Deer guide Adam Bender accepted this rare bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle. The distillery releases only approximately 8,000 cases a year which makes the homemade old-line sour-mash bourbon extremely rare and highly collectible.
Photo by Eric Bender
Chad Shearer was young, struggling, and in love. The Montana man had parlayed his world-record elk-calling skills into a successful big-game guiding career, but his fiancée was a long way from the Montana mountains where he worked, and equal to his goal of getting clients into big bulls and bucks, Shearer aimed to move Marsha from Tennessee to Montana.
“I had a longtime client, Tom Freeland. He is the owner of Stageline Express trucking company, and at the end of one hunt, he told me about how much he appreciated all the animals I put him on and all the hunts we enjoyed together,” recalls Shearer, who remains a guide and owner of Central Montana Outfitters. “It was one of those talks at the end of a hunt that usually culminates in a cash tip. But Tom asked me how he could repay me in a way that went deeper than money.”
Shearer hesitated just long enough with his answer that Freeland suggested a particularly appropriate gratuity.
“He knew I was getting married and that Marsha lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee,” says Shearer. “Tom told me, ‘Don’t worry about a thing.’ ”
The trucking executive rerouted one of his long-haul rigs, which backed up to Marsha’s apartment in Tennessee. Freeland’s crew loaded all of Marsha’s possessions in the trailer and drove her and her furnishings to Montana, where she’s lived with Chad for the past 23 years of marriage. In his long career as a guide, Freeland’s charity remains his most memorable and valuable gratuity.
In the guiding trade, cash tips are appreciated almost as much as they are expected. For a client not to tip is considered a statement of the quality of the experience and talent of the guide. But the opposite is also true; large tips are always appreciated, but sometimes the experience can’t be adequately reflected in a monetary gratuity. Binoculars, rifles, knives, and special coins are currency for expressing the appreciation of some clients for their guides. But other “tips” take the notion of benefaction to a whole other level.
Jerick Henley is a longtime whitetail and turkey guide on the legendary Chain Ranch on the Canadian River in western Oklahoma. He says he was once given a Swarovski spotting scope following a successful deer hunt.
“That was probably the biggest tip I ever got, in monetary value,” he recalls. “But the most unusual—and funniest—was when a pharmacist gave every guide in camp a handful of Viagra!” Sometimes, the lagniappe is an unexpected experience.
Terry McCardle is retired from guiding anglers in Montana, but he recalls the most memorable gratuity he ever received was a private-land pheasant hunt in Iowa. “It included staying with the landowner and his family and hunting land nobody else got to hunt,” says McArdle. “It would have been a blast even if we never saw a bird. But we did. We shot limits of bobwhite quail and roosters every day. We’d hunt and then go have breakfast with the local farmers in the small-town café, swapping stories and laughing our butts off. Then more hunting, followed by a wonderful evening meal, and card games afterward. We all became friends, and the one-time event became an annual deal. What a great ‘gratuity!’ ”
Travis Lamb recalls his own special experience. “I guided in Mexico for several years and took several NFL payers on hunts,” says Lamb. “One guy, in particular, gave me a cash tip and his cellphone number with directions to call if I ever needed anything. Months later I tried to get some concert tickets for my kids. They sold out in the first ten minutes, and I sorta gave up on alternatives. Then I recalled this guy’s number, and I gave him a call. Not only did he manage to get me the tickets I asked for, but he got me two extra and wouldn’t let me pay for any of them.”
The owner of and outfitter on Johannsen Farms, a productive wild- pheasant spread in central South Dakota, Eric Johannsen said an especially appreciative hunter “paid for and put my name down for a puppy from an exceptional kennel of British Labs.”
Photo by Eric Johannsen
Donna McDonald has a similar story. The owner and outfitter for Upper Canyon Outfitters, a big-game and fly-fishing outfit on the upper Ruby River in southwestern Montana, McDonald was slipped something extra with her client’s gratuity.
“We were tipped four tickets to a Green Bay Packers game, and I was able to take my dad for his eightieth birthday along with my fourteen-year-old grandson,” she says. “We made some amazing memories. Best tip ever!”
Kat Hel Stevens and Dusty Stevens have a more enduring story of love requited. Married for several years now, the two met when Kat was a client and Dusty was her guide.
“I consider our marriage the greatest trophy from that hunt,” says Kat, an outdoor writer. “But Dusty might consider it more of a curse....” Dale Hall, deer and hog guide for Guitar Ranch in West Texas, was the recipient of an unexpected turnabout.
Months after guiding a client to an exceptionally large and tough Lone Star boar, Hall accepted delivery of a UPS package. Inside the box was a shoulder mount of the boar, along with a note from the hunter that Hall keeps with the trophy, expressing the hunter’s appreciation for Hall’s fieldwork and friendship.
Eric Johannsen had a similarly unexpected gift from a client. The owner of and outfitter on Johannsen Farms, a productive wild-pheasant spread in central South Dakota, Johannsen said an especially appreciative hunter “paid for and put my name down for a puppy from an exceptional kennel of British Labs.” He won’t see the actual product of that gift for several more months, but Johannsen is already preparing to add the puppy to his string of hard-hunting dogs.
As a hunter in southern Saskatchewan, Bret Maffenbeier knew every piece of land and every landowner, for miles around. That made him a pretty good connection for destination hunters, especially bird hunters.
“I never actually guided—like, got money for taking people—but in my younger years I hunted birds with people from all over the world. One guy from south of the border left his truck up here at our farm and would fly up every year. I would pick him up at the airport and hunt a bit with him, and in return we got free use of that truck for the rest of the year. That was enough, but on the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day, he sent me an email saying that he would pay for me to go to France and see the plaque that his grandfather has on that beach. I wasn’t able to make it work out, but the thought of that gesture was amazing and memorable.”
Outdoor columnist, TV host, and guide Cork Graham has had a similar experience as custodian of clients’ gear.
“I’ve been gifted fly rods and reels that have great stories associated with them,” he says. “They may have been intended as gifts, but most of my clients are friends or have become close friends through our shared experiences, so it’s like having their rods for safe-keeping for their next visit.”
There’s no shortage of accounts from guides about receiving things of value from clients. Terry Gibson, who guided both inshore and offshore anglers all around Florida, was tipped a SIG .45 semi-automatic handgun. Patrick Hankins, who guides for Alaska’s Chasing Tales Guide Service, said he was gifted a custom engraved fillet knife. Idahoan Patrick Meitin accepted Swarovski binoculars, a Brown Precision Rifle, and “invites to private- ranch hunts in Texas and a mountain lion hunt in Nevada.”
Mark and Linda Baumeister, who ran outfitted hunts out of Livingston, Montana, in the 1980s and ’90s, recall some of their favorite gratuities.
“The best non-monetary tip I ever received was a guided grizzly-bear hunt in Nome, Alaska,” recalls Mark. Linda has a different favorite: “The best tip for me was a handsewn quilt made by the wife of one of our hunters. I was so surprised and touched, and it is priceless.”
Wyoming big-game guide Greg Kriese still carries the “tip” he was given years ago by a hunter from Missouri.
“It’s a buckeye for good luck,” says Kriese. “It’s about the size of a walnut, but I’ve carried it with me ever since.”
Patrick Hayes received a bottle of 12-year- old Glenlivet after photographing a duck hunt. Deer guide Adam Bender accepted a bottle of rare Rip Van Winkle bourbon.
Sometimes, the reward for extra service might not be quite what you expect. Gerry Linneweh, who isn’t a guide, was hunting elk with a buddy out of a remote camp in northwest Montana.
Mark and Linda Baumeister, who ran outfitted hunts out of Livingston, Montana, in the 1980s and ’90s, recall some of their favorite gratuities. “The best non-monetary tip I ever received was a guided grizzly-bear hunt in Nome, Alaska,” recalls Mark.
photo by Mark and Linda Baumeister
“As I was cooking dinner, two older hunters, with a mule deer across their saddle, rode into our camp,” recalls Linneweh. “They said they were fifteen miles from home. They were cold, wet, and hungry. They wanted to use our cellphone to call for a ride. No reception. No problem. We split our two dinners into four dinners and fed them. After dinner, we hitched up our horse trailer and loaded their horses and mule deer and drove them back to their ranch. Along the way, one of the owners said he was the owner of a large camper-manufacturing company and was so grateful that they wanted to repay us somehow.”
Linneweh nursed a fantasy that repayment would come in the form of aluminum, wheels, and a hitch.
“When we dropped them off one of the guys gave me a package of frozen halibut from his boat in Alaska and his wife gave me a jar of homemade chokecherry jam. This thank-you gift meant more to me than if he had given me a new camper.”
Guiding hunters and anglers can be hard work, and early in their careers, guides tend to focus on the tangible rewards— their salaries and tips—for their service. But as guides accumulate experiences, they recognize that “gratuities” come in all sorts of unexpected forms.
Justin Luther has spent a lifetime guiding anglers on Idaho’s Snake River, and he says the biggest reward of his career is seeing connections form on his boat.
“The biggest gratuity I’ve ever gotten, and still get from time to time, is a father-and-son trip, just watching them bond while introducing a kid to fishing,” says Luther. “Money can’t compare.” Manuel Enriquez, who owns the renowned Mexican turkey, deer, and waterfowl outfit El Halcon, has received many material tips over his decades as a guide and outfitter.
“I have received European binoculars, crossbows, shotguns, knives... But nothing tops the friendship I have made with most of my clients,” he says.
Phil Gonzalez, a legendary outfitter on Montana’s Bighorn River, built one of the first destination lodges on the famed tailrace trout fishery. Gonzalez, who didn’t get a college degree because he was so busy working, says he received his education from his clients.
“I got the world’s best education, right there on the banks of the Bighorn River,” Gonzalez remembers. “We had vice-presidents, secretaries of state, captains of industry, people from all walks of life and from all over the world come to our place. Listening to their life experiences and their knowledge and their travels, I felt like the world and all its knowledge had come right to me, just a dumb Montana kid who at least had the sense to listen.”
A longtime writer and editor, Andrew McKean contributes to dozens of publications, including Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, and Bugle. He lives in eastern Montana.
From the Spring 2022 issue of Guidefitter Journal.