UPDATED ON: December 29th, 2015
Over the years, you have probably been on several outfitted hunts. Some of them were probably good hunts and you will always remember because you had a good time, regardless if you harvested an animal or not. You have probably also been on a few outfitted hunts that were very poor. Hunters remember those hunts because everything the outfitter told you prior to the hunt was a lie. Unfortunately for hunters in this situation, by the time you discovered the outfitter was a fraud, you were sitting in camp and your check had been cashed.
One elk hunter went on an outfitted elk hunt several years ago that turned out to be a disaster. What he was told and what this elk hunter was sold were two completely different things. He was told that all of the hunting guides in camp were experienced elk hunters and bowhunters. This elk hunter was assured he would have Class A accommodations and would be elk hunting private land that had seen little hunting pressure. After arriving in camp, he quickly realized he was in for an adventure… but not the type of adventure he signed a $6,000 check over to partake in. The hunting guide had never held a bow in his hand before, let alone harvested an elk with one. The accommodations consisted of pop-up campers and an outhouse, which his wife who came along on the trip really enjoyed!
They did not even have a target in camp to shoot our bows at. That was okay; they shot at a rotting mule deer carcass that was hanging from a tree behind camp. As far as the hunting land was concerned, there were way too many hunters being brought to the camp to hunt. During the week this elk hunter was there, there were seven different hunters hunting the same piece of private property. There were five or more hunters in camp for weeks before I got there and for weeks after I left – and all of them were hunting the same couple herds of elk.
This elk hunter hunted seven days. In the first five days of his elk hunt, he didn’t see any elk. The other elk hunters in camp had similar luck. After fighting with the hunting outfitter, he was moved to a different camp where he saw the behind of an elk that was 300 yards away. The other hunters in camp never saw a single elk. One hunter in camp had saved money for years to go on the elk hunt and had two kids in college. This was his once-in-a-lifetime hunt that turned out to be a nightmare. Oh, and by the way… their cook smoked a healthy dose of marijuana every day while preparing their food.
Most hunters choose a hunting outfitter based on a conversation they have with them at a sport show or outdoor function. Hunters walk up to their booth and listen to hunting outfitters tell them everything they want to hear. “Yes, we have trophy class animals. Yes, we have a 90% success rate regardless if you are using a bow or gun.” They prove it to you by showing you a photo album full of grinning hunters holding their trophy buck or bull. So, you plop down a deposit and go home happier than a pig in mud. However, you might have the hunt of a lifetime… or you may not. Hunters are flipping a coin and without doing lots of research on the hunting outfitter, you stand a good chance of being disappointed. Choosing the right hunting outfitter requires the hunter to do a little homework and act as a private investigator.
Always have a list of questions to ask a hunting outfitter. As you watch TV at night, write down questions you think of. Have the list ready before you attend a sport show. Ask the questions. Having the list in front of you as you talk with hunting outfitters will help you remember everything. Key questions may include: how much is the hunt? Are there any fees you’re not telling me about? How long have you been in business? Do you specialize in bowhunting?
Make sure you get all of your questions answered before booking a hunt. If a hunting outfitter starts acting angry or upset as you ask the questions, move on to the next booth. If they answer each question with an answer you are looking for, they stand a good chance of being a reputable hunting outfitter.
Call the State Wildlife Agency
Another option is calling the state Wildlife Department that issued licenses to hunting outfitters in the state you want to hunt. They can tell you if they have any blemishes on their record. If some hunters would have called the state they were hunting in before booking with a hunting outfitter, they probably wouldn’t have booked with them. Sometimes hunters have found out that the hunting outfitter has their license revoked for braking rules and regulations or other problems. A few phone calls can save you a lot of money and headaches.
Use a Hunting Booking Agency or Talk with Friends
The best way to choose a hunting outfitter is to go through a hunting booking agency that screens hunting outfitters and hunts with them before sending clients to them or listening to a friend who goes on a quality hunt with a hunting outfitter. Using a hunting booking agency costs a little more, but they do the legwork for you and put you with a hunting outfitter that caters to the type of hunting you are looking for. They know what questions to ask hunting outfitters. Hunting Outfitters tend to treat hunting booking agency clients well because they want more business. Many hunters who use a hunting booking agency have great hunts. Using a hunting booking agency is like going through a travel agent to go on a family vacation – the difference is they specialize in hunting.
One good example is of an elk hunter who chose his last elk hunt based on the recommendation of a friend. He had heard lots of good things about the hunting outfitter and had a few friends who hunted there in the past. Everything his friend said ended up being true. There were lots of elk, good hunting guides, quality accommodations and great food. This elk hunter ended up harvesting a bull elk on the fourth day of hus elk hunt. Then this elk hunter went and told many of his friends about this hunting outfitter. This method is fool proof because friends don’t have a reason to fabricate the truth. There are many good hunting outfitters out there but many of them look at you, see dollar signs and do whatever it takes to get your money. Many of them overbook their properties and charge too much money. They prey on hunters who don’t know the right questions to ask or have little experience hunting with hunting outfitters.
To increase your chances of success, plan an outfitted hunt at least a year in advance. This gives you plenty of time to research several hunting outfitters and call lots of references. Don’t book a hunt at a sport show. Many hunting outfitters offer show specials to get you to book a hunt that day. Leave your checkbook at home and grab lots of brochures. Make calls and verify websites from home for a few weeks before booking a hunt. Hunters who rush to a show with the mindset of signing on the dotted line before going home are the ones who get burned. When you pick out a new car, you often kick a few tires before making a purchase. Do the same thing when planning a hunting trip.
From this article you may feel like in a room full of hunting outfitters only two hunting outfitters are honest and offer a good hunt. That’s not what is meant. In a roomful of hunting outfitters, there may be a handful of rotten eggs, but each one that books a few dozen trips at the show translates into dozens of hunters who will have a poor experience and go home after a hunt with a bad taste in their mouth and not ever trusting a hunting outfitter again. Taking your time to choose the right hunting outfitter will ensure that you enjoy a great hunt and possibly come home with a trophy buck or bull of a lifetime. But, the first step in tagging a trophy worthy of the wall is choosing the right hunting outfitter. If you spend half as much time checking up on hunting outfitters as you do shooting your bow or gun and picking out hunting gear, you will probably have a great hunt worth every penny!