As a journeyman for Clearwater Power in 1974 and 1978, Tim Craig helped install power lines on Little Canyon road outside Peck. That was where he first spotted the property he later bought and established as his base for Boulder Creek Outfitters. Tim moved to Idaho in the 1970s from North Dakota. “This area is so unique,” he says. He has hunted in Quebec, Argentina, and Alaska, but still says Idaho, before wolves, was “the elk kingdom of the world.”
In 1979, Tim’s wife was a registered nurse, and they both quit their jobs to buy and run the outfitting business, which he saw for sale in the Ruralite magazine. “We just both walked away from our jobs and into the woods we went,” he says. Tim and his wife built the house that now sits on Little Canyon Road, and they’ve expanded the business 2-3 times, incorporating permits for different areas and adding private land as well.
The operation runs year-round, conducting spring bear hunts April through July, summer trail rides and fishing trips and focusing on elk and deer hunting September through December. Boulder Creek Outfitters operates about 7-8 different camps and employs 15-20 different people. They have 60 head of horses and raise their own hay. Guests are mostly from the lower forty-eight but have also come from as far away as Denmark and Germany. “They start out clients and become friends,” says Tim. He’s enjoyed meeting new people from all over the world, including a few celebrities like football and basketball players and country music stars. Tim calls the outfitting business unique because “hunting’s a passion. It’s in your blood,” he says. Boulder Creek’s name has spread mostly through a national television show aligned with Buckmasters, the largest deer hunting organization in the world. Since 1989, Boulder Creek Outfitters have done over 45 shows that have been featured on the outdoor channel. Television and the internet are mostly how people find out about them.
Tim says what keeps Boulder Creek successful is their ability to diversify. The company is in its 33rd year and on a second generation. Tim’s son, Matt, who has a University of Idaho business degree, has just finished his 7th year with the company. With Matt’s 5-month-old son Eli, Tim hopes the outfitter will go into the third generation.
Tim cites his biggest challenges are developing a company from a 3-person operation to a 20 person operation. He says, “It’s a lot of hard work. There’s no Monday through Friday.” Another huge challenge to his business has been the wolf reintroduction in the mid-1990s. “They’ve devastated our operations,” he says. That’s one reason Boulder Creek has expanded into all of Nevada and private lands. “Nevada’s like Idaho used to be,” says Tim.
Diversity has helped Boulder Creek cope with both the recession and the impact of wolves in Idaho. “Diversification is what saved us,” he says. He says more quality hunts on private land are what clients are looking for. Although Tim says he probably won’t expand the outfitter until the wolf situation is under control, he’s optimistic the elk numbers will return to what they were if the wolf situation can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction. “We used to take 120 elk hunters. Now we take 74,” he says, clarifying that only their wilderness operations have been impacted by wolves, not the private land hunting. Last year, he was given permits to shoot up to 20 wolves but only ended up filling 3 or 4 of them. Wolves are elusive, he says. He puts 2500 to 3000 miles a year on a horse and he’s only seen 7-8 wolves. He says more could be killed if they incorporate snaring, which is under consideration by Idaho Fish and Game as a possibility.
Although Tim says it will take 3-5 years to fully recover from the recession, he says, “we’re back and standing and a lot of people aren’t so I feel real fortunate.” They always fill up with around 200 clients per year. Boulder Creek has put more into hunting mountain lion, bear, and fishing trips. Nonetheless, he says they still do 80% of their business in September and October, during elk season.
From 1979-1994, Tim ran a full-time guide school and operated summer courses in botany and zoology with students from University of Idaho and Northern Illinois University in De Kalb, Illinois. He says they housed and fed 20-30 students at a time, teaching them horsemanship, setting camp, and cooking. When the opening of archery season shifted back to August 31, Tim felt like they had to give up some of the summer activities to get ready for the fall season, especially since August is the best time in high country, when the snow has melted but before it’s gotten too cold.
In 33 years of outfitting, Tim has had some adventures – a helicopter crash that he survived by virtue of their landing in four feet of snow, a near-drowning episode when he was in his twenties, and trigger-happy East Coasters that shot the cowboy hat off his head. He has avoided death on any of his trips, but he has had clients have a few broken bones. He attributes that success to good, well-trained guides who are observant of all potential accidents. “I’ve done what I wanted to do my whole adult life,” Tim says. He says if he had to live life over again, he “wouldn’t change a thing.”
— Andrea Clark Mason
Originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of The Ruralite