By Kevin Tate/Special to the NEMS Daily Journal
As the son of a Montana ranching family, Ross Childers grew up in the country he still loves best. Sharing it with others has been his life’s work, and a job he still looks forward to every fall.
“My dad started guiding hunters in 1951 and was one of the first four outfitters in Montana,” Childers says. “He was the first full-time outfitter in eastern Montana.
“He and my mom got married in the 30s and bought the land we operate on today for back taxes. Today I own 25,000 acres and lease a couple other big ranches for hunting so that our guiding operation covers 120 square miles.
“We hunt big game primarily, elk, mule deer and pronghorn. We do some predator hunting and upland bird hunting – pheasants, sage grouse, sharptail grouse, Hungarian partridge, and we have a lot of turkeys. We do lots of turkey hunts.”
In addition to guiding, Childers’ parents ran cattle on their land as a full-time occupation, another tradition he’s keeping alive today with 600 head wearing the 7-Bar-V brand. Still, guiding remains his primary enterprise.
“It takes a whole lot of cattle and a really big operation to make a go of it just with ranching these days,” Childers says. “Right now, for example, we’re having a really hard winter. Cattle won’t even leave the feed lot. They’re not even trying to graze, so it’s going to be that much more expensive to get them through to spring.”
Throughout the West, as in much of the country, small-scale ranchers and farmers turn to guiding and outfitting as a method to supplement their operation’s income.
“Hunting will help pay the feed bill this year,” Childers said. “That’s for sure.”
Still, free and wild as the West may yet be, not just anyone in Montana can hang out a shingle and declare themselves an outfitter open for business. The state requires a period of apprenticeship and enforces a fairly stringent set of guidelines and regulations. Still, Childers says, when you’re looking for somewhere to spend your hard earned money on a hunting adventure, it pays to do your homework. Montana outfitters are required to maintain a complete list of client contact information, not just five phone numbers of the ones who went home happy. Prospective hunters should ask for the complete list and, if they don’t get it, go somewhere else until they do.
“Don’t get hooked by a bad one,” Childers said. “There are too many good, honest outfitters out there who are ready to help you for you to waste your time and money on a bad deal.
“I joke and have fun with my hunters, the vast majority of whom are repeat customers, but I don’t lie to them,” Childers said. “I’ll tell them what I think we can do and what I think we can’t.
“To be a good outfitter, a guy should have a good area where there’s game. He should have good accommodations that are comfortable, he should have good food on the table and he should be willing to bust his rear end and hunt as hard as he has to for the client, and leave the rest to the hunt. If a guy can provide those things, that’s what you’re looking for.”
Kevin Tate serves as Creative Director for Mossy Oak Productions in West Point.