Live and Let Live - Wyoming is home to all sorts with this mentality and Josh Kirk is no exception. At the foothills of our very own Wind River Range, you can find the likes of a modern day mountain man embodying what it means to live off the land. If you've ever seen the History Channel's 10 season series Mountain Men then you'll get the idea.
We caught up with Josh at the bison ranch he manages and inquired about what it takes to be a survivalist, a mountain man in this day and age, and what life is like working bison on the edge of Wyoming's wilderness.
"Being able to keep your head in any survival situation, practicing daily how to procure food, fire, water, and shelter...and implementing situational awareness is vital."
What does it mean to be a mountain man in 2022?
"In my opinion, I would say during the last 150 years, modern society is selling its souls for supply, demand, and a house on main street. For me, keeping these freedoms alive in a modern 21st century world is no different than the original mountain men donning silk and wool clothing or shooting a musket that was ignited by an ancient technology - flint and steel. That was the technology of their day, yet they were still reliant on the old trade of fur pelts, beads, and blankets due to commerce with indigenous peoples as they explored new lands. I am no different. My goal is to keep this heritage alive by preserving and passing on ancient knowledge that hopefully one day will not go extinct. For me, this is euphoria."
How did you get your start working with the History Channel?
"Coming from a self-sufficient and off the grid way of life, I started a survival school that expanded across the U.S. by teaching the standards of survival, such as food, fire, water, and shelter procurement. Through teaching these survival methods I was ultimately led to consulting on survival/off-grid reality television shows. Then, I was approached by the History Channel to become one of the “Mountain Men.”
Given all your interests (survivalist, rancher, primitive skills, etc.), where do you feel these paths will lead you? Where would you like them to lead you?
"For me, being able to share this ancient tribal knowledge by teaching what it is to respect life through the harvest, while utilizing every resource that is given, as the primal men and women of old have done before me, is my ultimate achievement and will be my legacy."
How do you manage the needs of bison, while also supporting the local wildlife? Do you see these as two competing goals?
"My first responsibility is to wildlife. By implementing wildlife friendly fencing and removing old barbwire fencing, I can drop my upper wires so that it does not deter the migration of elk, deer, antelope, etc. Raising an indigenous species such as the American Bison is non-competing with the local wildlife due to my extensive conservation and holistic land management efforts. However, I do have to contend with predators often, who see my bison as a local and organic buffet. I don't go looking for a fight with local wolves and predators, but when they walk into my den, I fight for what is mine."
Given your background as a wilderness survival instructor what do you feel is your most valuable survival skill?
"I believe Horace Kephart said it best - 'The more you carry in your head, the less you carry on your back. And in the school of the woods, there is no graduation day.' For me, survival is from the neck up. Being able to keep your head in any survival situation, practicing daily how to procure food, fire, water, and shelter primitively and modernly, and implementing situational awareness by educating yourself with these ancient skill sets is vital."
What's the craziest thing that's ever happened to you on the ranch?
"I face struggles daily on the ranch, the Wind River Range can be unforgiving. I have been charged and tracked by bears, hooked and charged by bison, and am a survivor of stage 2 hypothermia. What I have found is that I will fail daily, but for me failure is education and the most important thing I can do is fail forward."
What's your Personal Philosophy?
"We as a society should strive to think more like a (uniform) tribe. If we can learn to set aside our own ideology and indifferences, such as in politics and religion, and learn to respect each other while practicing the old saying, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother,” then and only then will we be able to come together as one people, which will ensure our ultimate survival."
Josh is a homesteader, hunter, and ranch manager at the feet of Wyoming’s Wind River Range in Lander, Wyoming. Along with his wife, Bonnie, and daughter, Eden, Josh makes ends meet by working with the American Bison. He’s committed to making a living by propagating a species that was nearly wiped from the landscape once upon a time.