Former Hunting Guides Share Fun Times and Life Lessons
By Brad Goins
Kane Mitchell of Pedestal Bank, Beau Barbe of the Drew Estate, George Paret of Gordon’s Drugstore and Hal McMillin of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury have all become prominent professional leaders in the Lake Area. And they all began their professional lives working as hunting guides in Southwest Louisiana in the 1970s.
We’ll take a look at the diverse array of skills they acquired when they were hunting guides and how they went on to apply those skills in the professional lives they led after their hunting guide days.
Kane Mitchell thinks that being a hunting guide is likely to make one proficient in social skills. “It’s a social thing,” he said. Guides learn such skills as accommodation, courtesy.
They must also learn how to converse; how to be a conversationalist; how to tell jokes. On those days when the hunting is just plain slow, the guide must keep the talk going. Mitchell had to accustom himself to using such timeworn conversation boosters as, “You should have been here yesterday.”
Beau Barbe, now trustee of the H.C. Drew Estate, had the same experience as a young hunting guide. He said he had to be an “entertainer.” He had to “learn how to speak really quickly.”
Mitchell said he had “amazing conversations,” and as a result, his “knowledge of the world expanded.”
“You [built] a rapport with them,” said Hal McMillin. He recalls that a hunting buddy once paired McMillin with a genius-level-intelligence scholar who crafted medicines. He “brought a guy [to the Chateau Charles] who was super-intelligent.” He wanted to see just how McMillin would manage to bond with this brain.
Eventually, the two hit on the fact that they did have a common interest — Motown. They spent the last part of their hunting day singing Motown hits together.
His buddy was impressed. “I watched you work that guy,” he told McMillin. “You were trying to find a rapport.”
In his work as a young guide, Barbe says, he had to “learn to talk to people and look them in the eye.” He also had to learn how to “read them.”
The same was true of Paret when he worked as an 18-year-old guide at T&S Wildlife, the guide service ran by the owners of the Chateau Charles. Not only did he have to read people, but he had to read their level of intoxication.
It was in dealing with such clients that Hal McMillin first learned about entrepreneurship while working as a guide. He saw that some hunters stayed up until late in the night drinking. He made certain that the next morning he had plenty of Excedrin, sweet rolls and Coke on hand. He got excellent tips as a result. The lesson he learned was: “Take care of your clients and you’ll make more money … [The experience] really taught you the keys of entrepreneurship at an early age.”
Paret refused to take people who were drunk on hunts. But he sometimes took those who showed a moderate level of intoxication. The 90-minute boat ride to Johnson Bayou in 40 degree temperatures could work wonders when it came to sobering people up.
But being a guide wasn’t just a matter of weeding out drunks. Barbe said that as a hunting guide, “you learn quickly that there are people you want to do stuff for and those you don’t.” He said there were some clients who were “aggravating, demanding”; who treated him “with not a lot of respect.” Fortunately, it was “not very often” that such clients came along.
McMillin admitted, “it was a challenge to take on the more difficult clients.”
Paret said much the same thing about the bad apples he sometimes wound up with as a young hunting guide. “You had great people, but then you had other people.”
Paret said he had “to be good with customer relations; be able to adapt. You had to be very flexible.” With each client, “you had to play it by ear.”
Through it all, said Paret, he developed his “people skills.”
Barbe said that he “made great friends” as a guide. Paret echoed the sentiment, noting “you make a lot of friends” in the job. And McMillin stated that “the number of lifelong friends I made was amazing.”
When it came to moving up in the world of business and success, Mitchell learned that the job of being a guide was a great means of networking. As a young man, he was, he says, “hunting with executives, chairmen of boards, judges. It was a great mix of successful businessmen.”
Of his time as a guide, Barbe noted, “You meet people from all walks of life. Multi, multi-millionaires.” Some of these people, Barbe says, gave “good advice.”
McMillin points out that the 1970s was a time when the petrochem industry was at its peak, and oil and chemical companies were spending lots of money on entertaining clients at hunting camps. McMillin says his clients included CEOs, CFOs, elected officials, pro athletes. It was “a Who’s Who of people coming to Southwest Louisiana.” McMillin thinks the food and hospitality at Chateau Charles at the time was “better than anywhere in he world.”
“Those kind of people were totally dependent on us,” he says. “They were in our world [that is, the marsh]. They had no clue. We were in control [of them].”
At a certain point, Mitchell realized he was making contacts that might one day be very useful to him. “After a while, I began keeping a log,” he said. Some of the hunters gave him their phone numbers, telling him to “come and see me” after he finished his studies at LSU. “You developed a contact list for sure,” he says.
“Some famous people” came to hunt with T&S Wildlife and the Chateau Charles. Mitchell was especially intrigued by hunters from China and Japan, who often gave guides extravagant gifts that they didn’t want to bother to transport home. Sometimes these gifts included the guns they’d used to hunt.
Mitchell said, “I would not be in banking today” were it not for the contacts he made as a hunting guide. “It was a great opportunity and probably unique to the area.”
‘Much More Than Pulling A Trigger’
Mitchell worked as a guide from 1975 through 1985 at T&S Wildlife out of the Chateau Charles. At the time, they were starting what was called the “day hunt.” Hunters had the option of just hunting during the day or of following their day hunt with a relaxing night in the Chateau Charles hotel.
“They’d wine and dine and we made sure they had a good time,” said Mitchell. These hunters were largely prominent businessmen who spent all their work days in stressful meetings and negotiations. At the hunting lodge they could relax and talk and “not worry about appearances.”
“It was just a great time,” said Mitchell.
The whole experience of being a hunting guide, he said, is “so much more than shooting ducks. It’s much more than pulling a trigger.”
Indeed, to this day, he said, “I’m obsessed with it.”
“What I enjoyed the most,” said McMillin, “was that every day was different” — whether it was a matter of the weather, the circumstances or the clients he was working with. “It was always fun.”
Speaking of the hunting guides he knew in the 1970s, Mitchell said, “all of us were young.” The reason was that “it’s hard work to be a guide.”
A large part of the job is getting things ready before the hunt so that the client will have everything he might need and “things will go smoothly.”
Paret, who was also a guide for T&S Wildlife out of the Chateau Charles, had to report to work at 2:30 am — quite an order for an 18-year-old. The experience forced him to practice self-restraint. “You’ve got to behave at night” when you get up at 2:30.
Barbe recalled that when he was a young guide, he got up at 2:45 am daily. He says he worked seven days a week, 10 hours a day.
The work gave the guides the fringe benefit of being able hear the conversations of some quite wealthy hunters as they fortified themselves with extravagant breakfasts. “There was a lot going on at those 3:30 am breakfasts,” said Mitchell.
“You learned a lot of discipline” from the job, said Mitchell. “People who were flying in from Chicago or L.A. were relying on you … [You had to] show up, be polite, take care of your people.”
Barbe too said the job taught self-discipline. “You had to be in the right place at the right time.” Preparation was a crucial part of this discipline. Good hunting guides must do such tasks as cleaning blinds and preparing boats before hunts begin.
Paret recalls that in addition to preparing before hunting season, guides had to “brush up things” during splits. And they had to “brush up” after each hunt, regardless of the weather conditions at the time. Paret was paid $30 per hunt.
How do young men find the discipline to do such hard work over such long hours? Mitchell said, “You have to love it. That’s critical. If ever there was a labor of love …”
“I loved every minute of it … The money, tips, contacts … [It was a] wonderful experience.”
All the work, says Paret, “gave me responsibility … just managing your time, money and physical abilities” was a great challenge. “You had to be extra, extra careful.”
After Guide Work
For eight years, Barbe worked as a guide. Much of the time, he went to a second job when his guide work ended at noon. Contrary to what some might expect, Barbe said, “It was fun.” But after eight years of being a guide, Barbe had a wife and child. “It was time to move on.”
After he finally gave up his gig as a guide, he “went through a lot of jobs,” and in the process, “found out that’s not what [he wanted] to do.” He reached the conclusion that “education is the best thing you could do” to build a solid career.
Barbe has now spent 40 years in his job as trustee of the H.C. Drew Estate. He said, “I love it. Helping people. God has blessed me with a great job. Any time you can help people it’s great.”
Although these hunters are far advanced in their professional careers, their passion for hunting hasn’t diminished with age. If anything, it seems to have intensified.
Mitchell, who is well into his 60s, said, “I still keep hunting with a bunch of guys.” And he still considers himself a hunting guide — just not one who’s paid.
Likewise, Barbe, who is now 70, said he “hunts almost every day” during the hunting seasons. “I just have a love for it. I like the outdoors. I have a love of wildlife.” He enjoys the times when family and friends hunt with him. During his hunts, he said, “I feel real close to God.”
It’s easy to see how the skills of the hunting guide transfer to careers available in the larger world. Guides must learn to read their clients, communicate with them and meet their needs. They must be able to work hard and work long hours. They are obliged to complete certain tasks at certain times; they learn to manage deadlines. They also learn how to network and reap the benefits of networking. And they get tips on other valuable skills by listening to the conversations of leaders from a wide variety of businesses.