Interviewed by Sena Strenge
Photographs Courtesy of Dave & Linda Handy
Thank you to Dave's wife Linda Handy for joining the interview as well!
Name: Dave Handy
Hometown: Stanley, ID
Current Location: Challis, ID
Guide Title: Hunting Guide and River Guide
The Flying B, Middle Fork Lodge, The Farrs, Ron Ens (Middle Fork Outfitters), Travis Bullock (Mile High Outfitters), Jerry Meyers, Eldon Handy (Dave’s Father), Bob Smith, Bill Bernt (Aggipah River Trips), Steve Lentz (Far and Away Adventures) … and many others.
As a kid, you started working for your dad’s river company on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, right?
Dave: Yes. He got the last one [MF river permit] for $15 before they put a moratorium on them, not going to give no more out. So then he thought maybe he ought to get two of them. There’s a local guy, Cliff Hansen, a rancher here, that was an old friend of my dad’s. He told me the other day, was telling me that my dad had told him, says ‘Hey, you ought to go down get one of these permits, they’re only $15. They’re gonna be worth somethin’ someday.’ And Cliff said that he told my dad there’s no way in heck anybody will ever pay you to take them down a river they could just go do it themselves.
When did you start hunt guiding?
Who were you guiding for?
Dave: Flying B. And that's where I met Linda [Dave’s wife]. Beats school any day.
Linda: That's where we met. He was probably 17, I was 22.
Dave: Talk about hitting the lottery. Getting flown in, get to do the hunting guide deal, drink like a pig, drunken women all over the place...
Linda: [laughing] And you get the head cook.
So you’d work summers for your dad on the river and then hunting camps in the fall.
Dave: Yup. I got burned out on the hunting deal. I got burned out on the river deal. As I got older in life I just can't believe I get another chance to be a kid again. And so now I feel blessed to do it. And actually make a living at it. Second chance.
Why did you leave Idaho?
Dave: After my dad died things kind of fell apart. We tried to run it, Linda and I, for a couple years, but we just didn’t have the skills or discipline.
Linda: We were too young and irresponsible.
Dave: Without my dad there… he was the draw. He was why people were coming.
Linda: He was a pretty special guy to a lot of people.
[Dave was 25 when his dad died while running a sweep boat through Haystack rapid. Two years later Dave, Linda, and their growing family moved to Susanville, California. Dave spent the next 18 years working for a large cattle outfit.]
Dave: Went to work for one of these big cow outfits to see what it's really like. They had 10,000 head of mother cows, scattered all over the state. If I'd never went to California I'd still be in the ice age on my horsemanship. Not that I'm that far ahead, all I've learned is how little I really know. In California you really get exposed to some stuff, the real cowboys, people that are half horse themselves.
Why'd you come back to Idaho?
Dave: Because it's Idaho. Same reason you come back.
Where did you live before Challis?
Dave: We were at the B year round. Before that we were at Loon. And then before that we we had our own dream spot in Hagerman. Before that we lived in California.
Linda: Off and on we have fifteen years at the Flying B.
Do you like hunt guiding?
Dave: I do, but you've got to make a living doing something! I guess I'm just blessed to be able to make a living doing this. Lucky. You know, by the end of the river season hunting season looks really good. By the end of hunting season, river season sure looks good. I sure like being around the horse deal, and using that skill.
I was told to ask you about the time you had to shoot a horse and it rolled into the trail.
Dave: [Chuckles] That son of a gun. It was my own horse even. And he got even with me in the end. He'd been bucking me off. Beautiful horse too, just beautiful. Cow eating machine. But he's bucking me off. So that's the end of this. We were at the Root Ranch and I put him down. Usually you leave the halter on them when you tie them up, in case things go wrong. In case you miss. God knows, all kinds of things can happen. But you get your halter all bloody. So he's just standing there by my horse, so I just slipped the halter off, and did it, and down he went. Just 'Bam'. And then he started going…
[Dave slow motion imitates the horse starting to roll. Over and over, down the hill.]
Dave: He ended up right in the Forest Service trail. Right in the bottom.
[Imitates the dead horse, legs stiff and straight up in the air.]
Dave: People were getting bucked off because of it. I just left it. Even in his death he's still bucking people off. And he almost got me bucked off one day, again, off another horse! So I gotta go do something, it's on our main trail hunting out of there. So my brother came in to help me. I said, we got a nasty job to do. It's like ten days into the deal, so he's pretty bloated up. We pulled him apart a piece at a time and got him out of there and got him hid. But even for a couple years after that the horses were silly about that spot.
Hunting outfitters spend a lot of time and money clearing trails each year. What are your thoughts on trails?
Dave: I think there’s trails that will never ever get opened again. They're just gone. It was so much different thirty, forty years ago, before everything started burning. If there was a trail on the map, it was usable. And now, if somebody didn't go down it last week, you're a little iffy on it. The Forest Service had a huge trail clearing crew. They kept them cleared. But, you know in any defense of the Forest Service, who knew that half the trees in Idaho were going to die, either from beetle kill or from fire. Nobody really knew that the workload was going to get so deep on this trail deal. And they've cut their trail budget. But these outfitters have a budget too.
[Medium to large downed trees pose an especially difficult obstacle to pack strings. A re-route has to be made or the log must be cut, which, in the wilderness takes time with a cross-cut saw. Packing horses and mules is an old skill, one that has mostly died out to modern technology. However, many commercial hunting outfits in Idaho still utilize pack strings to access remote territory, as do some Forest Service crews.]
Packing mules is an artform. Who do you look up to as a packer?
Dave: Ron’s a good packer [Ron Ens]. He would lay in bed at night trying to figure out how to do this packing thing. He's one of the best I've ever worked with at it. He would take it as a challenge if someone told him you can't pack that thing down that trail. ‘Hell yeah I can, watch this.’ I really learned a lot from Ron on the packing end of things. I just kinda get by, just don't sore the stock and I’m good. I was a better packer after I’d been around Ron for a couple years.
Do you have a least favorite aspect of guiding?
Dave: Too many people. And being away from my wife. But you know it's our job. It's a people job. It's sure fun to be out there without guests.
Who's been most inspiring to you?
Dave: My dad. And also Bill Burnt. I really look up to him. I've worked for him a lot. He's a classic. Just for entertainment sit and watch him for a while, watch what he might be up to.
Who'd you hunt guide for this fall?
Dave: Travis Bullock. I worked with some really good fellas this fall. Everything is run very efficiently. One of the reasons is because of his wife [Brenda]. She's on it. On the food end, and the money end, and the people end. And Travis is such a unique person himself. And they've been at it for 25 years.
Linda: We saw him packing off from the Flying B, in a blizzard, with his little kids. Those were tough little boots.
Dave: He was putting them in the pack bags that morning. They were just little guys, 3 and 5 maybe. And they're going, ‘Dad! Dad! You know we hate these pack bags! You know we hate them! I don't want to look at him all day long!’ So Travis says, ‘Ok ok ok you can ride.’ They've got all kinds of saddles and stock, everybody’s going home. And so [Travis] went over and put him on a mule and he goes ‘Dad, you know this mule bucks me off every time!’ 'Ok ok ok', so he puts him on another one, and then they were happy.
Do you have any advice for aspiring guides?
Dave: Go back to school. That's what my son did. He came and helped me in a hunting camp one year, and he's back to getting his degree. Yeah it’s a lot of work and you don’t really get much money. You know, to make this happen and get the opportunity to do this… You’ve had to make this happen on your own. I didn’t. I was born into it. Whatever. But for people like you that’ve had to make this happen on your own, it’s an accomplishment. Just to do it. Just to get your foot in the door someplace and tough it out long enough to where you actually make some money at it. Then tough it out long enough that you’re a desired employee. Other people don't get a chance to do this kind of stuff. They go to college, get a job, get married, have kids.
Linda: Depends on what kind of life you want to have.
Dave: Yeah. Well, I don't want to be in an office. I like being outside, which is why a lot of us keep doing this. I'm so fortunate, I've never had a real job. I wouldn't have been able to have the blessed life I've had if I didn't have the wife that I have, that would allow me to go do that stuff, take care of all the stuff while I'm gone, not being really needy and needing the big house on top of the hill.
Thanks to Dave and Linda for this interview. May we all ride happily into the New Year without getting bucked off!
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