Outfitters, hunters and guides have a strange relationship. It is a friendship, but it’s not a normal friendship, because there is money involved. That element distorts the decision making process. A decision making process that can be clouded with bull.
What type ice cream do you like? I like licorice. My wife likes chocolate chip mint. Finding a good outfitter isn’t any different—except it cost more than a cone.
I’ve worked for eight outfitters. I think they were all good. I may be wrong. Over the decades more than a few hunters probably thought they were not good. The two outfitters I worked for the longest were, strangely enough, named Art. I grew up on Art Weikum’s Hidden Valley Ranch (not the salad dressing).
The other Art, Art Stevens, owned J Bar L Outfitters, which I bought and renamed C Guiding D Outfitters, LLP.
Weikum was the best rough stock rider I have seen outside of a rodeo pen. While I was at Weikums I was the primary horse wrangler. Every morning I would get up before dawn, find the horses and bring them back to camp. THAT horse pasture was huge and rugged. It could take as long as five hours to wrangle. When I was fourteen we let a new, gray appy out with the established stock. He turned out to be a herd quitter. Every time I got him to the break of the hill above camp he would duck and run for the timber. The second day Art Weikum came along. Each of us wore out 3 horses that day. On our last attempt Weikum was going to rope the gray and drag him back to camp.
Art jerked his rope down and indicated that I should haze the gray. We got into timber. It’s tough swinging a loop in timber. Then we got into deadfall. Art’s horse got out of time jumping deadfall. The horse’s head and shoulders went down, and his rump came all the way over and crushed Weikum between some deadfall. The swells on his saddle broke a few ribs. Art stayed in camp until the end of the trip and then made the 27-mile ride out.
Art Stevens wasn’t a roper, but was probably one of the best elk hunters and shooters I have seen. One of his constant hunters used to enter the cook tent and say, “Art will guide and the Lord will provide.” I think Art Stevens had a hand in the providing.
Both Arts have passed on. Both helped me grow as an elk guide, mule packer and a person. At times their passing leaves a hole in my being. Art Weikum was like a father to me. One fall, before I was strong enough to load bull elk on mules, we went to retrieve a couple of bulls. It was foggy and still. We couldn’t see were to go, so we sat on our horses in the timber and listened to the elk bugle for several hours. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Art Stevens had an evening ritual of heading up the hill out of camp to glass Biggs Creek Flats. Elk. Deer. Black Bear. Grizzly Bear. Mountain Lion. Lynx. And, Montana Wilderness sunsets. Every evening hunters and crew quietly celebrated the fellowship of that hill. It doesn’t get any better than that.
You might like licorice ice cream. You may not. You may have liked (or not liked) either Art, but you can’t find an outfitter who you trust without developing a friendship.
That is why I don’t believe hunters should book hunts at sports shows. Hunters should use the words of President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”
While looking for photos for this post, I ran across some from my first official guiding effort when I was 14. A couple are on this page. I had a habit of running into bears in White River, so Art Weikum had me guide bear hunters at first. In retrospect I know that I traveled too fast to be a good elk hunter at the time.
We never found a big grizzly, but we did find a great black. Both ears had been gnawed on. He had a scar running from one eye to the tip of his nose. Several toes were missing from both front feet. His teeth were smooth, white and worn to the gums—no tartar or yellowing. All four canine teeth had grooves from wearing together.
Black bear, Outfitter Art Weikum, me and Charlie the mule. 1974 photo
We usually packed bear into camp “whole,” and caped them there. Again, I wasn’t strong enough to lift a complete black bear onto a mule, so Art Weikum came along and “helped.”
When choosing an outfitter I would hope that hunters wouldn’t be so eager for the “BIG BULL.” The experiences and the fellowship of elk hunting are worth more than any calcium deposit on earth.