Alta. chase game pits predator against prey

Joel Martens, riding Quigley, heads out to track the prey after a 20 minute head start.  |  Maria Johnson photo

Ranch Tracker contestants must find flags hidden over 150 acres before being caught by a hunter on horseback

RED DEER — For competitive thrill seekers, a game of Ranch Tracker may provide the adrenaline rush many seek.

The playing field is 150 acres of heavily treed, gently rolling hills at the Heritage Ranch recreation area surrounded on three sides by the curving Red Deer River. It’s a giant game of hide and seek.

The players, or prey, are given a 20 minute head start to set out on foot with a map of the area marking the general location of four hidden flags. They’ve got two hours to collect the flags without getting captured.

On their trail is the predator, Ranch Tracker Joel Martens, on horseback. His mount today is Quigley, his seven-year-old Morgan gelding.

“The horse picks it up pretty quickly,” says Martens. “When they see someone running away they figure out what’s going on and get into it.”

For those on foot, there’s lots of sneaking, hiding, running, and listening — for the sound of pounding hoofs and rustling branches. It’s important to stay quiet.

Martens said he started Ranch Tracker about nine years ago after he placed in the top 12 when trying out for the Canadian reality TV show Mantracker. His game is similar.

Blake Torrens, 8, back, and Carter Reichert, 9, know they will have to stay low and quiet to keep from being discovered by Martens. | Maria Johnson photo

Ranch Tracker has attracted competitors of all kinds: couples, fathers and sons, corporate team-building groups and even pre-wedding stag and stagette parties. Today the two sets of quarry are a boy scout troop and a teenaged girl’s birthday party. The participants are clad in camo gear, in greys, greens, and browns, blending well with the surroundings.

Martens shares advice on the importance of silence.

“I remember riding up alongside a guy that was hiding in the bush. I didn’t see him until I heard him say, ‘damn it,’ and gave himself up.”

Ranch Tracker runs primarily through the summer and fall but Martens has been known to do a chase through the snow.

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