ARCHIVED EDITIONS - NAVIGATION INSTRUCTIONS:
LINKS ARE LOCATED AT BOTTOM OF EACH PAGE. THEN GO BACK TO SAME LINK MENU TO ACCESS EACH ARTICLE IN THAT ARCHIVED EDITION
The Last of a Dying Bred
When hunting for elk, cougar or wild sheep some sportsmen choose to take the easy route in scoring game animals for their trophy rooms. They hire an expensive PH (professional hunter) as their guide who guarantees a comfortable experience to a hunting location with a near 100% proven rate in shooting their next big game animal to hang another head in their trophy room to impress their friends. The guide tells him where to stand, which animal to shoot and when to pull the trigger, then has his contracted laborer to prepare and ship the trophy to the client’s home via FedEx!
In contrast, the true sportsman pursues the thrill and excitement of the adventure found in booking a big game hunt. He wants to hunt with a proven guide and outfitter who understands how passion for adventure is deeply embedded in the heart of a man.
Bruce Smetana is featured on the cover of The Christian Sportsman and definitely fits the latter description. As a guide & outfitter who understands the sportsman’s deep desire to live on the edge of adventure in harvesting his own game, he believes that the guide’s role is merely to assist by providing knowledge and adequate logistical support, along with essential accommodations. Planning and preparation provide just as much of the excitement and adventure as pulling the trigger on harvest day! But the shooter determines his own destiny!
With considerable knowledge from years of hands-on experience, Bruce is a man of hard-earned accolades. His plain spoken character comes out strongly in his conversations. As an entrepreneur and accomplished big game guide, Bruce is always rough and ready, prepared to serve clients within his outdoors guiding profession. He is known by his clients and peers as the Last of the Dying Breed. His appearance tells the story, replete with his well-worn, signature cowboy hat and proven gear to accomplish any task.
Bruce, thanks for this interview and your time from a busy schedule to speak straight from the heart to our readers. The life and times of Bruce Smetana are sure to pique the interest of many sportsmen. Let’s get started!
1 – Its great to know that you, now as always, are sporting your well-worn, signature cowboy hat. Would you consider selling it to me even with the sweat ring around the base, and how much are you asking?
It’s a ten-gallon hat with a 5-gallon head under it, I’d give it to you brother!
2 – Tell us about your background when growing up and what significant events have led you to the fascinating career as a big game guide and outfitter?
Well, that’s one of those not so easy questions to answer, briefly. I knew a old time outfitter and his wife, Babe and Addie Sayer, who served clients in the Bob Marshall Wilderness from Augusta, Montana, when I was really young. Babe had many stories and was very, very colorful in describing events. Babe was really instrumental in my early days of trapping and even schooling me in a lot of different subjects relating to hunting and trapping. He was the one who gave me the idea to guide and outfit but there was really no overall reason, in particular, that pushed me into guiding. I sort of just fell into it!
I was always crazy for Bighorn sheep and lived where the best sheep were at the time as well as excellent Mountain Lions. It seemed that back then some hunters who drew Sheep tags would ask me to help them out on their hunt and especially when the Mountain Lion population began to rise. I was also very fortunate to have known and either met or hunted with many of the more common names in the industry, whether it was from trapping, bow hunting, or rifle. The overseas hunts and specifically the Asian sheep hunts were a bit different in how they came about.
3 – It is well known that behind every accomplished sportsman there is a better-half as I know your wife to be. Tell us about her and how she figures into your life?
Elissa, for sure, is the biggest blessing I have in my life! We met in Alaska at a Bible camp. She keeps me grounded and gives me an incredible amount of support. I can do anything I want as long as she tells me to! Elissa helps out a tremendous amount with the logistics and gear as well as coming alongside of me to guide from time to time. I am really blessed to have someone with her passion for the outdoors and a partner in pistol competitions when we compete on a team together. She probably knows more about hunting and gear that it isn’t funny! She is an an accomplished woman, stays humble and never seeks out the spot light for herself. She actually goes out of her way when we are filming hunts for television.
4 – Where did your great passion for the outdoors originate and why do you continue the business after so many years?
It’s no surprise in maintaining a deep passion for the outdoors when you were raised in the backwoods of the country where I am from. The region was so different then from the way it is now with an abundance of game and a bunch of avid hunters. There were no video halls, or community hang outs as a kid. If I ever once complained about being bored, I was told, “You have a fishing pole don’t you?” or, “there is plenty of wood to split”. I was 15 years old before I knew my name wasn’t “get wood”. It gets in your blood for sure. I think one of the biggest reasons that I have continued to pursue my career as an outfitter & guide, is not just the variety of folks we meet or the destinations, but the memorable experiences. I love shooting sports and everything about the outdoors industry. I love to shoot; no I mean I really love to shoot.
5 – You have been described by friends who really know you as rough and ready, or by some as a little rough around the edges, but why?
Well…. let’s see… I think most of that comes from my upbringing where there were really no other kids my age around, and certainly none with the same interests, period. I was raised in a community around a few linemen and a bunch of rough and tumble cowboys, loggers, and hunting guides. There was no whining or complaining with those guys, never, ever, or you’d be fair game to be hunted yourself! To some degree, I still have the same passions in me. I learned the hard and fast way about taking care of myself, it was almost like military boot camp. I know that I am now a bit more refined, but to this day I do not tolerate political correctness or dealing with those who beat around the bush.
6 – When did you first start guiding for clients who want to take big game animals?
Back in 1980, I think was my first time actually guiding someone, other than a hunter who was new to one of the camps where our crew of men hunted.
7- Where are some of the more exotic countries that you have guided for clients?
China is one of them for sure, Tajikistan, Mongolia. I had a hunt set up in Iran right before 9/11 to take my hounds over and run Persian Leopards. I was on track and willing to go right up until March the following year, when the Outfitter overseas decided it might not be safe for me and the other two hunters so we cancelled.
8 – Tell us about your hunts for the Marco Polo wild sheep species?
I remember an Elk hunter showing me pictures of a Marco Polo Ram he had just taken back before the Iron Curtain fell and how stunned I was of the huge size. Then I remember when on location a few years later while hunting Marco Polo, almost having tears in my eyes when I first saw a big band of these gigantic rams running on the high polar desert steppes at 15,000 feet elevation. I never dreamed of guiding in such an exotic and remote area seeing the unique landscapes. I have been guiding Marco Polo hunts since 1997. This species of sheep are not the easiest to navigate in the field or within the political structure with all of the red tape and logistics, plus you had better be squared away with all the parties involved. I consider myself fortunate to be partners with the longest standing and successful outfitters in the region. The hunts themselves involve a lot of travel requiring hunters to have real patience with knowledge about international travel. Nothing ever goes 100% the way you expect in Asia. it’s just the way it is, a different mentality and way of getting things accomplished.
9 – In your diverse travels around the world what commonalities have you found among sportsmen?
Even with the monetary issue being there, hunters are perceived as representing cash to the locals. In the more remote, under-developed areas the locals really respect you if you participate as a true hunter, willing to pitch in and work around the camp, not waiting to be catered to, even taking the time to invest in spotting your own game animals. Proving yourself requires mental toughness and these guys know it. When you are willing to assert yourself by working hard at scoping for game, dress it yourself and cape it out, the locals really see the shine in their eyes then readily accept you. The camaraderie becomes very apparent, and it makes no difference if your hunting in China, Iran or wherever. Politics is non-existent when sportsmen find common bonds together. Depending on the country, money really does them no good, there’s nothing there to buy, but you give them socks, boots, knives, flashlights, sharpeners, whatever, then they really appreciate it. My wife always teases me cause when I get home I have to replace most of what was in my backpack including a lot of my clothes.
… and “Who are some of those who have become close friends?”
I have a pile of them, really. I am really blessed to have so many great friends. There’s a couple of super, desert sheep guides I have known for years in Mexico, several Russians who are crazy double tough, one in Tajikistan. I have known one great friend in China for many years that I haven’t seen since the hunting was banned there. Of all of them, one of my best guiding and outfitting friends with whom I work with regularly is Mike Monnin who lives in Barrow Alaska. It’s pretty scary because he and I both have the same mentality and way of thinking. Then, we all lost a great brother this last fall when my friend Roy Roth of Wasilla, Alaska, passed away in a climbing accident on a sheep hunt. He was a legend and great Christian brother. I was pulling a group of Brown Bear hunters together to go up there this spring to hunt with him, but now I guess it will have to wait. Then, the list goes on for sure, Duane Culver, Kevin Settle (2 bulls), Dale Camp, Scott Hayes and on and on.
10 – As a long time participant of outdoor consumer shows frequented by sportsmen for booking hunts, how have you seen the guiding & outfitting business change for the better and/or worst?
It’s difficult for most everyone with the economy struggling the way it has been for so long. Trust me, when you deal almost exclusively in a expendable income field you know when the economy takes a nose dive! I think the market is now mostly saturated with too many outdoors shows. The internet has changed the marketing techniques for many guides. With Google charging for clicks and rankings in search queries, it is not easy for hunters searching for the right outfit to book their hunt (the top ranking sites pay, not many pay google). Now that being said, obviously there needs to be more than one or two shows across America for sportsmen and outfitters to participate in. But with all of the conservation organizations now scheduling their own shows, along with other outdoor industry shows, it is really really tough to find the right niche market for presenting your wares.
One of the benefits coming from internet technology is the sportsmen’s ability to eliminate most of the fly-by-night want-a-be guides. Some of the exhibition companies now want to see your license and research to uncover professional standards violations, etc. We have a brutal show season and many of the shows over lap one another presenting difficult options in determining which show to attend. Another big change is that years ago hunters would want to make a deposit in camp for the next year to reserve his spot. In today’s economic climate they don’t know if they can afford the hunt or are worried they will have a job. Most all clients had friends who hunted, with many of those friends knowing other friends looking to book a hunt so there was a big roll over on referrals. Now days though the working man is about out of it, he has to save one year to come the next year to go on an outfitted hunt.
Once in a while I get someone who questions our pricing structure for a guided hunt. I sit them down and show them the numbers then they usually shake their head and respond saying that they did not realize the actual cost figures paid by outfitters. Then there are dirt cheap hunts, if it sounds too good to be true then it always is. The price of everything is just going nuts and it is a shame too. We see less fathers and mothers bringing younger sportsmen on hunts. Another change is that more hunters will hunt the Western U.S. one year, then rotate to New Zealand, Canada, and so on. Then they may come back out west for a repeat hunt the third year. With the “greenie” sentiment in combination with the nanny state of our government bureaucracy, and the liberal politicians crying over this and that, I’d say outfitting has changed for the worst, for a lot of reasons, if push came to shove at the moment.
11 – Tell us about your relationship with our Creator, and are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Why?
I am for the most part the example of being broke on a rock. The Lord really brought me to my knees to get my attention a few years back. Some game animals are classified as typical while others are non-typical according to the Boone & Crockett Record Book. I guess you could say that I am a non-typical, not being raised in a traditional church environment. I distinctly remember that it was some other brothers who came first came to the Lord, then they worked on me by praying for me and asking some hard questions. Even today, I do my best to follow the Lord and struggle like many men do, but always, always He is my Lord and Savior.
I cannot imagine what things would be like for me without my Christian faith. I had an empty feeling inside for many years and I think I longed for the feeling I had when I first believed. I am sure I didn’t know what it was, but God again drew me close to His side and that was what I needed. I would not still be breathing today if it were not for Jesus. I have had plenty of near death experiences. Some of my closest friends would sometime shake their heads and tell me that I must have had an Angel or two watching out. Sometimes I felt that perhaps God did not want me to be an outfitter & guide, then some Christian sportsmen would book with me a hunt half way across the world to once again encourage me by bringing together a perfect group of Christian hunters.
12 – As a long time member of several conservation organizations, as well as Christian Sportsmen’s Fellowship, why have you so prioritized your commitment in serving others rather than like so many in the guide business who just focus on making money?
What are you saying ? I’m not getting paid for this ? haha! I chased the “buck” long ago! As hard as it was for me to let go of focusing on money I have learned to trust in the Lord, somewhat! I found it easier to trust the Lord as long as I was careful to do everything humanly possible in order to make our business successful, then always remember to tithe. That’s all I can do, no less, no more. The Lord always comes through in the end. I have always believed that serving others even if it is just a little help in some way. I have found that even the networking we do to help others usually comes back around and God rewards me. I see so many other guides & outfitters who are just fearful in giving out information about hunting opportunities thinking that they might lose out on a dollar even when it wasn’t even their deal in the first place. I never understood that. When on one of my first trips overseas to Asia on a very expensive sheep hunt with some repeat clients, I made a deal with myself to tithe anything I made after expenses to a Christian Ministry. Once I had done that then met some missionaries in Mongolia it was my desire to have some items brought to them. Amazingly, I then was booked for a couple of more similar hunts from referrals. We all need to have “good works” in serving others. If you’re serving with a glad heart, that’s all that is asked of you.
13 – What memorable experiences have you had while guiding clients when God has demonstrated His grace and goodness to you in specific ways?
Man, this is a tough as far as picking just one. I have had grown men actually cry when they fulfilled a dream of scoring a trophy game animal. But I think one of the most memorable experiences was when the son of a wealthy father had gone on a very expensive hunt, a gift for his high school graduation celebration, and was really disappointed. Later the young man booked a hunt and wanted so bad to part of our crew so that he could experience the real impact of the hunt.
We didn’t cut him any slack at all. Of course, he got tortured in a fun loving way but was a great sport ultimately shooting a nice bull elk, nothing special but respectable. He was in tears telling how ritzy the first hunt he ever went on was and it was a bit of a slam dunk hunt. He told us he was getting this little bull mounted and the bigger bull he had killed on the other hunt was still sitting on the floor in his garage. The first bull didn’t really mean that much to him other than his dad paid for the hunt as a gift for his graduation. However, the second bull was a labor of love, literally! He had never hunted with “our kind of Christians”. He later called us and told us he accepted Christ as his Savior, stating that he didn’t know that Christians could have so much fun! He had always had the impression that Christians were pious and uppity, but he learned otherwise in the camp while on his second hunt.
In the past some of the CSF Special Youth Challenge hunts would brings me to my knees when I saw the joy in their eyes after shooting a mule deer. We also hosted a wounded warrior hunt a bit ago, and without going into all the details, believe me, it was a real deep moving experience. If my schedule allowed, I would do nothing but wounded warrior and challenged youth hunts.
14 – Have you ever had any close-calls with death or injury that you want to share with our readers? Please elaborate.
I’ve had a few and some where I was just there and gone in the nick of time, had my last rights read twice to me, but I am still here. I cut my wrist while butchering a elk hindquarter in the wilderness a few years ago. The tip of the blade bounced off of the membrane on my main artery. I had a partner with me who was knowledgeable in first aid so when we realized that I would be ok we came to the conclusion that it would be better for me to ride out on my horse with a tourniquet, rather than wait in camp while he rode the 22 miles out to a phone for a medivac helicopter. Frost bit my feet to where they thought I would lose them. Then there’s been plenty of horse wrecks, snowmobile carshes, and other things. Just life.
15 – Are there any bible references that are especially meaningful to you and why?
There are more than a few than mean a lot, but one in particular… Psalm 144: 1 “Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war my fingers for battle.” This verse isn’t just all about a physical type of battle, but mental and emotional, providing inspiration to have the armor of God on always, even today. If you’re not training and reading the bible then you’re not doing yourself justice, just like training defensively with a pistol for self defense or even learning to swim in case you get pitched in the water…its all the same.
16 – What type hunts are you anticipating and planning for 2016 and 2017?
For the most part just normal hunts we conduct and arrange, with the exception of Afghan Urial in Tajikistan, and of course, Elk, Wolf, Marco Polo, Ibex, Mountain Lion, and a few others.
17 – Who are some of your heroes in the faith from the Bible?
King David for sure, who doesn’t like him! He was more than just a warrior or a believer in God. He failed in many ways but he always came back, relying on his faith in God when he was faced with his own flaws and deficiencies. He pursued God until he finally got it, meaning it was all or nothing.
Current Christian leaders?
Richard Jordan, James Dobson, Charles Stanley
Outdoors community leaders?
There’s some I respect but no real heroes in the outdoor Industry. If there is any one I would have to say Matt McPherson with Mathews Archery Company and even his brother Randy.
18 – O yea! One last question. Are you sure that you do not want to sell your ten gallon cowboy hat, of course, at a reasonable price?
It’s in the mail headed your way..
Bruce Smetana co-owns Crossheart Outfitters l.l.c located in Montana and specializes in Montana Trophy Hunts and Sheep Hunts in Asia. He also manages Primal Defensive Strategies L.L.C., a weapons training, research and development company for the outdoor and firearms industry. Bruce can be reached at 406-544-4783