Get the most from your guided hunt by being a guide’s dream client.
I was a guide/outfitter in New Mexico’s Gila region for 23 years, with occasional ventures into venues as varied as Arizona elk, Moffat County, Colorado, pronghorn, Alaska float trips and Sonora, Mexico, Coues whitetail. If I had chosen to remain in that industry I’d likely be making much more money than I do now as a straight outdoor writer/photographer; but I can no longer stomach it. Once upon a time, a very long time ago, right out of high school and while attending college (I used to skip fall semesters so I wouldn’t need to work during winter and summer semesters and could load myself down with courses to make up for that lost fall time) guiding hunters was a fulfillment of a longtime dream. For maybe a decade of those 23 years I loved guiding, enjoyed sharing camps with visiting hunters. Things were different then. Clients skimped and saved and arrived with a realistic attitude and a bent on having a good time most of all. Tagging an animal was a bonus for these (mostly) blue-collar hunters.
About the mid 1990s something changed in the hunting industry. The blue-collar sports were replaced by relatively rich guys who had spent a lot of money on a guided trip and equipment but couldn’t summon the physical fortitude necessary to operate in rough terrain, or buckle down mentally to make the easy shot. I wondered why they bothered at all, though many seemed to operate under the assumption enthusiasm would compensate for their blatant lack of preparedness. More sickening, there was often the obvious aspect of conquest in play, as if their real quarry were just another form of arbitrage and not the soul-cleansing experiences I found vital to my very sanity. There were too many instances when I’d sit with a client inspecting a beautiful animal well within range while said client refused to shoot unless I would guarantee a certain score—the unstated but obvious point being that if that animal was shot and didn’t meet those numbers the hunt would rank as a complete failure.
Though I consider myself first and foremost a do-it-yourself guy, I have been on many guided hunts, mostly in states or provinces where a guide is required by law (certain Alaska species, or the whole of Canada, for instance), or to gain access to prime habitat unavailable to the public (like Kansas or Iowa whitetail). If I may be allowed to brag just a little, all those years as a suffering guide have made me an exceptional client. I understand that outfitters and guides do not actually control the weather, animal movements or the actions of other hunters on public lands. I understand that booking a guided hunt entitles me to nothing more than a guide’s best effort and not a guaranteed kill, or even a shot. I understand that “stuff” happens. And I try to be as accommodating and helpful as possible during my stay. My goal on every outfitted hunt is to make my guide’s life easier; which starts well before my arrival and
continues once we enter the field.
Ask any professional guide what his No. 1 gripe is concerning visiting clients and physical conditioning and lackluster shooting abilities will invariably top that list. Some bowhunts are more physically demanding than others, of course, but success on many hunts absolutely hinges on your ability to hike, climb, run if necessary, and a general ability to “keep up” with your guide. If you’re going to book an elk, mountain goat or mountain sheep hunt, for instance, you had better arrive willing and able to push hard in thin altitude, go the extra mile—all without whining. Hit the gym, the track or ride a mountain bike daily and you have gone a long way toward ingratiating yourself to any guide. Other hunts aren’t as physically demanding, but a long day spent in an oven-like pop-up blind guarding a pronghorn waterhole or hours spent on freezing-cold whitetail stands also require mental preparedness. There’s nothing the best guide can do for you if you’re not willing to put in your time.
Beside hunters who can’t hike nothing frustrates a guide more than working hard to present a client with an easy shot only to have them miss. I know you’re busy. We’re all busy. But for the love of God, if you’re going to spend money on an expensive guided hunt, take the time to hone your shooting skills and arrive mentally prepared for high-pressure shots. Hire an archery coach, or read any of hundreds of self-help articles and books teaching you how to become a better bow shot.
Well before the hunt you should’ve thoroughly queried your outfitter to learn exactly what is in store (you might even decide a certain hunt is too taxing for you, opting for something different). This allows you not only to better prepare for the hunt, but pack properly.
Once on the ground your general attitude will dictate how hard your guide works for you, like whether he’ll take you to his ace-in-the-hole spot he’s been saving for a worthy client or install you on that one stand that nearly guarantees a shot. My No.1 rule of thumb on guided hunts is to do exactly what my guide tells me to do. I have certainly arrived on hunts on which I didn’t agree with how things were being done, the guide’s basic approach to the animals being hunted, but I keep it zipped (unless I feel my safety is being compromised). I used to tell clients on the first morning of every hunt. “The more of a robot you are; the better your chances of killing an elk. Stay on my butt and do exactly as I do and you’ll get your shot. Start arguing, telling me how things are done elsewhere, or wander off on your own—and your odds of success diminish considerably.” Always assume your guide knows what he’s doing—it’s his backyard after all and maybe things are different there than where you’ve hunted before. Begin second guessing your guide or arguing and he’ll be quite happy to let you do what you want—likely to your own detriment.
It should go without saying that whining (about weather, not seeing animals, trophy quality or accommodations), or a sullen attitude (because of the same) will get you nowhere. And your guide doesn’t really care that you are an all-powerful CEO in command of 156 employees who won’t say boo without your express permission. Your guide gives the orders, period.
Also try to be helpful. Good guides would never badmouth clients in front you, but we certainly talk amongst ourselves. Guides hold deep distain for lazy clients who shoot animals and then want nothing to do with them, who stand by while he digs the truck out after getting stuck in the mud, who refuses to get out of the truck to open gates while driving into hunting grounds, who won’t help build a ground blind near a hot waterhole so all involved can go eat lunch, or help them catch and hold horses while they’re being saddled in the wee hours of morning. This is the guide’s job, obviously, but if you want a guide to truly respect you, be as helpful as possible in every aspect of your hunt, from field dressing and packing downed animals (even if they aren’t yours) and general camp choirs. In other words, pretend like you’re hunting with friends at home, not hired help.
The question of tips always comes up in regards to guided hunts. How much to tip is a tough question. The standard 10 to 15 percent of the hunt price is a good start, but there are factors such as whether your guide went that extra mile, put in extra hours and showed extraordinary skills doing something like tracking your wounded animal, or remained jovial and pleasant during your stay. And remember, tips aren’t given for only successful hunts. A tip of $250 to $350 is bare minimum for a job well done (especially on a successful hunt), but more is always welcomed, as guides depend on tips to keep the wolves at bay. And don’t forget the other people who made your stay enjoyable, like the camp cook, stock wrangler or camp “gofor” that always had a fire going and dry wood stacked in your tent when you returned from hunting.
A guided hunt is a wonderful experience. It is an excellent way to flatten the learning curve on animals you have never bowhunted before, gain a widened perspective on productive hunting approaches or simply see new country while saving time scouting unfamiliar ground. But you’ll also get more from your guided hunt if you arrive completely prepared, fully participate in the experience and arrive with a realistic attitude that sees success as a bonus, not a prerequisite.