The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 14, 2012

Getting by with some help from friends

By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald

BECKLEY — As part of my profession, I am often tasked with the responsibility of planning and implementing outdoor-related product field tests. In doing so, it requires me to find locations throughout the country, and sometimes abroad, that are suitable and appealing locations for the test.

Once found, invitations are sent out to individuals who review products and, in turn, write their reviews for the world to see in print articles and online reviews. My goal is to gain positive publicity for the manufacturers of the products.

To assist me with the process of hosting and pulling off these events, I lean heavily on outdoor professionals who understand my role and can assist me in the field. With any live performance — a Broadway show, college football game or the circus — the main characters of the performance carry a heavy load. In my case, the heavy lifters are hunting guides.

I can tell you with the utmost certainty, they come in all shapes and sizes and most often can be characterized as either magic or tragic. Their role can be as simple as the “drop-off and pick-up” driver, or as an essential part to your well-being in the backcountry. Either way, their skill level and dedication to their craft is critical to the success of the outing, or consequently a few bad eggs can ruin the outing for all parties involved.

In my career, I have witnessed first-hand many examples of shining stars as well as persons who should be banned from all outdoor-related activities immediately. Perhaps a few examples of both will shed some light on the topic.

I have been witness to guides who overslept, got lost on the way to the hunting grounds and even a few who forgot to pick me up and left me standing three hours in the dark of the night beside a gate in the middle of nowhere.

One of my favorite memories is of an up-and-coming guide who dropped me off on a high vista overlooking the pre-dawn Rocky Mountains and stated he would return for me around lunch or so. Shortly before high noon, I saw the young outdoorsman walking beneath the ridge with his handheld GPS to his nose stumbling along a game trail. Later, he walked behind me and again he was staring at the device and when he passed me this time, he was red-faced and sweaty.

The third time he passed, I gave out a whistle between my belly-laughing and the guide who lost his hunter was more than thrilled to see me and quickly asked if I had any extra batteries, for apparently his GPS was as worn out, too.

But sometimes you run across a true outdoorsman who is not only woods-wise, but a true professional in the art of outdoor pursuits. On a recent elk hunt in New Mexico, a particular guide was simply amazed at finding bull elk on a landscape of vastness. By the use of his calls and his mouth, he could lure a trophy bull within hand, shaking range better than anyone I have ever known.

His dedication to the sport and the quarry employs him throughout the west in elk camps the entire season. He is in high demand. He knows the animals better than they know themselves and spends his entire summer, fall and winter seeking knowledge and finding rare, trophy animals. He is a master-class guide and an artist at communicating with elk through the use of calls.

Being asked to promote outdoor products in remote corners of the landscape is tricky and I rely heavily on professionals (however the term is defined), and the safety and success of the field test depends on them.

As for me, it’s simply my job.