Russell was a high school dropout who trapped for a living during the Great Depression, then went to work for bighorn sheep guide Bert Riggall. Russell's intimate knowledge of the wilderness led him to write about it, and he sold his first major article to Outdoor Life in 1945. His award-winning books include Grizzly Country (1967), Horns in the High Country (1973), Adventures with Wild Animals (1977), The Canadian Cowboy (1994), Campfire Stories (1998) and his autobiographical Memoirs of a Mountain Man (1984).
In 1987, he published The Life of a River, a collection of stories and anecdotes about the Oldman River. He produced Grizzly Country and two other feature-length films for international lecture tours, contributing significantly to the understanding of these solitude-loving animals. He received the Crandall Award for Conservation in 1977.