Hunting Guide Nolan Osborne Didn't Grow Up in a Hunting Family
Hunting, horses and outfitters
Nolan Osborne, a full-time hunting guide and the assistant editor of The Journal of Mountain Hunting, where his contribution includes tried and true tips on mountain hunting, shooting and gear. In the story below he sheds light on the industry through an hilarious event during his first gig as a wrangler and provides advice for those looking to hire an outfitter. The best part is Nolan didn’t grow up hunting and lives in the heart of Vancouver city in an apartment he shares with his lovely lady. It doesn’t matter where you live, how much space you have and whatever list of other obstacles you have to overcome. If you want it, go get it!
I didn’t grow up in a hunting family…
To preface my journey into becoming a guide, I suppose it's important to note that I grew up in Southern Ontario, far removed from the great mountains of the West, and I didn’t grow up in a “hunting family,” nor did I have close friends -- save for one -- that did. Thanksgiving of 2006, my eldest maternal uncle sat down with me and asked me if I would be interested in coming whitetail deer hunting with him. He explained that hunting was a passion of his, and something he had done since he was my age -- at the time he was in his late 50’s. He didn’t have children of his own to pass the torch to, so to speak, so the offer was there to take me out in muzzleloader season late November that year. I recall sitting in the cedars later on that month, with my back up against the trunk of a large one, overlooking a small creek that meandered through the property. The air was still in those woods, further silenced by the large heavy snowflakes drifting slowly to the ground. A snowy owl landed effortlessly, silently, on a nearby branch overhanging the creek. A buck snorted from the hardwoods behind me. The sound of its hooves thundering on the hard ground was mirrored by the pounding of my heart in my chest. I wondered if I had imagined it. This was all a world so foreign to my existence until that point in time, and from there on I was hooked.
Over the next several years I became engrossed in hunting, and outside of hunting season, my free time was spent reading, researching, scouting, or building blinds and treestands. Duck hunting was a big focus during this time in my life, and to this day some of my favourite moments have been those spent in a duck blind.
The Core of the Hunting Community are Storytellers
The hunting “community” is, at its core, a “community” of storytellers. I use quotations here, as it truly is a network that spans time, language, or locations. To distill this richness in diversity into a single community wouldn’t do it justice. As long as humans have been just that, we have hunted. Our earliest art often depicted the chase. Storytelling is an integral part of our cultural DNA, from the rock walls of our ancestors to the digital media landscape of today, we have captured and shared our great successes and failures, passing on our imagery — our stories — to those who seek to follow in our footsteps. I believe that it is this rich cultural history, the wild places and animals that call them home, that binds us as hunters.
Often, I feel that some of this cultural history, the reasons we share the stories of our hunts, is lost in translation. Particularly in North America, the hunting industry -- not the same as the culture, or community -- has trended away from a focus on storytelling, with that focus shifting more towards marketing, branding, and self-promotion. In recent years there has been a pushback by some of these companies, as well as production houses, to return to our roots of storytelling so to speak. Companies such as Foss Media, Rockhouse Motion, or Yeti’s short films, have taken a more introspective approach, as opposed to merely filming a hunt, and its refreshing to see.
For me, the entirety of the hunt means much more than the moment that you pull the trigger. When I am guiding, as with many of my own hunts, the split second that you shoot is one of the smaller details. It is the campfire stories, the shared misery of a brutal pack out, the joy of finding that patch of perfect blueberries, the adventure of it all that really drives me to lace my boots up and hit the mountains over and over again. Focusing on these aspects, emotions and human aspects of the hunt are so much more important and relatable than the trophy itself. When I think back to hunts I have guided or done myself, the moment of the shot is rarely what stands out, and I think in our own storytelling it's important to remember that. If you look at a short story on hunting from William Faulkner, Jack O’Connor, or Hemingway, you’ll see what I am talking about. They lived in a time when they didn’t need to justify what they were doing, and as such focused solely on painting the picture as beautiful as they could.
How I Became a Hunting Guide
I started working in the Guide/Outfitter industry in 2015, for Yukon Stone Outfitters. I started out, as most guides do, as a wrangler. In a horseback outfit, you will typically have a wrangler working with each guide in a camp. It is their job to catch horses in the morning -- they are kicked out into the meadows at night to forage -- saddle them, and help the guide out in any way possible. Anything from cutting firewood to packing the clients gear around on the mountain. Generally, folks wrangle for a couple years before they have enough experience to begin guiding their own hunts. I guess you could look at them as a guide-in-training.
Learn As You Go
I did a thirty-minute “trail-ride” just outside of Vancouver five days before I left for the Yukon. The first real ride I had, I think we brought eighteen head of horses into the mountains for seven hours the first day, and an additional nine hours the second day. Needless to say, I was sore. After some tips on riding from the other guides, I started to get the hang of it more. It’s a slow progression, as with many things, but when you spend three months on a horse nearly every day, you learn things pretty quick. I think the biggest part of that learning curve was understanding the horses themselves, and how to read their body language, which just comes with time.
Advice: Hunting Guides and OUtfitters
Be forthright about your level of fitness, as well as your expectations. One of the most common “failures” on a hunt, either guided or DIY, is a lack of managing one's expectations. A guided hunt does not guarantee a kill, and even in the most remote, game rich, environments you still need to work and hunt hard to be successful. Preparing yourself physically, as well as being proficient with your rifle or bow is critical. If you are asking for a reference list of past clients, ask if they can provide a list of clients who had unsuccessful hunts. If these clients tell you that the guides and hunt were run professionally, and they still recommend the outfit, then the odds are you are in good hands.
Really what a client is looking for typically is an Outfitter. An outfitter that is reputable, professional, and focuses on quality game management -- a focus on harvesting mature animals keeps the population thriving and typically ensures a better “trophy” quality -- in their area will have quality, professional guides that work for them.
For a more depth on my story listen to my podcast episode on the Journal, The Guide Life here: https://journalofmountainhunting.com/episode-102-the-guide-life-with-nolan-osborne/