|Selecting a reputable outfitter in this day and age can be a shot in the dark. Just one look in the back of any hunting magazine can provide the names and telephone numbers of literally hundreds of outfitting operations. Other sources such as weekend sport shows feature magazine articles, government directories, professional hunting consultants and television programs that highlight sport hunting can provide even more. When faced with so many outfitters to choose from, the question that usually follows is: Where do I begin?
That’s simple. You must begin at the beginning. Sometimes a person can get lost in all the excitement. It’s easy to overlook important details during the early stages of planning a hunting adventure. In order to select an outfitter that will best suit your needs, you must first take a few things into consideration. Here are a few questions and suggestions to ponder before deciding to spend your hard-earned money on an outfitted hunt.
What type of hunting adventure are you interested in?
The ease or severity of a hunting trip varies from location to location. The type of terrain encountered during a hunt generally depends on the animal of interest. For example, waiting patiently in a tree stand for a black bear to show up at a bait station in Alberta is quite different than chasing a bull elk across the mountains of Colorado or New Mexico.
One’s physical condition can greatly affect the outcome of a hunt. Be certain to choose a hunting trip that is compatible with your personal capabilities. If you insist on hunting an animal that inhabits physically demanding terrain, start working out at a local gym well before your scheduled date of departure. Couple your workout regimen with an aerobic activity, such as running or climbing a Stairmaster to build up your stamina.
Terrain is just one consideration. Another factor that plays a significant role in the outcome of a hunt is the weather. Outfitters cannot guarantee favorable weather conditions during your hunt. The weather can be unpredictable and an unforeseen deterrent to your success if not taken into account. Temperatures in November can easily reach -20 degrees Fahrenheit on a whitetail hunt in Saskatchewan. Or, a deluge of rain can swamp an Ontario moose hunt. Ask about the region’s normal weather pattern and what to expect during the course of your stay. Be sure you are mentally and physically capable of enduring any weather condition that may arise. If you simply cannot tolerate a harsh environment, it would be in your best interest to search for an outfitter stationed in an area that has a mild to moderate weather climate.
Note: Consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Is the outfitter qualified to locate the game animal of interest?
Here is where a lot of sportsmen fail to do the necessary homework to ensure a quality outdoor adventure. One way to determine if an outfitter is qualified is to ask questions. You have to ask a lot of questions. It’s better to ask too many questions than not enough.
Will the outfitter use horses? How much riding will you be doing? Will you hunt on public or private land? Will the outfitter take care of the meat and hide of your animal? How experienced are the guides? How long has the outfitter been in business? What is his state or provincial license number? Has the outfitter ever lost his license due to a game violation conviction? Is the outfitter properly insured?
These are just a few of the questions that you should ask when inquiring with an outfitter. Seeking a reputable outfitter is similar to playing private detective. You have to investigate every conceivable angle to be sure you are getting your money’s worth.
To further assist your inquiry, ask for a reference list of successful clients. Also, ask for a list of unsuccessful clients. Call as many of them as you can afford. They should be able to answer any question about the outfitter that may be of concern because they have actually “been there and done that,” so to speak. Another source of valuable information is Game and Fish Departments. These state and provincial agencies provide information on outfitters regarding license status, grievances, questionable business practices and convictions of game violations.
What about kill percentages and success rates?
Don’t be fooled by all of the statistical mumbo jumbo some outfitters like to throw at you. All of this fast-talking rhetoric is a ploy they use to divert your attention away from the more important details. In my opinion, kill percentages and success rates mean absolutely nothing, especially if you are seeking a trophy animal. As an example, let’s examine the work history of two hypothetical outfitting operations to get a better understanding of why I feel this way.
Outfitter A has been in business for only a couple of years. He owns a first-class operation and has the optimum amount of quality acreage to produce huge bears. Through some bad luck and a few unfortunate blunders -- mainly due to client error and inclement weather conditions -- several of his hunters failed to take home a bear. As a result, his kill percentage has suffered.
Outfitter B has been in business for 15 years and boasts a 100% success rate. He routinely shies away from mentioning that his operation has less than desirable accommodations and only a small parcel of land to hunt. On the other hand, he openly declares that he offers less expensive hunts than the majority of his competition and his clients take home bears on a regular basis. What he fails to mention is that less than one percent of the bears taken from his property have the potential to reach trophy size.
Now, if you were looking for a hunt based on the aforementioned information that provides the best odds of producing a trophy bear, which outfitter would better suit your needs? My advice would be Outfitter A.
Failing to do any research, many sportsmen booking a trophy hunt for the first time would choose Outfitter B due to his less expensive rate and an advertised kill percentage of 100%. Kill percentages and success rates can be extremely misleading. Do your homework or you’ll wind up coming home empty-handed or worse yet, disappointed with an animal that you had no intentions of harvesting in the first place.
Are you looking for a trophy or will any animal suffice?
If harvesting any animal will suffice and you rival the likes of Magnum P.I., finding a quality outfitter shouldn’t be all that difficult. On the other hand, you will have to dig a little deeper if you are interested solely in a trophy. Good outfitters are like 200-inch whitetails. They are hard to find. You have to do a fair amount of research in order to find a quality outfit that consistently kills trophy animals.
A good source of information for locating trophy areas is the official record books of the Pope & Young and the Boone and Crockett Clubs. These publications list record book animals taken in North America by bow and rifle, respectively. Each trophy animal has a separate listing with revealing details. The location of the kill, how the animal was taken, i.e., a bow or gun and the name of the hunter are all logged. You can narrow down a “hot spot” by checking the areas that produce the most top-end animals. Combine an area that produces a disproportionate number of trophy animals with a reputable outfitter that can lead you to them, and you’ll be in business.
Don’t forget to consult with a good taxidermist prior to your trip. He or she can provide some important recommendations for keeping your animal intact during the journey home.
How much can I reasonably spend on a hunt?
Determining how much to spend on a hunt can be hard to gauge. In this situation, as in many others, my motto is: “You usually get what you pay for.” Dollar figures alone should not measure the value and appeal of a particular hunting excursion. The attitude of always striving to get the “best deal” can lead to disaster in most circumstances. For many hunters cost becomes the overriding concern, and quality takes a backseat. It goes back to the old saying, “If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Of course I don’t necessarily advocate booking hunts with only the most expensive outfitters either. Great deals are out there, but finding them takes time, effort and a healthy amount of legwork.
Searching for outfitters who are in the early stages of establishing their clientele can be very appealing. Some offer super “first time” deals. And, many of these “newbie” outfitters produce amazing results. However, this is a risky proposition. These outfitters have no client base and are willing to do just about anything to book a hunt, so proceed cautiously.
This all sounds pretty confusing doesn’t it? It can be if you fail to do the necessary research. As a personal safeguard, accept the fact that there simply are no guarantees to pursuing wild, free-ranging animals with an outfitter and act accordingly. No matter how much you spend on a hunt or how long an outfitter has been in business, you still need to be careful. It’s a “buyer-beware” type of market. For every reputable outfitter there are at least four dishonest ones who are willing to con you out of your money. Before you book any hunt in the future, make sure you do your homework.
Keep this in mind and remember to: Determine what type of hunt is best suited to your physical abilities. Ask a bunch of questions, and then ask some more questions. Call as many references as possible, both successful and unsuccessful. Decide whether you desire a trophy animal or if any animal will suffice. And lastly, seriously consider how much you can reasonably spend on a hunting trip without winding up on the street at the end of it all, and realize there are no absolutes when it comes to hunting big game animals. By following these guidelines, you will be better prepared to experience a quality outfitted hunt and quite possibly harvest the trophy of a lifetime.