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National travel and outfitting trends look positive for 2014

Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarding is exploding in popularity on lakes, oceans and rivers nationwide. The sport is big in Idaho, too.

By Steve Stuebner

People are less concerned about the economy when making decisions about their summer vacations, and overall, there appears to be an increasing trend of people selecting shorter, and more relaxing and easy-going outdoor adventures vs. high octane adrenaline-filled trips, experts say.

David Brown, executive director of America Outdoors Association, said he expects adventure travel to increase in 2014 over last year at the annual meeting of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.

Idaho Tourism Division officials are expecting the same thing. Outfitted and guiding activities contribute to a $3.4 billion tourism economy in Idaho, which generates more than 26,000 jobs and more than $500 million in local, state and federal taxes.

“We’re on the cusp of recovery,” Brown says, echoing national economic trends.

Lodging stays picked up at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch near Sandpoint in 2013 as well, tracking national trends.

Janice Schoonover, co-owner of the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch in Sandpoint, agrees that with the improved economy, business is picking up. “2007 was our last, best year before the crash, and 2013 was our best year ever,” Schoonover says. “So I would agree that we’re coming back alive.”

On a national level, the leading outdoor recreation activities showing the most demand and growth in 2013 were:

  • Stand Up Paddle (SUP) surfing and flatwater paddling trips, with 83 percent of outfitters reporting an increase in activity.
  • Guided trips with interpretation and education showed 76 percent growth.
  • Guided fishing trips went up 40 percent.
  • Trips that involved lodging and cabin rentals increased by 45 percent.
  • Hunting and whitewater river trips both went up over 20 percent.

“Softer” trips, family trips and 3-4 day trips are all gaining in popularity, Brown said. “But there’s still a lot of interest in week-long family vacations, especially as the economy improves, he said.

Family trips are increasing as well … Photo courtesy ROW Adventures and Chad Case Photography

Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene, agreed that interest in family trips is still “pretty strong” and it’s an important component to outdoor trips in general. “You’re introducing the next generation to the outdoors.”

Grubb also has seen an increase in interest in flat-water trips with SUPs on his lake kayaking business on Lake Coeur d’Alene. SUPs are being seen more and more on lakes and rivers in Idaho. Some Salmon River outfitters are offering SUP experiences on the Salmon River, as well as other day-trip rivers such as the Payette.

Trips with education and interpretation are popular, too. Courtesy ROW Adventures

Trips with a strong interpretation component are seen as being valuable by outfitted guests, Grubb said, but they’re hard to market in the brochure and the web site.

“We made interpretation a stronger focus 15-20 years ago, and we teach our guides the material and the techniques on how to share this information,” he said. “Once our guests experience that, they really like it. It’s something that becomes a real highlight of their trip.”

Many of Idaho’s outfitted trips lend themselves to natural interpretive information because of the abundance of wildlife that people see, not to mention Indian pictographs, petroglyphs, plants, trees, geology and more.

“It’s a big added value,” Grubb says. “We do our best to make sure that our guides bring that added value to the trip.”

Interest in fishing trips is on the rise as well. Photo courtesy Shepp Ranch

Idaho outfitters are seeing an increase in trips that involve lodging, too. Western Pleasure Guest Ranch saw increases in lodging last year, and so did Shepp Ranch on the Salmon River. Some outfitters partner with Shepp so their guests can stay one night at a dude ranch as part of their Salmon River experience. That led to more lodging with summer guests, Lynn Demerse said.

As the American population ages, more people may prefer to sleep in a bed at night versus sleeping in a tent, Schoonover said. “The grandparents enjoy doing trips with their children and grandchildren, but they probably don’t want to sleep on the ground at night,” she said.

For more information about Idaho’s guided adventures, see www.ioga.org.

“Capture the Spirit of Idaho Guided Adventures” video contest

The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association is stepping it up a notch this year in terms of looking for more fresh, entertaining and informative videos from IOGA members about all of the outstanding guided outdoor adventure activities in Idaho.

So, we’re launching a video contest this year, similar to our ever-popular photo contest. We’re calling the contest, “Capture the Spirit of Idaho Guided Adventures.” The winners will be selected at the IOGA annual meeting in December. Have fun with it! Try to capture the spirit of the outdoor adventures that you offer.

We’re hoping the videio contest will inspire IOGA members to shoot and produce more videos to promote their businesses on their web site and social media channels, and help IOGA promote your business on its web site and social media.

Please note that the contest is open to IOGA-member outfitters and their guides.

Here are some examples of IOGA member videos:

ROW family trips: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwYvDxjClCY&list=PLj4y86UyhyK0NUlxGBlv9Y5WVmZuIRYEP

Moose hunting with Bearpaw Outfitters
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBTyKSjdqIQ&list=FLVM68dd9ewaugdXSb1QosWA

Orange Torpedo Lower Salmon trips
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjfCYACvThY&list=PLj4y86UyhyK0NUlxGBlv9Y5WVmZuIRYEP

Sturgeon Fishing with Hughes
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkJrZorYSno&list=FLVM68dd9ewaugdXSb1QosWA

Western Pleasure Guest Ranch
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ypwncy_txg&list=FLVM68dd9ewaugdXSb1QosWA

Sun Valley Heli-Ski adventure
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU3_myszkqM&list=FLVM68dd9ewaugdXSb1QosWA&index=1

Here are the video contest rules:

1. Only  IOGA-member outfitters and their guides are eligible to participate.

2. Videos should be 3 minutes in length or less.

3. There will be two categories for entry: a) Informative videos; b) Bloopers; People can submit up to three videos in each category.

4. Videos will be judged on how they represent the guided outdoor adventure activity presented, information and entertainment value.

5. Videos should be submitted to IOGA via a public online link, i.e., YouTube or Vimeo.

6. A panel of three judges will determine the winners.

7. All of the videos submitted by IOGA members will be shared on the IOGA YouTube channel. The winning videos will be shared on a future blog post and on the IOGA Facebook page.

8. There is a $5 entry fee for each video. Submit video links to Janey at idoutfitt@cableone.net.

9. Contest deadline is Dec. 8, 2013.

10. There will be cool prizes for the top three winning entries in both categories.

For more information, contact Steve Stuebner, IOGA media consultant, at sstuebner@cableone.net or 208-484-0295

Idaho mountain snowpack levels look favorable for 2013 whitewater season

Rafting on the Lochsa River with Bearpaw River Expeditions

Idaho mountain snowpack levels and anticipated streamflows in the popular Salmon, Snake, Lochsa and Payette river basins are hovering near 90 percent of normal, which should provide for a fun-filled whitewater river season, according to officials with the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.

“The current levels in mid-March are looking excellent,” said Justin Walsh, owner of Bear Paw Expeditions, which runs day trips on the Lochsa River in North Idaho, east of Lewiston. Snowpack levels in the Clearwater Basin were 87 percent of normal as of mid-March, with more spring precipitation expected. “I’m really confident we’ll have plenty of water for a great season,” Walsh said.

Idaho is known nationally as the “whitewater state” with more than 3,000 miles of thrilling whitewater rapids, the most of any state in the lower 48. Now is the time when many families are planning their summer vacations; thousands will take week-long wilderness river vacations on the Salmon River, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, the Selway River or Hells Canyon of the Snake with Idaho outfitters.

These trips are packed with fun and feature great people, magnificent scenery, delicious Dutch oven meals, entertaining river guides, wildlife, and more. By the end of the day on the river, guests kick back on sandy beaches, relax with a favorite beverage, and swap stories about their river day.

One of the best parts of river trips is hanging out in camp in the evening around the fire …

Whitewater enthusiasts also will book day trips with Idaho outfitters on the Payette, Snake, Salmon, Lochsa, St. Joe and Moyie rivers. Now is a great time to reserve your spot for a unique and unforgettable vacation, outfitters say.

Chuck Boyd of Salmon River Experience said he is glad to see snowpack levels hovering around 90 percent. “My best years are when it’s a little bit below normal,” Boyd said. “I like the snowpack right where it is.”

Side-hiking on the Salmon River quickly reveals how deep the canyon truly is …

When snowpack levels are super high, the Salmon River can surge to dangerous flood-stage levels for several weeks at a time when it’s unsafe to run raft trips or jet boat excursions, he said. With slightly lower flows, the Salmon River tends to peak a little earlier in May, providing a longer floating season from June – September, the water warms up sooner for swimming, and good fishing kicks in earlier.

Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said early, high-elevation snows in November and December set up Idaho’s mountains and rivers for a good season.

“We got a lot of snow above 7,000-foot elevation, it piled up several feet deep and that put us above normal,” Abramovich said. “We know there’s a lot of snow up there. That’s kind of the kicker for this river season. It may be a real bonus when it comes off.”

A few river basins in southwest Idaho are showing lower snowpack levels, such as the Boise at 68 percent of normal, and the Owyhee at 68 percent of normal. The Payette basin is at 77 percent of normal, but reservoir storage is 115 percent of average on the North Fork of the Payette, and the South Fork, elevating streamflow predictions to 88 percent of normal, Abramovich said. “The Payette Basin will be fine because of reservoir storage,” he said.

River floaters will have to watch the Owyhee gauge closely to time trips correctly, Abramovich said. “You’ll have to be quick to catch the Owyhee this year,” he said.

The spectacular Bruneau River, however, is hovering at about 90 percent of normal snowpack. Seth Tonsmeire of Wilderness River Outfitters near Salmon, said his company is hoping to run at least one guided trip on the Jarbidge and Bruneau rivers when the weather warms up. “We’re a little more optimistic about running the Bruneau this year, and we know the Salmon River is going to be great,” he said.

For more information about booking an Idaho whitewater river trip, go to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association web site, http://ioga.org/rafting or call 208-342-1438.

IOGA Lobby Day is a must-do event, especially the food!!!

Legislators look forward to eating delicious fresh-cooked food at IOGA’s “Taste of Idaho Outfitting”

Hi all,

The Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association is once again sponsoring IOGA Lobby Day, a wonderful event in which member-outfitters descend on the Idaho Statehouse to chat with legislators about issues of interest, and it all culminates in the “Taste of Idaho Outfitting, ” a delightful Dutch oven feed.

IOGA Lobby Day is set for Wednesday, Feb. 13. The food part is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. at the Basque Center, 601 Grove St., in downtown Boise.

Have you ever had deer pizza?

House Majority Leader and Eagle legislator Mike Moyle said he always looks forward to IOGA Lobby Day. “They always have a good turnout and great food — a lot of variety,” Moyle said. “It’s definitely one of the most unique dinners that we attend during the session, and it’s a favorite … a lot of legislators love it.”

State Senator Michelle Stennett of Ketchum agrees. “IOGA’s Dutch oven dinner event is a unique, delicious experience,” she said. “As a fledgling Dutch oven chef, I know the labor it takes to treat us legislators to this wonderful event. I am always on the lookout for good recipes! Thank you for sharing your time and culinary talents with us.”

Another important part of IOGA Lobby Day is the opportunity for IOGA members to talk to their legislators about various issues. “I’m looking forward to meeting our representatives and talk about issues that are important to us as outfitters,” said Mary Wright of Silver Cloud Expeditions in Salmon. “It’s important to maintain our presence with the legislators.

Rep. Mike Moyle chats with outfitters Scott Farr and Will Judge

“And I know that our Dutch oven dinners are a big hit with legislators because we’re great cooks!”

Idaho outfitters are great cooks … they’re not boasting, they’re just stating the facts. Hundreds and hundreds of customers have been wowed by the outdoor cooking provided by outfitters in hunting camp, on river trips, backcountry pack trip adventures and much more.

Cowboy hats in the Statehouse … and these guys are outfitters, not cattle ranchers …

Barbara Judge of St. Joe Outfitters & Guides in St. Maries also is looking forward to the event. “It’s such an important event and a unique opportunity to chat one-on-one with legislators in a relaxed setting over really good food.”

IOGA is tracking several legislative issues, according to lobbyist Tyler Mallard. The possible repeal of personal property tax, discussion of state takeover of federal lands in Idaho, and several Idaho Fish and Game issues are being monitored, Mallard said.

Please RSVP to IOGA if you’d like to attend the “Taste of Idaho Outfitting” by calling 342-1438 or emailing idoutfitt@cableone.net.

Oufitters know how to cook outdoors … and have fun doing it!

 

Five reasons to hunt big game in Idaho

Now is the time when hunters, outfitters and state Fish and Game officials are flocking to sportsmen’s shows around the United States, and hunters are making decisions about where to hunt in 2013.

We want hunters to know about the advantages of hunting in Idaho … Here’s our list of 5 reasons to hunt big game in Idaho:

  1. Go with a Pro. Idaho outfitters and guides know the country, they know where the big game animals are, and they’ll take great care of you in elk camp.
  2. Solitude. Guided hunts in Idaho have a lot of elbow room in wilderness and roadless areas … no worries about getting buzzed by an ATV or seeing hundreds of other hunters while you’re out hunting. Go find your private Idaho.
  3. Big game bonanza. On a fall backcountry hunt, you can buy tags for and potentially harvest a mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, wolf, black bear and mountain lion during a week-long hunt. How much room do you have in your freezer?
  4. Best drawing odds for trophy species. No preference points or bonus points are needed to draw prized tags for bighorn sheep, mountain goat or moose. Central Idaho is a premium destination for these highly sought-after species.
  5. Introduce your kids to big game hunting for $1.75. Idaho has a new program for junior mentor tags. Adults with a big game license can buy a hunting passport for kids 8 and over for $1.75. No hunter education classes are required, either. The program also is open to adults who have never hunter before.

Here are some other benefits that Idaho outfitters and guides bring to the table …     

We need to underscore Point #2 … Idaho outfitters and guides are licensed with the state of Idaho. They must go through a rigorous process with a state licensing board to receive a license to outfit and guide hunters in Idaho. A number of states do not have this process, and unwitting hunters sometimes end up booking a trip with a fly-by-night outfitter who doesn’t have the skills, equipment and know-how to lead a quality successful hunt. That won’t happen to you in Idaho because of the licensing process. Idaho’s outfitters and guides are high-quality people who truly know the mountains and wildlife in their territory,  and they can be counted on to take care of your health, safety and welfare.

Here’s a video that shows what a guided elk hunt in Idaho is all about:watch?v=FKXjntnJliY

Here’s another top list from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game …Top 5 Reasons To Hunt in Idaho …

1. Buying big game tags is simple. Hunters can buy big game tags through their outfitter and go hunting. Idaho Fish and Game reserves a number of deer and elk set-aside and allocated big game elk tags for the outfitted public. A key advantage is that those tags can be purchased through Idaho outfitters long after other states have sold out.

2. We give you variety. Go elk hunting and bring steelhead home, too. We call it “cast and blast.” Combination fishing and bird-hunting trips are available, too.

3. Wide open spaces. Vast public lands provide variety, opportunity and fair chase.

4. We are always open. Hunt and fish 365 days a year.

5. Easy on the pocket book. Tap into the discount for a nonresident junior license and tags to mentor a young hunter.

Never heard of Idaho? Or just heard of it because of our famous potatoes? Well, former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, a lifelong hunter, puts it this way: “Idaho is what America was.”

Enjoy this video titled “Dreaming of Idaho” and you’ll see that we’re about …watch?v=EYMxW-5_390

Come hunt with us in Idaho. To select a hunting outfitter in Idaho, visit our web site for a full listing of outfitters and guides

Thanks for visiting.
– IOGA

Leo and Dee Crane, Zeke West inducted as IOGA Lifetime Members

Dee and Leo at Tinker High Hunting Camp

Zeke West, right, at the helm

Three longtime IOGA members, Leo and Dee Crane of Orofino and Zeke West of Grangeville, were honored as Lifetime Members at the annual IOGA meeting last week in Boise.

Grant Simonds, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, said the honor is the equivalent of a “lifetime achievement” award because of the many contributions that the Cranes and West made to their communities, IOGA and Idaho’s recreation industry.

Leo and Dee Crane operated Clearwater Outfitters, based in Orofino, for nearly five decades before selling their big game hunting business and starting a business they now operate on Dworshak Reservoir called “Lake and Leathers.”

Zeke West, owner of Whitewater Outfitters for nearly five decades, ran trips up and down the Salmon River and Snake River from Lewiston to Corn Creek, and he also was licensed on the Clearwater River from Kookia to Lewiston. He guided hunters in Units 20 and 20A adjacent to the Salmon River, and he guided bear and cougar hunters adjacent to the North Fork of the Clearwater River.

“Zeke was the consummate jet boat captain. He had a million-dollar smile, he provided quality customer service and he always operated in an exemplary, safe manner,” Simonds says. “Plus, he’d make himself available to assist other outfitters or other boaters with just about anything. He was a real gentleman.”

West purchased Whitewater Ranch in the late 1960s, and that was his base of operation on the Main Salmon River, long before it became the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in 1980. The first jet boat he purchased in 1971 was a 24-foot Oaks. A decade later, he bought a 26-foot Bentz jet boat, which he used until after he retired. He also had a 30-foot Smith boat named “Old Faithful” that he bought from Mackay Bar.

In 1982, the Nez Perce National Forest gave Zeke an award for logging 2,000 hours of jet boat operation without an accident. When he sold his last boat in 2012, he was still accident free.  “That’s quite an achievement considering the wild nature of the Salmon River at many different water levels,” Simonds said. “Zeke’s outfitting career is the epitome of providing quality customer service while maintaining the health, safety and welfare of those who utilized his outfitting and guiding talents.”

Zeke had an exemplary safety record as a jet boat pilot.

Plus, West was part of a close-knit community of outfitters, guides, guest ranch owners and caretakers who live along the Salmon River in the remote and primitive wilderness section in Central Idaho.

Leo Crane first got his outfitting license in 1964 as the owner of Clearwater Outfitters. He’s been a member of IOGA since 1966. He started the IOGA Clearwater Valley Chapter in 1987. He also served on the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board from 1987-1999, and the IOGA board from 206-2008.

Leo with Billy Mahanes and his nice bull elk

Crane took guests on big game hunts for elk, deer, mountain lions and black bears for many years.  He operated during the “glory days” of big game hunting in the Clearwater region for several decades, hunting in the popular Mallard-Larkins roadless area. After wolves affected that operation, he switched to leading fishing trips on Dworshak and white-tailed deer hunting trips.

“Leo has been a steady and reliable IOGA member who’s been willing to be involved in leadership posts over the years, and he’s continued to have an interest in being a volunteer leader on many levels,” Simonds said.

Leading up the IOGA Clearwater Valley Chapter for several decades, Crane helped with new membership recruitment and staying abreast of outfitting, land-management and Fish and Game issues with fellow members. More recently, Crane has been serving on the Clearwater Basin Collaborative on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and serving on IOGA’s wilderness committee.

Leo and Ken Smith man the BBQ at the Roundup fund-raiser

Both Leo and Dee have hosted “The Roundup” community event in Orofino since 2000, a fund-raiser  for the IOGA Clearwater Valley Chapter. The event raises scholarship money for local students and funds for I-CARE, a benefit fund for families coping with cancer. I-CARE stands for Cancer Assistance and Recovery Effort. Since 2008, I-CARE has raised $13,350 to benefit more than 30 families in the communities of Orofino, Pierce, Kamiah, Kooskia, Weippe, Deary, Ferdinand, Harpster and Peck.

The Roundup

“Leo and Dee are the epitome of small family-run outfitting businesses where the husband and wife work hand in hand,” Simonds says. “Their connection to the local community, and the way they give back to and support the community, has been really important to IOGA’s image.

“For decades IOGA has been blessed to have Leo and later Dee as active members,” Simonds continues. “At every turn they have stepped forward to provide IOGA with the leadership, knowledge and energy necessary for it to function as the leading statewide professional organization and effective advocate for outfitters in Idaho and America.”

Leo leads the pack string back to the trailhead for the last time …

Zeke West’s youngest son, Bob, reflects on the life that Zeke lived on the river.

“I awoke in the cabin to the fresh, damp forest air. The sun had not yet risen over the high green mountain top, but it was still daylight. The sun would not shine directly into the bottom of the canyon for another hour or so.  The world around me was wide awake. I could hear the cawing of the crows in the distance. The gentle roar of the river in the background, its frigid waters cascading through the rapids not 100 yards away. The gentle never ending voice of the thermal flow of life.  Small birds were singing and chirping and playing amongst themselves in the trees or the hill. The same birds had been there for years and years.

“I rose from my bunk and looked outside at the dew covered grass, the world filled with the air that still held the chill of night in the light of morning. The bees were already hard at work, dashing from blossom to blossom on the wild black raspberry bushes on the hill behind the house, the large log house where my father would soon emerge and whoop at me to come get breakfast. Even breakfast had the feeling of the country. The sourdough pancakes that magically formed from the same crock on the kitchen counter every day without fail.  Sometimes as a special treat my father would make sourdough biscuits and jerky gravy instead of sourdough pancakes.  There was the smell of bacon on the griddle, a smell made to wake up to.

“Conversation at the breakfast table would be of events of the day to come. How we had to take the jet boat 50 miles downriver to pick up the Forest Service workers: About the horses that had wandered to the neighbors again and had to be retrieved. (4 ½ miles downriver)  Somehow they always remembered the greener pastures at Campbell’s Ferry.  What green pastures they had. Natural Mountain pastures with no fences. Only a few fruit trees scattered sparsely through the pastures and surrounded by a blanket of evergreens and of course the timeless whisper of the river.”

Congratulations to Leo and Dee Crane, and Zeke West! Hats off to them!

IOGA to host book-signing event, “The Thaw” live auction Dec. 13

The IOGA annual dinner and auction always is a fun event where you can buy super-cool outdoor trips and equipment. Don’t miss it!

Five Idaho authors, including several from the state’s outfitting and guiding industry, will be signing books at a special IOGA event on Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Boise Hotel & Conference Center, 3300 Vista Ave. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.

The book-signing event, which runs from 2:30-4 p.m. on Dec. 13, is a great opportunity for people to get autographed books for Christmas gifts.

The event foreshadows “The Thaw,” the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association’s annual dinner and auction, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at the same location. About 10 live auction items are up for grabs, including an AIRE inflatable kayak, wilderness whitewater trips, guest lodge trips, fishing trips and jet boat scenic tours. The Thaw is a benefit dinner for IOGA and the Idaho Natural Resources Foundation. It costs $30 per person.

The authors featured at the book-signing event are:

Jo Deurbrouck, a former river guide from Idaho Falls who just received a National Outdoor Book Award for her new book, Anything Worth Doing: A true story of adventure, friendship and tragedy on the last of the West’s great rivers. Deurbrouck recounts a white-knuckle tale of three men running the Salmon River at flood stage, 96,000 cubic feet per second. One of them drowned.

Dick Linford


Bob Volpert


Bob Volpert, owner of Idaho River Journeys, and Dick Linford, with ECHO, the Wilderness Company, penned a collection of river stories titled Halfway to Halfway & Other River Stories. Most of the tales are centered on events and happenings on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River and Main Salmon River, two of the best wilderness river trips in America, and places where these guys have spent nearly a lifetime running trips as outfitters and guides.


Stan Potts, longtime big game outfitter and guide, will be signing copies of The Potts Factor’s – This Olde House, his fourth book. Potts is a former rodeo competitor who also has guided many successful hunts for wild sheep, elk, deer, black bear, mountain lion and mountain goats in the Salmon River Country and Lost River Range.


Richard Holm Jr., a commercial pilot who resides in Boise and McCall, just completed his second book, Bound for the Backcountry: A History of Idaho’s Remote Airstrips. Holm details the construction and history of more than 100 backcountry airstrips in Central Idaho, including those in the Salmon River country, Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.


Gary Brookshire, left, and Alison Steen, IOGA board president

On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the IOGA annual meeting will feature a luncheon presentation by David Brown, executive director of America Outdoors, about the state of the outfitting and guiding industry, and expected trends in leisure travel in the coming year. This will be a must-see presentation for people who have an interest in leisure and travel trends in the United States.

During the Thaw, a Ducks Unlimited 75th anniversary Kimber 8400 .300 Win. Mag. will be raffled off. Tickets are $10 each or three for $25. The gun has a 26-inch match-grade barrel, select-grade walnut stock with classic checkering, an Ebony fore end cap, special DU serial number and DU logo on the floor plate.

To get tickets for the Thaw, you can sign up online at this link: http://ioga.org/member-information/thaw/tickets/ or call 208-342-1438 or email idoutfitt@cableone.net for more information.

Elk hunting with Bear Creek Outfitters – “Trip of a Lifetime”

Ken Francisco BBQ’s some fresh elk back straps after a client harvested a 6×6 bull elk in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness this year.

We woke up around 6 a.m., as usual, drank some coffee and hot chocolate in the heated wall tent, and saddled up the horses to go hunting. It was just starting to get light as we rode out of camp on Oct. 25, with snow falling ever-so-quietly in the cedar trees surrounding our camp.

We rode for an hour, tied up the horses and started walking up a meadow. It had snowed several inches overnight, and it was still snowing, making it easy to walk quietly. We hadn’t walked more than 50 yards when my guide, Jim, whispered, “Did you hear that? I just heard a bull bugle.”

We hid behind a scrawny tree and noticed that at least 5-6 cow elk were bedded down low on the mountainside about 150 yards in front of us. Whoa-baby! My big chance! We figured there might be a bull among the group, bedded down out of view. “Get down by that rock, and get ready to shoot,” Jim said.

The Bear Creek drainage is rugged and heavily forested in the bottom of the canyon. The elk were hanging out in the higher elevations during our hunt in late October.

I laid flat in the snow, got my rifle balanced on top of the big rock slab, and looked into the scope to line up the shot. I was excited. Heavy breathing fogged up my scope. I took a deep breath off to the side, wiped the scope clean with my bandanna, and lined up the shot on one of the cows lying there in the brush. I was ready. We waited. And waited … for more than an hour. Finally, one of the cows stood up, shook the snow off her tan-colored winter coat, and started to amble up the mountain.

“Get ready,” Jim whispered. I had my eye trained in the scope, and watched as about a dozen cows and calves got in a line and walked up the slope. I was ready to fire at the first bull I saw, but I never saw a rack. They were all cows and calves. Dang!

In a week-long elk and deer hunt with Bear Creek Outfitters in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho, that morning was my closest moment to pulling the trigger on a trophy bull. We saw quite a few cows and calves, and numerous deer tracks, but we never saw a bull during our hunt in late October.

Curtis Coonce of Missouri got his bull during a late September rifle hunt. Guide Jim Daine is on the left.

In a late-September rifle hunt during the rut, Todd Ward from Jackson, Mo., had a different experience. “We saw or heard bulls every day,” Ward said. “On the third day, my hunting partner shot a 6×6, and on the last day, my guide Jesse bugled in a 4-point bull. It was the closest shot I’ve ever had in my life. We were in the brush, and he was 10 yards away. The hardest thing was finding him in my scope.”

Ward and his friend, Curtis Coonce, were hunting the first time with Bear Creek Outfitters. They had researched 15 different outfitters in several western states, and settled on Ken  and Barb Francisco’s outfit after checking multiple references. “These guys are the real deal,” Ward says. “Our trip was everything I expected and then some. It was a trip of a lifetime for me.”

The Selway River country produces some nice bull elk.

Idaho’s reputation as a premium elk hunting destination has been hurt in recent years because of concerns about Rocky Mountain gray wolves preying on the state’s elk herds. But Francisco and his guides continue to deliver for clients. Francisco hasn’t seen any wolves or wolf tracks this year. The walls of Ken and Barb’s log cabin, and the walls of their bunkhouse for hunters are crammed full of framed pictures of trophy bull elk harvested in the Selway River country, as well as bull moose, mountain lions, black bears and even a few wolves taken in recent years.

“As long as you have the good-quality elk habitat, the elk will take care of themselves,” Ken Francisco says. “We provide trophy elk hunts in a wilderness setting. You’re pursuing them on their own ground in a truly wild environment. It’s as sporting as it comes.”

Photos of bull elk taken by clients with Bear Creek Outfitters on the “wall of fame” in the hunters’ bunkhouse really get you psyched before the hunt.

After 30+ years of guiding hunters in his 200,000-acre hunting area in the 1.3-million-acre wilderness, Francisco and his guides know where the animals are likely to be hiding and hanging out, and when they come across a set of fresh tracks, they become totally focused on hot pursuit. “Ken and his guides are almost like professional athletes. Those guys are in such good shape,” Ward notes.

For $4,500 per person, Bear Creek takes hunters into the backcountry on horseback, with a number of pack mules carrying their gear, and shuttles them into one of several base camps for 8 days of hunting. Bear Creek offers one-on-one hunts — one guide for each hunter — or two-on-one hunts, one guide for two hunters. The hunting guides wear multiple hats — they cook, handle the horses and pack stock, tell jokes, and take care of hunters’ every need.

The best hunting camp locations depend on the weather and the year. Typically, Francisco has numerous camp locations to choose from.

This year, however, the 14,500-acre Pettibone wildfire burned over the top of their normal base camp location at the junction of Cub Creek and Bear Creek, a couple of miles from the Selway River. Numerous burned trees fell down over the Bear Creek trail during and after the fire, making it impossible for Francisco to even reach his base camp. The Pettibone fire didn’t get extinguished until rain and snow storms arrived in mid- to late-October. “The fires came pretty close to shutting us down,” he says.

Hunters ride horseback into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness to hunting camp, and then most of the hunting is done on foot.

But because Bear Creek has a large operating area permitted through the U.S. Forest Service, Francisco had options farther up the Bear Creek drainage. He set up camps next to Granite Creek and Wahoo Creek, and hunted those areas instead. During our week in the area, we never saw another hunter. Pretty much the classic “private Idaho” experience.

Two hunters from Pennsylvania stayed in the Wahoo Creek base camp the week I was hunting with Bear Creek, and they were wowed by the whole experience. “Just being here was absolutely fantastic,” said Bob Herrold of Spring Mills, Pa. “The food was fantastic. It’s impressive what these guys go through to let us hunt in this country.”

“I can’t wait to get back home and show my friend some of my pictures,” adds Larry Lingle of Bellefont, Pa. “We hiked a couple of thousand feet into the mountains every day, looking for elk and deer. The cowboy thing riding into camp was really cool, and the heated tent-camping was a lot of fun. This is the real deal!”

In fall hunts in the Selway-Bitterroot, hunters can buy tags to harvest an elk, deer, mountain lion, black bear and wolves. That provides lots of options for hunters.

Larry and Bob didn’t get a chance to shoot an elk this year. Bob had a cow elk and a calf walk right up to him while he was hiding out, watching for a bull or a buck. “She came up to within about 10 feet of me, trying to figure out what I was,” Bob said. “I was hoping that a bull might come up behind her.”

“We saw a lot of tracks, but it just wasn’t meant to be this time,” Lingle says. “But it wasn’t for lack of effort. It was the ultimate hunting experience.”

Bear Creek also offers mountain lion hunts in the winter, spring black bear hunts and summer trail rides.

For more information on hunting with Bear Creek Outfitters, go to http://www.bearcreekoutfittersonline.com/

For more information on big game hunting in Idaho, go to the Idaho Outfitter and Guides Association hunting page: http://ioga.org/hunting/

Fall Fishing – The Bite is On!

Amy Sinclair of Exodus Wilderness Adventures with a nice fall chinook she caught last week in Hells Canyon.

The calendar has flipped into October, and that means fall steelhead fishing is coming right up on the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon rivers in Idaho. Do you have your trip booked yet?

“We had three ladies with us on Sept. 27th on a day trip from Pittsburg Landing to the Salmon River confluence, and they caught six steelhead and three salmon,” says Heather Killgore, co-owner of Killgore Adventures. “They’ve never caught steelhead before. They were quite excited!”

A happy guest with Wapiti River Guides caught a beautiful steelhead near Spring Bar.

Fish are biting on the Clearwater River as well, says Evelyn Kaide, owner of Clearwater Drifters and  Guide Shop in Orofino. “Our guys are doing fine – they’re catching fish. Everyone has been really happy,” she says.

Steelhead are just starting to move upriver from Lewiston, Kaide says, and once they get to Orofino, there will be competition for guided trips and hotel rooms as is often typical in the fall. “We’ve got a lot of trips booked well into November, ” she said.

Here’s a fall chinook passing through Lower Granite Dam, courtesy IDFG

A big bonus on the Snake River this year is that 30,000 adult fall chinook have passed through Lower Granite Dam, and they’re heading upriver in Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America. Fall chinook are big hogs – they can run up to 30-40 pounds apiece. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has set a bag limit of six fish per day for adults, and no limit on Jacks.

Fall is a premium time for cast-and-blast trips on the Lower Salmon and Hells Canyon. These are super-fun outings where you can fish as you float downriver, and then when you hear chukar partridges sounding off on the river bank, you stop and pursue chukars.  Anecdotal reports indicate that chukar numbers are robust on the banks of Hells Canyon and the Salmon River.

Fall cast-and-blast trips combine the sporting challenge of chukar hunting with catching steelhead, fall chinook, trout and bass on the Salmon and Snake Rivers.

Amy Sinclair, owner of Exodus Wilderness Adventures, just completed a private trip with some friends in lower Hells Canyon. They were catching lots of fall chinook and limiting out on chukars every day. “It’s kind of exciting that the fall chinook fishery is coming back,” she says. “We’ve got a pretty big run this year.”

Exodus offers steelhead fishing trips near Riggins via drift boat or jet boat, and they also offer two-, four-or five-day cast-and-blast trips on the Lower Salmon River, and two-day fishing or cast-and-blast trips with an overnight stay at a guest lodge on the Main Salmon River. Sinclair says people are excited to go fishing, and bookings are strong for the core steelhead season from mid-October to late November. “Some weekends are totally booked already,” she said.

Another possibility is to go on a multi-day steelhead fishing trip on the Main Salmon River with Salmon River Tours, owners of China Bar Lodge. Guests can go fishing and/or chukar hunting during the day, and then return to China Bar Lodge for a hot meal and comfy sleeping quarters.

Owner Mike McLain has been watching the steelhead counts at Lower Granite Dam, and he’s pleased to see that the fish are on the move. “I think the fish are going to come, but because we’ve got low water, they may be a little late,” he says. “I think we’ll have a good season. We may not have as many fish this year as in the last couple years, but there will be plenty of opportunity. As my fishermen say, the fishing trip is worth the price of admission, and catching fish is a bonus.”

If you live near Twin Falls, Pocatello or Idaho Falls, you may want to fish the Upper Salmon River near Salmon since it’s closer to home. Bill Bernt, owner of Aggipah River Trips, says he is gearing up for a productive steelhead fishing season.  “My fishing is often dependent on gas prices, and even though we have fairly high gas prices, we’ve got a significant part of the fall season booked up,” he says. “I think people are excited to go fishing.”

For more information on fall fishing, see the IOGA salmon and steelhead fishing pages, including outfitter listings by river. http://ioga.org/

Have fun!