If you plan to hunt next fall, you’d better start lining up an outfitter right away. The good ones fill up fast. Even Stoltz doesn’t get in with the best outfits for the upcoming season because they are booked a year, even two or three, in advance.
So how do you find a reputable guide? The recommendation of a friend is worth more than perhaps anything, but Stoltz will poke around the Internet and even watch television shows that profile a region or a specific outfitter. Then he’ll contact the outfitter and ask for a current list of references. He’ll call successful and unsuccessful hunters and ask them about their experience with the outfit. Even if they didn’t tag a monster buck, they should at least be satisfied with the camp itself and the effort put forth by the outfitter and his guides. Of course, if an outfitter gives you only a limited selection of references, especially if they were all successful, he might be hiding something.
“I like to spend some time looking at outfitter Web sites. What’s the quality of the deer their clients are taking? An up-to-date Web site with lots of good information is a decent gauge of how serious that outfitter is about his hunting business,” Stoltz notes. “Make sure the photos are current. If the deer were all taken five or 10 years ago, the place may be burned out. Do they have trophy standards, or can their hunters shoot the first legal buck they see? I want to hunt an area where the bucks have a chance to grow old.”
Stoltz also asks lots of questions of the outfitter himself. How much land does the outfitter hunt, and how many hunters does he run through camp in a typical season? More land is always better, but the hunter-to-acres ratio is a good indication of overall hunting pressure. What’s the hunting style? Stoltz won’t hunt over bait, which is the main reason he has never hunted Saskatchewan. Baiting is not only legal in Saskatchewan, but practiced by virtually every deer camp in the province. Can hunters move if they aren’t happy where they’ve been placed? A couple of days in the same stand can get old in a hurry. What exactly is included in the price? What isn’t? Some outfitters will pick you up at the airport at no extra charge; some won’t.
“A good outfitter should be accommodating, but hunters have to have at least some faith in their guides. If my guide insists that I stay in my stand all day because the deer are likely to move all day, I’m going to do what he says,” adds Stoltz. “On the other hand, if I’ve sat in the same stand for three days without seeing so much as a spike, I want the freedom to move to a new spot.”
Stoltz is a hardcore bowhunter, but he won’t hesitate to pick up a rifle if the situation dictates it. For him, hunting deer with archery tackle not only increases the challenge and the reward, it gives him first crack at unpressured bucks. That’s important.
“If I had to choose, I’d hunt the first days of the season before the bucks get pressured by other hunters,” says Stoltz. “They will still be on their normal patterns and they are more likely to move during daylight hours. On the other hand, the outfitter might have enough land that stands don’t get any pressure prior to your hunt. If that’s the case, I’ll take whatever is available. I would also like to hunt the four or five days prior to the rut when bucks are really moving in search of does.”
Of course, the best outfitter in the choicest territory can only put you in the right situation. It’s up to you to hunt hard, stay focused and make every opportunity count. Remember all the sacrifices you made to go on that hunt.