In January 2001, Cody Carr, a zealous young Montanan, was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with his father, Jerry, for the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. The nine-day event was—and remains—the biggest consumer hunting venue in the country, and is now known as the Great American Outdoor Show. It accounted for nearly 75 percent of the clientele who booked hunts with Jerry’s outfitting business in the Northwest.

A brazen cowboy with nothing to his name but a well-worn pair of boots and an old Dodge pickup, Cody was just a few short years from starting his own hunting outfit.

After the Sports Show one evening, Cody and a fellow guide hit a local line dance joint. While there, he met a young lady who did a fantastic job of ignoring him. After asking for a dance and being rejected at least a dozen times, Cody eventually dragged his future wife, Koliss, onto the dance floor.

At the time, she was working in Auburn, Washington at a Christian kids’ camp, but was visiting friends in her hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After a year’s time, the two were engaged and planning a wedding. Their honeymoon consisted of camping in Yellowstone while travelling to sell elk urine lure (Jerry’s side business).

About the time their first daughter was born, Jerry convinced the young couple to start their own outfitting company. While Cody and his two brothers were great assets to Jerry’s company, Cabinet Mountain Outfitters, Dad wanted them to pursue their own dreams. Cody got his Montana Outfitters License, and in 2004 he and Koliss started taking clients for Cody Carr’s Hunting Adventures.

Breaking Ground

hunting lodge cody carr

“I grew up outfitting and never wanted to do anything else,” said Cody. “It’s in our blood. Dad is still doing it after 45-plus years; climbing mountains faster than most 20-somethings.”

A decade ago, the first clients at Cody Carr’s Hunting Adventures were likely his father’s patrons who, with some prompting from Jerry, signed on to give Cody a hand. Today, hunters come from across the country for elk, deer, bear, moose, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, mountain lion, wild turkey and more.

Starting a big game outfitting business is no walk in the park, especially when you’re the youngest person in the state to attempt it. A prerequisite for getting an outfitter’s license is having logged 100 days as a licensed guide. Then, you need to pass more tests as part of the process to attain the outfitters license. Beyond that, there are five different—and occasionally conflicting—agencies that need to acknowledge the existence of the company. Finally, purchasing a permit in an area where the company is allowed to operate can be difficult and costly.

Not including equipment and property, Carr estimates that his start-up costs were around $50,000 in 2004. Business loans from the local credit union were the lifeblood of the young company, but Jerry’s generosity and desire to see his kids succeed had no limits. Jerry gave his son a substantial amount of day-use on his own territory, which meant that Cody could outfit on land allotted to and paid for by Jerry. Otherwise, Cody couldn’t have afforded to secure his own land at the time.

“It evolved quickly. The first year we outfitted, I didn’t realize it’d be a full-time endeavor,” he said. “I initially thought I could hunt in the spring, fall and winter while volunteering to work with troubled kids in the summer. Now, if we’re not hunting, we’re scouting.”

As the business grew, he and Koliss bought 5 acres as a base camp and slowly added the infrastructure they needed as the money was available. Today the Carrs employ eight guides and a number of other helpers and cooks. Over the years, the company has purchased permits for more land, expanding to the nearly 3 million-acre territory it now covers in the northwest corner of the state.

What started with a spare bedroom and an outfitting license has expanded to a two-location hunting outfit that boasts some of the highest public-land success rates in Montana.

Caring For Clients

cody carr hunting
The Carrs strive to give their clients a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, custom-tailoring a hunt to give each one the experience he or she wants, be it going after bear, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, etc. To deliver this, the off-season is taken up with scouting and organizing each trip down to the last detail. It’s not easy but Cody says he has his dream job.

“We’re successful because in our camp the client comes first; safety, their cumulative experience, the trophy, in that order,” said Cody. “But, our business is different than most. We sell dreams, not houses, cars or clothes. There’s a lot of pressure to deliver. For many of our hunters, this is a once in a life time experience.”

To foster a referral-driven and return-customer client base, he goes to great lengths to custom-tailor hunts for hunters, as opposed to using a cookie-cutter approach.

“If a hunter really wants to rough it and get back in the big country, he can hunt from a spike camp,” Cody explained. “Others might prefer to sleep at the lodge every night. We get a number of husband-wife teams who generally want to hunt together. There’s a wide range of age and physical fitness. No matter what the situation, we do our best to make the hunt fit what the client wants.”

The ability to do that without fail means having employees who share the sentiment. When the Carrs hire a guide, they look for three main character traits. The first is the ability to adapt to a wide range of situations and deal with any personality a hunter might have. Second is empathy; the ability to make the hunter’s goal his own, regardless of what that goal is. And, the one trait that can’t be learned: desire. A good guide pushes himself to be the best he can be, whether tracking a world-class animal or scouting in the offseason.

An Evolving Industry

cody carr hunting adventures hunters

It comes as no surprise that the past decade has brought major changes to the world of outfitting. Technology evolves at an exponential rate, and hunting equipment isn’t immune.

“With advancements in rifle technology, an average Joe with a solid rest can now make shots that only world-class snipers could make 20 years ago,” said Cody. “The super magnums on the market today are a force to be reckoned with.” He admits that, from his standpoint, this technology can be both good and bad. Another game changer is Google Earth and GPS technology. Knowing exactly what’s over the next ridge, and how best to move in on distant game has changed things.

One challenge that Cody didn’t anticipate was the change in hunter mentality because of TV. Unrealistic expectations and no knowledge of what’s involved can bring unprepared hunters to camp. “I’ve had guys come out who are 100 pounds overweight, expecting to see a 7 x 7 bull elk bugling his head off behind every tree,” he explained. “This is the Rocky Mountains. You’re going to hike; you’re going to work hard for your trophy. Hunting is about the experience. If you just want to shoot, go to the range.”

Family Matters

cody carr hunting adventures family
The Carrs on the porch of one of the cabins used for visitors. From left to right: Cody, Koliss, Jocelyn, Jaelyn and Jaycee.

“A lot of guys think I have the ultimate job,” Cody added. “I agree, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but what hunters don’t see is that there’s a lot of sacrifice involved. For over half the year, I’m up long before sunrise and don’t return till midnight. If I could change anything about the past 10 years, I’d go back and take some time off to spend with my family.”

Cody and Koliss have three little girls, Jocelyn, 13,  Jaelyn, 11, and Jaycee, 8. Now that they are old enough to tag along, summer scouting trips in easy terrain can double as family camping outings. “I think all businesses have a ‘sweet spot’ or perfect size,” said Carr. “A few years ago, we pushed hard to keep client volume up, making sure that all the beds were full during the season. Now, we focus more on maximizing the experience for everyone who comes. That means roughly 30-percent fewer hunters, but it also means very high hunter satisfaction. We’re in the sweet spot.”

While the pressure to scout in the offseason is as high as ever, the activity during hunting season has dropped slightly from its once breakneck, chaotic pace. Their hunters are happier than ever, and Cody and Koliss now have the opportunity to spend quality time with the girls before they’re all grown up.

Going & Saving Green

cody carr hunting lodge

As the Carrs’ business expanded, so did the infrastructure and payroll, number of guides, cooks, horses, ATVs, hunting vehicles and sleeping quarters. The seemingly endless amount of hunting and camping equipment, as well as chest freezers and tack, were spread out over a variety of small outbuildings on the property.

In early 2013, they decided to build a centrally-located shop that would include garage bays, a tack room, office space, a bathroom and storage. The only question was: “Now how do we heat it efficiently?”

“There’s no shortage of dead, standing wood here since the mountain pine beetle has been attacking large tracts of forest,” said Cody. “We needed a shop, and I’ve always wanted a wood-fired heating system.” Those two criteria evolved into something much larger. The gasification wood boiler in the shop now heats three buildings, and supplies domestic hot water to five bathrooms, but not without the help of some semi-local talent.

The Carrs hired Ambrose Geo in Stevensville, Montana, about 100 miles away. Owner D’Aron Johnson and Project Manager Bill Smith were involved from the job’s design phase.

“Gone are the days of smoke-billowing wood stoves that need to be stocked hourly,” said D’Aron, whose 30 years in the HVAC industry have given him a grasp on what’s possible when using non-conventional heat sources. “Welcome to the age of thermal mass, re-burn boilers, and variable speed pumping.”

He and Bill designed a system that would heat four different zones in the 2,700 square-foot shop, both levels of the home, the entire guest lodge, and domestic hot water throughout.

Utility Space

cody carr hunting lodge construction
The 800-gallon Niles Steel buffer tank is hoisted into place.

The new, two-story shop has all the western trimmings, from board and batten siding to a green steel roof. With a tack room, mezzanine office, space for four pickup trucks, and a mechanical room, the building is pure rustic, utilitarian space.

A stainless, dual-wall smokestack protruding from one wall even gives the building a chrome accent. Step into the boiler room and you’ll find a blue, 200 MBH Econoburn boiler—and most notably—an 800-gallon buffer tank made by Niles Steel Tank.

The wood-fueled boiler uses an innovative gasification process that delivers an 87 percent thermal efficiency rating. Econoburn boilers are designed for use in residential, agricultural and commercial applications, making one a perfect fit for the Carrs’ property, which is effectively all three. The boilers are available in sizes from 100,000 to one million BTUs.

What makes the boiler unique is that as wood is burned in the firebox, fresh air is blown downward through the logs and coals. This creates a mixture of hot air and wood gases that are forced through a refractory, or second combustion chamber, where it meets a jet of super-heated air, creating a torch-like combustion of the retained gases. This process is known as wood gasification.

The smoke and creosote vapor that would normally go up the chimney as visible smoke are instead burned at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This high-temperature secondary combustion not only cleans up emissions dramatically, but also gives the boiler near-condensing levels of efficiency.

Burn times vary greatly depending on moisture content and species of the wood, but in a properly sized system they will range from six to eight hours. The Carrs burn abundant local softwoods, keeping burn times shorter. But, the system that Ambrose Geo designed uses the boiler to its full potential, regardless of output fluctuation.

Thermal Mass

cody carr hunting lodge boiler
Cody Carr stokes the boiler during a late cold snap. Softwood is abundant on the property.

A boiler loop and circulator move a water/glycol solution between the boiler and a glass-lined buffer tank that has no coils, so it can double as a massive hydro-separator. It is 12 feet tall and shrouded in 4 inches of insulation and sheet metal. Acting as a huge flywheel, it absorbs the wide temperature swings coming from the boiler. In the event that nobody could put wood in the stove, the hot water in the tank alone could supply heat to the property for quite a while.

“The tank’s water temperature will vary according to where the boiler is in its cycle, and what the heating loads are,” explained Johnson. The delivery system is designed to work at temperatures between 140 and 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Including the buffer tank, boiler, and connecting pipe, over 1,000 gallons of water are in the system. Bill and Cody fired the boiler for the first time in late August, before the lodge filled with bowhunters. It took nearly a day for the tank to reach its target temperature, but once it was there, it wasn’t going anywhere fast.

“When we fired the system, we brought the tank up to temperature, let the fire in the boiler burn out, and then went away for a three-day weekend,” said Cody. “When we came back, the tank had only lost three degrees!”

Shop And Tack Room Heat

cody carr hunting lodge trench drains
When construction was complete, covers were removed from the Watts Dead Level trench drains.

The shop has two heating elements; Watts RadiantPEX+ tubing that was installed on top of blue-board insulation before the slab was poured and three hydronic unit heaters, one of which heats the office upstairs. Another hydronic heater is in the tack room, which needs to be heated quickly.

“We often get in at midnight with wet saddles,” said Cody. “It’s best for the horses and tack if we can have all the equipment dry before we head out again at 5 am. Bringing the room up to 80 or 90 degrees in a hurry, plus having air movement, is a huge advantage.” The third unit heater is in the main service bay, providing quick supplemental heat.

Space between radiant loops was left for trench drains. Since snow-caked vehicles parked on a radiant slab mean major water issues, Cody took his floor-drainage seriously. Reinforced, stainless steel slotted grating ensured resilience regardless of what he drove over the drain: car, truck, horse, snowmobile, etc.

Serious Distribution

cody carr hunting lodge cables
Bill Smith made sure the radiant tubing installation stayed ahead of the concrete pour deadline.

One challenge Ambrose Geo encountered was the distance between buildings, both from a thermal and pumping standpoint. The lodge is 400 feet from the shop, and the home is roughly half of that.

Pre-insulated R-Flex supply and return tubing was used to circulate water. Installed just below the frost-line, the pipe consists of oxygen barrier PEX, surrounded by polyethylene foam insulation, all encased by a rugged corrugated carrier. Its flexibility and light weight make it far easier to install than rigid piping.

In both the lodge and the house, air handlers and ductwork were used to supply heat. At each building, an 80-gallon indirect-fired water heater also taps the supply manifold stemming from the flex tubing. Existing electric water heaters provide redundancy.

“We use Bradford White indirect tanks whenever we can,” said Bill Smith, who stayed in the Carrs’ guest quarters while he worked 4-10s. “Their smooth, glass-lined, steel coil is spread evenly throughout the tank, instead of being coiled at the bottom. It’s the only American-made tank I know of that uses this particular internal coil approach.”

Simply getting water to where it needed to be was a design challenge. Pumps with high head and low flow rates were needed, so he used a Taco 2400 series pump for each of the two underground supply loops.

Crossing T’s, Dotting I’s

cody carr boiler

Given the volatile firing temperatures of a wood-burning system and the wide variety of connected load, Bill Smith took several extra precautions with the near-boiler piping. He linked the main supply and return lines from the boiler with a 1-inch pipe and installed a hydronic circulator pump.

“To keep the boiler in re-burn mode, and more importantly to prevent condensing, we needed to ensure that the unit never sees return water temps below 140 degrees Fahrenheit,” he explained. “The circulator runs off a setpoint, pulling water from the supply side to temper the return water in the unlikely event that it drops too low.”

To keep the huge water volume in an anaerobic state, a Taco 4900 series air and dirt separator is piped high, on the line that runs from the top of the buffer tank to the manifold that consolidates the connected load. Two, 150-gallon expansion tanks sit near the buffer tank.

Toasty And Smokeless

cody carr hunting lodge inventory station
On rural jobsites, the back of Bill Smith’s truck becomes a workspace and inventory station.

“The reason I didn’t do this earlier is that I didn’t want an outdoor boiler smoking up the property all winter,” said Cody. “Now, we have a camp full of hunters, and nobody knows the heat comes from wood.”

When camp is full, the system provides hot water for as many as 20 showers daily. In years past, the Carrs were spending roughly $1,000 each month for LP. In September, the family purchased 15 cords of pine and tamarack logs for $500 from their church’s fundraiser.

“It’s difficult to say what they’ll burn this year,” said Bill. “It’ll depend on the severity of our winter and number of hunters. I’m guessing between 12 and 15 cords of softwood.”

Regardless, they’ll be spending less than in prior years. And they’ll do so knowing that their method of burning wood isn’t harming the environment they depend on for their livelihood.

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This article was originally published in “New Pioneer” Fall 2017. To subscribe, visit

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