SNS Outfitter & Guides is made up of some delightful and colorful characters. We hope to bring you a fun portrait of their personalities, experience, values and maybe even a few details about how they spend their time during the off season. We couldn’t think of any better character to begin these chronicles with than Ralph Hlebak.
Ralph is an expert in the industry! He has lived in the Jackson area since 1979, soaking up Teton County history and a bit of memorabilia throughout the years. He has over 40 years experience hunting and guiding in the Grey’s River area. As he would tell you, “I fell in love with that country and the big bucks down there.” Although he would dismiss any reference to it, Ralph is our resident expert for the territory. His knowledge, experience and tenure has earned him the rank and title of Camp Manager at the BoxY Ranch during Wyoming’s black bear, mule deer and elk hunting seasons.
I had only met Ralph in passing, so when the idea came about to highlight him, I asked for a few hours of his time. Before long, a plan developed for a full day adventure.
I met Ralph midmorning along the banks of the Snake River just south of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. As its name suggests, the Snake waters weave between rolling prairie and carved out cliffs reflecting emerald hues from the pines and blue sky above. Ralph’s drift boat sat waiting, complete with tackle, reels & rods and watermelon slices ready to share! A quick how-to-fly-fish lesson and a ‘Ralph original’ flying pig anchor were the only things keeping us from floating down stream. “Good Mornin’!” He bellowed with a chuckle. “Shall we see about making you a fly fisherman?” Without hesitation I holler back, “Heck Yes!” What better way to get to know someone then immersing yourself right in their element. You see, Ralph not only works in the hunting industry, but he guides fishing excursion as well.
His hands are strong, tanned and weathered from his years of being in the field. His tone is thoughtful, but a youthful and playful spirit parallels his wisdom. He has a contagious laugh and stories to share! It didn’t take me long to understand why Ralph is such a favorite for both SNS clients and the hunting guides as well.
In the off season, he is a ‘Jack of all Trades’; auto mechanic, auto body painter, former snow groomer… the list goes on, but a real spark ignites when he speaks about ‘tinkering in the garage’. Some of his best pieces have resulted from time spent “tinkering!’ This includes a log cabin grill, wooden candy dispenser, yard art, the above mentioned anchor and even chairs from the famed Cowboy Bar that he recovered and placed around his dining room table.
Ralph visited out west from Cleveland Ohio. “I fell in love with the mountains!” After working a short time teaching auto mechanic classes, he decided a change was needed. He closed his eyes, lay a finger down on a map and moved to that very spot. His finger had landed on the Idaho Falls area, but it wasn’t long before the Jackson area beckoned him. He was a ski bum & learned to groom the trails at night. He utilized his handiness with cars and worked at Teton Motors until a California production company came to town. They were filming the 1979 movie, “The Mountain Men” and were looking for ‘locals’ to lend a hand. During that time, Ralph made a connection with an Outfitter. Invited to try his hand at guiding mule deer and elk hunters, Ralph gave it a whirl and 40 years later, he is still doing so!
My time with Ralph on the Snake River, showcased why he has had such longevity and success in this field. He coaches each casts with expertise and patience. He was joyful, engaging and told tales all while he never broke his rowing stride. And when I snagged my first Trout, a genuine cheer erupted from him even though he has seen others do so time and time again.
In the fall I visited Ralph once again, this time while he performed his SNS camp manager duties. He handled the role with ease and that same contagious chuckle I heard in the summertime. Once the guides all had their assignments and clients were taken care of, Ralph invited me on a horseback ride. We meandered through the changing leaves, climbing to the top of the valley in which the Box Y Ranch is nestled. He ensured my safety and comfort, while being coy about where we were riding, as if he were keeping a fun secret. When our horses crested the mountain side, I understood the surprise. What lay before us was breathtaking! A giant bowl of greenery plummeted between barren peaks, a rainbow of autumn colors threaded each ridge as the Grey’s River rolled through its base. Ralph showed pride sharing the magnificent country. When asked what he likes best about being in the hunting industry, Ralph would tell you, “I just love putting a smile on people’s faces. The Grey’s River is one of those places, when you are hunting there, you are going to know what the top of an eagle looks like when he’s flying. Its a wonderful industry to be in and you’re outside! Just look at this office we are in!”
We couldn’t have summed it up any better! Thank you Ralph for your time and for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm with SNS clients. You are a great gift to the hunting industry.
If you would like to experience the Grey’s River territory with SNS Outfitter & Guides, CALL NOW!