Pipi’s Pasture: Autumn on the ranch
The past couple of times our grandson, Kenny, has been by the house, he has talked excitedly about the upcoming hunting season. He has hunted in a number of different places, including Alaska, with his dad, so I can understand he can hardly wait for the deer and elk seasons this year. Thoughts of hunting season, coupled with the recent weather change, have triggered childhood memories of the autumn season on the ranch.
Years ago, mid-September on the ranch probably meant the second cutting of hay had been put up, the stackyards were closedvand the haying machinery had been put away. Thoughts were on bringing the cattle home, usually around the first part of October.
When the time was right, area ranchers saddled up their horses, packed food for a few days, opened the gate that kept the cattle on the forest pasture for the summer and began to round up and head the cattle home. For the most part, this wasn’t a really hard job, because many of the cattle were used to the routine; they knew exactly where to go. However, there were always those animals that had been grazing in the more remote parts of the forest, so the men rode for a few days and stayed at the cow camp at night.
Getting the cattle settled at home and hunting up strays took a while — just how long, I can’t remember — but as soon as cattle roundup was finished, it was time for hunting season. In those days, there were some deer down on the ranches, but they were not nearly as abundant as now, and the elk were all up at the forest elevation. In order to see an elk, we kids had to ride to the forest with Dad. Ranchers depended on the wild meat, because, except for a few hogs that we fattened, we sold livestock. So, hunting season was important.
Dad and his brothers packed food, guns, ammunition and other supplies to go up to the forest again. All of it was done by horseback. The men stayed at the cow camp for several days and hunted elk and deer. I remember watching the men head up the county road. In later years they probably hauled the horses by pickup truck up the county road, closer to the high country.
At home, we kids went to school, did morning and evening chores and waited for Dad to come home with game and stories of the hunt. At night, we got to eat our favorite soups and other foods we kids enjoyed but weren’t part of the big meals we usually ate. We got to sleep in the living room, too. I guess it was our way of dealing with missing Dad.
During hunting season, we also had to keep an eye out for trespassers. There were a few hunters who drove up and down the county road, looking for deer. If they saw deer in the hay meadows, they often shot right out in the middle of the cattle. Trespassers were reported to the game warden. We kids found this to be exciting. It was autumn on the ranch.
I spent this past Saturday morning preparing for Sunday’s lunch branding — at least what I could get done early. I cooked pasta and boiled eggs. I made a gelatin salad. I decided to bake a banana cake, a family favorite, for dessert.