By Jeff Warren, December 2013
Wow, it’s already time to think about and start planning your 2014 hunting season. If you are planning on or thinking about doing a guided hunt in 2014, there are two things that I feel you need to do. First, call me at the Huntin’ Fool office and let’s talk about your hunting wants and needs. Second, get on HuntFinder.com and see what our Endorsed Outfitters are offering for the 2014 hunting season. You can email them directly or call us with the number of the Hunt Finder hunt that you are interested in and we will give you the outfitter’s name and phone number.
Once you get a prospective outfitter on the phone, there are some questions that I feel are good to ask.
First, find out what kind of trophy quality you can expect on your hunt. Make sure photos of animals that are being used to promote this particular hunt came off of the place you will be hunting. Has the area been pre-scouted? Was it pre-scouted by the guides that will be in camp doing the actual guiding? Will the outfitter himself be in camp, or will one of the sub-guides be running the hunt? It would also be wise to ask about past success rates or the percentage of opportunity to harvest an animal.
Ask the outfitter for past references. Most reputable outfitters will happily provide you with this list. You will want names and phone numbers of all the hunters who hunted the previous season. This should give you an unbiased feel for the outfitter’s hunting operation. Partial reference lists can be easily skewed toward nothing but positive results. Unsuccessful hunters who still recommend a particular hunt are a great resource. These past clients will usually be very honest with their answers, and, in my opinion, they are your best source for learning about the outfit. One of the first questions you want to ask a reference is: Would you hunt with this outfitter again? A lot can be determined from the answer that you receive.
Make sure that the outfitter you are considering is fully licensed with the state as well as the land managing agency where your hunt will take place. Licensing for outfitters in most areas is required. If you end up with an unlicensed outfitter and are caught, your animal would have been illegally harvested and you could be charged with a Lacey Act violation if you cross state lines. Also, you could potentially lose hunting privileges for 5 plus years. Some states now have reciprocal agreements, and any individual that loses hunting privileges loses them in multiple states. Don’t fool around with unlicensed outfitters!
Ask about what kind of transportation will be utilized while your hunt is being conducted, such as horses, hiking, trucks, four-wheelers, airplanes, etc. Again, these questions are basic, but they need to be asked as they will dictate how you prepare for your hunt.
Next, ask your prospective outfitter if he has clients who have hunted with him multiple times. If he confirms that he does, you are definitely on the right track. You will want to talk to these folks for obvious reasons. Repeat hunters are an outfitter’s best advertisement. If an outfitter is going through brand new clients every hunting season, it can be a red flag!
Get a clear picture of the outfitter’s payment structure. Obviously you need to be comfortable with his price. Once you commit to the hunt, adhere to the schedule. If you have to cancel your hunt, do not leave the outfitter hanging! Inform him of your situation ASAP so that he can rebook your hunt. Lost revenue to the outfitter due to unsold hunts can be devastating. Outfitters have leases, deadlines, and all kinds of things that eat up their financial resources long before hunts take place. Ask him what his refund policy is. When hunters had to cancel their hunts with me we would try to resell the hunt. If we could get 100% of the hunt price, we would refund the entire cost of the hunt, minus a small service fee. If we had to sell the hunt at a reduced rate, we would refund a reduced amount of money. On a few occasions when a client canceled at the last minute, they lost the entire amount. Again, make sure you understand the outfitter’s payment policy and are comfortable with it. Most outfitters have contracts that you must sign. Read the contract thoroughly, and ask for clarification on anything that you do not understand.
Make sure to ask about other costs that may emerge, including the handling of meat, capes, antlers, licensing, landowner tags, etc. Unanticipated costs can sour your hunting experience. Inquire beforehand with your outfitter about taxidermy services and what his recommendations are. If you have a taxidermist that you are comfortable with, inform the outfitter and determine what kind of arrangements need to be made. You should also inquire about meat cutting and shipping to avoid any surprises.
Ask about what guiding situations the outfitter offers. Typically 1x1 or 1x2 situations are available. 1x1 means one guide per hunter, and 1x2 is one guide per two hunters. If you choose to go 1x2, your hunting opportunity could be reduced by 1/2. It may be less expensive to go with this option, so have the conversation and determine if it will work for you. Most hunters, in my experience, use the 1x1 option to fully maximize their hunting time, with the exception of father/son or family hunting trips.
Ask the outfitter what type of hunting methods he typically will use. Will you be in stands? Will you spot and stalk? How much glassing will be required? Will you be spiking out from the main camp? How much hiking is required?
Inform your outfitter as to the caliber of rifle you will be using and what distances you are comfortable shooting. Ask him if there is a place to fire your gun after arriving in camp. Airline travel can be brutal on rifle accuracy. Inquire as to how much ammunition you should bring. Depending on where your hunt takes place, the amount of ammo you can legally have in your possession may be limited.
I want to share my opinion on tipping, as the question comes up frequently. If you have a positive experience and you are satisfied with the efforts of all involved, the industry standard for tipping your guide is 10% of the cost of the hunt. If you did not harvest your trophy, consider that in most cases your guide worked just as hard, maybe even harder than if you had taken an animal. Also don’t forget the cook, wranglers, or any others who contributed positively to your hunt. Typically, if each hunter would tip these folks $100 each, positive attitudes would prevail.
We look forward to helping you get lined out on a guided hunt in 2014. Please give us a call, and let everyone in the Huntin’ Fool office put their experience and knowledge to work for you.