After over 30 years of guided hunting and fishing trips around the world, I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – that not all guides/outfitters are created equal. Obviously, you want to find a good one, but even a good trip may not be the right trip for you. When you are planning an outfitted hunt, here are 10 questions that you should ask a prospective outfitter before plunking down your hard-earned cash.
1. What are their primary species?
Many outfitters offer guided trips for multiple species of game, however, usually only one or two are the outfitter’s bread and butter. It’s rarely a good idea to book a trip for an outfitter’s secondary species, regardless of price, as the outfitter is unlikely to have the same knowledge, equipment, areas, and dedication as he has for his main species. Look for an outfitter that specializes in what you are most interested in, and treat other species as merely incidental/bonus.
2. What hunting methods does the outfitter employ?
I’ve found that of the most common causes of disappointment with a big-budget hunting trip is a misunderstanding over the methods to be employed in the field. Certain methods are simply more effective in some areas and times for certain species, but not all hunters are necessarily interested in/comfortable with all such methods, such as the use of vehicles during a hunt, using dogs, etc. Make sure you know in advance exactly how you will be spending the bulk of your trip.
3. How experienced are the outfitter’s guides?
Being an inexperienced guide is nothing to be ashamed of, as everyone has to start somewhere. However, untrained or rookie guides should not be asked or allowed to take clients out by themselves. Be honest with the outfitter about how much experience you have, and ask him to do the same about how long he’s been in business and how long his guides have been guiding.
4. What % of the outfitter’s bookings are repeat customers?
Nothing says more about the quality of an outfitter’s operation than repeat business or lack thereof. For this reason, most top outfitters are booked up a year or two in advance, with many repeats. Note: This obviously doesn’t apply to very expensive or once-in-a-lifetime dream hunts.
5. What’s your success rate?
There are no guarantees in free-range hunting, and you should be very suspicious of any outfitter who offers one. However, you obviously want an outfitter who has a proven track record. Make sure that you understand what his numbers are based on, as some outfitters only count actual game taken, while others base success on chances or even just animals seen.
6. Average size/number of game taken?
Some outfitters offer quality over quantity or vice versa, so it is important to decide what is most important to you. You should be up-front with your outfitter about whether you are looking for record book animal or just a nice representative of the species.
7. Are they licensed? Are they a member of an association?
Many states and provinces have professional outfitters associations, and membership may even be mandatory. Some jurisdictions also require guides and outfitters to be licensed. If the outfitter is not a member of the local outfitters association, ask why, and look for another outfitter if you are not happy with the answer. If he is, check with that organization to make sure the outfitter is in good standing with them.
8. What’s their “plan B” if no game is found?
Certain species of wildlife follow seasonal migration patterns. A good outfitter will know where your quarry is likely to be found at the time of your trip. However, a number of factors, such as unseasonable weather, can intervene. Ask your outfitter about alternate locations or camps that you could be moved to in such cases.
9. What if I tag out or have to leave early?
Although “getting away from it all” is one reason that we go on such trips in the first place, many of us still feel the need to stay in touch with home or the office in case of unexpected emergencies. Make sure that some form of communication will be available to allow this, and that an early return home can be arranged. Also, ask about secondary species to hunt should you bag your desired quarry on the first day or two.
10. What is the outfitter’s cancellation policy?
Unexpected health, family or work problems can sometimes prevent us from going on our dream trips (or force us to cut them short). Depending upon how far in advance you have booked and how long before your departure date, you will likely have paid anywhere from 25% to 100% of the price of your trip. Although it may seem like an unnecessary precaution, make sure you know the outfitter’s cancellation policy in advance and seriously consider purchasing trip cancellation/interruption insurance.
By HuntTested Contributor, Don Sangster.
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