I think we can all agree that picking the right hunting outfitter can be really overwhelming, particularly if you’ve never booked a guided hunt before.
After all, there are literally hundreds of outfitters to choose from. You also don’t have to look very hard to find stories of guided hunts that turned into a disaster for one reason or another. The good news is most hunting guides and outfitters are friendly, knowledgeable, honest, and will work their tails off to ensure you have a safe, fun, and successful hunt.
So how do you separate the good from the bad and pick the perfect one for you?
In this article, I’m going to share a few tips and tricks on how to choose a good hunting outfitter that I’ve learned over the years.
Use Caution With Cheap Hunts
This is probably the single biggest area where hunters run into trouble. While not all expensive hunts are good, the best outfitters almost always charge a premium for their services.
That’s just a fact of life, so go shopping for bargains at your own risk.
A large portion of the horror stories you hear about terrible guided hunts were from people who booked with a really cheap outfitter and then got what they paid for.
That’s not to say that every single hunt being sold at less than the typical market price will turn into a nightmare. For instance, cancellation hunts are a great way to book at a bargain price if you’re able to hunt on short notice.
The same thing goes for new outfitters who don’t have much of a reputation yet. It’s quite possible that a brand-new outfitter has access to a great area and can set you up with an amazing hunt at a very reasonable price because they are trying to break into the market.
All that being said, you should really be careful about booking with someone offering a deal that just seems too good to be true.
Beware Outfitters That Guarantee Results
By the same token, you should be very wary of an outfitter that guarantees results. Even top notch outfitters hunting in the best possible areas for the game they’re pursuing have bad days. They can’t control the weather or what the animals do.
Someone who claims to guarantee success, particularly with an animal of a certain score, is either feeding you a line of bull or is providing a canned hunt.
Don’t Assume Anything
Miscommunication is another common reason why people have issues on a guided hunt. Quite often, these conflicts arise from a genuine misunderstanding rather than malice on part of the outfitter or guide.
To minimize the chances of this happening, make sure you ask specific and detailed questions before you book. If you don’t like the answers your prospective outfitter gives you, then consider looking somewhere else. Additionally, these questions will help you better prepare for your trip and have realistic expectations for when you arrive.
Below are a few examples.
Will I be the only hunter in camp? Or will I be sharing the area with other groups? If so, how many more people can I expect to be there with me?
What hunting methods will you likely employ on a hunt with me? Spot and stalk? Hunting from a blind? Will we be hunting from a single, main camp? Or from spike camps?
Evaluate the answer to each question within the context of the others in the group. For instance, it’s not uncommon for North American outfitters to host multiple groups in camp. When stand hunting (like for whitetail deer or black bear over bait), having several other hunters in camp isn’t necessarily problem.
However, the outfitter usually needs access to a really big hunting area to safely host multiple groups at once on a spot and stalk hunt without lowering the overall quality of the hunt.
What’s the typical distance most hunters get shots at? What shooting positions (prone, kneeling, off sticks, etc.) should I focus most on practicing?
Not only should you practice shooting at the distance your outfitter recommends, but you should also do so wearing similar clothing to what you’ll be wearing on the hunt as well as in the appropriate position. For instance, outfitters in Africa quite often expect visiting hunters to take their shots standing using a set of shooting sticks. Doing so isn’t hard, but it’s a little different from shooting from a bench or from a prone position.
So, make sure you practice using sticks before your hunt!
Is there electricity and/or cell phone service in camp? How physically demanding is the hunt? What is the terrain like? Can you accommodate these specific needs associated with X medical condition? What is a reasonable expectation for trophy size for X species where we’ll be hunting?
Good outfitters and guides want to make you happy and will do everything possible to make sure you have a successful hunt. For that reason, you need to be up front and honest with your expectations as well as anything that could adversely impact your safety or odds of success while afield.
With that in mind, an outfitter who tells you point blank that they cannot satisfy one of your requirements and/or wishes is being very forthright and honest (more on this in a minute). In that case, you should either adjust your expectations or find another outfitter.
Ask these questions before you book. By doing so, you can avoid committing to a hunt with an outfitter who cannot accommodate your needs and desires. This also gives an outfitter you do end up booking with enough time to make appropriate preparations for your situation if necessary.
Are you a dedicated archery hunter? Make sure you’ll be hunting with an outfitter who can accommodate archery hunters and paired with a guide who has experience with bow hunts. Many outfitters can do this, but some places can’t. There’s nothing wrong with trying to hunt with your bow for a portion of the hunt and then switching to a rifle if necessary. But if you only want to hunt with your bow, then you should really be hunting with an outfitter that specializes in that sort of hunting.
You should not have to “convince” your outfitter or guide to let you use a bow. Insisting on archery hunting when the outfitter puts up resistance is a recipe for disappointment. If the outfitter is hesitant, it’s probably because they are not set up for archery hunters.
In that case, one of two things will likely happen if you insist upon using your bow: either you won’t end up taking anything at all or you’ll end up shooting an animal with the guide’s rifle.
Get Help From A Professional
Consider using a booking agent/hunting consultant to help you through the process. A good agent will have thoroughly researched and vetted all outfitters he or she represents and thus ensure you book with a reputable outfitter. After all, booking agents are staking their professional reputation on your satisfaction, so it is in their best interest to book you on a hunt you’re satisfied with. Full disclosure: I own Big Game Hunting Adventures, a full-service hunting booking agency.
Guided hunts, especially those in foreign countries, can also involve a lot of additional details you’ll need to keep in mind like travel arrangements, applying for the necessary permits and licenses, and getting your trophies home. Fortunately, in addition to helping you find the right outfitter, a good booking agent is an invaluable resource for assistance with all the other aspects of the trip.
Remember: outfitters and guides can be really hard to get in touch with during the peak of hunting season. Don’t underestimate the importance of having someone just a phone call away (and in a similar time zone) dedicated to answering your questions and helping with all the particulars.
There are a few bad apples out there, but many of the full-time hunting consultants are very good. Similar to a travel agent, the hunting outfitter (not the hunter) pays the booking agent his or her commission. So, you’re paying the same price that you would if you booked directly with the outfitter while getting all of the other additional services the agent provides.
Learn about the hunts offered through Big Game Hunting Adventures on their web site. You can also follow them on Facebook, YouTube, & Instagram and watch the video of the 2017 plains game hunt Big Game Hunting Adventures sponsored for a wounded veteran in Africa.