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Archery hunter breaks arm in grizzly bear attack near Gardiner, Montana

An archery hunter was attacked by a grizzly bear Saturday near Gardiner, sustaining wounds to his arm and face.

The hunter and his partner were in the Beattie Gulch area and surprised a sow and cub at very close range. The sow charged and attacked the lead hunter and the partner used bear spray to stop the attack. The bear turned its attention to the partner, who sprayed it again, and the two bears fled the area. The bear's response was normal given that it was a sow with a cub and the encounter happened at very close range.

The hunters were in tall sage brush and didn't see the bears until they were less than 15 yards away.

The 57-year-old hunter was taken to the hospital for surgery to his broken arm. Both hunters were carrying bear spray.

General big game season opens Oct. 20. Hunters should expect grizzly bears to be active through hunting season.

Anywhere in the western half of Montana is grizzly bear country. Hunters should carry bear spray and be prepared to use it, hunt with a partner and always let someone know where you are hunting.

–Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Return of the sauger to Wyoming waters

Over 100 years ago, sauger fish were abundant in the North Platte River.  

By 1948 a U.S Public Health Service report said that the North Platte River from Casper to the Nebraska state line was so polluted from raw sewage and refinery waste being dumped into the river that there were doubts the species could ever be recovered.  

Seventy years later the river has made a dramatic comeback, and this summer sauger were released into the river by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.  

Sauger are closely related to the walleye, a popular sport fish around the country. They are also native to many drainages in Wyoming east of the continental divide and have continued to live in the Wind River, Big Horn River and Powder River drainages according to Matt Hahn, Wyoming Game and Fish fisheries supervisor.  

"They look like walleye, but sauger are better adapted to live in a river versus a lake," Hahn says. "What we're hoping is the sauger will stay in the river better and provide a popular sport fish for people. They are good eating and they'll grow pretty decent size, over 20 inches, so that stretch of the river is just perfect for a sauger fishery where it wouldn't make a good trout fishery."  

The past sixty years of restoring the river to healthy conditions has been a group effort according to Hahn and WGF public information officer Janet Milek, as a general realization around the country caused people to look for more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to dispose of waste.  

By the mid-1940s, most of the larger-bodied native fish had disappeared from the Platte and looking back, Hahn says it's a major success story, turning the river around and getting stable flows to where the North Platte is now one of the best fisheries in the state. 

Returning the native species to its original habitat was a natural progression to return the North Platte River to what it used to be. Upstream, the river is home to some of the best trout fisheries in the state and downstream where the river warms, conditions are just right for the return of the sauger.  

The first load of 6,000 sauger was released into the river below the Dave Johnson Power Plant in June of 2017, although, due to survival rates from the original hatchery, it was much less than they were hoping for. The second load of 110,000 sauger was released in June of this year. Hahn says that the fish won't be able to migrate farther upstream because of a dam, but he is hoping the fish will go downstream to Glendo Reservoir in the winter, then they can run up the river in the spring for spawning.  

Hahn says the Wyoming Game and Fish are hoping to stock about 100,000 sauger each year for three consecutive years before they stop to monitor the populations and see how the fish are doing on their own.  

"We'll do a combination of netting downstream in Glendo Reservoir in conjunction with electro-fishing in the river. We can do actual population estimates in the river through electro-fishing where we come up with a number of fish per mile," he says. "We can look at a number of things like growth rate, condition and diet analysis and how many younger fish there are that would indicate successful reproduction."  

Because all of Wyoming's fish hatcheries are for trout, Wyoming Game and Fish's fish culture section trades Wyoming-raised trout with other states in order to get the sauger needed to stock the river.  

"It was a big effort thanks to our fish culture section, they did a lot of work and spent a lot of time to make these different trades," says Milek.  

Although Milek was unsure of the exact trade agreements, she says that multiple states were involved.   

"One thing our guys try to do is create diversity for anglers," Milek says. "So this is just another species to add to that diversity." 

Changing times: Landowners increasingly rely on hunting lease managers

Many ranches throughout the country are a hunter's paradise. Ranchers' efforts to conserve the land and optimize it for cattle operations also result in prime habitat for wildlife and a cooperation between hunters and landowners can be mutually beneficial. 

Cardinal Charolais on the Prewitt Ranch near Hillrose, Colo., is home to about a 60-acre augmentation pond and the native grasses typical to the Colorado sandhills nearest the river. Pat Gebauer has hosted a hunting club for more than 20 years. The group of hunters invests in the club for the privilege of hunting the ranch- mostly for waterfowl- and Gebauer invests the funds back into habitat on the ranch. 

One of the things that makes the arrangement successful, Gebauer said, is the third party who oversees the club. The manager ensures that the hunters are aware of the expectations and communicates between the two. The club on this ranch adds new members infrequently, as most of the members have been hunting Gebauer's ranch for years, but new members are added only through existing members. Even then, he said, they're on a trial basis until it's clear that they're a good fit for both Gebauer and the other members of the club. 

"They all know when they join, they are on a trial basis and they have to do things they way we want or they don't get to come back," he said.  

If and when someone isn't allowed to return, Gebauer said the manager is especially valuable as he takes care of the details and leaves Gebauer free to tend to the business of ranching. The manager began as one of the first hunters on the ranch rather than through a traditional property management service but Gebauer said the relationship and his job make hunting on the ranch easier for everyone. 

Gebauer has been intentional in keeping the club's size small, he said.  

"We found the members who could afford to pay a little more money and to have fewer members rather than needing to have 20 members to raise the same amount of revenue," he said. 

That revenue has been invested back into habitat, electricity for bubblers on the ponds, and other improvements. Gebauer added augmentation ponds years ago and, rather than adding multiple, small ponds, the property lent itself to a larger pond which has been a natural fit for hunting. 

In Nebraska, Jordan Maassen is managing and selling properties for recreational hunting through his job at Lashley Land Brokers.  

Maassen sells recreational hunting properties and said it's not a sign of a declining number of ranches but a sign of differentiation. 

"It's more along the lines of finding some other opportunities for some income potential," he said. "Maybe they don't utilize the ground themselves during hunting season and someone else is willing to and pay to do it." 

Maassen said, much like on Gebauer's ranch, groups of hunters will contact his office to secure a lease on a piece of property prime for hunting. By having a group of hunters, Maassen said the hunters are oftentimes able to secure a larger lease and it's a more beneficial relationship for both hunters and landowners. 

By utilizing his office, Maassen said both parties see a benefit. Most of the hunting properties Maassen deals in provide hunting for waterfowl, turkeys, and some upland birds like pheasants and quail. He said he's even seeing an increase in coyote trapping and calling which can also be a benefit for livestock owners who are seeing an increase in the predators. 

"When we put together leases on hunting properties, the landowner is protected liability-wise," he said. 

Through this lease, the landowner's expectations can be better communicated to hunters who are, oftentimes, not from the local area. This is one of the benefits of using a management group to secure a hunting lease, according to Russell Spencer, a turkey hunter from Colorado. By depending on a local expert, he is more able to secure the best lease for his purposes and budget so his free time can be used for hunting. 

"Before, when hunters were neighbors, they got along pretty well and both sides had a pretty good understanding of what was expected from both sides," Maassen said. "Now, a lot of out-of-staters are coming in to hunt and either they don't know the rules of the state they're coming into or they don't care. Not all of them are completely respectable but that's only a few." 

Maassen said many of the landowners who hire him to manage their hunting leases in their stead do so to avoid conflict and inconvenience. Through Maassen's land management, items are in place to keep the hunter and landowner on the same page and protected.  

"If (hunters) are going to put a little money down, they're going to want to come back again," he said. "They're not going to want to spend the money and then blow their opportunity to come back out here." 

Different types of hunting leases are dictated differently. Turkey hunting leases, he said, are often by the bird while waterfowl is often per limit or even per gun, per day. If a landowner is interested in professional lease management, Maassen said he will visit the property and design a package specific to that property and what it can offer hunters. 

Lease management also eases communication so someone like Maassen can communicate to the landowner when hunters will be on the property.  

"It's peace of mind," he said. "It makes sure the landowner is protected from someone trying to manipulate the situation. It puts a third party in charge so you don't get any hostility toward each other. Plus, the landowner is protected and the hunters have a pleasant experience and success." 

While some landowners provide lodging, the majority Maassen deals with do not, which he said is one more way revenue is funneled into small towns. With Nebraska's popularity with outdoorsmen, many hunters contact Maassen directly to take advantage of his network rather than knocking on doors asking permission to hunt without any background knowledge.  

 

Open Season 2017

Open Season 2017, by Tri-State Livestock News, The Fence Post and Farmer Rancher Exchange, features articles about pheasant hunting, duck habitat conservation, fly fishing the Bighorn, hunting coyotes with hounds, a dream hunt for Kodiak bear in Alaska, “tanking” on Nebraska rivers and a program that creates outdoor opportunities for veterans. Flip through it below.

Feral hogs: Billion-dollar problem hogging profits

It looks like a dozer track. The ruts can be three feet deep. What kind of equipment caused that much damage? Biological equipment. Feral hogs.

Feral is defined as "having escaped from domestication and become wild." USDA estimates approximately six million feral hogs are causing losses all over the country. Oklahoma has a serious hog problem.

It's difficult to get exact counts on feral hogs because they are secretive and cunning. A 2007 study by the Noble Foundation found feral hogs in 74 of Oklahoma's 77 counties with a number between 617,000 and 1.4 million statewide. It is a problem that grows exponentially each year, since wild hogs produce two, and maybe even three, litters of pigs per year at an average of four to 10 live piglets per litter.

Hog populations are most dense in areas following river drainage or other water sources. The earliest feral hogs reported in Oklahoma were in the south central and southeast portions of the state, but they soon spread northwest.

All feral hogs in the U.S. were escaped domestic animals until the 1930s when sport hunters began importing Russian wild boars from Europe and Asia and releasing them. The range is ever-expanding since the hogs are travelers. Hunters continued to reintroduce the Russian hogs and improved pastures and crops provided improved food sources. Since feral hogs are highly adaptable and reproduce rapidly, the numbers soon got out of control. Current populations include pure Russian hogs, pure domestic hogs and crossbreds of the two.

Wild hogs come in most every color, including spotted and belted. Russian hogs have the longest bristle length. Wild hogs may reach 300 pounds and beyond, but most are around 36 inches tall and between 100 and 150 pounds. Boars have four continually growing tusks that are very sharp and reach five inches long before they are broken or worn off from use. The tusks are used for defense and to establish dominance during breeding. Males develop thick, tough skin composed of cartilage and scar tissue in the shoulder area, sometimes referred to as a "shield." The shield develops continually with age and from fighting.

Pure Russian hogs have lighter underside color and the legs, ears and tails are darker than the body. They have longer legs and snouts than straight domestic ferals and shorter, straighter tails. Russian hogs can raise the hair on the backs of their necks and shoulders. This is where the term "razorback" originated.

Feral hogs range as far as 19 square miles and possibly farther if food sources are scarce. Boars travel and feed alone. Feral hog groups are called "sounders," and are made up of sows and piglets.

Trapping is probably the most common method of control. Game wardens and others who work to control the hog population stress the need to begin control is when signs first appear because the prolific nature insures once the numbers grow, the hogs become permanent residents. At that point, eradication is unlikely and landowners are left trying to control the population.

Luke Williams said he has trapped 55 head in a trap in Delaware County, Oklahoma. This is in the far northeast corner of the state.

Traps can be cage or corral type, but they need tops as the hogs can climb. Often corral traps are made of steel panels and T-posts. Cage traps catch fewer hogs but are portable. Since the hogs are wary and observant, it is best to bait traps with the doors tied open until the hogs will go all the way to the back to eat. A Judas hog is often used inside the trap to lure others.

Another method of control is hunting. Jeff Crosswhite of Newkirk, Okla., has been hunting hogs since 1981.

"I was on the Bledsoe ranch between the Caney and Verdigris rivers," Crosswhite said. "The hogs started eating on heifers that were down calving and I was finding hide and bones left of calves. I had dogs I used on cattle in the brush, so I started using them to hunt."

Crosswhite's dogs are mostly Catahoulas. He said using the dogs he made a dent in the sizable hog population on that ranch.

"They will leave where you start hunting with dogs," Crosswhite said.

Crosswhite said the state of Oklahoma brought helicopters to hunt the hogs, but "all you get shot are the dumb ones." He said hogs hear the helicopters long before they arrive, and take cover.

Crosswhite said while most of the hogs he catches are around 150 pounds, a good number of the boars weigh around 250 pounds.

"The biggest one I've got is 460 pounds. I weighed him at the Talala (Okla.) feed mill."

Crosswhite said many farmers around Newkirk hire him to hunt hogs because of damage to equipment. "One fellow I hunt for has a cornfield on the river and he busted a header when he went to harvest. It was ruined."

Crosswhite said the adaptability of hogs is amazing. "I've hunted where there was a lot of poison ivy, and those hogs had eaten that poison ivy as far as they could rear up on the trees. They raise all their pigs. The other sows help them. All the sows watch over all the pigs and they will nurse each other's pigs."

Hog hunting is free in Oklahoma by any means at any time. Kansas has outlawed hunting hogs except with purchased tags. Kansas game wardens set traps. Crosswhite said these rules have resulted in "bad hog problems."

Crosswhite said the wild hogs will kill domestic dogs and come into yards to root. "I know a woman who had them kill her dog and they've torn her yard up. She won't go outside. They'll put you up a tree. All you can do is try to manage them," Crosswhite said.

Fencing, toxicants and natural predators are also used as control for wild hogs.

Hogs are usually the last blamed for livestock losses because they carry kills away to eat them. Wild hogs may carry or transmit diseases to humans and livestock, the worst of which are pseudorabies and swine brucellosis. They may also carry and transmit tuberculosis, tick fever, rabies, anthrax and tularemia.

Pseudorabies is not related to the rabies virus and does not infect humans. It does weaken pigs, cause abortions, stillbirths and makes infected domestic hogs lifetime carriers. Infected animals periodically shed the virus through their mouths and noses. It is transmitted by direct contact, contaminated feed and water, ingestion of contaminated tissue and contaminated trailers.

Swine brucellosis causes abortion and failure to breed. It is transmissible to humans, at which point it is called undulant fever. Any contact with contaminated fetuses or tissue can spread the disease to humans. It is spread between hogs by direct and sexual contact, which poses a threat to the domestic hog population.

Some ranchers have turned a bad situation into a money-maker. Sportsmen pay for guided hog hunts. Some of the ranches have bounties on the largest hogs. Chain Ranch offers hog hunts on the ranch in Cherokee, Oklahoma and Medicine Lodge, Kansas. This is a kind of agritourism enterprise that is good for the land, the landowner and fun for the sportsman.

As the hogs continue to multiply and extend their range, more areas will see the effects. The Texas Department of Agriculture estimates seven out of every 10 hogs must be killed to keep the population in that state at the level it is now – not to decrease the population, just to keep it static. For many states like Oklahoma, hogs are probably here to stay. The key now is control.

Beyond Pheasant Hunting: Upland game birds offer unique challenge on South Dakota’s prairies

On the rolling hills of the South Dakota prairie, adventure awaits. With a solid pointing dog and comfortable hunting boots, hunters can find a unique hunting experience. The targets? Sharp-tailed grouse and the greater prairie chicken.

While the state has become world-famous for its pheasant hunting, these native upland birds are scattered throughout the state's prairie grasslands. The season runs mid-September until the first week in January, and South Dakota has one of the highest grouse and prairie chicken populations in the nation. The Fort Pierre area has the largest density of birds with hunters flocking each year to central South Dakota to take advantage of a one-of-a-kind hunt.

"South Dakota is one of the few states for hunters do experience a mixed bag hunt where they can shoot grouse, prairie chickens and pheasants in one trip," said Travis Runia, South Dakota Game Fish & Parks (GFP) senior upland game biologist. "The state offers a tremendous opportunity for folks to enjoy the natural landscape of these expansive grasslands while hunting a native bird that can sometimes be very difficult to track."

Dale Gates, GFP regional conservation officer supervisor, grew up hunting grouse and prairie chickens and enjoys the challenge of finding the birds nestled within the slopes and hills of the wide-open prairie.

"I started hunting these birds when I was a kid. It became a family tradition over the years," said Gates. "We would travel to the Pierre area on the weekends, and I just got hooked. Now that I live here, I can hunt them on a daily basis. This is the only place in the nation that has the mixture of pheasant and grouse for people to hunt. Hunters can expect to put in a lot of miles as they walk through large expanses of grasslands."

According to a survey conducted by GFP, there were 89,361 resident and 82,992 nonresident licenses issued that allowed holders to hunt prairie grouse (which refers to both sharptail and prairie chickens). Approximately 10 percent of residents and nonresidents were surveyed for the upland bird seasons. Based on survey responses indicating at least one day of hunting grouse, there were a projected 6,503 resident and 4,254 nonresident grouse hunters. A projected total of 35,790 grouse were harvested (25,847 by residents, 9,943 by nonresidents) during the 2014 season.

While not as popular as pheasant hunting — there were 1,199,803 pheasants harvested by 504,144 residents and 695,660 nonresidents in 2014 — grouse hunting is growing in popularity, and hunting grouse verses pheasants requires an entirely different strategy.

"With pheasant hunting, we hunt really thick cover, cattails, trees and corn fields," said Runia. "Whereas with grouse, hunters will be walking through grass that's not even knee high. The birds aren't as easy to predict about where they will be, so it requires putting in a lot of miles to find out where they are at. Serious hunters rely on pointing dogs who can run 300-500 yards ahead to find the birds, while pheasant hunters typically use Labradors to flush the birds out of their hiding spaces."

Runia said drought conditions throughout the state might have a negative impact on the grouse population, but he still expects plenty of hunters to travel to Fort Pierre to hunt these tricky birds.

"We had a pretty mild winter, which is great for pheasants, and as we got into the nesting and hatching season, weather was really favorable," said Runia. "We did see some dry conditions occurring throughout the grouse range, but we won't know specific population numbers until we conduct our annual survey later this year."

Pasture management is vital to providing the best habitat for greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse.

"If it's good for the herd, it's good for the bird," said Runia. "When rangelands are healthy, the birds have a healthy landscape to thrive, and a higher population of birds is a symptom of productive grasslands. With residual cover for nesting in the summertime, it allows these birds to nest throughout the expansive rangeland areas that the state has to offer."

Gates says patience is the key to a successful grouse hunt.

"Some folks who come to hunt grouse are surprised by how much walking they end up having to do," said Gates. "There really isn't a lot of skill involved in finding these birds. You'll find more birds the more miles you put in. A lot of guys will get frustrated right away, but it takes patience because you never know where these birds might be. Early in the season you'll find them in shaded areas when its warm, and they tend to fan out to eat and roost later in the day. Sometimes they'll be scattered on top of a hill, and other times, they'll be tucked down in a valley. It's a fun challenge for those who come to experience it."

The limit is three birds per day in any combination. Both males and females can be shot as it's nearly impossible to tell them apart, says Gates.

"To distinguish between the two species of birds, hunters can look for the distinct barring on the breast of the prairie chicken verses the whitish pattern that the sharp-tail has," explained Gates. "The sharp-tail also has pointed tail feathers while the grouse is squared off. The sharp-tail is more vocal, as well, than the prairie chicken. Their behaviors and flock sizes are different, as well, and the more you hunt, the easier it is to understand these birds."

As the hunting season draws near, Gates offers some advice to new hunters.

"Sometimes it can take all day, and you don't see a thing," said Gated. "Then all of a sudden, you walk over a hill and hit your limit. In the early weeks of the season, prepare for warm weather. Carry water for your dogs and ice to put the birds on right away. The September heat can cause spoilage early in the season, so be aware of that. There's no doubt about it, these are challenging birds to hunt, but the experience is truly unique to South Dakota, and you can't beat the views."

Bear Creek Outfitters

Bear Creek Outfitters' headquarters is a little ranch halfway between Darby and Hamilton, Montana. Owner Ken Francisco and his hunting guides take hunters into the nearby Selway/Bitterroot wilderness area. One of his guides, Jim Daine, has worked for Bear Creek Outfitters 16 years.

"I met Ken in 1988 when I went through guide school. In 2000 he took over an outfitting business and renamed it Bear Creek Outfitters. We were friends and he asked me to go to work for him. I've been working for him off and on ever since," says Daine. His jobs with Bear Creek are varied.

During the summer they offer trips into the backcountry. For many years they contracted with the Forest Service in summer to do trail maintenance, clearing out brush and downed trees. "We also do the haying, fencing and other tasks required on the ranch to provide for the stock, as well as guide hunters in the fall," Daine says.

"This year we subcontracted some work for the Stock Farm at Hamilton, Montana for their trail ride program. They have multiple trails on their 13,000 acres, and we take people on rides. Due to the fire on forest land above their property this year, the roads were closed and we couldn't get to our trail heads for a while," he says.

During winter, after the late hunts are over, employees do their own things. Daine builds antler art (lights, chandeliers, etc.) from deer and elk antlers, and this past winter helped build a cabin and some decorative lights for a man in Kentucky.

Bear Creek Outfitters offers 8-day hunts for clients in the fall for elk, deer (mule deer and whitetail), black bear, wolves and mountain lions. They used to offer moose hunts, but moose numbers plummeted after wolves were reintroduced.

Ken Francisco, owner of Bear Creek Outfitters, grew up in Poulsbo, Washington and originally planned to go to Alaska to start a guide business. "I came over here to the Bar 44 guide school in Hamilton, in May 1991 and went through the five-week class with a friend of mine. When the class was over, the instructor knew we wanted to go to Alaska and told us he could send us up there, but offered us a job working for him—and maybe we could go to Alaska later. By then we'd become familiar with western Montana and the Selway wilderness in Idaho, and decided to stay," says Francisco.

He and his friend ended up teaching the next class. He worked for that outfitter nine years and helped teach classes, and guided for other outfitters in Montana doing some antelope, elk and mule deer hunts.

"I had to get a real job for a short time, then in 1999 I bought the area where we'd had the guide school. We still guide for that outfitter in Montana, but also have the Idaho wilderness area he used to have. We've been doing this for 17 years, with our own outfitting business," he says. Clients can take advantage of many kinds of experiences in the backcountry—hunting, or just riding or fishing trips, custom-designed for what they want to do.

Outfitting and guiding is a tough way to make a living; a person has to be dedicated and really want to do it. "We're not in it for the money. It's a way of life," says Francisco.

In the off-season when he's not taking people on guided trips, he does a lot of truck driving—log trucks, dump trucks, hauling heavy equipment. One winter he did carpenter work, and another winter he and one of the guys who works for him went to Kentucky and put in a 7-mile gas line for one of the people who helps him during hunting season. For a few years he also had an inter-state horse-hauling business.

"When we worked for the fellow in Kentucky we came back with six mules; we took a trailer down there with us and bought more mules for our pack strings," he says. It takes a lot of stock to keep the business running. Right now he has 37 mules and horses, but at one point had as many as 54.

Sometimes he'll sell an exceptionally good horse or mule in order to buy four more young ones to train. Right now he have a bunch of good horses he's using for trail rides on the Stock Farm nearby. This is a private gated community/golf course and Bear Creek Outfitters lined up all their best horses to provide rides.

"We probably have about a dozen horses that are getting into the 15 to 20-year-old range and very dependable, and those are really hard to replace," he says.

BACKCOUNTRY TRIPS

Pack trips into the wilderness area are varied, depending on the season and purpose. "We have a system in which we get all the gear together and pre-set the camps. My wife Barb creates a grocery list and gets all the supplies we need, because when you go in there 20 miles you can't run home or to the grocery store for something you forgot! You don't want to miss anything you really need," he says.

They've never hired a cook; the guides all help with the cooking. Barb pre-fixes some of the meals, and all of the guides take a hand in the barbeque cooking. Whichever guide has hunters in a spike camp does the cooking. Most of the hunters also like to pitch in; that's part of the experience.

The hunters spend their first night at the ranch near Darby. "That's when we put their gear together in packs. The next morning we go up the road to the trail head, pack the string and go into the backcountry." How far they go depends on time of year and the hunting season. They have 14 different spike camps in various places, and alternate the use on those, according to where the elk or other game might be.

They guide lion hunts and spring bear hunts, but fall hunts are mainly oriented around elk. The elk hunters can also get a deer tag, bear tag or wolf tag. This doesn't affect the price of their guided hunt; they just have to purchase the additional tags. "We also guide a few deer-only hunts, later in the season," he says.

Conditions can be challenging in some of the later hunts if there's a lot of snow, and this discourages some hunters. "The snow actually makes it better for the hunting. Any time the camping is miserable, the hunting is good! If camping is good, the animals are more dispersed and the hunting is harder," Francisco says.

Every trip has unique situations and some interesting stories. "This is one of the things that inspire us to keep doing it. There's also the accomplishment of getting a hunter his/her animals, and that's a satisfaction similar to doing the hunting yourself. We give them the same kind of experience that we would enjoy," he says.

Many people are good hunters, but it takes a special kind of good hunter to be a good guide because this requires people skills as well as hunting. "You have to do it a certain way, to ensure hunters a good (and hopefully successful) experience. This is the mark of a good guide; even if the hunter doesn't get an animal, he/she is still happy with the trip. Perhaps the hunter wasn't able to shoot it, but did get to see the game. Our best effort is put forth to give them an opportunity to get an animal," explains Francisco.

Most hunters come with a good attitude; they are here for the experience and if they get an animal that's a plus. "We have a lot of success stories, and guys who scraped together enough money to come on a trip, or their boss sends them on a trip as a bonus. It can be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for hunters, so we try hard. We know they are never going to get this kind of opportunity again. We want it to be something they will always remember with pleasure."

He and Barb still get Christmas cards, phone calls and e-mails from people who hunted with them 20 years ago. Lasting friendships are made in this business. The hunters remember it as something special and want to keep in touch.

It can be challenging, however, with financial issues, changing Fish and Game regulations, etc. Sometimes the agency cuts tag numbers or closes a season. "Our hope is to be able to keep doing this long enough to hand it over to children or grandchildren as a permanent heritage. You want them to be able to continue to do it, and not have to see the door close on this way of life.

"If you are not learning something every day, you are probably not doing it right. You need to be flexible and have an open mind about possibilities. If you are looking for the right thing, you are continually learning something and become successful in what you do."

People skills are a must. "You have to be entertaining, informative, but not too overbearing, and always keep an open mind. Others may have a good suggestion. You also learn to adjust to the client's ability. What you'd like to do and what you can do are not always the same." Guides learn to assess the skill/ability level of the hunter and become accommodating.

Physical condition is a common challenge, and a guide learns how to coax and encourage a hunter to put a little more effort into it. "It's a mindset, because most people are stronger/tougher than they think they are," he says. If they really want to do it, they will give it more try.

Most of the hunters come away with a new respect for the backcountry. "We get a lot of return hunters who know what to expect. They are learning something each time and they enjoy the challenge," says Francisco.

"Many of our hunters are self-employed. They can schedule the time off and come do this. Some of them work all year, to make it happen. They may call me a dozen times during the year, psyching themselves up, getting prepared for their big trip."

This is part of the satisfaction, giving these folks an experience they wouldn't have, otherwise. It's a unique service. "We go into Unit 17 in the Selway where there is a relatively long season with not very much hunting pressure. The folks we guide enjoy having a hunt with no other hunters around. They rarely see another hunter."

Anyone interested in more information about Bear Creek Outfitters or photos from previous hunts can check their website: http://www.bearcreekoutfittersonline.com

My Dream Hunt: The Spell of the Yukon

There's a land where the mountains are nameless,

And the rivers all run God knows where;

There are lives that are erring and aimless,

And deaths that just hang by a hair;

There are hardships that nobody reckons;

There are valleys unpeopled and still;

There's a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,

And I want to go back — and I will.

-from "The Spell of the Yukon" by Robert W. Service.

Through a series of random meetings and a struck-up conversation in a charming sidewalk café in Reno, my husband Will and I found ourselves booked for a caribou hunt with a ranching/outfitting family, Mary, Alan, Logan and Jessica Young, in the Yukon a few years ago.

We made a down payment and were given an essential supply list, unequivocal maximum baggage weight per person – "two duffels not over 50#, plus rifle" and unequivocal date of September 10 to be in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, two days before our scheduled flight to Midnight Sun's main camp for our hunt September 12–23, 2011.

Choosing to "see the country" by driving the 2100+ miles, we equipped the 3/4-ton GMC with topper, coolers and a good bed for motel/campground versatility. Departing September 3 we entered Canada via the Sweetwater/Coutts port September 5th. It was painless and relatively swift, even with hunting license and firearm. After overnighting at Whitecourt, early Hudson Bay trading post at the confluence of McCloud and Athabasca Rivers, my Sept. 6 journal mentions "very different, beautiful country . . . hummock-y ground covered in tall, tall coniferous and dedicious trees . . . much hay in bales . . . canola fields at different stages." We toured Dawson Creek's great Museum before passing Milepost 1 on the Alaskan Highway to camp in a Provincial Park on the Kiskatinaw River.

Sept. 7 the Old Alaskan Highway into Fort St. John took us across an engineering phenomenon, AlCan Bridge – the curved and 9-degree-slanted wooden work-of-art our soldiers built across the Kiskatinaw River as they began the storied Alaskan highway. I journaled, "A lot of change today from big high prairies into deep timber, canyons, mountains of all kinds . . . many big rivers, some run East, some North, some are green, some are muddy, some are lazy and some, as the aptly-named Racing River, truly race! By Will's geology we've been in quartsite, granite, sand, bentonite and many other formations today. Saw more than twenty caribou . . . two black bears grazing greedily on clover . . . seventy-some Wood Bison, a dozen Stones Sheep ewes and lambs . . gas, supper and overnite near the Laird River at Coal Creek, a Wood Bison bull wandering the campground."

This was the day I discovered the tantalizing "smell of the North" I've read about in books, and loved having in my nostrils until around the same point returning home.

From there everything became more exciting and wonderful, "wild-looking BIG country" according to my notes there's no space to share. Long hard miles on narrow tarmac, elevated to avoid sinking into the muskeg. And magical, storybook places . . . Whitehorse . . . finally Dawson City – where my grandfather Sedgwick's brother spent some years, made some fortune in gold, and lost his health to scurvy. My Dawson City highlight was getting to play piano some at our hotel one night and the next evening in the historic Jack London Lounge!

Despite my angst about warm socks or rubber boots getting left at the airport because my bags might be overweight, everything got onboard and the breathtaking flight with an experienced elderly pilot wormed us between mountain peaks to settle lightly at Midnight Sun's main camp, Hart Lake on Yukon's beautiful Hart River. We feasted on home-cooking in the rustic lodge and slept well in a snug cabin after lively conversation with hunters from Austria, Texas and elsewhere who'd flown in with us.

I discovered a Yukon outhouse comfort-secret – 1 1/2" Styrofoam insulation material tops the wood, and even though there's no door (unit just points away from camp at the end of the path) it feels warm, not damp and cold like wood!

We float-planed into spike camp on Three Barrel Creek the next morning with a skilled pilot who made it work with three passengers where there's really only enough water and space to accommodate a single-passenger unit. The outhouse was shocking . . . the Pepto-Bismol-pink Styrofoam seat was 3" thick and a huge bite was gone from the center, sporting teethmarks the guide said were "probably grizzly"!

The wind died with the dark, so waking from a sound sleep after a good supper and snuggling into my comfy cot to hear "whish . . . whish" and see the tent wall move occasionally in keeping with the sounds paralyzed me into not even breathing – which I didn't want to do anyway because of a horrid stench. This phenomenon traveled the length of the tent . . . moving sounds faded from earshot but I remained wide awake to inform my spouse, rising from a sound sleep some time later, not to go outside without his gun! It was still locked in the case, but he got it out…. The guide told us next morning, from the behavior and stench it was either a wolf or a grizzly investigating things.

We chose saddles, adjusted stirrups and for a week guide Ryan led us over 20 miles or more of awesome Yukon landscape daily, on good Midnight Sun horses. Long days and miles in the saddle were normal to our Wyoming ranchworking lives, but there was nothing "normal" about the Yukon. Traversing muskeg is like a walking on a 12" soft foam mattress, except it's wet. Hooves sink at least 5" each step, often more, and come up dripping water . . . the same on top of a mountain as near the creekbottom. Our cook was half mountain goat Yukon outdoors encyclopedia, tough to keep up with but teaching me fun wonderful things, like finding and gathering aromatic tea, and miniscule moss berries delicious in morning pancakes.

Weather was unusually mild for the season, delaying caribou migrations; a true boon for us as we hunted hard, savoring long day after long day, rather than filling a tag early. Ranging ever farther from camp we saw constantly differing terrain impossible to describe in mere words. Dense tall timber, deep narrow creeks, high meadows and rocky outcrops where you can see forever, lovely meandering rivers with wide gravelly bottoms and rushing channels, miles of bog where a horse's hindquarters disappear with a false step, rider leaping for solid ground from which to help pull him out. Steep caliche hillsides occasionally rivered by slides of flat rock treacherous to cross . . . miles and miles of beautiful memories. But not a single bull caribou, and only two or three cows had been seen.

Another guide, Tee, packed in two days from his distant camp with his string of horses, tough Austrian hunter Hans, and Hans's trophy Alaskan moose rack. Alan Young sent the message that we would not be flown out until Will had a chance to shoot a caribou. Tee offered to take us with him and Hans the next day, but we opted to go one more day with Ryan and Neal, who'd flown in some days earlier to help pack. Will's 30-06 had met a mishap, causing the already-repaired stock to part, so Neal offered him his ought-six and asked if he wanted to try it out – he declined . . . reckoned it was sighted in and would shoot just fine.

That day we climbed higher and saw more country from a distance and explored a pristine glacial lake we'll never see the likes of again, coming home more tired than any day, yet more exhilarated. We were met by an ecstatic Hans, whose caribou horns were on display in front of the kitchen.

He stopped my horse to explain, in his eager broken English with hand signals, that Will would get his caribou tomorrow because they'd seen two bunches but Tee did not let the one bunch know they were there. They went on and found another bunch and got Hans's shot there, a distance from the others. There were bulls in the undisturbed bunch and he knew Tee would take Will there the next day!

Neal accompanied Tee and us the following morning, leading a pack horse to retrieve Hans's dressed animal. It was foggy and hard to see, but we rode right to it and once it was packed Neal headed back to camp and we went on — soon finding caribou down near the Hart River. Good stalking and a convenient gully got us within a couple hundred yards on horseback. I stayed near the tied horses while the guys put the sneak on the caribou.

After hearing two shots and waiting a while, I got up where I could see them dressing out the bull, so took the horses over closer where there was brush to tie into. When they were ready I led up little dun Haflinger, Ty, with his packbox to be loaded. Going back to camp I was able to get lots of photos of tough independent Ty, loose with his pack of meat and rack as he'd stop and graze, falling way behind the guys in the lead, then hurrying to catch up. Hans led the celebration in camp when we arrived, but no one was happier than Will about "how well his borrowed gun worked"!

The caribou meat was delicious, the caribou hide and European-mount rack are beautiful, and it truly was a "dream hunt" for us. I can highly recommend Midnight Sun Outfitting, where Jessie Young says, "We're a family run and owned operation. We offer first class Northern Yukon big game hunts for Fannin and Dall sheep, Alaskan Yukon moose, Barren Ground caribou and Grizzly. Our hunting concession is one of the most northern areas in the Yukon with wild and pristine landscape. The Territory is remote, untouched and rich in game and nothingness. It is truly the 'last frontier'. Our family and company is embodied in the Northern lifestyle and we embrace the rich heritage that it stands for. "

Hunting the hunters: Wolf hunting in the West

The howl of a wolf has long been used to add drama and suspense in the movies. It has the same effect for hunters.

Bear Creek Outfitters, headquartered in Darby, Montana, offers guided wolf hunts along with hunts for deer, elk, bear and mountain lion. Jim Daine, one of the outfitters, says they've had several hunters over the past few years with wolf tags.

"Hunting is an effective way to help control wolf populations. We had a large number of wolves until hunting seasons were finally allowed. At first, after wolves were introduced, they were only in a few areas, but they ate all the prey and expanded their territories. We realized that as soon as it was legal to hunt them we had to get pack numbers down or we wouldn't have any game animals left," he says.

"Deer and elk numbers are still down but we're seeing a slight increase again in the elk. We haven't seen much of a moose comeback yet, but the ones that survive have learned to stay hidden," says Daine. Wolves are at the top of the food chain and if humans don't control them they just keep expanding.

Hunting wolves is not easy. The main tactics are to spot/track and stalk or spot and shoot. The Fish and Game Department sells an unlimited number of tags but there are quotas in some areas; once those target numbers are reached, the hunt is closed. "Here in the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness we have no quota, and a longer season (from September 1 until end of June), because there are not many hunters that come here to hunt wolves. The out-of-state fees for wolf tags are less expensive, too," Daine says.

It's a challenge to find and kill a wolf. "We keep an eye and ear out for wolves as we are guiding hunters for elk or other game. If we happen to see one, you might have a few seconds to get ready and try to connect," he says.

Daine had one wolf hunter from the Midwest and another from Denmark in a group that was hunting bears. They happened upon an elk kill and went closer, hoping to see a bear, and a wolf stepped out of the brush 40 yards away. "My hunter was ready, and shot it," he said.

On another trip, two of their hunters from Kentucky–Rex Parsons and his son—were successful. Parsons says that hunting trip in January two years ago was the best adventure of his life. "We flew to Missoula, and then to the Selway with Jim Daine. The wolves had decimated the elk herd in there. The elk get pushed down into the low country in January and February and wolves massacre the elk because there are no people in there, that time of year. We were hunting wolves and mountain lions," Parsons says.

A pilot flew them in from Hamilton one at a time in a Piper Super Cub. "That's a pretty small plane! There was the pilot, one of us, and a hound. My son is a big kid, 6-foot-4 with broad shoulders; his shoulders were wider than the fuselage. So he flew into the Selway with the windows open in that little plane. But the cold didn't bother him; he was pretty excited. The Super Cub landed on skis on the snow. The flight in that little plane was worth the whole trip. It can fly slow and close to the ground, and that country was absolutely gorgeous."

The guides set up base camp at the little airstrip, and Parsons and his son hiked nine miles up Bear Creek in knee-deep snow with their packs. While hiking in, they cut fresh wolf tracks. Two wolves were tracking a mountain lion. "Wolves harass mountain lions because they are competitors," Parsons says.

They hiked on up Bear Creek and pitched their tent—a rope and a tarp–and some ground pads to sleep on, with military arctic sleeping bags. "We had a couple hours before dark, so we started up Bear Creek and did some howling just with our voices, with no response," he says.

They sat there about 30 minutes looking across the valley, and saw a whitetail buck running for its life. "I told my son to get ready, because the only time I've ever seen a deer run like that was when it was being chased by German Shepherds here at home," Parsons says.

After a few minutes, they saw a big black wolf and big gray wolf on the trail of that deer. "We waited until they got straight across from us and then my son let out a howl. The wolves stopped dead in their tracks and looked right at us. We were 300 yards away, and I was down and ready with my rifle. When they stopped, I shot the big gray alpha wolf," says Parsons. It weighed about 130 pounds.

"We had to cross Bear Creek to get to it, and my son lost his balance and got both feet wet. The temperature was about 8 degrees and he had to stand there with wet feet the whole time we were skinning that wolf."

They got back to their camp and there wasn't any wood for a fire. "What saved us is that Jim Daine made me take his little Jetboil camp heater. I call it a hippy heater because all the hikers carry them."

They took the wool liners out of the wet boots and stuck the heater into each wool liner until it got dry. The next morning when they hiked out with the wolf, his feet were dry. But their wool bib overalls had been wet up to the knees, coming across that creek.

"When we crawled out of our little snow cave and put those on, we had to beat the frozen overalls on a rock until they got pliable enough to put them on."

Parsons has hunted there for 25 years, and this trip was the most fun he's ever had. "We saw bobcats and mountain lion tracks, and wound up getting two wolves on that hunt. I like seeing all the wildlife, but wolves are indiscriminate killers. I've seen a 2-year-old cow elk that wolves pulled down and they only ate about five pounds of meat, and went on to make another kill. If they run across something they can kill, they will kill it, whether they are hungry or not. They are really hard on the game," he says.

Opening the season on wolves has helped. There are not as many wolves as there were a few years back. "But they are smart. The ones in there now are very elusive. All of us have heard one pack howling, many times, and have never been able to see them," says Parsons.

A number of sportsmen in Idaho and Montana have taken the opportunity to hunt wolves, now that there is a legal hunting season. Dan Austin, a 52-year-old life-long resident of Salmon, Idaho has been fortunate to kill three wolves–in 2011, 2013 and 2014. "I've spent a lot of time at it, and called all the ones that I've been able to shoot. The wolves are smart, though, and wised up to that tactic; it doesn't work as well anymore," he says.

A person has to be determined, and lucky. "Some of the younger guys who are in good shape and can walk seven miles straight uphill on snowshoes often find wolf tracks and follow them. I am out there a lot however, because I trap a little in the winter, so I am always looking for wolves and trying to call them," says Austin.

The wolf season in eastern Idaho opens at the end of August and goes through the end of March. When a person is hunting deer or elk, they can also shoot a wolf if they have a wolf tag.

Austin spent six weeks last winter in Panther Creek, driving over there early in the morning every Friday. During that time he found 17 dead elk–wolf kills–right along the road. He's tracked wolves, but sometimes just bumps into them. "You don't always get a shot, because they can be very elusive. I've missed two that I tried to shoot. You have to be in shape, because they can go a long ways!"

Austin says they are the most exciting animals to hunt. "One time I was just scouting for deer and saw two wolves a couple miles away. I had my call with me and sat down and started calling. I thought it might be a half hour before they could get to me, if they could even hear me," he says.

He was sitting in tall sagebrush and had the call going, and peeked his head up. "There was one looking straight at me, about 60 yards away! I got back down, got the scope cover off my gun, turned the call off, and looked back up, and there were eight of them 30 yards away coming at me at a dead run!" he says.

"I was shaking, but I shot a big black one, and shot at another and missed. That was intense! The two I saw off in the distance were huge, probably the alpha male and female. I think those big ones let the younger ones run in first, or else most of the pack was closer to me when I started calling. Those wolves had killed one of the rancher's cows and had been eating on that," says Austin.