Working 25 years in Wyoming as a big-game outfitter and hunting guide, Duane Wiltse collected enough Western adventure stories to fill a book. Or two.
“I believe strongly everybody’s life is a story,” Wiltse said.
He’d had a successful masonry business and nice house in Michigan, but his first hunting trip to Wyoming was like a dream come true.
“My God, look at this country,” he thought. “It’s my image of the ultimate life – the Rocky Mountains.”
So he sold his home and business, packed up his wife and five kids, and moved into a run-down ranch near Cody. Soon he became an outfitter.
Wiltse’s wilderness hunting camp in the Shoshone National Forest was the same one where Buffalo Bill Cody hunted 70 years before with the Prince of Monaco.
“I’m addicted to that high country,” Wiltse said. “The jay birds, ravens, blue sky – I love those. When I’m not up there, I wonder what they’re doing.”
Like the famous showman, Wiltse looks the part, in his Wrangler snap shirt, cowboy hat and boots. His voice sounds as warm and Western as well-worn saddle leather.
“We had our share of grizzly encounters,” he said. Bears tore up the camp and sometimes chased his pack string, trying to pull an elk carcass off the back of a horse.
He faced new challenges when Yellowstone Park reintroduced wolves.
“Jiminy Christmas,” he said. “They’re eating elk 365 days a year.”
That, and a battle with cancer, persuaded him to sell his business and horses and move to Bozeman.
One day he signed up for an Adult Ed writing class.
The result is that Wiltse has written two self-published books. “Gittin’ Western” (iUniverse, $14.95) tells his life story. “Legacy” is a novel set in Wyoming.
At 81, he’s still living his dreams.
Duane Wiltse will sign his books at Barnes & Noble in the afternoons of Nov. 25 and 26, and the following weekdays at Walmart.