Jim Nichols shares his passion for elk hunting on horseback with his daughters

Jim Nichols was raised around Missouri Fox Trotters in the Mansfield, Mo., area and his father was on the original Missouri Fox Trotters Horse Breed Association Board of Directors. Likewise, he brought up his daughters, Mitzi and Monica around the breed as well and they have all spent years in the show ring at various horse shows in Ava, Mo., the Fox Trotter capital of the world. In the past three decades, however, Jim has discovered a new passion, involving his beloved horses. “I went on my first elk hunt with the horses when a friend invited me and I’ve been going back ever since, for 25 years in a row now. My daughters, Mitzi and Monica go, too, as do their husbands and we have a great time,” Jim Nichols explained recently standing beside one of his horse trailers at his home in Laclede County, just south of Lebanon, Mo. “I have a few horses here, one in training, some others at Mitzi’s and at Monica’s. We just have 14 acres here for the horses.”
Jim continued “We each ride one horse and lead another as a pack horse. We make our camp at 8,000 feet and do our hunting at 10,500 to 10,800 feet, in Colorado just outside the Steamboat Springs area. A couple of years ago, we got back down to our tents after dark and it was raining. When we got up the next morning, above us was a total whiteout, because of course, up that high, it was snowing. We still had tents and other equipment up there so we went to retrieve it. About a mile up, the trees that had been eight feet tall the day before were now bent over with the snow to about four feet. We found our stuff under 18-20 inches of snow. We finally got it all cleaned up, bagged up the tents and so on and then on our way back, we discovered a herd of elk, some 20 to 25 animals, had crossed over our tracks from earlier that same day.”
It seems each year in the mountains brings a new adventure. “We came up on a bear a few years ago about three or four miles from camp. I was riding along and suddenly Rocky’s ears went up on point and I knew something was up ahead. Rocky and I stopped and then the bear stopped about 65 yards away. The bear stood up on his hind legs and Mitzi began fumbling for her cell phone for that Kodak moment. The bear went on his way then shortly afterwards. We began to take stock at that point and realized amongst all of us, all we had for defense, was a hunting knife.
“We usually hunt one or two or even three days, but we almost always fill our tags, which are for one animal, cow or bull, per person. Most years, we’ve all filled our tags by the second day. Last year, which was so dry, was the first time we didn’t all fill our tags for the year. They have also changed how you buy and select the tags. Now you have to choose beforehand whether you plan to shoot a cow or a bull. The bull tags cost more, $610, I think, than the cow tags which are $454. The meat from the cows tastes better most of the time but of course, so many people want those antlers, that trophy. If you are after a bull, they have to have a minimum of four points on each side of the antlers to be legal. We bring back a great deal of meat each trip. As one of the fellows put it, it’s all fun to shoot that elk and from there, it’s all work.”
Jim began his professional career as a coach and lived and worked in Ozark, Mansfield, Seymour, and the Raymore-Peculiar area before returning to coach in the Lebanon system. From there, he moved on to local industry and has been working at Independent Stave ever since.
“My father, the girls’ grandfather, got them started in showing horses when they were just 6 and 7 years old. Today, I’d advise anyone who wanted to get into Missouri Fox Trotters to look first for a good trail horse because the Fox Trotter is an excellent trail horse. The showing of the horses has changed so much over the years. It really is a different world from the trail riding these days, but if that’s what a person is interested in, then I’d say get a good honest trainer to work toward showing.” And in the meantime, Jim Nichols will be heading to the mountains again this fall, for some high altitude trail riding with a little elk hunting on the side.


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