reprinted from Big Game and Outfitters Guide
day in the wilderness elk camp had started at 4am
with the sound of the wrangler stoking the fire and
lighting the gas lamp in our canvas tent. By 4:30,
when I carried my pack and bow down to the cook tent,
the aroma of hot biscuits, bacon, eggs and coffee
greeted me. Outside, our saddled horses stood ready.
So well trained that we could doze in the saddle,
they'd carry us safely along cliffs and through the
pitch-black timber. Our work wouldn't come until
it was time to chase or call for a bull, and even
then the guide would plan our approach or handle
My guide for the day
was Tim Doud, head of Bliss Creek Outfitters in Cody,
Wyoming. Tim and I were headed for "Bull Alley",
his name for a stretch of hillside along Bliss Creek
thick with elk sign and downed timber. After we tied
the horses and set out on foot, Doud began to show
me massive rubs, beds and droppings galore. One area,
squared by fallen logs, was so scoured and trampled,
it looked like a giant's sandbox. In the center was
a hole, and along one edge lay the skeleton of a 12-foot
pine that had once been rooted there. This was a bull
I wanted to see.
We did hear bugles that
cold morning, but they were distant and faint. Although
we alternately walked and trotted, we couldn't seem
to close the distance - these bulls had their harems
and were content to lead them away from our challenges.
At mid-morning, we stopped on a sunny hillside to eat
our lunch and rest. That's when I pulled our my notebook
and asked Doud how he had ended up with an office as
big as the great outdoors.
grew up in Victor, Iowa. That's a little farming community
of 900 people on Interstate 80, between Iowa City and
Newton. Even 900 people was too big for me, but at least
I could grab my bow, walk two blocks and be out of the
city limits and able to hunt.
started bowhunting when I was 14, the same year I got
certified as an overhaul mechanic for diesel truck
engines. Yo see, I'd been working in my dad's repair
shop since I was 10, and when one of our customers
got a new rig it came with the right to send two people
to the Cummings factory school. My dad was one and
I was the other.
didn't have a rifle season anymore for deer, all they
allowed was shotgun slugs. It seemed like everyone out
there was hunting as if they had a rifle in their hands.
They were trying to lob those slugs in and I wasn't going
to be part of that. Also, I wasn't too crazy about deer
drives and all the running targets and stray slugs that
went along with that.
" So I picked up
a bow. There were four of us who bowhunted the same
general area, though we went our own separate ways
when we were hunting. I liked the one-on-one challenge
" When I got older,
around 20, I wanted to go on a bowhunt for elk and
I was looking through the back of Petersen's Hunting
Magazine where all the guide and outfitter ads are.
That's when I saw an ad for a guide school.
" I thought to
myself, 'I'm 20 years old, not married, and my truck
is paid for. What the heck, if I don't try it I'm going
to be sitting back here in Iowa 10 years from now,
pulling a wrench and wonder in what the heck ever happened
to my life.' I hated being inside so much, and since
in my dad's business we were on call 24-hours a day
for emergency repairs, there were a lot of days you'd
end up working around the clock. Answering that ad
was the best move I ever made, even though I didn't
learn a whole lot at the school itself. It was a rip
off operation in Grand Junction, Colorado, and in four
weeks about all they taught me was how to saddle a
" By the way, when
I was growing up I was scared to death of horses. Our
neighbor had a little Shetland pony in a stall and
that thing would kick and bite. I figured all horses
were like that. I almost didn't come out here because
I was so scared of horses. But I saw you had to have
them if you want to hunt country like this, and that
they're not all like the Shetland.
" People had told
me that guiding was seasonal work, so I always figured
I'd go back and work as a mechanic between jobs. But
the guy who put on the guide school hired me to work
for him year-round. I started at a camp in Colorado's
Gunnison National Forest, where hunters could drive
up to camp and then we'd hunt from foot or on horseback.
" I decided I'd
rather work deeper in the wilderness at a pack-in camp.
So I ran one of this guy's four elk camps in the Selway-Bitteroot
area. We flew hunters in 72 miles and then packed them
in six. I'd made a deal with the guy that if I also
worked the spring bear season without pay, he'd take
care of me over the summer and teach me how to pack
(loading, leading and caring for pack mules and horses.)
The year before I came to work for him, he'd taken
50 bowhunters in camp and they'd only killed three
bears. With my help guiding and baiting, we took 17
bears for 23 hunters.
" But his idea
of teaching me to pack was to drive up with six green
mules he'd just bought plus all the gear they were
to carry. He unloaded the mules and threw the gear
down on the ground. Then he said 'pack this into camp'
and drove off. That's how I learned. Plus, at the end
of elk camp he wouldn't pay me what we'd agreed on.
I guess I've worked for some real crooks, but that
also is how you learn in this business.
that fellow's head guide split off and started his
own business in Idaho and I went to work for him as
head guide. Again, he wanted to keep me on year-round.
Being a mechanic was a plus because I'd repair trucks
as well as tack in the off-season. Tack is all the
saddles and harnesses and packs - all the leather had
to be oiled, worn straps had to be replaced. I'd also
make scabbards and saddlebags. The stock had to be
fed and cared for. Plus you'd pull the shoes off of
them when the season was over and re-shoe them before
it was time to head out again.
" Eight years ago,
I started guiding up here, in the Washakie Wilderness
of the Shoshone National Forest, southeast of Yellowstone
National Park. I guided and ran the Bliss Creek elk
camp for my new boss. He didn't care for bowhunters,
and I preferred guiding them to gun hunters any day,
so he ended up buying a rifle elk camp and running
that while I ran this camp for archery elk in September
and rifle elk in October.
" Bowhunting elk
and guiding bowhunters to elk is what I live for. A
lot of times you'll have bulls come into a call and
yet be too far to make a good bow shot, so you get
to see them bugling, raking the brush, pissing on themselves.
To me, that's a whole lot neater than seeing an elk
walk out of the timber at 200 yards, settling the crosshairs
on it and bang, it's all over.
" Two years ago,
a guy from my hometown saw a little write-up about
me in a magazine and booked a hunt with us. We got
him set up on a steep hillside under some over hanging
branches. The hunter was in camo and he had a Trebark
bow. When I called the 4x4 bull it walked up that trail
and right up to that hunter, who had decided ahead
of time he wouldn't shoot less than a 5x5. The bull
stopped no more than the distance between you and me
away, and the hunter started tapping it on the brow
time with an arrow to move it off. So the bull started
raking his rack along the guy's bow.
" Well, at that
point the guy jumped back and threw his bow down, and
the bull jumped back and ran off a ways. I bugled and
brought him back in and the hunter killed him at 10
years. With a story like that to go along with it,
he figured no way could he pass on that animal.
" Over the years,
I talked quite a few of our rifle hunters into hunting
elk with a bow, and after they tried it once they threw
their guns away. When I bought this camp in August
of 1991, I continued to emphasize bowhunting. We take
a dozen bowhunters each September, four each on three
9-day hunts. Those are one-on-one hunts for $2,750.
We'll take up to 10 rifle hunters in October, if that
many draw tags for this area, for 10-day hunts that
run $3,000 each. We guide moose and sheep hunters when
they can draw a tag for this area; late in the fall
we guide for mule deer out of our ranch near Cody.
" We also bought
bear camps we've been running in the Big Horn Mountains
on the border with Montana, right out of Sheridan,
Wyoming. That's a pack-in camp as well, at 7,000 feet,
where the snow usually keeps us out till May. We take
just six hunters, two at a time, and they've got nine
baits to hunt over. We've always been selective about
the bears we took, and that's why so many of them have
gone over 18 inches. In fact, before we switched it
over to all bowhunting, the guides used to sit in the
stands with the rifle hunters and tell them which bears
were big enough to shoot.
" We've got 42
head now, if you count our stud and colts, and only
22 of them came with the business. The rest we've picked
up here and there. We buy a lot of 'basket cases';
horses or mules that couldn't be packed, much less
rode, because someone abused them. You'll have 1 in
100 that are just a renegade and you can't do anything
with, but the other 99 times it's a case of something
someone's done to them. We work them and turn them
around, making use of a round corral we built for training
purposes. In the off season, we train a lot of horses
and mules to 'gentle' them for other people. We may
break them totally, or just put more miles on them
to make them more reliable and easier to handle.
" Good horses and
mules are hard to find, and Jack and Jill, our matched
black mules, are a perfect example or one of the 'basket
cases' we'd succeeded with. Up till we bought them,
they'd never been packed standing up. Their former
owner would have to rope their legs and throw them
to the ground, then get the pack saddles and load tied
on. And they'd lead them with a chain halter that ran
under the chin. It didn't help their temperament that
one of the employees would beat them in the head when
they didn't cooperate. It used to be you couldn't get
close to either one of these mules without hog tying
them. Now I can put any load I want on their back and
they'll take care of it, and so can Devon, our most
" Some other outfitters
have gone to leasing the stock they need, so they don't
have the expense with keeping them year round. There's
no training or vet bills that way. But is you do that,
you also have no idea what they're like. You don't
know if you've got a kicker or a biter, which one you
can put eggs on, which one you can put a bow on (and
in the years I've been doing this, we've never had
a bow broken.) I have decided we'd rather put out the
extra expense and own our stock.
" Our biggest expense
is feed. We haul it in during our summer fishing and
pack trips and fill the cache up. The feed we bring
in with hunters is whatever extra we can carry after
the human food and our gear is packed. During our September
bowhunts and the 21 days of October that we rifle hunt,
we'll run through five tons of alfalfa cubes and grain.
" When you and
I bring our horses into the corral tonight, each one
will get a nosebag of grain. Today Tracy, our wrangler,
will feed each horse that's going to get ridden tomorrow
a half bag of cubes plus a measure of grain. He's going
to feed them at 5 pm, and those horses will be at the
corral, ready to walk in. There's a day off between
each hunting trip and back at the trailhead we'll load
up the bunkers with 800 pounds of hay at a time, so
the stock has nothing to do but eat and drink.
" Our stock likes
to be up here and they like to work for us. We think
they do a better fob because we treat them so well.
We've got a saying here, 'If the horse will carry us
up a mountain, we don't mind leading it back down.'
That's why, on some of the real steep stuff. I'll have
you climb down and walk in front of the horse so you
weight over its front shoulders won't cause sores.
" Even so, a time
comes when our riding stock is getting too old to make
the 22-mile trip up here from the trailhead. What's
okay, because we've got a list as long as your arm
of people who want one of our old timers for their
kids to learn to ride on. We do that, get them a good
home, instead of taking them to the canner. I figure
that way they can live out their lives in a pasture
somewhere, with some little kid feeding them apples."
guides and wranglers in camp seemed to share the skill
and concern the owners have for the stock, and I asked
Doud where he'd found the guides for this year's elk
" Frank worked
for me the year before last. Devon just started in
May, but he's been guiding bowhunters for seven years
in Colorado. And Doug and Tracy, the wrangler, are
my two top graduates from guide school."
Guide school? That's
right. Doud not only employs guides, he trains them.
Remembering his own somewhat rocky start in the business,
Doud began offering a guide training program this past
First step for the eight
students was to complete a home study course entitled "The
Outfitters & Guides Bible." Those who passed
could continue with a four week, hands-on program where
tuition, room and board runs $2,500. The first two
weeks are held on the couple's ranch near Cody, Wyoming. "That's
where we teach the fundamentals," Doud explained. "Guys
like Doug and Tracy were born and raised on ranches,
so they know how to saddle and ride. Others had to
learn that. And everyone had to learn to pack horses
and mules to carry everything from eggs to 55-gallon
drums. They learn basic veterinary skills, a taxidermist
comes in to show them how to cape trophies, and they
learn to shoe our horses and mules.
" The last two
weeks we're up here," Doud indicated with a sweep
of his hand. "We show them how to set camp up,
cut firewood with a cross-cut saw, that sort of thing.
The final week we take them up in the hills for what
I like to call 'war games.' Devon splits them up into
pairs, one acting as hunter, the other as guide. I
was the bull so they could practice calling and getting
set up. Sometimes I'd hang back, sometimes I'd come
" You can't really
teach someone everything they need to know about elk
hunting in a week, but every one of these guys was
already a bowhunter. That's why they chose my school.
And everyone who passed got placed with an employer.
In fact, one of my students guided a bowhunter to a
383 bull elk in Mexico earlier this fall.
Doud said his students
this year ranged in age from 19 to 48, and came with
a variety of objectives. Some wanted part-time employment
to supplement other jobs. Some were looking to give
the outdoor life a try before returning to a more conventional
career. And some were hoping to emulate him - gain
experience as a guide and then work their way into
their own business.
" I wasn't too
long ago I was just a guide," Doud commented. "I
know how it feels to be in that position, how much
work and walking and how little sleep comes with it.
That's why I'm out here doing the stuff with them,
instead of sitting at a desk and telling them "do
this, do this."
I asked Doud, who had
to choose between building a home and building a barn
when he bought the business (the barn won out), if
he ever regretted the choice made to head West. After
all, a good diesel mechanic works less and earns more.
He sat quiet for a moment,
and I could hear a waterfall across the deep green
valley below us. It might be 100 degrees down in Cody
today, but here there was a cool breeze. Doud pointed
across toward the face of Wall Mountain, whose 11,000-foot
peak was capped with snow.
" Yeah, but look
at my office.