Anyone can ride around in their truck or take a brisk hike in the woods to look for venison or elk meat and a fine rack to hang in the living room. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to accomplish that goal. Engaging the services of an outfitter can get you much closer to the action.
Outfitter and packer, Steve Morris, is one such person who can take the hunter into remote areas to increase the hunter’s chances of success. Morris is the owner/operator of Wallowa Mountain Outfitters, conveniently located in the Lostine Canyon, close to the Eagle Cap Wilderness, at more than 355,000 acres, the largest wilderness area in the state. Morris is occasionally assisted by local cowboy, Scott West.
Morris has owned WMO for seven years and said he’s packed mules steadily since 1985.
“I always liked being in the mountains, and I liked being around horses, so when I was 18, I quit high school and joined the California Conservation Corps and went to the mountains and met my first packer. I said, ‘Dang, I like this idea.’ ”
When the Chieftain spoke to Morris, he and West had just returned with three Washington hunters from a 14-day archery drop camp, one of five such camps, about 14 miles deep into the Wallowas. An ark-building rain was pouring, drenching everything in and out of sight.
“I’m thinking of retiring,” Morris said laughing. “It’s taking a toll on me, this cold weather.”
Business is going good, according to Morris. He said that the number of hunts booked were just right, and noted that it is easy to overbook hunts and create too much work. Archery season provides more clients than rifle season because the archery hunt is longer.
Morris’ rifle camps are down on the Minam River, which he accesses through the Moss Springs trailhead. Those trips are 17 miles.
“I’m busy enough that it’s going to be hard, but it’s not so busy that I can’t do a decent job of taking care of my people (clients),” he said. Summer tourist season was down slightly, he added. He wasn’t sure why although the tourist market is hard to hit because it’s so broad.
The three Washington hunters, Buddy Klinkers, Mark Zueger and Brian Watson just finished their pack trip into the Wallowas. They spent two weeks at a Morris drop-camp. The bone-drenching rain didn’t bother them. The hunt for scarce elk, did. Asked how they fared, Klinkers and Zueger responded. “Not real good.”
Both men said the wolves were to blame for the lack of elk. Both told stories of hearing wolves howling about every other night.
“You need to control your wolf population,” Zueger said. “We could hear them right next to our camp.”
“We saw four elk,” Klinkers said. “I saw one elk”, Zueger added. The men said they never jumped or pushed any elk, something they found strange.
The two men both agreed that the Wallowas were among the prettiest landscape they’d ever seen. They also noted the professionalism of Morris and West.
“They did a great job of getting us in, and they did a great job all around,” Klinkers said.
Asked if they would return, Zueger said, “Not unless they do something about the wolf population. We can’t come back with no animals there.”
Zueger and Klinkers said they came on the recommendation of Watson, who has hunted the Wallowas for several years, starting with the packer Morris bought his business from and kept returning when Morris took over.
“We didn’t have wolves then,” Watson said, laughing bitterly. He noted that the elk didn’t even respond to bugling. He also estimated the group traveled 25,000 to 30,000 vertical feet over the duration of their hunt.
“I felt bad dragging these guys out there,” Watson said. Like the others, he thought Wallowa Mountain Outfitters did a fantastic job on their end of the trip. The men also said they at least had good luck finding firewood and chanterelle mushrooms.
Watson also noted that the Granite Gulch fire had probably pushed a lot of hunters into their area. He said he ran into at least 25 hunters in their small area.
Looking at the positive side, Watson said, “It’s always pretty to get up in there and hike around — lose a little weight.”