Larry’s grin widened as he reviewed the facts about the “Bear Crick Montana Testicle Festival”.  “Yeah, it’s really just an excuse for a drunk, but over 10,000 people show up to drink beer and eat mountain oysters”.  “Oh, by the way it’s called the ‘Testy Festy’ for short”, he added with an even bigger grin.  Not for the first, or last, time I wondered at the range of topics on which my Guide was an expert.  Larry could wax lyrical on subjects as diverse as Native American customs to alfalfa farming, from the diamond hitch to the Bear Creek “excuse for a drunk”.  I truly enjoy being in the presence of people who are both knowledgeable and well spoken who are, for lack of a better phrase, “master communicators”.  Yet the best Guides aren’t just highly gifted in telling stories, they are also word artists whose entire purpose is to employ their communication skills to make the hunter’s trip an experience of a lifetime…

            “Don’t you trust me?” Larry asked as he lowered the hand axe.  He had already field dressed and skinned my elk with minimal help from yours truly, but now that the carcass was ready for quartering, he had told me to hold the half an elk upright while he chopped lengthwise through the backbone.  I responded to his question and the twinkle in his one functional eye with, “I just don’t want to go through the rest of my life being called ‘Lefty’”.  Now a Guide who knows his stuff puts his hunter at ease with calming assurances. Larry was an artist in this type of verbal intercourse.  So, he adjusted his patient look and said “In my entire 30-year career, I’ve only maimed three or four hunters, so the odds are in your favor.  Now, hold the elk steady…”

            Guides often have to use their vast repertoire of verbal assurances to calm their hunter’s unease due to a lack of familiarity with their four-legged companions – meaning horses and mules.  A master Guide is able to accomplish this even when the hunter is riding in the dark, on a nervous horse, along a precipitous trail, near a roaring river.  A case in point occurred on a trip I took into the Selway river backcountry after black bear.  It seemed that darkness always found my guide Tim and me riding along the rocky ledges of the Selway.  Until that trip I had considered the old saying “too dark to see your hand in front of your face” to be an exaggeration for effect.  I was wrong.  On our journey back to camp each night the only thing visible were the sparks from the shoes of Tim’s horse as it scrabbled frantically for a hold on the downward sloping granite near the sheer drop-offs.  I never saw the sparks from my horse’s feet, since I closed my eyes when it was our turn to slide in the direction of the roaring cataracts.  However, I was with a perceptive and sensitive guide who could sense my discomfort.  To alleviate my concerns, Tim assured me that there was a surefire technique to enable a rider to survive a tumble over the ledges near which we were riding.  “It’s simple”, he said one night as we slithered our way repeatedly toward certain destruction.  “If your horse goes over the edge, kick your foot out of the downhill stirrup and just roll uphill away from your horse”.  Being a scientist, I asked the obvious data question.  “So have you ever known that to work?”  “Sure have” Tim answered.  “A couple of years ago another guide, by the name of Curt, was riding along this same trail, just about in this exact spot.  His horse got a bit close to the edge and broke through an undercut.  Well, quicker than you can say “Oh my!!” they were over the drop and rolling toward the bottom.  But Curt kept his wits about him and did a sideways, double somersault, ending up holding onto a bush while his horse went tumbling on into the rocks at the bottom.”  Not really feeling any better about my chances in a similar situation, I said with a shudder “So then I guess he was o.k.”  “Yeah he was”, Tim answered while sucking his teeth, “that is until the mule he was pulling came over the edge too and rolled right over the top of him…”

Stay Tuned for ‘Communication Skills of a Guide – Part II’

Leave a Reply