Carbon County Neighbors: Living The Wild Life, Part I

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, May 14, 2020
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The blessing of twins among the healthy moose of Montana.

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Photos Hunter Graham Photography

Hunter Graham and his dog, Rez dog, Baby.

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Bison in contemplation.

Like most Montanans, Hunter Graham, 32, has several professions: backcountry guide, horseback touring, ski slope groomer and according to his training and degree from Montana State University in photography, he is a talented photographer with an endless array  of wild subjects. He is fortunate to live where he works.

“I love living in Silver Gate!” said Graham. “The outdoor recreation opportunities here are endless. We regularly encounter wolves, bears, bison, and moose right in our back yard!”

 Graham grew up splitting his time between Red Lodge and Silver Gate, living at Silver Gate at first, year-round, and going to school in the old one-room schoolhouse until 4th grade. Starting in the Fourth Grade, his family began spending winters in Red Lodge, where he graduated high school in 2006. He experienced the best of both worlds, being in the Beartooths.

“My folks owned an outfitting business and guide service in Silver Gate that we operated as a family in the summers and fall. I was our main guide for horseback tours of the Yellowstone backcountry in the summer, and big game (mostly elk)  hunting in the Gallatin National Forest in the fall. I worked as a backcountry and hunting guide for our family business until I graduated college at MSU Bozeman in 2010 with a degree in photography.”

 He’s had many bear and moose encounters over the years so we asked him to share one.

“Several years ago,” he said, “I was snowshoeing by myself up here (Silver Gate) at the end of April and had a crazy bear encounter I will never forget! I turned around suddenly to find the biggest grizzly bear I’ve ever seen (jet black!) standing 20 feet away from me, in my tracks, with his head down, investigating me as a good source.”

Fortunately, Graham was able to escape. “I managed to scare him away by shouting at him. I jogged home, heart pounding!”

But the encounter was not over.”About 15 minutes later, I heard a splash and a groan followed by a large animal screaming and fighting for its life about 60 yards from my porch! We live right next to Soda Butte Creek.”

Drawn by the drama to ignore his own safety, Graham walked towards the predator he had just fled. “I sneaked down to the tree line to get a better look and discover that that same grizzly bear had attacked and was currently killing an elk right in from of me!”

But as Graham was soon to learn to be an observer at at carnivore’s kill is a high risk seat. He continued, “Then, upon hearing me break a branch, the bear stood up and charged me!”

Graham was lucky that day-twice! He said, Fortunately, I was very near my porch and could easily run inside, but the bear was  p....ed!”

He lives more quietly for now. But encounters can happen any time in the wilderness of the Beartooths.

“These days, I spend my summers managing The Range Rider’s Lodge for Silver Gate Lodging--hiking and backpacking and photographing on my days off. This was supposed to be our first summer offering wildlife tours in and around Yellowstone, but with the coronavirus situation, that ship might not sail until next season.” 

Graham explains he keeps busy, “In the winter, I work as a packer/sherpa and snowmobile shuttle operator for Beartooth Powder Guides. I haul clients and gear on snowmobiles to a yurt just on the boundary of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness north of Cooke City. I will start my first season of actual guiding next winter. Hazards include dangerous avalanches, broken down sleds, and total white-out blizzards on the regular. My other winter gig is operating a Pisten Bully Groomer for the Upper Yellowstone Snowmobile Club.”