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October 25, 2013

A Day in the life of an elk outfitter

MERIDIAN — As told to Otha Barham by Brian Bosarge. These accounts typify the happenings that a western elk hunter is likely to encounter.


My outfitter buddy, Chad, and his hunters were snowed out of their camp last week. There was two feet of snow at the base and it’s about 14 miles to the camp; eight by truck plus six on horseback. He took the hunters into a place that was not his usual hunt area; extreme country.

    They killed two bulls Monday morning. One was shot across a canyon a long, long way from the nearest trail.  It took the guide and the hunter two and a half hours to get to the downed bull.  He and two of his guides spent two days sawing a trail to get within a mile and a half of the bull with horses. They had to pack the bull the mile and a half on their backs. He indicated the best he could tell no one had been in there since we were in there in 2004.

    None of his hunters except the one who shot the bull could go help because they were injured from earlier in the week. During the trip in, the hunter slid off his horse, got his hand stepped on and broken. At one point while running the saw, one of the guides that works for Chad told him to turn off the saw.  He had heard an elk bugle over the saw noise. When all was quiet the bull bugled again. Chad just whistled, just the last notes of a normal bugle, and a five point bull walked within bow range.  About an hour later, while running the saw, they looked into the timber and could see a different bull bedded down within 100 yards of where they were cutting downed trees to clear the trail.

    They left on horses yesterday morning at 5:30. He sent me the picture at 5:36 p.m. and indicated they had made it back to the horses. At 10:40 last night they made it back to the horse trailer. Long day for sure.

    Chad is a heck of a hunter and has learned a lot over the past several years as an outfitter.

    A favorite story he told was when he first started outfitting and ran into an older man who was a retired outfitter. Chad asked him if he could give him any advice on the profession. At first he said nothing that he could think of, but during the conversation he did think of one thing. He advised that if he ever had someone die in camp to lay them over the horse hitching rail before rigor mortis set in.  The old outfitter once had a hunter die of a heart attack during the night. Of course by the time law officials rode in and investigated, the body had stiffened. He went on to explain how it took four men to bend the body over the hitching rail to the point where it could be cinched onto a pack saddle.

    In his short time as an outfitter, he also tells stories of hunters mishandling firearms. He laughs about all the elk that are not shot or even shot at, because the hunter was fooling around with a range finder when he was telling the hunter the distance within 10 yards. Before he allows a hunter to hunt with his outfit, he interviews them and explains how tough the country is and how it will be a terrible experience unless they are physically and mentally prepared. Even though he explains this verbally and in writing, most years he has at least one hunter indicate they never dreamed it would be that tough and leaves unhappy.

    (the reference to terrain too rough for horse travel is hard to believe but true. This writer has encountered such often in western mountains.)

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