Squatting and glassing a “honey hole” somewhere in southeastern Idaho, hunting guide Ken Jafek, 75, is patience personified.
“If I squatted like you do for even five minutes, I couldn’t stand up again,” quips Paul Stewart of Longview, Wash., a longtime client.
With a tinge of Oklahoma twang, Ken teases, “You need me to carry that rifle for you, Paul? Is it gettin’ a little too heavy?”
Their brotherly banter is born of more than two decades of hunting big game together throughout southeastern Idaho. Paul first heard about Ken after a frustrating and fruitless deer hunt.
“Before heading home, I stopped at the Blue Goose Bar in Burley,” recalls Paul, who poured out his frustrations as the bartender poured him a beer. Customers told him he had overlooked the most important part of a hunt, besides a rifle and license. He had forgotten to call 1-800-Cougar Ken, a nickname for a Malta resident whose sense of humor, honesty and uncanny knack for tracking big game made him a popular guide.
From what people said, Ken had a built-in global positioning system, was as surefooted as a mountain goat, had the eyesight of a hawk, the strength of a moose, and the silent predatory nature of a cougar. They warned him that Ken had an aw-shucks attitude and would describe himself as “just a hillbilly from Oklahoma,” but that was only a good-humored disguise of his true nature.
Paul had to find out for himself, so he booked a hunt with Cougar Ken and had serious second thoughts when he first saw his guide’s beanpole physique. “You didn’t look like you were in very good shape, and I thought I could walk you into the ground. I was wrong.”
Ken laughs about Paul being left in the dust by the end of the day.
“Ken doesn’t quit,” Paul says. “Ever. He’ll walk from daylight to dark. He’s honest and head-and-shoulders above the rest in the hunting field, and his sense of humor makes hunting so much fun. He’s phenomenal at what he does.”
Since 1982, when Ken started War Eagle Outfitters and Guides, he has helped clients bag big game. He guided during his off hours from his day job, managing the C&Y Farms for the J.R. Simplot Company near Malta, a job he held for 25 years before retiring in 1997.
“I don’t try to run a lot of hunters through,” he says. “Usually I guide for a dozen mule deer, three or four mountain lions, a moose, elk, antelope and bighorn sheep. My sons, Dan and Dennis and son-in-law Blair Davis help me out.”
Ken became so renowned for his guiding that Idaho State University researchers who wanted to study mountain lions knew who to call for help. From 1985 to 2002, Ken and his hounds tracked and treed cougars throughout the Raft River Valley so radio collars could be placed on them.
“People from England, Australia, Japan and Germany went out with us to study the lions,” Ken says.
Three radio-collared cougars traveled hundreds of miles. “One we collared around here ended up near Tonopah, Nev., another was found north of Gardiner, Mont., and a third ended up east of Baggs, Wyo.,” he recalls. “That’s quite a ways.”
On mountain lion hunts, Ken relies on several Walker hounds he has trained. The baying and bawling of hounds on a scent is as natural to him as his own breathing.
“My dad and granddad had hounds, so I’ve heard them ole hounds bark all my life.”
Growing up north of Stillwater, Okla., “in tornado alley,” Ken says he knew since childhood that the best hunting awaited him in the West. After graduating from high school and wandering western states, he returned home, proposed to his sweetheart Dolly, and they moved to southeastern Idaho in 1960.
Ken says he feels fortunate to work outdoors and hunt in Idaho because of “the clear blue skies, good, clean air and, of course, the rain, snow, wind and cold wet sleeping bags.”
Since starting his outfitting business, Ken admits he and his clients have aged a bit and now prefer sleeping in his bunkhouse, where they appreciate the luxuries of indoor plumbing, electricity and Dolly’s home cooked meals.
“I’ve hunted a little – ever since I was 7, even though some folks don’t believe it – but not nearly enough.”
You can contact Ken Jafek through the War Eagle Outfitters & Guides website.