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How are hunting guides and outfitters governed?

 

Hunting outfitter camp in the mountains
Photo credit: Brady Miller

Guides and outfitters fulfill a very necessary role in the hunting industry. Not only do they provide excellent hunting insight due to their extensive experience and familiarity with a given area, but they also make for a much more efficient hunting experience for those who may not have the opportunity to put in the long hours of scouting before their hunt. When you consider the fact that many of us work long hours with few days off in a given year, the odds are that you only have three to five days to do all of your scouting and hunting, especially if required to travel across multiple states to do so. If you drew a tag of a lifetime, what a waste it would be to miss out on a great animal because you didn't have weeks on end to dedicate to scouting and hunting an area. For these reasons, many have found that contracting with an outfitter is a good use of time and money.

But how can you know what you are getting when contracting with an outfitter? There are plenty of horror stories out there about fly-by-night outfitters and guides that provided subpar service or turned out to be an outright scam. It might be the middle of the hunting season right now, but it's a great time of year to start planning for the following season.

Accessing an outfitter directory

goHUNT hunting outfitter directory

How can you be sure that you’re contracting with a reputable business that will give you the very best opportunity possible? One way is to access the Outfitter Directory here on goHUNT.com. They list every big game outfitter in the western states that they cover. You can also find an extensive list of quality outfitters that have received the goHUNT stamp of approval, which are labeled as Business Members.

goHUNT hunting outfitter directory filtering for outfitters by species

Once you are on the Outfitter Directory, you can filter outfitters based on State, Species they specialize in, hunting unit and certain states allow you to select the proximity they are from the hunting unit. Once you click on an outfitter you will get a vast amount of information and harvest photos for their business.

Outfitter Directory

Arizona Colorado
Idaho Montana
Nevada New Mexico
Utah Wyoming


Big factors to consider about outfitters

There are other factors to consider; however, since each state has its own set of specific regulations that govern how outfitters conduct their businesses and how guides conduct themselves. Are they required to be licensed? Are there associations they are required to be a part of? What kind of standards must they adhere to in order to remain in good standing? These are all important questions to ask when considering contracting with an outfitter. 

First, it’s important to clarify the difference between an outfitter and a guide. An outfitter is a licensed business that employs guides and provides the various products and services for a guided hunt. Guides are the actual hunting guides who scout and accompany hunters on the guided hunts. Guides are most commonly employed by licensed outfitters.

The first step in contracting with a guide and outfitter is to select the outfitter you will be working with. This will determine which guides are able to work with you on your hunt. Any outfitter that you consider should be licensed, bonded, and insured. These requirements ensure that you will be working with a reputable business and protected from being taken advantage of. Additionally, some states have guide and outfitter boards/associations that regulate the practice of outfitters and guides. These boards/associations hold their members to a high standard of conducting business and membership is privileged, not assumed. Additionally, some states, require outfitters to be members of the outfitters association to even be licensed. If you find an outfitter who is licensed, bonded, insured, and is a member of a guide and outfitter board/association, you should be in good hands. 

How can you check out an outfitter to confirm they are legitimate?
 

Idaho hunting outfitter search
Example of a state where you can search for outfitters.

The first step is to contact your state's wildlife department to confirm that they are a registered outfitter. goHUNT has made this process easier by listing each outfitter's license number. This greatly helps in determining if they are a legit outfitter or not. Next, if your state has a guide and outfitter association, look up the outfitter to see if they are a member of that board/association. Lastly, call the outfitter and ask for references. You can also look up the outfitter on social media and see what people are saying about them. If you do your homework, you can confidently move forward with an outfitter knowing that you will be well taken care of.

Outfitters employ guides to do the actual guiding on a given hunt. Each state has its own regulations when it comes to guides. Below is a list of the specific regulations regarding guides for each state. As you will see, the requirements vary greatly from state to state, which is why it is important to know your specific state's regulations. The following are the statutory requirements for a person to be a licensed guide in each state and any additional information.

Continued below.

goHUNT INSIDER equals better hunting research

Arizona

You must be a registered outfitter in the state of Arizona. Read more information here. Currently Arizona does not have a formal guide association and the department is the regulating authority.

Guides

  • Must possess a valid Arizona hunting/fishing license for the current year.
  • Must complete appropriate guide license application/renewal application.
  • Must pass guide licensing exam with a score of 80% or higher.
  • Must renew license annually.
  • Must be free of wildlife-related felonies over the past five years and any hunting or fishing violations in the last year.

Additionally, guides in Arizona:

  • Are not required to be residents.
  • Are not required to be a part of a hunting/fishing association or board.
  • Are not allowed to carry any kind of firearm aside from a pistol.

Colorado

To become an outfitter in Colorado, you will need to be licensed through the State of Colorado Department of Regulatory affairs as an outfitter. You can look up outfitters in Colorado here.

Guides

  • Must be employed by a licensed, bonded, and insured outfitter.
  • Must possess first aid certification.
  • Must be governed by the Colorado Outfitters Association.
  • Must not be a convicted felon.

Idaho

You must be a registered outfitter in the state of Idaho. Read more information here. Also, you can search for a list of registered outfitters from the state here.

Guides

  • Must complete licensing application.
  • Must not be a convicted felon.
  • Must be employed by a licensed outfitter.
  • Must be approved by the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board.
  • Must possess first aid certification.

Montana

In Montana, the Montana Board of Outfitters (MBO), sets experience, qualification, and testing requirements for licensing outfitters to provide fishing and/or hunting services. Guides are sponsored by individual outfitters, then qualified by the MBO for a license. You can search for outfitter status here.

Guides

  • Must complete licensing application.
  • Must be employed by a licensed outfitter.
  • Must possess a valid conservation license.
  • Must not be a convicted felon.
  • Must possess first aid certification.
  • Must meet one of the following criteria:
  • Have at least one season experience of hunting and fishing.
  • Have worked for six weeks for the outfitter signing the license.
  • Have received training as a guide from a board-approved school.

New Mexico

You must be a registered outfitter in the state of New Mexico. You can read more information here.

Guides

  • Must pass guide exam with a score of 70% or higher.
  • Must work for a registered outfitter.
  • Must not be a convicted felon.
  • Must renew license annually.

Additionally, guides in New Mexico:

  • Are not required to carry liability insurance.
  • Are not required to have completed a hunter safety course.

Nevada

Nevada uses a master guide/subguide system that is unique to their state. You can check out additional information on licensed Master and Subguides here.

Master guide

  • Only open for application January through May.
  • Must pass licensing examination with score of 80%.
  • Must be minimum of 21 years old.
  • Must pass boating safety examination (If using boating in guide service).
  • Must provide proof of valid insurance.

Subguide

  • Application open year-round.
  • Must pass licensing examination with score of 80%.
  • Must pass hunter safety course.
  • Must possess first aid certification.
  • Must work with a master guide.
  • Cannot independently enter into a contract with a hunter.

Utah

Utah has a great system for checking on the status of outfitters and guides. On the Department of Public Licensing (DOPL) website click on the tab on the left “Verify a License.” From that page, if you know the name of the outfitter and guide you are interested in, you can type their name in or you can complete a search based on type of license, which will give you all licensed guides and outfitters in the state. From there you can look up individual outfitters or guides. The next page will tell you if a guide or outfitter is actively licensed and if there is an issue with that guide or outfitter.

Guides

  • Complete licensing application.
  • Produce satisfactory evidence of upright, moral character.
  • Prove capability as a hunting guide (verified through proof of a minimum of 100 days of outdoors-related training).
  • Must be associated with/employed by a licensed outfitter.
  • Must renew license annually.

Wyoming

You must be a registered outfitter in the state of Wyoming. You can read more information here.

Guides

  • Must complete guide licensing application.
  • Must be employed by a licensed outfitter.
  • Must be approved by the Wyoming State Board of Outfitters.
  • Must renew license annually.
  • Must not be a convicted felon.
  • Must possess first aid certification.


A few words about outfitters and guides
 

Outfitter hunting camp in the backcountry
Outfitter camp in the backcountry. Photo credit: Tri-Spoke Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

Always choose a licensed guide who is employed by an outfitter

An unlicensed guide is not a guide; he/she is a hunting partner who is likely acting illegally. A licensed guide will not only provide you the best experience, but you will also be protected from the liabilities of hunting with an unlicensed guide. A licensed guide will also have access to the facilities, gear, and personal of a licensed outfitter, which will no doubt give you a better chance of having a positive experience.

Using a guide is not cheating

Some view contracting with a guide as a form of cheating. That is ridiculous. For some, the option of scouting for days in unfamiliar country just does not exist; having a guide who already knows the area is incredibly valuable. Additionally, if you are not a veteran hunter, the thought of tackling the wide open west can be overwhelming. Contracting with a guide is a way of giving yourself the best possibility of a positive experience. It also gives you a greater assurance of safety in the event that something goes wrong. Never look down on someone for contracting with a guide and never feel self conscious about the desire to contract with one.

Many guides are great; some guides are not

There are tons of wonderful guides and outfitters out there. There are also some unethical and illegal guides out there. It is up to you to do your homework prior to contracting with a guide. Always ask a guide to provide contact info for anyone who has contracted with him/her in the past. If he/she refuses, move on. Additionally, forums and social media provide excellent information on guides and outfitters. A great read about this subject can be found here.

Less money, more problems

Do not contract with an outfitter purely based on cost. While it is not always the case, often times you get what you pay for, especially when the price is too good to be true. If this is a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, spend the extra cash (if necessary) to contract the best outfitter and guides you can possibly find. Don't miss out on your chance at a trophy of a lifetime because you wanted to save a few hundred dollars.

Share your experiences

It is great to go on a hunt of a lifetime and fill your tag. It is not great to keep quiet about it. If you have a great experience with a guide and outfitter, tell people about it. Post on social media who you worked with and how it went. This will increase exposure for those guides that do such a great job. In the same respect, if you have a poor experience with a guide due to unethical or illegal behavior, report them. This will ensure that those who abuse their responsibilities are handled properly.

Contracting with an outfitter for your next hunt might be exactly what you need to ensure that you have a great experience. Just be sure to get all of the information that you can find so that you can make an informed decision. At the end of the day, this is your hunt – choose the outfitter who is going to help take your hunt to the next level.

1 Comment

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Bob H. - posted 9 months ago on 10-02-2016 10:47:00 am

I would like to make hunters are aware of something that happened to us in Canada.I checked the outfitter he was licensed bonded and insured.if you are from out of their country , this means nothing
To go after them if there is a problem.like in our case a faulty wood stove caved in and burnt down one of our 2 tents with all gear passports everything.so we had to leave early 5 days into a 10 day hunt to make sure our friends across the border.since their A.P.O.S. IS MADE UP out gudes and outfitters who do you think their looking out for?
You canNOT use your attorney from the states you have to hire a Canadian lawyer.so unless its forth alot of money you are out of luck.
The outfitter and his insurence agent who were 350 from camp decided what happened but never stepped one foot in camp.so don, t assume being lic.bonded and insured your civered.
Our outfitter who was at home, his son was running the camp..