January 21, 1936 – September 20, 2016
Born Archie Duane Neal in the Sand Hills of Nebraska in 1936, Duane became one of the outfitting industry’s most respected and prominent spokesmen. He served as president of Treasure State Outfitters and was instrumental in the merging of several outfitting organizations into Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.
Duane was elected president of MOGA early and remained a member of its Board of Directors for many years. His deep, melodious voice and slowly spoken—and often humorous—words guided many a contentious discussion to a positive and sensible resolution.
After serving in the Air Force during the late 1950s, Duane and the love of his life, Ruth (Hyatt) Neal moved to Montana in 1962. They first landed in White Sulphur Springs and worked on a ranch there until they bought their own ranch in Paradise Valley, where they ran cattle, danced, played cards, and raised a family.
In 1968, Duane and Ruth bought Black Otter Guide Service. As they developed that business, they downsized their ranching interests. They guided summer trips and fall hunts up Grizzly Creek in the backcountry of the Absaroka Beartooth Mountains and in the Gallatin Range’s Big Creek drainage. They also operated summer trips out of Cooke City for several years, as well as in Lake Plateau country and Yellowstone National Park.
Daughters Shelly, Shawna, and Sonya were raised to work at their parents’ side. Duane once commented that the best guides he could hire would be his own daughters. When grandchildren came along, they became part of the outfit as well.
Duane was an excellent horseman and really loved his mules. It was said that “he could pack anything with hair on it.” He decided to dictate his memoirs on tape while he was alone leading pack strings in the hills, and he’d frequently punctuate these recordings with “Whoa, dammit!” as he tended to the real work at hand. Guests and crew alike benefited from Duane’s exceptional knowledge about the plants, birds and wildlife in his world.
A high point of Duane’s involvement with MOGA was a 1981 trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby against the “bid prospectus” proposed by the Forest Service. This effort was successful. Duane and Ruth hardly ever missed a MOGA convention, and Duane received the Pioneer Award from MOGA in 2006.
Duane is succeeded as “Head Gahoona” at Black Otter Guide Service by Gary Francis. Ruth and Duane’s daughters and grandchildren are still very much a part of the business, as is Ruth herself. Duane passed away peacefully at home September 20, 2016.
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