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Be a Better Guide by Being a Client

Learn what clients expect and pick up tricks of the trade.
Mar 17

All hunting and fishing guides should book trips with other guides on occasion. Feel free to contribute, but don't act like you know more than the guide. It's a good way to gain a better understanding of your profession.

Every guide and outfitter should pay for a guided hunt with another guide or outfitter every now and again. Go with an open mind and the willingness to learn, and remember that you’re the client and the person guiding you is more familiar with the territory than you are. The experience can teach you a lot about a client’s point of view, and learning these things from your own point of view can help you improve as a guide or outfitter.

The Guide Makes the Hunt
Among the lessons that I’ve learned is that a good guide is often far more than just the person who helps you bag a trophy. I learned that lesson most clearly during a moose hunt in southern British Columbia—and it was an absolute disaster.

Honestly, the outfitter sold me a bill of goods. The camp was subpar and the accommodations were fair at best, but worse, he didn’t deliver what he promised, and over 10 days of hunting, I never saw a moose.

My guide, Mike, who had been guiding for 30 years, was giving it his all. Even though he knew there were no moose in the area, he kept my spirits up. We ended up getting fogged in at a high-mountain sheep cabin for three days. We had almost no food and very little dry wood. We lay in our sleeping bags the whole time waiting for the fog to lift. We sat and told stories and enjoyed the time together. Heck, what else do you do?

When the fog cleared, we safely made it off the mountain. Was I disappointed? In the outfitter, yes. In the guide, not at all. I had a great time learning, listening, and sharing hunting stories. Mike was a great, positive person and turned a terrible situation into a great experience.

Beau is a whitetail archery outfitter and guide in Illinois, and he’s one of the funniest people I have ever met. I’ve been hunting with him several times. I have yet to bag one of those giant Land of Lincoln whitetails, but that’s not why I go. I hunt with Beau because hunting with him is like hanging out with a best friend. I’m sure I’ll land the buck I’m looking for one day.

Another guide, Jason, keeps me coming back to the South Brooks Range of Alaska for Dall sheep. Yes, it’s a great place to hunt but I mainly go because it’s a pleasure to hunt with him. He’s one of the hardest hunting, smartest, and most patient hunting guides I have ever met.

Do you have guides like these fellows on your team? If you do, give them a raise because they are helping your business more than you could ever imagine.

Hunting with these three great guides has helped me define the kind of guides I want working with me: hardworking, honest, and personable.

And having been sold a bill of goods by that one outfitter, I learned to appreciate in the deepest sense the true value of being honest with clients and delivering on promises.

This past hunting season, I went to Northern BC to hunt a second time for mountain goats with a certain outfitter. It rained 20 days straight, and then the snow came in. Goat hunting came to a standstill. Luckily, I had a moose tag, so we re-focused our attention on moose. My guide, Luke, is what I call “mountain wise.” He’s tough, in shape, hardcore, and successful. We had been seeing a lot of grizzlies—and I mean a lot. One day, we were working up a river bottom on one of those picture-perfect moose-hunting mornings. We tied up the horses and settled in to call.

After about a half hour, Luke said, “Let’s just walk the horses up the trail another six hundred yards and do another set.”

He was about 15 feet from me, a little up the trail when he yelled, “Grab your gun!”

“Moose?” I said as I bee-lined it to the scabbard.

“Grizzly. Coming in fast,” he said reaching for me to hand him the rifle.

I grabbed the rifle just as the bear appeared. It spooked my horse, which whirled and slammed me into the ground. Everything went by in slow motion. My gun went flying. Luke’s horse panicked, ran, and trampled on me on its way out.

When I got to my feet, the bear was in full-on charge. Luke jacked a cartridge into the chamber and emptied the magazine into its face at 20 feet.

When we regained our wits, Luke said if he had been guiding a typical hunter instead a guide such as me, we would probably both be dead.

Most hunters would not have had three in the magazine and the scope on the lowest power. Also, I didn’t panic and neither did Cool Hand Luke.It was a life-changing experience, and I am happy to tell the story. His skill and ability to keep a cool head made the difference. I trust Luke with my life.

Trade Secrets I’ve Learned and Shared With Other Guides
From one guide to another, I wanted to pass along specific things I have learned over the years while being a client.

  • Selfie stick. I know it sounds ridiculous, but to get a great photo, a selfie stick is a real help—especially in the mountains or the backcountry. Jab it in the ground or wherever suits you best, and you’ll be able to get photos of both the hunter, the guide, and the animal.
  • Carry a lightweight tarp. A lightweight tarp makes a good, quick, dry lean-to. You can wait out a storm and stay in the game. I never carried on until I hunted with a guide who kept us dry with one.
  • Bring a Jetboil. If you’re cold and hungry and tired, instant soup and coffee can change everything—including hunger, core temperature, and attitude. If you’re in an emergency situation or just tired and cold, your clients will make you man of the year if you can employ one.
  • Miscellaneous. Cut up an old sleeping pad and make a lightweight butt pad. Put tape over the muzzle of your gun barrel. It will keep everything out and will not affect the gun’s accuracy. Make every camp comfortable with good food, dry wood in the tent, and a camp chair. Don’t make a hunter sit on a cot or a chunk of wood.
  • Visit with your hunter. Yes, you may get tired of talking, but hunters want to learn, hear your stories, and share theirs.

Hunting with Another Guide
I’ve never had a guide who’s guiding me roll his eyes when I tell him what I do for a living. Instead, they get super pumped. Think about it. . . How many times does a guide have the opportunity to hunt with a client who is in shape, can shoot, and has wood sense?

Take all the good and bad experiences you will have as a guide hunting with another guide, and improve your professional self. Listen to your guide, don’t be afraid to contribute, and have fun. It’s relaxing and, best of all, you might learn something.

Ed Lamb is a ranch manager and hunting guide in Livingston, Montana, for Bull Basin Outfitters. Prior to that, he spent twenty years as a forester in Montana.

From the Summer 2020 issue of Guidefitter Journal.

Ed Lamb
Ed Lamb
Livingston, Montana
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