A long, vigorous trek into the woods is hard on most bodies, regardless of how in shape you are. As tough as your journey into the woods may be, you still have to make it back out, ideally with a deer in tow. To make things easier on yourself, you may opt to take a vehicle. Whether you use a pickup or an all-terrain vehicle, it will become possible to lessen the impact of a hard trek on your body.
While motorized transportation can certainly make things easier on a whitetail hunter, it has one major drawback, that being the noise it makes. As a vehicle runs, it makes sound that will scare off dear, as well as releasing emissions capable of doing the same. The best alternative to this is something that does not release such sound and smells, but instead is all natural.
The original 4X4, off road vehicle is one that used to be embraced but is used much less frequently now. In days of old, the horse served many purposes, from carrying riders to pulling wagons. Nowadays many horses are pets or hobbies as opposed to vital parts of life. That does not make them any less useful; it is simply a case of them not being as widely used, but they still have plenty to offer and can be utilized in the field.
Photo: Gina Sanders
The relationship between deer and horses does vary based on individuals of each species, but as a whole the two tend to coexist rather well. On many occasions, deer have entered our pasture and grazed with the horses, or even raided the garden nearby. The horses always perked up and took note, but a challenge was never issued. That is not to say a challenge will not be issued by another herd, but ours is docile and laid back, making them content to share space without conflict. Horses that are more dominant and territorial may behave differently, but even that may change once a horse is removed from the pasture and placed under saddle.
Photo: Ranch Vacations
A horse under saddle being ridden through unfamiliar territory should be responsive to the cues of the rider, making its dominance, or lack thereof, a non-issue. This does require time and effort spent on training and reinforcing good behavior. Such training is even more important if you intend to shoot off of your horse, as horses are naturally prone to startle. Shooting a gun nearby may result in a flight response from your horse that could possibly unseat you, leaving you in the dirt, injured or worse.
If you do choose to hunt with a horse or from horseback, selecting the right animal to do so is paramount. The demeanor of your horse will reflect in its trainability, so horses that are naturally nervous are not recommended for such a task. Once you have a level-headed horse, you are going to need to introduce it to the sound of gunfire in a controlled setting. Getting a horse accustomed to gun fire should start long before you climb aboard. It should also begin with the least dramatic sounds possible, such as perhaps a silenced .22 and moving on up to the round you intend to use in the field. Starting with dummy rounds is advisable for both your safety and that of your horse. Cotton balls in the horse's ears can help get you started but it not a long term solution, and if your horse will absolutely not settle around gunfire, it may be time to consider another mount.
Photo: Cashmere and Camo
Getting a horse used to gunfire is important whether or not you plan to shoot from that animal, as is proper and safe firearms handling while doing so. Even if your only goal is to ride into the field, it is still imperative that your mount be exposed to gunfire. After all, you will be shooting along with other hunters, and if the sound of a shot sends your equine partner into a panic, he or she may run off, leaving you to walk back out of the woods on your own. Also important is acclimating horses to a pack so they can transport your deer for you, even if all you do is walk alongside. Being able to cross downed trees and Missouri waterways is vital as well.
Remember, we are taking primarily about using horses for hunting on private land here, not management areas. While several conservation areas in the state allow horses and even have horse trails (Deer Creek, Stockton, etc.,) you are going to want to check with the loca MDC area managers if you intend to hunt with horses on public land before you show up.
All said, the horse can be a valuable asset to hunters if the proper animal is selected and trained well enough to perform its job. Around the country, mounted shooting is becoming a popular sport in which both handguns and rifles are used, so horses exposed to gunfire are going to be more widely seen as time progresses. Even so, you should take nothing for granted and take the time to get to know your mount, experimenting safely with gunfire long before you take your horse into the field. Seeking the help of a professional horse trainer is advised, as they can assess your horse and lay a solid training foundation that will keep you both safe.
Have you ever hunted on horseback? Did you enjoy it, and would you do it again? Let us know I the comments.
When it comes to starting a horse around firearms, professionals are best suited for the job, both in the case of horsemanship and firearms handling. Here is some advice from a trainer: