Riding tall in his saddle, surveying the forest, keeping his ears open for even the faintest sound and his eyes peeled for a glimpse of his prey, Joel Martens patrols Heritage Ranch in search of the latest group to try to outrun him, hide from him and outwit him.
Taking a cue from the popular TV Show Mantracker, Heritage Ranch offers a similar experience: the thrill of being a fugitive and being chased by Martens.
Heritage Ranch has offered the Ranchtracker experience for about three years. Martens estimates they’ve done the chase 40 to 50 times, and perhaps more.
Groups have ranged from small duos, including local Red Deer RCMP members, to stagette parties and corporate events with as many as 50 people.
In one instance, four couples competed to see who could make it the longest or find the last flag.
Describing one Ranchtracker event for a stagette, Martens said balloons were set up throughout Heritage Ranch and each had a prize inside.
“As they were going through, they could choose to pop the balloon and see what the prize was or they could take it with them,” said Martens.
Popping the balloon would alert Martens to a person’s location, but carrying a balloon would also prove cumbersome while trying to hide.
Spread out over the some 200 acres of Heritage Ranch are four flags. The hunted have 90 minutes to two hours to find the flags before Martens finds them.
“So there’s a time pressure and they’re rushing through it, trying to find the flags,” said Martens. “I give them about a 15-minute head start and then I leave the ranch on my horse.”
He looks the part, too. Sporting a flannel shirt and a cowboy hat, Martens patrols the ranch looking for signs of the guests lurking in the forest.
“As the time ticks down, I start to narrow in on them,” said Martens. “It gets pretty intense.
“There are some really good chases at the end usually.”
He auditioned as the replacement for Terry Grant, of High River, on Mantracker. Martens said he was in the top 12 but didn’t make the final cut. Chad Savage Lenz, of Caroline, would become Mantracker for the seventh and final season of the show.
Tracking a few people in the park may be difficult enough, but combine it with the regular pedestrian traffic in Heritage Ranch and it can be a challenge for Martens.
But he boasts about an 80 per cent success rate when it comes to finding people.
“There’s usually some signs that someone has been somewhere recently and the horse loves the hunt,” said Martens. “We get out there and start hunting and he knows it. It turns fun fast.”
When Martens tracks down his target, their reaction varies immensely. Some give up and others try to run and escape.
“I’ve heard from a number of them, we do a steak dinner afterwards, they come back and talk about the adrenaline that hits when they see me or when they hear me — it can be pretty intense,” said Martens.
In one instance, Martens said he had a guy pretend to be hurt when he was caught, buying his teammates time to flee the area.
Although he has a few horses to use in his search efforts, Martens relies heavily on Hummer.
“He’ll go through anything,” said Martens. “He’s an amazing horse, he’s super in-tune to what we’re doing down there. He loves the chase as much as I do.”
The Ranchtracker experience costs $125 for adults and seniors and $110 for children. It can be booked online at www.heritageranch.ca.