It has become apparent to me over the years of hunting with a wide range of Outfitters that it’s inevitable, all clients are going to leave camp with a different level of satisfaction. Some clients will leave happy, regardless if they’ve harvested an animal or not, and others will be going home with a bitter taste in their mouths; sometimes unsatisfied no matter how hard the guide worked to get the hunter an opportunity.
I talk to a lot of seasoned hunters that go on yearly outfitted hunts, and I talk to a lot of guides that have the pleasure of spending months afield with many different types of clients. If I were to talk to a group of five hunters, chances are, most of them will have a slightly different expectation of what a given hunt should entail. Some want the food to be exceptional and the hunting to be good, while others could care less what the food tastes like, and all they care about is exceptional hunting. Some guys want 5 star accommodations, and others simply want to sleep in a drop camp in the middle of elk country. Then... you always have a handful of hunters who would rather have hunting camp fit the mold of a dive bar in the middle of no man's land where they can drink beer all day and night. Hopefully if you’re having those guys in camp, you are smart enough to not let them hit the mountains or field while intoxicated. Hey, I say to each his/her own; just be safe. For some hunters, the week they are at your camp may be the only vacation they are able to go on all year, so they are just looking for an all around good experience and a week of peace and quiet away from the chaos at their home. Personally, I could care less what I eat for a week or what type of lodge, drop camp, or tent I stay in; all I care about is seeing game and hunting hard!
I’ve been in situations myself where I went home empty handed, yet satisfied, as I knew my guide worked extremely hard to fill my tag. I’ve also witnessed guys in camp leave angry, even though they missed three different bulls in the same week. Realistic hunters understand that all hunts are going to be different from year to year. A hunt can be impacted severely from weather and timing alone. As a guide and outfitter, you can only control so much, but there is a flipside to that. For the things that you can control, it’s your job to be an expert. At the end of the day, we all know it’s not possible to please every single client, but there are things you can do to help ensure you are giving it your all. Based on my experiences and combining survey data from a large group of hunters, I put together a list of the five most important things clients expect from their outfitters.
First and foremost, ranking at the top is safety. Although this may seem like a given, a client's safety should not be overlooked and should always be a top priority. If the thought crosses your mind as a guide that a given situation may put the safety in jeopardy of your hunter(s), you should avoid it. Harvesting an animal isn’t worth the risk that someone could get seriously hurt or even worse, lose his/her life.
This is one thing I’ve personally seen fall through the cracks on the Outfitter’s end. If you show up the day before your clients arrive in camp, and that is what you call doing your homework, think again. Regardless if you’ve hunted the same ranches or farms previously, generally speaking, things change, and animal behaviors can change from year to year. It’s your job as a guide to learn the property and what animals are on that property before your clients arrive in camp. Don’t show up the day before your hunters get to camp and put them in a treestand that hasn’t been looked at since the year before. I had this happen. My outfitter/guide showed up to camp the day before I arrived, opening week of Illinois bow season. I knew the first morning that we were in trouble after we walked across the middle of a wide open field to get to our stand, and then even worse, realized after daylight that we (my cameraman and I) were sitting in a stand that hadn’t been looked at, trimmed out, or serviced since last hunting season. This goes back to SAFETY. Don’t be a knucklehead and put your hunter in an unsafe situation. Ratchet straps rot, trees shift. Don’t let your client be the guinea pig for the first climb of the year. This is not acceptable. Bottom line. If any given hunter wanted a DIY style hunt where he/she was responsible to learn the ground, figure out the animal patterns, clear shooting lanes, hang treestands, etc., he/she wouldn’t have booked the hunt with you to begin with.
This goes hand in hand with knowing the country. If you know the ground you’re hunting, chances are you know where the animals are. It’s funny how some outfitters feel it’s important to start scouting months in advance while others feel that a week or so of scouting is sufficient. If an outfitter lives, breathes, eats and sleeps this, chances are, he’s scouting year round.
I’ll use my five years of elk hunting as an example here. I grew up being an avid archery whitetail hunter on the east coast, and it wasn’t until five years ago that I had the opportunity to go on my first elk hunt. I was a complete greenhorn going into elk country, so I wanted to learn as much as possible from my outfitters. Success comes from knowledge and patience, with a little bit of luck on your side! Fortunately for me, I was able to hunt with three different outfitters over the past few years who were all very knowledgeable. Everyone has a different style, so I try to tuck as much as I can learn from each of them in my back pocket to help me become a better elk hunter as the years pass. Most clients are eager to learn the ropes.
I see this more from elk and mule deer hunt clients than whitetail guys, but it does apply to every type of client. Most responsible western outfitters tell their hunters well in advance that it’s important to get into shape before he or she comes on the hunt. Some take it seriously, and some do not. I will say that the ones who take it more seriously and do get in shape are going to have a better overall experience from start to finish. It’s important for a guide to understand their clients’ abilities and get a feel for what they are comfortable with and not comfortable with before the hunt starts. More times than not, elk hunters who can afford to go on guided elk hunts are past their prime and not in the best of shape. I’ve seen many situations where an elk hunter wasn’t fit enough to be able to chase a killable bull up the mountainside. For the guide, it has to be frustrating. You work all year to present opportunities to your hunters, and when a plan finally comes together, your hunter just can’t get there. Take a deep breath, move on, and keep hunting hard for your client. That’s all you can do.
For clients, outfitters and guides alike, we all share the same passion: hunting. We do this because we love it. As Guidefitter’s slogan says, “We Live For This.” The best advice I can give hunters is to make sure you ask a lot of questions and fully understand what type of hunt you are getting into before you book. Also, don't be a thorn in your guide's side. They are the experts, don't guide the guide. The best advice I can give guides is that if you want to have a long, successful career, give it 110% and be prepared when your hunters arrive. You owe it to your paying client to ensure they get the best overall experience they possibly can.
Nice article. I know people can not be prepared for something that is a once in a lifetime experience for them, but that is part of the fun. Figuring out how to work with the client, weather, and the luck of the draw is what makes memories. I guess I have been lucky so far, but I look forward to the surprise of each new client. We hunt wilderness, and tough country, so maybe that sorts out those that are not looking for a fair chase chance at a bull.
To avoid disappointment, I would avoid "Private Land Bucks and Bulls" Outfitters in New Mexico and Colorado. They are a joke. I probably would have left anyway without being let go without pay, because of how stupid the clients were. The ethics of the company were rotten. They wanted us to drive elk off of public land to the ranch by harassing them with vehicles and shooting over them with rifles. I am also fairly certain that someone on the leased property was growing a rather massive marijuana crop that we spotted from a ridge. The guide service is also the type to shoot late into the evening then wait until dawn to get the animal, so hero shot pictures can be taken, even if a large amount of meat spoils. Some of the jerk clients just wanted the heads anyway and would tip us the meat for camp meat. Broken promises, bad ethics, and outlaw tendencies are not my cup of tea.
There was more to it, but my story has grown long. The real BS was when the outfitter decided to cut ties with a few of us guides and told us he wouldn't be paying us. He said we had no contract (we didn't) and New Mexico doesn't accept verbal contracts apparently. I didn't really have it in me to stay there anyway. Very few clients were decent people. They were jerks. I think most decent people hunt for themselves and do not pay huge dollars to do these joke hunts. I had quit my job and it became very difficult to keep mortgage payments going by cutting firewood for sale when I got home, but I managed. Luckily, it led me to my current job of substitute teaching which I love. I also guide disabled and at-risk kids now in a 501(c)3 nonprofit I started called Pacific Northwest ADVENTURES for Kids! (www.facebook.com/groups/pacificnw) Kids aren't jerks when you take them hunting. They are ecstatic to shoot a doe or even a rabbit.
The parade of freaks continued while I was there. One of the guides had had a client filming a TV show. This is a great insight into how trophy hunting for TV can work. They only filmed when they thought they might connect on a big bull. After they guy killed one, they flew out another crew to film "the prior days" by going all over to get nature shots. They refilmed "the stalk" and the blood trailing, far more dramatic that it had been. They even brought in a new "guide" to lead the hunters around on that part of it, so the actual guide was completely edited out and the new caller was hero of the day. The original footage would have been far better. They tipped the guy some arrowheads from a sponsor.
I myself was pretty much at a loss for words, but one of the guys that had guided for years finally heard enough. He got in the guys face (literally) and said "Listen here you gigantic douche, you will drink what coffee is offered and you will eat what food is offered. Our contract is to show you elk and provide at least one feasible shot at a good bull. I know for a fact that there is a herd coming through daily over at the landfill, so unless you want your blind set up on top of a garbage heap, shut the F-up! Also, if you want to go home, nobody is stopping you, but good luck getting a taxi to come 30 miles on a caliche mud road that is not named or numbered!" That shut him right up. The guy missed a big bull, but his contract was completed. I am glad he missed. He would have never tipped.
Another client wouldn't have ever been pleased with the arrangements, no matter what. Despite the fact that we were 30 miles up a dirt road and another 40 miles from town, he demanded that someone got up at 3 am to go get him Starbucks. He was quickly informed that he would get Yuban from a Mr. Coffee at 5 am or whenever he wanted to make it before then. After I had just gone shopping and bought some awesome 2 inch thick pork chops and some jumbo prawns (aside from a wide variety of other foods), this client informed us that he would be eating a 10 oz or larger lobster tail with medium rare angus Prime Rib. He went on to complain that his ride from the airport had not portered his bags to the vehicle and that he had to do manual labor to get it there.
I was on a 180,000 acre ranch in New Mexico when I was younger. The clients were paying well over $10,000 to hunt and were required to only shoot animals deemed over 350 inches gross, or they would be fined $2,500 for besmirching the name of the ranch. The types of clients that come through a place like that are real pieces of work.
There was this one guy that kept passing the very biggest bulls the property had to offer. These elk were approaching the 370s. He wanted 390. He didn't get it that there was probably maybe one elk (or none) on the property at the time that would make him happy at 390 or better. I am not sure if he would have ever been truly happy, even if he got a 440 bull, because he was so arrogant. He made sure everyone there knew he owned over 10,000 top grade cattle in Texas. He went home with nothing.