Let’s Find You a Good Guide and Book at Peak Time

Finding a reputable outfitter can be an overwhelming and nerve-racking task, especially if you have dealt with one in the past who fell short of your expectations, or worse yet, took your money and ran. Unfortunately, this happened to me ten years ago when dealing with an outfitter for the first time. I had an itch to hunt whitetails out-of-state, and after doing some searching online, I decided on an outfitter who was located in Iowa. After a couple of discussions on the phone, the outfitter mailed a contract and my deposit was in the mail securing my hunt. However, when promised that I would receive my full deposit of $500 back if unsuccessful in drawing a buck tag, the outfitter failed to do so. It shocked me that even fraud can find its way into the outfitting business. This hard lesson taught me to take my time and do my homework in the future before committing to an outfitter.

Even though this experience left a bad taste in my mouth, it hasn’t prevented me from hunting with other outfitters. Since then I have hunted bear, moose and wild boar with three different outfitters who have worked hard to help put an animal on the ground for me, along with my family and friends. With this in mind, maybe you’re also thinking about going through an outfitter this year for an opportunity at taking a big game animal that is on your bucket list. However, before you make a decision, there are some important considerations to make that will help you avoid those hard lessons that we all dread, and ensure that your hard earned money will be used wisely on a reputable hunting outfitter.

The planning stages
After deciding on the big game species that you would like to hunt, there are several things that you should determine before committing to an outfitter. These will help you save time and narrow your search down tremendously. First off, you will need to decide how much you are willing to spend on a guided hunt. Once you begin searching, you will be able to compare prices from various outfitters, which will give you an idea of the average price range. I find that the easiest way to do this is by getting online and searching the websites of numerous outfitters. Remember, choose one that provides you with the best services that falls within your budget. The old saying, “You get what you pay for” goes a long ways when it comes to an outfitter. Besides hunting rates this will also give you the opportunity to check out available lodging, trophy and trail camera photos, reference letters, along with other information. My “favorites” tab on my computer includes a file with the names of numerous outfitters that have caught my eye either on the internet or from hunting shows on television.

The next important step is choosing the state or country in which you would like to hunt. Most states have a preference point system that can sometimes take you several years to accumulate enough points to be able to draw a hunting license. Typically, if you hunt in another country like Canada the outfitter is usually allotted a certain amount of tags, which determines how many hunters they allow in camp. These are other factors to consider depending on how many years you are willing to wait for an opportunity to hunt a particular big game species.

Besides the internet, another source for finding an outfitter is on a hunting television program. Outdoor celebrities oftentimes will advertise the outfitter that they hunted with following the conclusion of the show. This will give you an opportunity to contact the outfitter and/or outdoor celebrity and do some research.

If the internet and television isn’t your thing and you would rather speak with someone in person, then try attending a hunting show. These are typically held during the winter or summer months throughout most states. These shows are a great opportunity to speak firsthand with outfitters and find out the price of their hunts and check out any photos or mounts that they have available at their booth. Make sure to pick up any available business cards or brochures so that you have their contact information. If you feel confident that the outfitter is right for you, then this could be the time to get locked in and book a hunt with them. However, before you book a hunt here are some important questions to ask them first. This list is not all-inclusive, but hopefully it will help you make the right choice.

Questions

  • How much is the deposit and what is their cancellation and refund policy?
  • Are their hunts fair chase?
  • Do they hunt on public or private lands?
  • How many hunters do they allow in their camp during one hunt?
  • Do they cape out and transport the animal?
  • Is meat processing provided; if not, where is the closest place I can take the animal?
  • What is the hunter-to-guide ratio?
  • Where is the nearest airport located and do they provide transportation to and from there?
  • What type of hunting will you be doing: stalking, still-hunting, or hunting out of a blind or tree stand?
  • How many years of experience do they have as an outfitter?
  • Will they be guiding or do they have other guides that work for them? If so, how many years experience do they have?
  • Do they have a list of the recommended hunting gear that you should bring?
  • What dates do they recommend for the best chances of success?
  • Will meals be provided? What type of lodging is available?
  • Do they have a list of references of hunters from those that have or have not been successful

References
One of the most important pieces of information you can gather about an outfitter is a reference letter from hunters who have either been successful or went home empty-handed. Oftentimes, these letters will include the hunter’s phone number or email address, allowing you to speak with them and inquire about their experience with the outfitter. Have a pen and paper nearby with any questions or concerns that you might have so that you can jot down their responses. If the individual seems 100 percent satisfied with their experience and the services that the outfitter provided, then it is time for you to make a final decision on whether or not you want to hunt with them.