September 19, 2014

Elyria
Fog
47°F
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Outfitters & Guides

Lady guide with Lab and pheasant. PHoto by Tom Mahl

Pam Kline-Eckleberry guides pheasant hunters on the Homestead Hunting Preserve near West Salem. "The dogs love it just as much as I do or anyone hunting does!" she says of her eager pups.

Find something you love to do, figure out a way to make it pay, and you’ll never work another day in your life. So goes the old saying, or something like that. A few of us follow our hearts to this advice, usually in retirement. However, running your own business isn’t for everyone and before too long all the equipment of that new venture is taking up space in the garage where the car should be, and the dreamer finds he prefers afternoon naps to elbow grease and hustle.

For an outdoorsman, the way you make the dream pay is to become either a guide or an outfitter. Of those I’ve met who manage to make a living at it, there are perhaps no happier people in life that I know!

Nelson “Trapper” Young guides and outfits fisherman on the salmon rich Alagnack River on Alaska’s legendary Bristol Bay. After serving as a bomber pilot in the Vietnam War, Trapper came home to a regular job, but he dreamed of returning to the Alaska he had visited while in the Air Force.  The years rolled by and his bank account grew. And grew “After a while I realized it was because I never had time to spend any of it; all I did was work! What’s the point of making money if you can’t enjoy yourself?” Finally, he said had enough. He quit his job and began a new career guiding anglers into backcountry bush camps; at first working for others and then opening his own outfitters service. “It’s been almost twenty years now and I haven’t regretted a day of it, I’d never go back.” In the winter months he splits his time between traveling to outdoors shows in the East and guiding on the Salmon river near Oswego county in upstate New York.

“There he is, my arch nemesis!” Pam Kline-Eckleberry looks high into the trees at the Red-tailed hawk that is carefully watching her guide hunters onto pheasants and chukar partridge. The winter wind kicks a brutal chill around her, but with every step, she leads the gunners through field and woods, trailing only behind her German short-haired pointer, Winchester.

“Most weekends book up early, as soon as the season kicks off. But we have a lot of folks come out during the week. There’s one guy who brings his two old dogs every week. I mean, he enjoys the hunting but I think it’s mostly just to get his dogs out and get some exercise.” Sixteen years ago Pam began the Homestead Hunting Preserve near her family home in Ashland County. An accomplished equestrian  active in youth programs, she once rode on horseback solo from coast to coast. The Homestead’s reception room is adorned with many of her hunting trophies and mementos of her travels.  You might think it quite a set of accomplishments for one petit woman, but once you meat Pam, you’ll see how her natural friendliness and unbridled energy makes this way of life the perfect fit for her.

Pam says she gets a lot of word-of-mouth business, but the web site (a Facebook page) has helped drive a lot of new clients their way. Having hunted with Pam and her husband Jed (who is quick to point out that it’s her business, he’s just along for the fun) I’d have to say that they are their own best advertising.

People often ask how you choose a guide from a list of complete strangers. Personal reference goes a long way with me, but I have to say that the thing that I value the most is a guide who is frank and direct. Let’s face it, you’re going afield to a new place to you, and there’s some inherent danger if there is any misunderstanding between the guide and the client. Ask questions, be straight, and expect  the guide to do the same with you. If the outfitters don’t ask about your level of experience going into the trip, that should set alarm bells off. Take the time to get to know your guide before you go. You’re not ordering a pizza from someplace new; you’re going on an adventure. If you don’t build trust with your guide (on both ends) it’s going to be a bad memory at best. You don’t have to build a friendship, although you might well find that in the end you do. However, it’s important to build a partnership so find somebody you can work with. Hiring a guide or outfitter is one of the best ways to break into a new adventure. Get outdoors!