As I sit at my desk and look out the window at the heavy dose of Minnesota winter that Mother Nature has handed out, I am reminded that hunting season, as all good things do, is coming to an end. What a great season it was, but unless you’re up for one last squirrel or rabbit hunt, it’s time to give those guns a thorough cleaning, sit back with a good beverage and reminisce about the season past.
The end of hunting season also marks the beginning of a new season – the planning season. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start planning your trips for next year. So whether it’s a duck hunting trip to Saskatchewan or an elk trip out west, finish that drink and get ready, you’ve got work to do.
Obviously the first thing you have to decide is what you want to hunt, and where you want to hunt it. Will it be an early high country mule deer hunt in Wyoming, an eastern Montana pronghorn hunt, or maybe a Russian boar hunt in the hills of Tennessee. Now that I think about it, a black bear hunt on Vancouver Island sounds pretty interesting , hmm, maybe… Anyway, once you decide what you’re after, you have to decide if you want to hire a guide or try to do it yourself. A do it yourself hunt can be a wonderfully rewarding experience, but in order to be successful, it requires a lot of work and research on your part. All of the scouting, lodging, meals, and permission to hunt land must be obtained by you. If you plan on hunting in an area that is five states away, this can become a part time job.
Here is where a good guide can be a lifesaver. Guides generally live in, or are very familiar with the area they hunt. Many scout their area year round, so when hunting season rolls around, they usually have a good idea where the critters are hanging out. Most also offer lodging and meals during your stay, and have obtained all the necessary permission to hunt on the land where they guide. Unfortunately, this comes at a price. Let’s face it, a guided hunt is expensive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
This is probably a good place to stop and explain something. If you’ll notice, I said “a good guide”. It’s sad to say, but not all guides are “good”. Some can be downright criminal. Most of us have either experienced a bad guide, or know someone who has. A bad guide can ruin a hunt and change an exciting once in a lifetime trip into a complete disaster. The good thing is, you have the ability to weed out most of the bad guides yourself.
The internet is a great place to start researching a guide. Many outfitters have their own websites. These websites will offer you lots of information about the outfit. Here you can find out about the area hunted, what the lodging is like, and usually there are some nice pictures of the land and some of the animals the outfitters clients have bagged. Some outfitters will also provide a price list for the different hunts they offer. The websites will also give you an e-mail address and phone number, so you can call or write if you have any questions. There are other sources of info on the internet aside from the outfitters website. Hunting forums can be a good place to look, especially if you find someone who has used the outfitter you’re wondering about. There are also websites that are set up so people can rate their outfitters after they have been on their hunt.
Once you’ve narrowed the search down to a manageable number of outfits, it’s time to start making phone calls. It makes sense that the person who knows the most about the outfit is the outfitter himself, so make that your first call and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. If the hunt you are looking at is a five day affair, make sure that it is five days of hunting, not four days of hunting with half a day in and half a day out. If the guides website says they do a lot of spot and stalk, ask exactly what that means. For some people, spot and stalk means bouncing around in an old pick-up truck until you “spot” an animal, then you stop and “stalk” around to the front of the vehicle and shoot said animal. If this is not how you want to hunt, make sure the guide knows that. You should also find out what happens if you fill your tags on the first morning of your hunt, and still have four to six days left for the trip. In areas where there are game birds around, most outfitters will let you chase them for the remainder of your hunt, which can be a great bonus. Some offer fishing opportunities and some outfitters will even take you sightseeing if there is time. For some outfits though, filling your tags means your hunt is over, and it’s time for you to go home. If your only objective is harvesting an animal, this may be fine with you. I, on the other hand, like to think of my hunts as vacations, and I don’t know many people who like to cut their vacations short.
The outfitter can also give you a list of past clients to call as a reference. Make sure you get the names of people who were successful as well as unsuccessful in harvesting an animal . If someone didn’t have a good experience because they didn’t fill their tags, it may be more of a reflection of the hunter and not the guide. I don’t know if it makes a difference but, if possible, I like to get the phone numbers of people who live in the same area I do. A reference is a good way to find out how the hunt is really undertaken, and whether the lodging and the quality of the guides are up to snuff. The best thing a past client can tell you is if he thought the hunt was worth what he paid, and if he would do it again. Remember, these people forked out a good lump of cash for their hunt, and if they didn’t really enjoy themselves, they probably wouldn’t give their money to the same guy again.
Picking the right guide to hunt with from all the possible choices out there can really seem like a daunting task. With a little leg work, and an ability and willingness to ask a lot of questions, it can actually turn into a fun adventure in itself. Luckily, I believe, the majority of outfitters are honest, hard working folks who really do have your best interests in mind, and want you to have a good time. Many outfitters rely on return customers for the majority of their business and they know that an unhappy hunter is one they will never see again.
So get to work! The planning season is upon us. It’s never too early to start putting together next year’s hunts. If a guided hunt is what you’re thinking about, do your research and find the one that fits you best. A good guided hunt can give you wonderful memories that can last a lifetime. Now, if I just knew the area code for Vancouver Island…