Arnold D. “Smoke” Elser was born in New Waterford, Ohio. In 1956 he transferred to the University of Montana. The first summer he worked for the Helena National Forest. That fall he began working for Whitetail Ranch, an outfitter and guide business in Ovando, Montana then owned and operated by Howard Copenhaver and Tom Edwards. Smoke married Thelma Norseth of Helena in 1958. They had two daughters, Tammy and Vickie. Smoke graduated from University of Montana in 1964 with a BA in Education, (major in Biological Sciences - emphasis on forestry - and minor in Physical Sciences), and obtained a Montana Teaching Certificate Grades 7-12.
That same year, Smoke began his own packing business, Wilderness Outfitters in Missoula, Montana. He was the owner/operator for 38 years, 1964-2001. Smoke continues to teach his packing class and serves in associations and on boards to protect the wilderness. In 60 years he has never missed packing into the Bob Marshall Wilderness since he started “packin’ in” in 1956. Smoke is one of the most beloved self-taught and trusted packers in the area. Few people who pack into the Bob Marshall Wilderness have not heard of legendary packer, Smoke Elser.