Hunting guides are expected to provide these 5 things
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.