MEEKER I Colorado outfitter.
The image that comes to mind is probably not one of an attractive woman with well-coiffed silver hair and sparkling blue eyes. One’s first impression of Jeanne Horne is that she is a lady, in every sense of the word. But being a lady is no hindrance to being an excellent outfitter, something Jeanne Horne can attest to every time she looks at her outfitter of the year award from the Colorado Outfitters Association, Inc. (COA)
“Being a successful outfitter means 60 to 80 hour work weeks most of the year. It begins with strategic advertising, website, sport shows — recruitment and retention of clientele — and finally culminates with the hunt or fishing trip itself. Livestock, trucks, trailers and camp equipment must be cared for year round, and then there is the paperwork. Federal and state agencies need, require and demand record keeping such as employee records, BLM and forest permits, outfitter’s registration, vehicle and liability insurance and the list goes on,” according to the association’s website.
This year, 2012, marks Horne’s 16th year as a professional outfitter for big game hunts.
“Outfitting, for me, is not a business, it is a way of life,” she said. “It’s not for everyone. With today’s challenges of a tough economy, ever-changing rules and regulations that face outfitters, you have to really love it. Folks think outfitters make of ton of money, but truth be known, most of us make enough to pay the bills and that’s in a good year.”
Horne has demonstrated her passion for outfitting both personally and professionally.
“Some outfitters prudently join COA and other professional organizations, and a few become active in those organizations. Even fewer give selflessly of their time and energy, attending countless meetings and taking on leadership roles. All of the above describes Jeanne Horne. Jeanne is a single person who not only operates a successful outfitting business but has been actively involved in the Colorado Outfitters Association for over a decade and has made time to be our dedicated secretary for the past 10 years. She is truly a valued asset of this association.” (COA website)
Horne’s love for hunting and for the outdoors spans her lifetime.
“My mother was an avid hunter, and up until junior high, I thought all mothers were hunters!”
Horne is from south Texas. She grew up on a farm with horses and “gained a tremendous respect and love for hunting and nature” from her upbringing and her parents.
“We spent all of our family vacations either hunting or fishing. I took to hunting like most young girls take to playing with dolls. I was 3 years old when my parents took me with them elk hunting in Colorado. We went on hunting adventures for many years in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Colorado was our favorite.”
As a young adult, she moved to Houston and worked in real estate development until 1984.
“I could not resist the call of the mountains and moved to Colorado for a sabbatical. I never went back,” Horne said.
When the opportunity to purchase an outfitting business in the Meeker area presented itself in 1998, Horne felt it was a “gift from God,” a chance to pursue her passion for hunting and the outdoors full-time.
Being an outfitter is not without its challenges. Finding reliable, responsible staff is “the hardest part of the job,” according to Horne.
“With more than 70 percent repeat customers, finding clients is not hard. Finding good, dependable folks that can take off from their ‘real jobs’ and come help during hunting season is the toughest part of my job,” Horne said.
“Working for an outfitter is challenging, and it takes a great deal of grit and pioneer spirit to ride for the brand and be part of an outfit.”
Over the years the individuals who have signed one with Horne and stayed have “become family.” Horne equates training new staff to having kids, bringing them in and beginning the learning process anew again and again.
Spending weeks at a time in the mountains lends itself to some interesting adventures, the kind best shared around a campfire. Asked to choose one, Horne related one of the scarier experiences she has had as an outfitter.
“I was by myself with a string of three mules and a horse packing a bull elk out. The horse tied off the back of my string had been for the hunter who went with me from his drop camp to load the elk on the pack mules. The area was steep getting down to his elk. Let me rephrase that, it was incredibly steep, snow covered and slick as grease. The hunter commented that he didn’t particularly care to go back down in that canyon to help load the elk, because the evening before when he crawled out of it on hands and knees he swore he saw Elvis!
“I reminded him of two things: One, I didn’t know where his elk was and since he had not flagged his trail back down to the elk — and we had about a foot of new snow overnight — I would not be able to follow his “crawl” trail, and two, since he said it was a nice bull elk, most likely I would have some trouble loading the quarters of a big bull by myself.
“The verdict was, he would accompany me. I had brought a horse for him to ride. Needless to say, after he rode … no, let’s say he stayed on top of the horse as it slid down the ravine to the elk, there was no way he was going to attempt to ride back up to his camp. He made some comments which are not suitable for print (if you get my drift).
“Once the elk was loaded, I tied his horse to the back of my mules, sent the hunter on his crawl back to camp and said I would head back with his elk.
“I have a very trusty horse that I ride most of the time and a great lead mule. I pointed them up the hill and we started the slip-and-slide journey up the steep hillside. For every three steps forward, the animals were slipping two steps back, so I decided to take a shortcut across an open area. Bad choice. No sooner had we traveled a few yards than my horse hesitated. I thought he was just catching his breath or his footing as it was still very steep and slick. After he caught his breath, I urged him on. Since he trusts me rather than his instincts, he stepped forward and immediately sank to his belly. We were in a bog, a bad bog.
“Thank the Lord, my lead mule had the good sense to pull free from my grasp. She stood vigil on the edge of the snow-covered bog holding the other three animals behind her. I was in trouble, no doubt about it.
“Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as my horse reared and lunged trying to get out of the bog. My thoughts bounced between ‘stay on top of him’ or ‘bail’. “If I bailed, which way would I go so that he wouldn’t fall on top of me? I prayed in my fear, and as he reared again, the saddlehorn punched me in the sternum and I bailed off backward. I landed facing away from the horse and turned to see him fallen backward and breathing heavily.
“I felt sure he had broken a leg. I grabbed the rope from my lead mule. She stood her ground, looking very concerned for me, while I pulled myself up the rope to firm ground. As I looked back for the second time at my horse, fearing the worst, he was up, calmly pawing for a bite of grass beneath the snow.
“As the adrenaline began to wear off, I realized I was hurt. At the time I didn’t know it, but I had two cracked ribs and a bruised sternum. Climbing back in the saddle was painful, but I gave thanks that I could ride and that my horse was not seriously hurt. He had one puncture wound on his hip that was bleeding, but it was a long way from his heart.
“Speaking of heart, he has a big one and he took me and the string home to the base camp through new snow that was starting to fall horizontally across the landscape. I learned some big lessons that day and realized my Maker was not ready to call me home.”
Stories like that are not uncommon, but they don’t represent the best part of the job. Horne appreciates her clients, and the “extended family” of her staff, as well as being able to work with horses and mules and “stepping back in time as I ride the high mountain trail, immersed in the beauty that is our backyard. Truly a blessing in my life.”
MEEKER I Colorado outfitter.