By Ron Spomer
My friend Kirby was a heck of a hunter, a Midwest country boy who grew up chasing everything from bunnies to whitetails. He graduated to do-it-yourself elk and bear hunts on public land in the West, got a good job, made some money and discovered he suddenly had more discretionary cash than free time. He decided to hire an outfitter.
This was going to be the big time. Country-bumpkin Kirby was in a position to hire a professional hunter to show him the glories of an Africa safari. They’d rise at dawn to share coffee round the fire as lions roared. They’d follow the trackers into the brush, confer over steaming droppings and select the biggest bull in the herd. Then Kirby would drop it in its tracks with a perfect shot and his PH would slap him on the back. Jolly well done! Except the PH almost slapped Kirby across the face. And Kirby nearly punched him in the nose. Shouting. Recriminations.
It wasn’t pretty. That’s the thing about guided hunts. Just because you pay big money doesn’t mean you’ll get a good guide. And even if you get a good guide in a top area seething with game, you still might have a lousy hunt. Great hunts, even guided ones, require a lot of advance work. I’ve enjoyed some outstanding outfitted hunts — and some outstandingly bad ones.
And they weren’t all the fault of the outfitter. Or his guides. Yup, sometimes we hunters are our own worst enemies. Before you send in a downpayment for an “easy” outfitted hunt, do your homework:
1) Research the area.
It’s up to you to find the best countries, states, game management units, etc. for the sort of hunting you want to do. Don’t dream of snowcapped mountains and book an elk hunt in the sagebrush of Nevada. And don’t expect a 7-point bull from a unit that cranks out 90% raghorns. Your outfitter should tell you this? Sure. But don’t count on it.
2) Research LOCAL CONDITIONS.
Forest fires, floods, harsh winters, wolves and more can turn the most productive deer area into the worst in a single season. Good outfitters warn you of this, but some, hoping for the best, drag clients along on a hope and a prayer. “Maybe the wolves haven’t driven ALL the elk out yet, Mabel. Let’s book those hunters and see what happens.”
3) Pick your style of hunting.
Do you want a horseback camp, a backpack marathon, a drive-by shooting or a ranch-lodge, 5-star extravaganza? Want to sit in a blind or walk? It’s all out there. For a price. And even if you can afford a $40,000 posh hunt, you might not like the results. Where game and terrain has been groomed and acclimated to the point that it all looks and feels like a dream, your satisfaction could suffer. Be honest with yourself about the experience you want, because that’s what a hunt really is — it’s a life experience. Filling your tag doesn’t necessarily make the experience any better. (But usually helps!)
4) PICK THE SEASON.
Don’t go in November expecting bugling elk and golden aspen leaves.
5) CHECK THE WEBSITE.
If an outfitter doesn’t have a decent, up-todate website chock full of details, he might not have the most organized operation in the field, either. Dig around. Some superior outfitters are old fashioned, but they should at least have some informative brochures to mail you.