The last several years I had the pleasure of being an outfitter in Idaho and Montana. I spent a majority of my time on the phone and a portion of my time in the field. I have talked with literally thousands of hunters over the last several years and I have answered literally thousands of questions about hunting elk, mule deer, whitetail and spring bear. The following advice comes from all of these hunters and my own quest to find great outfitters and trips to pursue my own dreams of chasing quality trophy animals with first class outfitters and first class people. My definition of a first class outfitter is more about their attitude then anything else, but sometimes, everything else is just as important. The following is a list of ideas and questions that you should be thinking about.
Species/Type of Hunt
My first bit of advice that I offer you will be to choose the species and the type of hunt you are looking for first and foremost. Do you want a whitetail hunt out of a lodge, or a backcountry elk hunt 20 miles from the nearest road? Are you looking for an arctic adventure chasing Musk Oxen or Polar bear in the frozen north or are you looking for a spring bear hunt for that 400lb black bear? Are you looking for a combination hunt for several species? Define what it is that you are looking for and only seek out specifically what it is that you want.
The type of hunt you are looking for and the conditions of that hunt are the first questions you want to ask yourself before you step out into the world to look for an outfitter. Do you want a lodge hunt where you have warm showers or are you willing to stay in a tent in the backcountry with no running water and a stream to bath in? Are you willing to ride a horse? Are you willing to fly in to a remote location? This is your hunt, and you are paying for the opportunity to take a big game trophy in the conditions and the manner in which you desire. Are you willing to deal with bugs, heat, snow, rain and altitude in your quest? Are you looking for a hard hunt or an easy hunt? What is it that you desire for your dream hunt?
Define a Trophy
Define early what you consider a trophy. Are you looking for an average deer or elk? Are you hunting for the meat from the animal or are you looking for that Boone & Crockett or Pope & Young trophy of your dreams? Define early what you would be willing to take on the first several days of your hunt. Define the minimum you are willing to take on the last day of your hunt? If you have the opportunity, take some time and look at various pictures of the animals that you are seeking and define exactly what it is that you are looking for. I personally would define a trophy elk with a rifle as anything over a 300 class Boone & Crockett bull, but with a bow I would be willing to take any good bull and it would be a trophy to me.
Define early what your personal conditioning and be very accepting of exactly where you are personally in your physical fitness? Are you already in shape enough to hunt the species you are looking for? Are you in sheep shape? Do you need to get in shape for your specific hunt? Are you willing to do the work to get in shape for your hunt? Is the hunt out of your range of physical fitness? These are specific questions that only you and your doctor can really answer. These types of questions are sometimes hard to answer yourself and you may want to elicit the advise of others about your physical conditioning. I always recommend that any hunter over the age of 35 take a pre-hunt physical and create a work out regiment early in the year to gear up for a hard back country hunt.
Know exactly what it is that you are willing to spend on a hunt. Be very accepting of exactly what your budget is for the type of hunt you are willing to do. Are you willing to accept a budget hunt where you may save a few dollars and fore go a few amenities, or are you willing to wait until you have the budget to afford the right outfitter and the right hunt for what you are seeking? Be honest with yourself about what you are willing to accept.
Are you willing to put in enough time to do the practice necessary to be successful on your hunt? It always baffles me to see hunters come in to camp who have spent big money to come in to go hunting and have not taken the time to practice with their bows or rifles. The opportunity to take your trophy of a lifetime can sometimes happen in a matter of seconds. The choice for success in the field at the moment of the shot is truly yours. Are you willing to make the time to practice the weapon of your choice to be a great shot? If you are willing to practice, are you willing to practice in all kinds of conditions and all kinds of distances? Are you willing to push yourself in your practice to shoot at distances that are outside of your comfort zone?
Choosing an Outfitter
There are 4 options for you to pick out an outfitter these days.
* Ask a friend who has hunted with an outfitter * Use the Internet to research outfitters * Attend your local outdoor shows * Book with a reputable Booking Agent (We will cover this in a later article)
All four have advantages and disadvantages and the following set of questions and advice should assist you in researching the hunt of a lifetime.
Friends and Family
Friends and family can be a great source of trusted advice about where to go hunting and what to expect from outfitters. These sources know you and who know you; they can give you honest information about where you might be happy hunting. The only disadvantage is that sometimes friends and family will steer you onto an outfitter so that they can get a discount hunt with that outfitter. They could also make a recommendation about where they went five years ago and the conditions in that area have changed dramatically. If a friend of yours recommends an outfitter, by all means check them out, just do your due diligence just like you would if you knew nothing about the outfitter.
The Wild Wild Web
The wild web can be a wonderful resource to search out an outfitter as well. There are some really great resources on the web to find a great outfitter. The advantage is that you can really take your time to do your homework on the outfitter and seek out the trip of your dreams. Most reputable outfitters have a web site and keep it updated on a regular basis. That being said, I know some great outfitters, who in the field I would be willing to follow to the ends of the earth, and yet on the web they look absolutely like a joke. As someone who is here to give you some advice on what to look for, the only answer I can say is always judge a book by its cover and never judge a book by its cover. Always be willing to check out every source you can for each and every outfitter.
In seeking outfitters out on the wild web, I look first for the species and I research everything I can about them. In looking for a moose hunt for the fall of 2008, I have spent several hours looking at research on moose. I then picked a region that I wanted to hunt that was within my budget. I knew I was not ready to hunt Alaska as it was outside my current budget so I chose to look at Newfoundland, Canada. Newfoundland has a herd size of almost 130,000 moose in the region and the outfitters there are within my budget. I looked at pictures of all of the moose that I could find that were taken in 2006. I selected what I would consider a trophy from those pictures. I am personally looking for a moose over 40 inches wide with very wide palms. I am wiling to spend 10 days hunting for this trophy and I wanted the option of taking a caribou or bear if I stumbled upon a nice one. I found a list of all of the outfitters offering trips that were of this calibre and looked them each up on the web. I emailed all of them and asked for a list of 10 references from 2006, a brochure, pricing and a copy of their contracts. Once I get the time to make the calls and check all of the references, I will narrow it down to two or three outfitters and then get on the phone with them and make a choice.
How to Pick a Great Outfitter (Part 2)
Men’s Domain note: This guest article is from Kevin C. Paulson, who writes a blog on
Hunting Life. Be sure to check out his blog at Hunting Life