Stockton Outfitters, Famed Montana Big Game Outfit

Featured Trip: Guaranteed adventure, rockstar guides & small camps

Dec 29, 2016 #hunting#biggame

Whether you’re after a screaming bull elk, a trophy mule deer buck, or a hungry black bear that comes rushing to a predator call, Stockton Outfitters has a hunt for you. To learn more about how these guys operate and what sets them apart from other outfitters, I spoke to owner and guide Mark Shutey...

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Opportunities Abound

Stockton Outfitters focuses primarily on black bear, elk, and mule deer hunts. Shutey was quick to point out that while numbers can give an idea of what to expect on your hunt, weather has a lot to do with the amount of animal movement and animal sightings on every hunt.

Black bear hunts are conducted in Montana’s bear management unit 316. Both hounds and baiting are illegal in the state. Therefore, Stockton Outfitters kill most of their bruins using one of three strategies. Spot and stalk hunts involve a lot of time behind the glass, followed by a stalk to get into shooting range of the target animal. Ambush hunting is employed when an abundance of fresh sign is found in a small area. Shutey’s favorite method of hunting spring black bears is by calling. Shutey said, “We’ve been calling bears for well over 20 years.”

Tom Francis (VA) takes a record chocolate bear on the first evening of his 2016 hunt. The bear scores 6 foot sq. and has a 19 & 5/16" skull which qualifies it for the Montana B&C Record Books

Shutey said, “A typical hunter is going to see anywhere from two bears up to eight or ten bears in a week’s hunt. We harvest a lot of bears between the hours of nine-o’clock and 11-o’clock in the morning. I’d say 80 percent of our hunters get a shot. We kill about 50 percent of that.”

If you’re used to hunting the hardwoods of the east or the pine thickets of the south, a little range time may be in order before heading out on a spring bear hunt. Shutey said, “I expect my hunters to be able to shoot 300 yards.” A variable powered scope should top your rifle, because the action can also be in your face. Shutey said, “When they’re charging that call, we’ve had them at eight yards, 20 yards, 25 yards, 60 yards, you name it.” Stockton Outfitters has a history of killing big bears, with 16 bears making the Montana record book.

Bear hunts start at $3,600 for a two on one hunt. The package includes meals, lodging and professional guide service. One on one hunts are available for $4,000.

This beautiful cinnamon bear was rodent called in from 600 yards. The hunter, Ruggy Holloway (CA) harvested the bear at 35 yards in 2015.

Stockton Outfitters also offers archery elk hunts and rifle elk hunts. Archery hunts run from the middle of September through the middle of October. Shutey said, “We run very near a 100 percent shot opportunity on our archery hunts. That’s a period of time when the bulls are bugling, they’re coming to cow calls. In the early season, we’re a little more patient, the bulls are coming in quiet, but once that rut hits, we generally get multiple opportunities for our hunters. We have a lot more opportunities during archery season than we do during rifle season. However, with that bow and arrow we tend to be off mark sometimes. We also get flustered sometimes and don’t shoot when we should shoot. So we typically are around a 30 percent harvest rate on elk during the archery season.”

Rifle season elk hunts with Stockton Outfitters are a combination hunt for elk and mule deer. Success rates are similar to those for archery season for elk and between 35-45 percent on mule deer bucks. The combined success rate for the rifle season hunt is usually around 60-70 percent.

Both archery and rifle elk hunts are $4,250 for two on one hunts and $5,500 for one on one hunts and include lodging and meals. Tags for all of the hunts are technically draw tags, but draw odds for the past decade have been 100%. Just be sure to get your application in before the March 15 deadline and you’re pretty much guaranteed a tag.

Richard Blust (MI) harvests a mature 6 x 5 while he was defending his cows from the approaching threatening calls from Guide Skippy Sims.

Smaller Camps = Better Hunts

Shutey said, “We run a maximum of six hunters in camp unless it’s a private group. We’ve had Smith and Wesson out here with us. We’ve had some other companies out here with us that brought larger numbers, but they were one big group.” Most hunts are two hunters to one guide, but one on one hunts can be booked for an additional fee. Shutey said, “It’s my personal belief that these smaller camps provide the personal attention necessary during the five-day hunt period that you’re out here with us. Each hunter gets that personal attention that he deserves.”

Room to Roam

Every hunter knows that you can’t kill an animal that’s not in your hunting area and western game can roam widely. This is not a problem at Stockton Outfitters. Shutey said, “We’ve got a US Forest Service permit that’s roughly 90,000 acres of ground and we’ve got a Bureau of Land Management permit which is about 40,000 acres of ground.” With 130,000 acres of hunting ground, there’s certainly enough elbowroom at Stockton Outfitters operation.

Hunt Hard…All Day…Every Day

Stockton Outfitters motto is a reflection of what Shutey feels is the difference between them and their competitors. Shutey said, “What separates us is, in my opinion, work ethic. We hunt you daylight until dark. Each of our trips is specially catered to your physical abilities. We take young women that are twelve years old and we’ve taken men in their 80s. We spend every daylight hour out there working them to the maximum of their abilities. We don’t over-do it. We’re not running you through the woods. We’re hunting slow. With our abilities and our range of guides, they range from 70 years old down to 28, we can accommodate just about anybody and work at their pace to accomplish their individual goal.”

The guides at Stockton Outfitters work just as hard or harder than their hunters to ensure a quality experience. Shutey said that during hunting season a guide’s day starts between 4:30 and 5 and he’s not hitting the hay until around 11:00 at night. Each week hunters arrive on Sunday at noon and leave on Friday at noon. The guides spend their “day off” preparing for the next week’s hunters.

Good Gear = A Great Hunt

Shutey uses Swarovski optics. He said, “They’ve more than paid for themselves in those twilight hours of early morning and late evening. They allow me to catch movement and catch animals off in the distance, especially in those early morning hours and late evening hours when those elk are moving. Optics are a key.”

Aside from quality optics, Shutey said that a quality pair of comfortable boots is a must on a western hunting trip. He said, “I have found the Kenetrek boots, for myself personally, to be the most comfortable. We have times of the year where it’s 40 below zero, we’re standing in two feet of snow, it’s 6:30 in the morning, it’s not light yet, the wind’s blowing, and a good, warm pair of boots that holds traction in those conditions is important.”

National Exposure

Shutey said, “The very first television program we did was a program called ‘Outdoor America’ on the Outdoor Channel. We try to set aside one, maybe two, hunts a year just for that publicity purposes. ‘Grateful Nation’ is one that we just got done doing that’s currently airing on the Outdoor Channel where we’ve taken some veterans out. We donate the hunt to the veterans and the hunt is a rehabilitation for these gentleman who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s one of those programs and one of those things I like to do to say thanks to them because without them I couldn’t do what I do here today.” Aside from television appearances, Stockton Outfitters has appeared in a number of national sporting magazines. Shutey said, “I’ve written quite a few [articles] for Predator Extreme. We’ve been featured in North American Hunter, Cabela’s Outfitter Journal, Petersen’s Hunting magazine, pretty much an endless number."

Where It All Began

Mark Shutey, Owner of Stockton Outfitters

Shutey said, “My father wasn’t a hunter, but my grandfather was and my uncles were and they taught me the ropes when I was young and I had a tremendous passion for the hunt. Back in college I used to skip football practice and even classes sometimes because the whether was right to go hunt.”

Shutey did manage to attend enough classes to graduate from the Montana School of Mines, currently called Montana Tech, with a degree in engineering. He used his degree to pursue work in the biopharmaceutical, biopesticides, and bioremediation, but the draw of the outdoors always led him to places where there were plenty of hunting opportunities. Shutey said, “As I worked I found myself attracted to places that had good hunting and fishing. Throughout my engineering career, I always saved all of my vacation time and I would return to Montana. I would hunt for myself during that period of time and I would also guide. I never asked to be compensated. It was just me wanting to be out and spending that time up in the woods.”

After growing tired of changes that were taking place in the engineering field, Shutey decided it was time to make a change. A turning point came when Shutey was able to guide an elderly hunter to his first buck. Shutey said, “It made me feel like a million dollars, better than if I had killed it myself. That particular moment along with the timing, led me to move back to Montana. I looked at what I was doing and where things were going and I basically said ‘I’m heading back to Montana. I’m going to figure it out from there. I’m going to be in a place where I can hunt and I can fish and I’m going to enjoy my life.’”

In 2002, Shutey purchased Stockton Outfitters. After doing some work for Stockton Outfitters’ previous owner, Shutey purchased the once thriving business after it had fallen on hard times with a goal to regain its former glory. Together with outfitter of record Vaughn Esper, he’s done just that.

These Guys Get It Done

Shutey was quick to point out that he doesn’t operate Stockton Outfitters without help. “Skippy [Sims] is my right hand. Skippy is a hunter of exceptional talent. He knows how to move right. He knows how to sit right. He’s got good instincts. His success rate is impeccable. Skip uses the hunt as a teaching experience. He’s always teaching his clients along the way.”

Kirk "Skippy" Sims

Kraig Walsh, who’s also featured on Guidefitter, is exceptional. Kraig’s been guiding with us for several years. He fits the bill with any personality. You can place him with any hunter and somehow or another he fits their personality and the way they need to be hunted. Kraig’s experience and passion for hunting is beyond belief. ”

Kraig Walsh

“John Easton has been with me since 2003 or 2004. John is methodical and he is an encyclopedia when it comes to hunting knowledge. The hunters he takes benefit from that vast experience that he has.”

John Easton

“Vaughn Esper is our outfitter of record. His experience is why he is our outfitter of record. His connections throughout the industry are priceless towards our endeavor here.”

Vaughn Esper

“Doug Joppa is in his mid-twenties. Doug is a very aggressive hunter. He’s a wildlife biologist and in the off-season he works for the state of Montana, basically hiking these hills and counting sheep for the state. He’s also worked for the Bureau of Forest Service. He is a gizmo expert.”

Douglas Joppa

“Always a valuable, if not the most valuable, part of any camp is the camp cook. Kole Kankleborg is actually a trained Cordon Bleu chef. We don’t let him cook Cordon Bleu, but he always adds his flair to everything that he does and the meals that are served in my camp are second to none. Kole has saved many a rainy, cruddy, windy day by preparing the right meal at the right time.”

Tales from the Field

Every guide or outfitter has a few stories that are unforgettable, whether a kill is made or not, and Mark Shutey is no different. Here are a few of his favorites.

Shutey said, “One of the clients and myself took off out of camp during archery [elk] season the last week in September. I like to call right before daylight and we probably had about 20 minutes until it was legal shooting light. I let out a bugle and, by God, we got a response right away. I knew exactly where he was and where we needed to move to and we made our play and got in that general vicinity. We sat there and waited until things got legal and we could see a couple cows in front of us, I mean smack in front of us at 15-20 yards.”

“I bugled real quick and I got a response real quick and those cows kind of moved a little bit, but then I challenged that bull. I picked up a big old stick and I started beating on this tree like I was rubbing. I was challenging that bull and he was screaming his bloody brains out. I was excited and the hunter was excited and all of a sudden I looked up and coming right at me, we don’t see a lot of wolves in this country, but coming right at me were three wolves bounding through the timber just like you’d see in a movie and they stopped literally five yards from me. They looked at me. I looked at them. They chased my bull off and that was that.”

“So myself and this hunter are down in the dumps. So we decided we were going to go up and over top of this mountain ridge. We topped the ridge out and I looked at him and said, ‘All right, Bill. Stay real tight to me. We’re going to pretend we’re that big bull that we were on the other side of the ridge and I’m going to get this guy talking again.’ So I picked up a big stick and I bugled and I grunted and I growled and I groaned and I beat everything along this trail through some thick timber.”

“All of a sudden, pop goes the bugle. And I’m like, ‘Alright!’ He’s right above us, probably about 200 yards out. I’m going to start moving that direction, but we stopped for a moment and I hear ‘thud, thud, thud.’ You’re assuming that’s the bull stepping right. Well, it wasn’t the bull. It was a danged wolverine. The wolverine came in to 20 yards and stared at us and bounces back off.”

“We were like, ‘Alright, we’ll continue.’ I didn’t take another five steps and there’s a big old cinnamon bear laying on an elk carcass. Apparently somebody on the other side of the ridge had shot an animal in the guts and I happened to be the one to walk up upon it. But there was a big cinnamon bear with a blonde stripe down his back. That wasn’t any particular story about a kill, but it was one of the most amazing hour-and-a-halves I’ve ever experienced in the woods in my life.”

While calling for black bears in Montana, Travis Seacrest (OK) was charged by a pair of coyotes. Travis shot this coyote at less than 10 yards. While taking this photo Stockton Guide, Skippy Sims spotted a monster bruin which also responded to the call. More shots were fired directly there after.

Shutey was clear that of all the hunts he offers, the spring bear hunt, particular when calling, is his favorite. He said, “It was probably around May 15. [The hunter] showed up on a Sunday and it was 65 or 70 degrees. I knew where there was a bear hanging and we headed in. We did not get lucky that particular evening. We woke up in the morning and there was 18 inches of fresh snow on the ground and it was still snowing. Where a lot of guys would have turned around and quit and went the other way, [the hunter] and I went out and we trudged through that snow and we tried to jump bears in the timber and we tried to find to tracks and we put mile after mile on looking for anything to give us some inkling of bear movement.”

“The next day the snow still didn’t break. So we went through another day trudging through the snow and wind and wet and it was that spring snow where everything is just completely wet and we’re just trying to cut a track or see anything. Bears are kind of like you and I are. So when it’s nasty, they hole up and don’t move. When it’s nice they come back out.”

“Day three the morning started the same as the other two days and it’s starting to look like a long week. We’re both getting a little long in the face and we’re trudging through there again and there’s about a 45-minute window when it stopped snowing. We were cutting along a ridgeline and I found a track. And it wasn’t just a track, we found a track that was 5 ½ to 6 inches wide. That’s telling me that I’ve got a six-foot plus bear on my hands.”

“We look at the terrain and we look at where the track’s heading and in my head I thought, ‘I know where he’s going.’ I said, ‘I think we could track him, but if we can circle around him and get there before he gets there, we’re in business.’ We circled and we climbed up an opposite ridgeline about 300 yards from where I thought that bear was going to come out and we sat and we waited and we watched. All of a sudden four elk came running out of the timber. Not walking, running. I thought, ‘Well, he must be coming.’ All of a sudden some deer come scattering out of there and they go up and over the far side of the mountain.”

This blonde bear was harvested ambush style by Kareem Shaya (NY) during Montana's 2015 Spring Bear Season.

“All of a sudden I spot the bear and guess what he’s doing. He’s hunting those animals. He’s chasing those deer down so he’s heading up and over the mountain. So I picked out a call and I started ripping on that call and that bear turned, looked for a second, and then he commenced a dead charge right in our direction. He started out about 450-500 yards away from us when he broke the timber and [the hunter] hit him about 200 yards away from us on the opposite hill and that bear tucked up and he rolled. It looked like a brown snowball rolling down that snowy mountain. That bear turned out to be a very, very mature specimen in his 20s.”

“It wasn’t necessarily the harvest that was so important to us. It was the hunt that was so important to us. Because despite the fact that everything told us it was going to be miserable hunting it was that 45-minutes when that bear decided he was finally hungry enough to get up and do something that provided us that opportunity to harvest that bear.”

That hunt is just one of many examples of why Mark and the rest of the crew at Stockton Outfitters choose to “Hunt Hard…Every Day…All Day.”

Book a hunt with Stockton Outfitters at Guidefitter.com/StocktonOutfitters.

Author
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Micah SargentWellsboro, Pennsylvania
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