In-depth research and careful planning are the keys to making your dreams come true.
I've been on more than my share of guided hunts of all types, both domestically and internationally, since my first, an elk hunt in the early 1980s. Most have been excellent. Unfortunately, some have not. The question is, how can you assure that a guided hunt will be everything you expected and not a tangled, unpleasant mess?
One word: research.
Every year, excited sportsmen book with the first outfitter they contact, believing the hype and hoopla on their websites and plunking their money down without doing any comparison shopping. Sometimes these trips turn out great. Often, though, they are less than ideal. Quite honestly, there are a number of outfitters out there who are slicker than a snake-oil salesman, fudging the facts so they can get into your wallet. These guys show you lots of pictures of big animals, giving you the impression that such success is routine. They forget to tell you that the last time a client killed one like that Clinton was president.
To book the right hunt, the first thing you need to have are realistic expectations about a guided hunting trip; booking a guided trip does not guarantee you'll harvest an animal, let alone a record-class specimen. What it should guarantee is that you'll be provided with solid food, a comfortable camp, a guide who knows his stuff and is willing to work hard and the opportunity to hunt an area where you have a reasonably good chance of finding the animal you desire.
That said, ask yourself which animal you really want to hunt. Believe it or not, many people do not target a single species as their priority. So, priorities help, because if hunting a big mule deer is your goal, with an elk secondary but nice if one happens along, you want to choose an outfitter in an area with lots of deer, not one in an area with lots of elk but just a few mule deer.
Is taking an animal more important than the quality of the experience? If so, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Even the best guides and outfitters have weeks where the animals and/or weather don't cooperate. If an outfitter historically has gotten 75 percent of its clients an animal, you just may be the 25 percent that year who return home emptyhanded. There are no guarantees of success in fair-chase hunting. The best you can do is play the odds (though, of course, there are places where the chances for success are better than others).
Are you willing to do what it takes to prepare for the hunt? You can't expect to take an animal on a tough backpack hunt if you are not in good enough physical condition to make it up and down the mountain.
Will you take time before the hunt to practice with your firearm so that, when your one good opportunity during a week's hunt presents itself, you’re able to take advantage of it? The inability to walk and shoot are the two most common complaints outfitters have about clients.
What type of camp and hunting style will you be happy with? Is camping in a small backpack tent okay with you or do you prefer the comfort of a lodge with a soft bed? Would you prefer to hunt while floating a river or hiking among the peaks? Do you mind riding horses? Does tree stand hunting bore you or is that your preference? Be honest with yourself or you'll end up being miserable.
Only after this conversation with yourself is it time to seek out individual outfitters. There are several ways to do this.
I've met lots of top outfitters at some of the major hunting and fishing consumer shows held around the country. Sport shows are a great place to interact personally with outfitters and have many of your questions answered on the spot. Advertisements in the back of magazines are another source. Using a booking agent who represents several different outfitters is one way to help shortcut the research process, and word of mouth from friends who have hunted with a particular outfit is perhaps your best source of information. Of course, the internet should be a primary research tool.
Give yourself enough time to plan your trip, locate a suitable outfitter and set aside vacation time. Most top outfitters book the majority of their hunts a year or more in advance. Rushing the process on your end is a good way to make a mistake that could turn your dream into endless grief.
Before any money changes hands, ask prospective outfitters the following questions: