A Life in the Wild

By Beacon Staff

Steve Hawkins has a lot of stories to tell, enough to fill a book, or even two.

Hawkins, 59, has been a guide and outdoorsman his entire life and now he is retelling his stories in a new book, “When the Woods Were Wild.” For years, people told Hawkins, who lives in Eureka, that he should write a book consisting of his campfire tales and, after enough prodding, he finally began to chip away at the project. But he was sidetracked earlier this year when doctors found a tumor on one of his kidneys.

“(The book) became a little more urgent just in case something happened to me,” Hawkins said.

Growing up in Northwest Montana, Hawkins spent most of his formative years in the Yaak, where his father worked as a logger. It was there that Hawkins fell in love with hunting and fishing, and his career as a guide started when he went to high school in Libby in the early 1970s. When his teachers found out Hawkins was from the Yaak, many of them asked him to take them hunting (Hawkins joked it was the only way he passed his classes) and, one day, he got paid for the outing.

Almost four decades later, Hawkins is a well-known guide and outfitter in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Western Montana.

“He has certainly done a lot of guiding and he’s a respected name in that world,” said Mike Cuffe, a friend and a state representative from Eureka. “I think around hunters and fishermen, maybe legend is not too big a word (for him).”

Despite having a learning disability when he was young, Hawkins went on to own an outfitting business. He also became an established artist, making a name for himself sculpting detailed outdoor scenes. Cuffe said Hawkins’ life is a “small town success story.”

Others, like Terry Comstock, know Hawkins as a talented outdoorsman and good friend.

“We’ve spent a lot of time chasing bobcats and racing around in pickup trucks,” Comstock said. “The best way to describe Steve is that he’s a people person.”

Hawkins’ new book features dozens of stories from his time in the woods – tales of growing up in the Yaak and taking people deep into the woods on hunting trips. Hawkins said he has never been much of a writer and solicited the help of two friends to help him put the book together.

“I figured I’d write it the way I told it around the campfire,” he said.

Hawkins said picking one favorite story from the book would be nearly impossible, “but some mean a little more than others,” including one where he rode through the night on horseback to be with his wife when she gave birth. Since Hawkins was deep in the wilderness and unable to communicate with his family, he and a pilot friend devised a plan. The pilot would circle the campsite three times, signaling to Hawkins that his wife was in labor. A few days into the hunting trip, a plane did just that and Hawkins saddled up and rode 36 miles over nine hours in the middle of the night. When he arrived home he found his wife sound asleep. It was then he realized that a different plane had circled the camp.

Hawkins wanted to preserve these stories for his kids, especially after he found out he had a cancerous tumor. Earlier this year, one of his kidneys was removed and two weeks ago he had surgery in Salt Lake City to remove part of the other. Hawkins said it will take a few months for him to recover, but added that doctors have given him a clean bill of health. Although he said he has less energy now, he expects to continue guiding, although not for long periods of time. He has since sold his guide business, but plans to stay on as an advisor.

“I’m in good spirits and some people don’t believe I had cancer,” he said. “I’ve continued doing what I do.”

Hawkins said as long as he watches what he eats he could live a “long and fruitful life.” In that time he hopes to continue enjoying the outdoors, work on his sculptures and maybe write down a few more of his stories, in hopes of publishing another book soon.

“Those are just a few of the stories,” he said.

Pick up “When the Woods Were Wild” at The Bookshelf in Kalispell.