Wilderness Archery Elk Guid Training Packer School Training Wrangler School Training Wyoming


by Tim Dehn
reprinted from Big Game and Outfitters Guide

My 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 the bugling.

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.

" I 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.

" I 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.

" Iowa 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 of bowhunting.

" 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 horse.

" 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.

" Well, 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 experienced guide.

" 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."

The 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 camp.

" 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 summer.

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 right in.

" 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.

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Rust Sanderson, Owners ~ Bliss Creek Outfitters ~ PO Box 2776 ~ Cody, WY 82414 ~ 307-764-2363

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