Flatlander married the outfitter's daughter
ON ERIC Dunn’s first day as a guide, he knew he was in over his head. A lot was riding on this. He had just moved to Wyoming and was planning on marrying the outfitter’s daughter. Ralph Dampman, owner of the established Trophy Ridge Outfitters in northeast Wyoming, had trusted Dunn so far. “I didn’t want to let them all down,” said Dunn. “They’d be my future in-laws. I wanted them to know that they could count on me for the job but also for taking care of their daughter.”
Dunn was carrying a regular client to a ground blind on a waterhole. They had to get there before daylight and slip in because once there’s light, antelope will see you from a mile away.
“Well everything looks different in the dark, and I missed the turn,” said Dunn in a recent phone interview with The Guidefitter Journal.
Beads of sweat collected on his forehead, he said. He was about to blow the hunt and the client knew it. That’s when the guy asked the dreaded question: “How long have you been guiding?”
“Um, this is actually my first hunt,” Dunn had replied.
Eventually, everything turned out OK, as usually happens in life. After backing up a while, Dunn found the turn, and they got into the blind just as the sun peaked over the prairie. The client arrowed a nice ’lope. They dressed it and sat down for a minute.
“You forgot the lunch, didn’t you?” said the client.
“Yup,” said Dunn. Since then, things have gone smoother, much smoother. Dunn became good friends with the client, and they hunt together almost every year (but every year Dunn has to sit through the retelling of the story). Things are good with the outfitter, that is, the father-in-law, the mother-in-law and the wife. It’s a pretty amazing story of what brought this Easterner out to this corner of the West.
It starts in Pennsylvania. Born and raised on a farm north of Pittsburg, Dunn hunted and fished his whole life. He learned gunsmithing and worked at Gander Mountain, a 1-hour and 30-minute commute to Ohio each day, but he loved it.
“I’d stay late after work just checking out all the gear,” he said. “I couldn’t get enough of hunting and fishing.”
He didn’t have trouble meeting girls, but most in the area were city girls. When they saw deer heads in his living room, they’d think something was wrong. He put a post on match.com for a girl who liked “hunting, fishing, camping and horses.” Nothing. So he tried the largest geographic area allowed: 5,000 square miles and was astounded that fewer than 70 profiles popped up. But one caught his eye. A girl in Wyoming with a big smile and long hair.
“We talked and I said, too bad we’re so far away,” said Dunn. “And she said, ‘I don’t care how far away you are if you’re the right guy.’”
Turns out her family had a booth at the Great American Outdoor Show in Pennsylvania. So their first date was at a trade show, literally at the fake “pond” that a fishing company sets up in the middle of the show floor so kids can catch and release frightened trout. “That was pretty funny,” said Dunn. Dunn flew to Wyoming, and drove to the ranch. His head was on a swivel as he saw tons of pronghorn, mule deer grazing in pasture like cows, turkeys in flocks so big that you had to stop your car to let them pass.
The girl was great, too. Dunn and Camlyn were later married. Now they have two little girls of their own.
Ralph Dampman’s a rock-solid Western outfitter with a bushy mustache, cowboy hat and boots. He saw potential in Dunn, and asked the flatlander if he wanted to guide at Trophy Ridge. “He’s easy to get along with, and he’s been a hunter all his life,” said Dampman. “Just like anything we do, if you start out young and have a passion, all things being equal you’ll do very well.”
For now, the Dunns live on the 80-acre family farm in Pennsylvania. Twice a year, they pack up for Wyoming so Dunn can guide clients to turkeys in the spring and big game the fall. The plan is to move there later this year. COVID may delay that plan a bit, but they’re determined to settle in the Cowboy State full time.
By now, Dunn has more than gotten the knack of guiding. He’s one of 10 regular guides at Trophy Ridge, and he’s made his father-in-law proud.
When clients come from the East where woods are thick and hills block views, they think a long shot is 100 yards. In eastern Wyoming, it could be 300, 400 or more.
“They look at the distance, and it’s deceiving. Most of them are out of their element,”
said Dunn. “But it doesn’t mean they can’t make an ethical shot. We have everyone shoot at our range first to evaluate their skill. If I think they can make a long shot, I don’t let them do it with their own guns.
“I’ll get my turret dialed in, and I won’t tell them it’s 450 yards. I just coach them through it: Put the crosshairs on the lungs. No big deal. And pull the trigger slowly. The gun goes off and the animal goes down. Then they can’t believe it when I tell them how far they shot.”
Dunn uses a Tikka T3 in 7mm Mag with a Huskemaw scope and 162-grain Hornady ELD X cartridges.
Clients should avoid “guiding the guide,” said Dunn. If things do not go their way right away on their turkey hunt, sometimes clients will start to get impatient and might say something like “Well, what I think we should do is…” “That’s when I will let them tell me what to do, and bite my tongue if I have to,” he said.
But it usually goes like this. Guys from the East will call hard for their turkeys back home. They cut loud, trying to get the gobblers fired up. The Merriam’s will respond but most will just hang up, and they won’t come in. After this happens three or four times, they might say, “So what am I doing wrong?” That’s when Dunn tells them that these birds have no human pressure, and they don’t call aggressively like Easterns.
“You just need a little yelp, no cuts,” he said. “When you call, yelp and the gobblers will be on their way.” GFJ