During my life I have had the opportunity to guide hunters professionally 3 different times. The first time was for Paul Taylor, Taylor Outfitters, Jackson Montana. Often times when you mention Jackson Montana people think or say ‘oh you mean Jackson Hole Wyoming’; nope, Jackson Montana.
The Big Hole country or Big Hole Basin in Western Montana has a a lot of History to it. The Big Hole Battlefield is one of Chief Joseph’s five Battles where he out maneuvered and out fought the United States Army. Some Cavalry was involved in the battle but however many were mounted or afoot it made no difference to the outcome. Unfortunately Chief Joseph made a logistical error and stopped a few miles short of the Canadian border on his way to join Sitting Bull. He surrender there and his famous words ‘from where the sun stands now I will fight no more forever’ will ring in the History of the the American Indians and their conflict with European settlers.
Ranchers in the Big Hole Basin to this day are faced with winters that the snow is so deep that Snow Planes are of common use, or at least they were years ago. Snowmobiles have replaced them but teams of horses are still used for winter feeding as they require no diesel power or anti gel to keep them running in subzero temperatures. On the South end of the Basin you will find the small town of Jackson.
Jackson Montana, during the years that I guided for Paul, consisted of a Main street, a bar and Cantina called ‘Rosa’s’, a motel and a swimming pool wrapped around a hot springs. It wasn’t uncommon to find at Rosa’s a pool game, a bar room fight or a pay by the minute woman. Some of Paul’s clients appreciated all of the above but most also appreciated discretion from their fellow hunters and the Outfitter; it was an unmentioned common courtesy.
The fall of 1982 we were living at Kidd Montana on the old Briggs place; there was a small airstrip just south of the yard where our house was located; the place consisted of 5 homes in a curved driveway. The original Briggs stone house was the first home and then there were 4 more homes fairly identical in size and shape finishing out the compound. We lived in the 4th or last house and had moved there the previous spring from Twin Bridges Montana where I had been working for Lowell Hildreth at the Old Spinner place on the Ruby River.
My agreement with Lowell was to keep running the 25 cows we currently owned and to build to 50 head. He would feed the first 25 as part of my wages and I would pay for the feed on the next 25 head. I was getting farther away from being on a horse and spending more time irrigating and putting hay up all summer and throwing it out all winter.
On the Ruby I had about 500 acres of meadow hay to irrigate and put up, the winters were mild there and the summer lease at Robb Creek was one of my all time favorite places to run cattle. I was riding a few outside horses and tacking iron on occasionally, I was about as content as I could be under the circumstances on the Ruby but things were changing even if I’d of rather they weren’t.
That fall of 82 Lowell came along one day and turned me lose; to say I was unhappy and disappointed was to say the least, that was the second time in just under 4 years that that had happened to us and I was done with Montana. With a wife and 4 small children and a herd of cows with nowhere to go I was too frustrated to hope for a decent shake in Montana.
We had until the first of the year to move so we went to work finding a place to winter our cows and calve them out and a place for us to restart our lives. A good friend took our cows but we still had to pay bills and that’s when I went to work for Paul.
Jimmy Doyle came with Paul’s New York group of hunters and although he wasn’t a millionaire like so many of them he was their good friend so was part of the group. He was an author and veteran of WW2 as a door gunner in a B24 flying out of England bombing Germany. I never read his book and am not sure how much acclaim he had with it.
Guiding with Paul we didn’t use horses accept to pack out game, we would drive around in Chevy Suburbans and hike hunters into different locations, dropping one off at 5 minute intervals and then at a given time everyone would head out on a magnetic heading and gather at a predetermined location. It was rather effective and we harvested some big bulls that way.
We were on one of our ‘scatter them out and gather them up’ hunts when on a ridge overlooking a road that no one was suppose to cross I watched Jimmy keep on going. I caught up with Kevin, Paul’s son and told him what happened. He dropped me off on Jimmy’s trail and headed out to gather up his dad and other hunters. Kevin and I had agreed on a location that I would bring Jimmy out. Night was fast approaching and we were anxious that Jimmy didn’t spend he night around a small fire alone.
Tracking Jimmy was no challenge, there was 8 to 9 inches of snow, some of it was fresh and some old but all together it made for easy tracking. It was sundown as I got on his trail and full dark comes early that time of year in Southwest Montana. His trail cut through several draws and around a coupe of ridges and of all the luck a herd of stock cows had crossed over his tracks but his trail was easy to pick up on the other side of their tracks. I dead reckoned across their path and sure as Montana winters are long and cold there was Jimmy’s footprint. Even in the dark with the light of the stars reflecting off of the snow it was easy tracking.
After a bit of time I came around the point of a ridge and spotted a fire about a quarter of a mile away. I had jogged were I could to close in on him and even with his head start he hardly enough time to gather fire wood and get it going.
I called to him a ways out as not to startle him and the look on his face as I came up on his fire was all the reward that I needed if I needed any at all. We visited for a minute and I asked him if he was up for a short walk; he said yes and we kicked the fire out and headed southwest from where we were.
Jimmy had open heart surgery a few years before this but was in fairly decent shape, just the same I wanted to make it easy on him getting out of there; my intended route was fairly flat for that part of Montana.
I shouldered Jimmy’s rifle as we walked, he started to protest but I explained to him that it was the least I could do. I had packed my rifle to use as a signal and had fired two shots 20 seconds apart to let Kevin know I had Jimmy.
Our pickup point was about 3 miles, not a bad walk at all under most circumstances and I felt that Jimmy had enough of him left to make it but I didn’t need him to go down on me. About half way to our destination I saw a set of lights dancing in the night sky and looked to my left up a long ridge and here came Kevin in a pickup with chains on all four wheels bouncing down that ridge; we crowded in and headed out.
Earlier that fall we had a hunter go one too many ridges over and never made it out that night. We picked him up the next day but he was embarrassed about it and left the hunt early. He was an experienced hunter and in good health so the night spent around a campfire was no issue. In Jimmy’s case it wouldn’t have been in his best interest although I believe he would have survived just fine. Getting him out that night was in his ‘best interest’ though and I believe we all slept a little better that night because of it. Day time temps could be in the teen’s and nighttime as low as 20 below; not the best temps for a sleep out with no sleeping bag or tent.
Another factor in staying out all night in those temps is that we were riding around in Suburbans with the heat on, getting out and hiking a few miles and then back in the Suburban, dressing for warmth and not over dressing was a challenge. Everyone sweats when they exercise no matter how cold the outside temps are, some more than others. So if you have worked up a sweat and now the temps are dropping you either have to carry clothes to put on or you are going to need a source of heat, i.e. the heater from a vehicle or a fire, but you have sweat against your skin that has to dry or you will never get warm. Dry clothes, warm clothes and and an internal source of heat, a candy bar or power bar will all help but at a certain point your body will run out of calories to burn and that’s when hypothermia sets in.
Cowboys, hunters and sportsmen of all classes have dealt with this for decades, all of the fancy clothes from your favorite Sportsman’s shop will never replace experience and dressing in layers. And never when you are in the woods lose track of time, location and resources.