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Tailgate Talks: The People You Meet at Bear Camp

Bill Gabbard

No matter what the experience is, when the story telling takes place it is always the characters in the story that make the difference in whether it is a memorable experience or not. My recent Idaho Bear Hunt proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. While the natural beauty of Western Idaho and the experience of the hunt well exceed my abilities as a storyteller to explain, it was the people and their passions that truly made the experience unforgettable.

Evan Heusinkveld, President and CEO, along with Brian Lynn, VP of Marketing and Communication for Sportsmen’s Alliance, the folks that put this trip together are truly dedicated to their cause. I had the opportunity to spend time with both fellows. They are on the cutting edge of any legal maneuvers that are trying to limit our rights as outdoorsmen. They are not just focused on a single issue or a few states. If there is an attack on our rights, from 2nd amendment rights to any proposed legislation that is anti-hunting fishing or shooting or against any of our traditional means of hunting, this group is on top of it. During breaks in the action, I came to understand how devoted these men and their organization are to helping preserve our way of life. On a personal level, Brian is a world class nap-taker! He can fall asleep under any condition and never miss a beat. Evan on the other hand is a championship good luck charm. Every bear that was taken during our hunt, Evan, participated in some way. In addition, he is one of the few people that can compete with me in Competitive Snoring and is a top-notch gun-bearer for elderly hunters.

Beth Shimanski is the Director of Marketing for Savage. Beth is fairly new to hunting, but then most people are when compared to me, but her intensity and drive is much greater than most of the old, seasoned hunters. Her knowledge of Savage products is quite impressive. She conducted a short familiarization session on the Savage Impulse Driven Hunter, talking to a group of hunters ranging from writers that had written articles on the Impulse to folks that had never seen one, with the ease of a seasoned military instructor. Something that most people didn’t notice during our range session zeroing in the Vortex Razor LHT 3-15X50 with the Silencer Central Banish Backcountry attached, was the ease with which she switched the Impulse Driven Hunter to left-handed operation for a left-handed shooter. Beth knows her product!


Pictured: Beth Shimanski, Director of Marketing for Savage Arms

Brandon Maddox, CEO and Owner of Silencer Central, is one of the most driven people that I have ever met. He has taken the approach of “Build a better mousetrap” on not just silencers, but how to obtain one. He loves hunting as well as meeting new people. He overheard me ask another hunter if they had any extra earplugs as we were leaving for the range session, and quickly answered with a smile “You won’t need it”. He was right!

Phil Massaro is a writer and hunter that has travelled the world. Phil loves rifles and can discuss the merits of any rifle or caliber of rifle like a walking encyclopedia. He can tell a hunting story that makes you feel like you are there with him.

Aram von Benedikt, western hunting writer for Outdoor Life, loves his family, his ranch, and hunting but has a love of old rifles like I do. He can tell in detail the story of his rifles, not just what they are but their history and how he got them. He made me feel a little better about myself, because not everyone realizes that every rifle has a story to tell!

Kurtis Frazer of Free Range American, in some ways reminded me of my son. He is on the quiet side and dedicated to “Capturing the moment” on video or in pictures.

Adam Trawick of Sporting Classics, while new to hunting, has that excitement that bubbles over. He kept calling me ‘Sir” I told him that he didn’t need to do that, but he said that he was taught to respect his elders. I qualified!

Scott and Angie Denny are the owners of Table Mountain Outfitters. These two are workaholics when it comes to running their operation. Angie greets everyone with a big smile and is focused on making sure that everyone is having fun while Scott is deathly serious about seeing that everyone gets their bear! I don’t think I saw him smile until he got the word that the seventh bear of the week had been taken.

Keedin Denny is Scott and Angie’s son. Serious like his dad, but he lightened up when he got to know you a little. This young man is truly dedicated. He has a love of dogs, rifles, and the chase that is incredible. He scaled mountains, walked downed trees, crossed beaver dams, or just waded roaring creeks - whatever it took to get the job done.


Pictured: Brandon Maddox, CEO and Owner of Silencer Central

Kelly Lee, T.J. McCulloch, Casey Hielman, Cody Pfau, and Adam Nelson are guides who worked tirelessly to ensure that each hunter got their bear.

Judy Brincken, the Camp Cook, came in each day and prepared a hot evening meal and made sure that the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry were well stocked with breakfast foods and items to fix our lunch to take with us.

Being a lover of all types of weapons, I enjoyed talking with each of the guides that I had the opportunity to spend time with about their favorite firearms used in their work. I quickly tossed all preconceived notions out the window as to what a “bear guide” should carry once I saw the variety of weapons and calibers that they kept with them. Each of them carried a handgun, usually in a shoulder holster, and all of them in ‘healthy calibers’ such as 357 Magnum, 10mm, and 45 ACP, just to name a few. Reasons for their choices ranged from, “My Grandpa gave it to me” to “Pure knockdown”. The rifles had a much wider range, going from an AR style rifle in 300 Blackout to a custom 6.8 Western built on a Defiance action. One fellow carried a sweet little 6.5 x55, while another was quite fond of his 6.5 Creedmoor. Different calibers, different style rifles and each guide had his own reason for his choice. The common denominator was that they knew their rifle and were thoroughly comfortable with it. We each hunted with the Savage Impulse chambered in 308 Winchester and using Federal Premium 175 gr Terminal Ascent ammo. It proved itself to be an excellent choice for Black Bear on this hunt.

Eighteen of us made up camp. From New York, South Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois, Alabama, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Ohio, Wyoming, South Dakota, and local folks from Idaho, a wide range of locations across our great nation. We came from vastly different backgrounds, but we quickly found that we had much in common. Each of us cherished the great outdoors and the love of hunting ran deep. In private conversations with each of my new friends, I found that several of them had a shared concern - the steady influx of people from the city moving to the rural parts of our country and the relentless attacks on our sport. The trend starts in one state outlawing a given method of hunting, then moves on to the next method. Next, they move to a neighboring state and start there. The same goes for our 2nd amendment rights. They start with one type of weapon and move to the next!

Hunters and shooters as a whole, no matter where they are from, seem to have the same love of the outdoors. Leaving Bear Camp left me feeling that with people ranging from their late 60’s to their 20’s sharing the same passion, there is still hope for the future of our sport.

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