Thirty years ago when Russ Lambert traveled with his dad, Roger, from Strong to Colorado for an elk hunt, he had little idea as a high school senior of the seed that would be planted.
Today as the manager at Steamboat Lake Outfitters in Clark, Colo., the younger Lambert guides big-game hunts for elk and deer on horseback at elevations as high as 8,000 to 12,000 feet.
Lambert went out West because he chose to do so. But like guides in Maine, he has had to navigate an industry through changing times and a hard economic climate. It’s not easy. Yet like other Maine Guides, Lambert says he sees great promise in the fishing and hunting guiding industry, one of the oldest outdoor recreation businesses in Maine.
The 33rd annual State of Maine Sportsman’s Show in Augusta on Easter weekend is a telling example of the industry coming full circle, Lambert said.
When he sets up his booth in the Augusta Civic Center on March 29, it will mark a return to the good, old-fashioned face-to-face way of doing business Lambert favors — and that he said customers demand today.
“The past 10 years we dramatically stopped doing a bunch of shows, it’s expensive. But we’re starting to feel we need that personal contact. I want to look the guys over and see if the guys who come to my booth are the kind who can go on a physically demanding hunt,” Lambert said.
More and more guides are coming back to market their guiding businesses face-to-face, said Kelly Allen, co-chair of the Augusta show.
“What I’m seeing is a lot of people from out of state, from Canada, are starting to come back. My Canadian guides started leaving the show 10 years ago. I only have two this year, but it’s two more than last year. This year about 25 of the 100 booths are guiding businesses,” Allen said of the March show that draws as many as 15,000 over three days.
Other veteran guides in Maine concur.
Fins and Furs Adventures owner Carroll Ware, who markets hunting and fishing trips on three continents, has had a booth in Augusta for 27 years.
“You used to go to a sportsman’s show and expect to have some clients put a deposit down. Then when the Internet exploded, we began to see a distinct change in the clientele at the shows. We used to see a lot of upscale customers, with Rolex watches and ostrich boots. As we got into the ’90s, we didn’t see those people,” Ware said.
“Now we find when we go to the shows, people today like to see you are established, to be able to come up and talk to you.”
Ware said more sportsmen are starting to again go to shows to size up their guide or the owner of the outfit where they’ll spend their vacation.
This renewed practice is what drew Lambert back to the Maine show in March, where he came to market Steamboat Lake Outfitters several years ago. He said it’s worth the trip back East to talk to hunters.
The kind of hunts Lambert guides are far different from the bear hunts of the Maine woods, as exotic as they come. His hunts involve pack horses, remote camps in mountains, high altitude, and the massive, agile elk. The Strong native has to quickly make hunters who come from across the country comfortable with all of that.
“Funny, the guys I grew up with, they would love to go on these hunts. They think it’s unattainable, it’s too big. What I try to tell these guys is it is attainable, you only need a contact,” Lambert said.
“With a good, solid hunter, we can get them up to speed pretty quick. The next thing you know, they’re hunting unguided. That’s the kind of guy we’re looking for. But we guide hunters with less experience.”
Even in hard economic times, Lambert said, the guiding business shows great promise. Since 1999 when he left the ski business in Colorado, where he worked in marketing for a decade, he has never looked back.
“It’s not for everybody. It’s very, very hard work. When we’re going, we are going, like with no sleep for months. But if you have dreamed of working in the industry, it’s doable.”
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: