Hush of the Land


Hush of the Land

A Lifetime in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Arnold "Smoke" Elser with Eva-Maria Maggi
Foreword by Tammy Elser

232 pages
25 photographs, 1 map, index


March 2024


$21.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2024


$21.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

March 2024


$21.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

This inspirational memoir chronicles the six-decade quest of packer and outfitter Arnold “Smoke” Elser to protect wild lands by bringing thousands of people deep into the mountains of Montana on horseback. With limited financial means and while still in college, the young man from Ohio decided against a promising career in forestry and chose instead to share his love of wilderness with city dwellers by working as a professional outfitter.

Based on hundreds of hours of interviews, Hush of the Land tells the captivating story of Elser’s early days as a packer in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Bitterroot Mountains. Share the joys and thrills of summer rides, harrowing grizzly bear encounters, fishing in clear mountain streams, and many nights around a campfire within some of the West’s last wild lands. In this lively narrative, Elser recounts how his testimony for the Wilderness Act, and the fight to preserve and expand Montana’s wilderness lands, influenced his career as an outfitter and educator and gave him a voice at the center of Montana’s conservation movement.

Author Bio

Arnold “Smoke” Elser is a professional animal packer and a semi-retired instructor of wilderness outfitting and packing at the University of Montana, from which he received a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award. Elser’s work as an educator and outfitter has been covered in National Geographic and the PBS documentary Three Miles an Hour. He is the coauthor of Packin’ In on Mules and Horses. Eva-Maria Maggi, PhD, is a writer, social scientist, and packer and teaches courses on wilderness issues at the University of Montana.


“Smoke Elser is a legend not only in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana but throughout the Rocky Mountain West. . . . Hush of the Land will be read for years by those who want a saddle-high view of a unique and adventurous life well lived.”—C. J. Box, New York Times best-selling author of Storm Watch

“Smoke Elser is a Montana treasure. His stories about the Bob Marshall Wilderness allow the reader to see God’s greatest cathedral through Smoke’s lifetime of adventures in this incredible landscape.”—Jon Tester, U.S. senator from Montana

“For more than fifty years Smoke has given his clients a brief but delicious taste of life on the trail in the slow lane. Read a chapter of this book, then close your eyes and transport yourself into the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness with Smoke on a fine adventure, big campfire, full tummy, huge stars. I tried it, it works! You will be there!”—Steve Running, Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate and professor emeritus of ecosystems and conservation sciences at the University of Montana

“There are but a few experiences that really define our lives as westerners and conservationists. Perhaps peering over the south rim of the Grand Canyon at first light. Maybe experiencing Glacier National Park, hearing a first elk bugle, or watching a grizzly sow teach her cubs how to forage. For a lucky few Montanans like me, being around a campfire with Smoke Elser is one of those life-changing events. We know that Smoke’s life is the quintessential hardscrabble storybook that most Montanans wish could be frozen in amber as permanent and true. Of course, it is interwoven with his unique wilderness ethic, sense of adventure, and reverence for the places we all love. As you read, it won’t take long to understand why Smoke is so revered as an outfitter, teacher, advocate, and incomparable storyteller.”—Ryan Busse, Montana conservationist and author of Gunfight: My Battle against the Industry That Radicalized America

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Tammy Elser
1. Starting Out
2. First Trip into the Bob Marshall
3. Early Hunting
4. A Mule, a Train, and the Fight for Wilderness
5. Boy Scouts
6. A Grizzly Ride and the Great Bear
7. Falls Creek and Bitterroot Hunts
8. Teaching the Ropes
9. Mysterious Boxes
10. The Hole in the Wall
11. A Very Fine Pack Trip
12. The Wall
13. The Grizzly Family on Scapegoat Mountain
14. A Shot in the Dark
15. The Horse on Omar Mountain
16. A Dead Man in the Bitterroot
17. Hunters and People Who Hunt
18. The Fastest Fire in the West
19. Smʔot
Author’s Note

Also of Interest