When it comes to hunting, I am more of a do-it-yourselfer than anything else. It’s just my nature. That said, who among us has not dreamed of taking a fully guided “hunt of a lifetime?”
I’ve been on several dozen guided hunts all over the world, both with firearms and archery tackle. The majority have been excellent. Many have been mediocre. A handful have been the trips from hell. The question is, how can you ensure that your once-in-a-lifetime hunt will be a dream come true and not a nightmare?
While there are scads of excellent outfitters out there, there are also a number of outfitters and booking agents who are slicker than a snake oil salesman. These guys show you a lot of pictures of big animals their clients have killed, giving the impression that such success is routine, but fail to note the last time such success was had was during the Nixon campaign.
Before contacting prospective outfitters, honestly answer these questions about why you want to go hunting:
What animal do you really want to hunt?
Sounds basic, but many people do not target a single species as their priority. If hunting elk is your number-one goal, with mule deer secondary but nice if one happens along, you want to choose an outfitter in an area with lots of elk, not one in an area with lots of muleys but few elk.
Is taking an animal more important than the quality of the experience?
If so, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Even the best guides and outfitters have weeks where the animals or weather do not cooperate. If an outfitter historically has gotten 75 percent of his clients an animal, you just might be the 25 percent that year that returns empty-handed. There are no guarantees of success in fair-chase hunting. The best you can do is play the odds — and there are places where the chances for success are better than others.
Are you willing to do what it takes to prepare for the hunt?
You can’t expect to take an elk or a sheep on a tough backpack hunt if you are not in good enough physical condition to make it up and down the mountain.
Will you take time before the hunt to practice with your bow?
Out West, the inability to walk and shoot are the two most common complaints outfitters have about clients.
What type of camp and hunting style will you be happy with?
Is camping in a small backpack tent OK with you, or do you prefer the comfort of a lodge with a soft bed? Would you prefer to hunt from a pickup truck or be out hiking among the peaks? Do you mind riding horses? Be honest with yourself, or you’ll end up being miserable.
Only after answering these questions are you ready to seek out individual outfitters. There are several ways to do this. The major hunting and fishing shows around the country are a great place to interact personally with outfitters and have many of your questions answered on the spot. Advertisements in the back of magazines like Bowhunting World and Whitetail Journal are another source. Using a booking agent who represents several different outfitters is one way to help shortcut the research process. Of course, the Internet is filled with information — both good and bad. Word of mouth from friends who’ve hunted with a particular outfit before is perhaps your best source of information.
Finally, give yourself enough time to plan your trip, locate a suitable outfitter, obtain the required licenses and tags, make travel plans and set aside vacation time. Most top outfitters book the majority of their hunts a year or more in advance. Rushing the process is a good way to make an irreversible mistake.
Be laser-focused on your own goals and objectives without being irrational. Remember that when it is all said and done, nobody cares more about your success and the quality of your experience than you do.
Why not drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your own guided hunt experiences, both good and bad? I’d love to hear from you.