hooves for tight shoes.
DAY 22 – Monday
Early wrangle, as usual, then packed up and headed out for a 5-day pack trip. Took till 10 a.m. to get gear sorted out and packed up for the trip. The students weighed and mantied all the loads. Here’s where all the previous class work comes together. Here’s where our previous packing experience was put to work too. Rather than several short strings we put all the stock into two longer strings and everyone took turns practicing longstring packing.
Made lots of pack adjustments along the way – slow going, but no saddles rolled. Finally reached Zeke’s Meadow, an old homestead site where we camped for the night. Everyone was intrigued by the 2-room trapper cabin, still in use. Lots of history there. Saw a Whitetail doe at the edge of the meadow, and got into good fishing again. The last class saw a bull moose near here and saw a mountain lion crossing a clearing on the ridge above camp.
DAY 23 – Tuesday
After breakfast, we packed up again and moved another half-day’s ride to a beautiful river-bottom meadow. Easier going today because our packs were matched up better. Yesterday’s experience taught us some lessons about matching bulk as well as weight.
Pretty fair fishing around here where we are camped and tons of elk sign. One student took a hike up toward a nearby lake and got turned around, but ended up getting within 50 yards of three 6 point bull elk in the velvet. The rest of us went out at dusk and saw a herd of cows and calves.
DAY 24 – Wednesday
One of the horses turned up sick, and Cody had to take it out to a vet. The other instructors covered low-impact camping and horse use, which is increasingly important as more and more of the public make use of increasingly limited resources. Cody believes guides and outfitters must take the lead in minimizing our impacts. The rest of the morning was spent on lashing techniques and building debris huts for wilderness survival.
We had the afternoon free for fishing, bugling practice, and scouting an area for our test on bugling and set-ups. A couple of students rode out bareback and got into a spike bull elk. One spotted a young bull moose up by the lake, and the rest of us went out at dusk again and got into a cow moose and a herd of elk. One of the bulls was actually answering our bugling in June!
Had to hustle back and take my turn as camp cook tonight. Cody wants us to understand the importance of being able to prepare a meal, either in a spike camp or even in main camp if a regular camp cook isn’t available. We’re getting our experience by doing all the cooking during the pack trip. I’m not a gourmet chef, but I’m learning.
DAY 25 – Thursday
Got to Cow Camp Meadows yesterday evening. It is so serene and beautiful up here. I got up early and hit the creek and then up to a nearby lake for some fishing. I can’t believe how fantastic it was – I must have caught 40 cutthroat and brook trout by 2 in the afternoon!
DAY 26 – Friday
We are laying over another day in Cow Camp. A couple of us climbed Moose Mountain looking for game to stalk. Wow, it is really a climb!! We saw a couple of moose and a fresh wolf kill. It was a cow elk. We heard the wolves howling last night as we were getting ready for bed. This must have been what the commotion was all about.
On our hike down the mountain, we practiced picking out trees, rocks or other objects and estimating the ranges in terms of rifle ballistics then pacing the distance to see if we were accurate. Distances can be deceptive in the western mountains, and judging distance accurately is crucial for a guide. Rangefinders are sure handy.
DAY 27 – Saturday
Long Day. Up at daylight, wrangled the stock in, took camp down, mantied up, packed the mules and headed back the 16 miles to camp. We all got lots of long-string experience today. Our loads were a little lighter on the way out, and we’ve all learned enough by now that our packs rode pretty well. No mishaps, and we actually got back to the school main camp by 1 p.m. After taking care of the horses and all the gear, we were plenty ready for a good supper. Great pack trip! Gave us a good chance to tie together everything we’ve been learning.
Seems like a fast 4 weeks overall, but definately a very full 4 weeks. I never dreamed Ild learn so much. Now I’m chomping at the bit to get out on my first guiding job and put my education to work.
GOOD LUCK AND BEST WISHES IF YOU JOIN NEXT YEAR’S CLASS.
Had a SUPER experience guiding and packing this past fall. I’ve hooked up with some of my classmates for a year end celebration. Enjoy the photos of our sucessful season. Officially, we are known now as ROYALTY.
My advice to you would be: if you are at all thinking of doing this, don’t hesitate. Your only regret will be that you didn’t do it when you had the chance.