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Hunting Montana Elk with Shawn Fulton Day 4: Shawn Fulton Becomes an Elk Guide and Outfitter

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Editor’s Note: Shawn Fulton has been guiding for elk for 12 years and currently guides and outfits for Spotted Bear Ranch ( in northwest Montana, just south of Glacier National Park. 

I wasn’t born an elk or a mule deer guide. A 12-year odyssey taught me how to become an elk guide. Later, I got my outfitter’s license, and now I guide and am responsible for the pack animals and all the equipment needed for elk hunting. 

I went to a guide school in Montana. Before I was a packer and a camp jack – taking care of the animals, the camp and the equipment, doing chores around camp and packing out the animals, the meat and the trophy. That’s how everybody starts in the elk-outfitting business. Then they work their way up to become a guide after an older guide mentors them. You have to learn to find the elk, hunt the property and take care of the clients and all the many aspects of guiding before you get to be a guide hunting on your own.  

I’ve moved a lot. I was originally from Oregon, and I lived in seven different states before I moved to go to guide school. When I first started guiding, I had every intention of just guiding. Not hunting for myself didn’t bother me. I enjoyed working with the hunters, finding a calling place and watching hunters take elk. I also liked the packing and everything to do with the guiding business, and I didn’t feel the need to take an elk. Still, the longer I guided, the more I wanted to test my skills in finding and taking an elk myself. I finally did.  

So, 2020 was a unique year for me. I applied for my outfitter’s license and took the outfitter’s test and passed. Now, I’m not just a guide for Spotted Bear Ranch, but I’m the outfitter. I select the guides and maintain the horses and all the equipment at the lodge and at the spike camps in the backcountry. We’re lucky we can get into elk country so quickly. We only have to ride horses 12 miles from our lodge to reach elk country. Other outfitters who hunt the Flathead National Forest may have a 32-mile ride on horseback to reach the backcountry and their spike camps. 

To learn more about hunting elk successfully, check out John E. Phillips’ book, “Elk: Keys to 25 Hunters’ Success,” available in Kindle, print and Audible versions at You may have to copy and paste this click into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon allows you to read 10% of the book for free).

Tomorrow: A Spotted Bear Ranch Elk Hunt –the Camp and Hunting Opportunities with Shawn Fulton

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