OPEN RANGE: High-tech cowboying in tough terrain

Barrie Qualle mug

Prior to moving to Wallowa County, I was used to country club cowboying around Oakdale, California. The fields there were usually not larger than 1,000 acres and didn’t contain a lot of trees unless you got into the oaks higher up. You could see most of every field if you got on a hill and always collected all the cattle in a gather.

By comparison the conditions here are a lot tougher and in the canyons, borderline terrifying. I really enjoy the Zumwalt where the ranches are big with a lot of different fields. I just say no to the Imnaha country except for brandings. That country is beyond steep and is too scary. I don’t like heights and an 18-inch-wide trail with a thousand-foot drop-off can pucker me up.

Gathering in the timber is rarely successful for me. If I find cattle, they usually take off through the timber and scatter. If I do capture them, I am hard-pressed to know where I am or where to take them. By the way, I am talking about Mark Dawson cattle that are known for their athletic ability. Mark is known for pointing with his chin and vague directions. Just follow this road and gather the ridges. After several forks in the road, that he failed to mention, you can end up confused and far from the planned destination.

I have collected stray cattle in the timber and known which way to go but not where a gate might be. Luckily, if you have Mark’s cattle going real fast when they hit the fence, you don’t need a gate. Another hazard of the timber at this time of year is you tend to anger hunters and they are armed.

Working the Cross 3 ranch for Krebs has been an adventure, as most trips with Mark are. This is country to my liking except that it is big and has several fields to get used to. The fields are all named and we are told by name which fields to work and where to take the cattle if we are moving. An example might be “gather the where-the-hell-are-we field and take them through the hell-if-I-know field, the C and B and the lower dry salmon to the elk roping field.” All real names.

To help out, I go high-tech and cheat where I can. I get on high spots and use my cell phone to call Mark and ask where the hell he is, where is the gate and can he see any cattle I might have missed on the ridge I am riding, etc.? I use Oregon Maps website to survey fields on ranches I work. If you zoom in this website it will also drop in a land parcel layer and you can check your boundaries.

I print this out and carry it with me and have someone mark gate locations. I also like Google Maps because the resolution is better and you can tilt the view to pick up elevation changes.

Much to Mark’s disgust I will sometimes scout for cattle on a four-wheeler and then go and get a horse to gather. His loathing of four-wheelers is exceeded only by his hatred of black cows. My next thought is to have Brett Hays bring his drone aircraft out to locate missing cattle so I don’t have to kill my horses crashing through impenetrable timber searching for them. Brett’s main use for his drone is to locate sunbathing ladies in the summer, but at this time of year it is available for less entertaining uses. Too bad they haven’t come up with an inexpensive chip for cattle that would show you their location and count them as you pass through gates. I think my career will be over before that happens.

At the coffee shop you hear some good jokes. Here is the best one this month.

Husband: I wonder if you didn’t marry me because my Dad left me six million dollars.

Wife: That’s just silly, I would have married you no matter who left you the money.

Open Range columnist Barrie Qualle is a working cowboy in Wallowa County.

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