A LIFE LIVED OUTDOORS: WHAT IT'S LIKE BEING A MONTANA OUTFITTER
It's easy to take for granted the tremendous outdoor opportunities and exquisite beauty just out the backdoor when you've lived in a place your entire life. For some of us lucky souls, fly fishing a blue ribbon river is a regular weekend or after-work activity, and hunting large swaths of public land is a way of life and how we provide for our families. Outdoor recreation is simply intrinsic to the Montana lifestyle. It's easy to forget that most people around the country would consider these activities as once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Montana's outfitting and guiding industries help bring those experiences to people who may not have those opportunities so close to home while providing a large amount of revenue and jobs to the local economy.
Outfitters and guides have shared the unique Montana experience with clients for decades. This career path allows outdoor enthusiasts to make a living doing and sharing what they love. Mike Elliott, the owner of Discover Montana Outfitting in Ennis, Montana, is one outfitter who has turned his love for fishing and hunting into a full-time job.
Elliott started his career in guiding as early as they come - tying flies for a local fly shop outside of Polson, Montana, when he was in 5th grade. "I'd ride my pedal bike down to the store and sit there tying flies. I would give some of them away to local fishing guides so they could try them out, and they eventually started taking me fishing with them—that was pretty much the beginning of the end of my career path," he says. Elliott quickly learned to row a boat and was well on his way to becoming a guide himself.
Though he knew that he wanted to be a hunting and fishing guide from an early age, he dabbled in construction through high school to earn enough money to keep up with his hunting and fishing habits. "I was fortunate enough to grow up in a place where I could ride my bike to go fishing all summer long. It fueled that fire and passion for being outside."
As he grew older, Elliott's interest turned toward hunting and horsemanship. "My dad wasn't a big hunter when I was growing up, but he did have a passion for horses, and that piqued my interest toward the end of high school," says Elliott. After moving to Ennis, Montana in 2011, he started working as a night calver, or as Elliott refers to it, as a "cow midwife," for the Jumping Horse Ranch. "I had the night shift as the black Angus midwife—training horses and riding around the ranch at night with a flashlight to make sure everything was going okay with the calving and making sure the calves were nursing. I worked from 7 pm until 7 am in February and March for the better part of ten years."
"I wanted to figure out how to "never grow up" and be like Peter Pan—how to live my life exploring the outdoors"
Elliott has been a licensed guide for over a decade, passed his outfitter exam in 2017, and now operates out of his home in Ennis, offering guided fishing and backcountry and big game hunts in Southwestern Montana. When it comes to his career, guiding and outfitting was a no-brainer and a goal Elliott has pursued and envisioned for himself since he started tying flies in grade school.
Spending time in nature is just part of the appeal of guiding clients. "There's nothing better than connecting with great people who are like-minded and don't get to do this all the time," he says. "I get to spend nine months out of the year with people who are on vacation and show them what I've learned throughout the years. There's nothing better than watching someone catch their first fish or shoot their first deer."
Sometimes it's as simple as taking someone out who has never even been out in the woods or seen a sunrise over the mountains. “It's awesome to share that experience with them,” says Eliott. “Sometimes it’s as ordinary as seeing stars at night - some of the clients I take out have never seen a night sky with so many stars."
While the guiding and outfitting industries certainly benefit the state's economy, the hope is that helping clients experience and connect with some of these wild places will inspire them to help protect them for future generations to enjoy.