Gerald Almy: Factors to consider when booking outfitter

Gerald Almy

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series about planning a western hunt. Read the first part at http://tinyurl.com/y8enlga3.

Many things should be considered when you begin to plan your first western big game hunt. We covered a number of these in last week’s column. Now let’s look at a few more factors to think about before booking an outfitter.

Length of hunt

Antelope can be hunted successfully in a three-four day period. For a mule deer or whitetail hunt, four-six days is enough time allotted for a quality hunt. Elk hunts should be five days on private land as a minimum, with 7-10 days preferable on public land and back-country wilderness hunts. Black bears are unpredictable. You might tag out the first evening. But book five days for the hunt to be safe.

Private land or public

Outfitters can offer hunts at lower rates if they hunt mostly public land. But often chances for success and the amount and quality of game you see will be higher on private, less-pressured property. Because game is less scarce, longer time frames are usually preferred for public land hunts. But if you are interested in a horseback hunt, chances are the outfitter will use at least some public land, often combined with private holdings he has leased the hunting rights on.

The drop camp option

If you don’t mind doing some camp work and like to hunt in your own style, setting up a drop camp hunt is another option. This is a good choice for a seasoned hunter and camper. The outfitter packs you in, typically by horseback or sometimes by airplane, to a remote area that he or she has scouted for game and set up a tent camp at, with all needed gear provided. They will then pack you and the harvested game out at the end of the trip.

This is a good option when cost is an issue. The price of these hunts is typically far less than that of a fully-guided hunt.

 Questions to ask

After obtaining preliminary information about several guides in the area you’re considering, either through mail or the internet, draw up a list of questions you want to ask the outfitter. A lot of your decisions on who to hunt with will be influenced by how friendly and helpful they are in answering them and the details they give.

Make it clear you want to hunt with them as a partner, helping with some camp chores, discussing strategy and evaluating animals together, not just tagging along. Some of this can be done by email, but phone calls can often be more helpful. If the guide just doesn’t seem to have time for you, rule him out.

• Here are some questions you may want to ask:

• How many hunters accompany each guide?

• How much hunting is done walking and how much on horseback or in a vehicle?

• What techniques are used?

• How is care of game meat handled?

• Are meat processing facilities available nearby?

• Is any fishing or bird hunting available if you fill your tag early?

• What elevations do you hunt?

• What gear should you bring?

• What are the success rates for each species over a several-year period recently?

• What is the average size or score of animal harvested?

• How many of the animals being sought can I typically expect to see during a hunt?

• References.

Finally before booking a guide, check with references from several you are considering. Ask for some who were successful and some who were not. Ask them how hard the guides worked, how the camp equipment and lodging setup was, food quality, care of trophies, how abundant game was, and trophy quality, as well as the vibe or overall feeling of the camp.

Booking agents

If you’re not interested in all of the planning and research required to choose a quality guide, consider using a booking agent. They take time to visit each camp and talk to hunters and references so they can line up the best guided hunts possible. Booking agents can save you time, and they know their reputation rests on providing good hunts and quality references for their services. Look for them through the internet and in back pages of sporting magazines.

After you speak with several outfitters and references who harvested game and those who were unsuccessful, you’ll have a pretty good feel for exactly which guide is best to invest your time and money on for a western big game hunt.

With enough research, chances are you’ll not only enjoy a great hunting experience, but also make a lifelong friend in the process.