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Outfitters can make or break your hunt

Scouting photo of mule deer herd

Photo credit: Taylor Albrecht

By: Taylor Albrecht

The last five days had been a nightmare. As each day passed and the clock continued to count down, I wondered if we would fill our tag or go home empty-handed. Because of the type of tags we wanted, we were required to buy them from an outfitter and we had to hunt with that outfitter. While the bucks that we saw were nice, they were not the type of bucks we expected to see or had been shown from scouting pictures. The outfitter had us set up in a roadless area off the beaten path. We were hunting from higher vantage points where we could see deer moving from feeding to bedding areas.

Every day we had a new struggle. The first day we could not hunt an area where we saw a giant buck because the outfitter said that it was private. Later, we found out it was public land but that the outfitter’s daughter had a tag and he was saving that buck for her. The next day we tried going in again after the big buck but our guide was directed to go up and skyline himself and scare the bucks out of the basin so we couldn’t hunt them. The more we went into this location the less deer we saw. We were tired and frustrated and the clock was against us. Day after day we had new challenges and confrontations and by the end of day five we were ready to pack up and leave.

To say we were disappointed in our experience is an understatement, but also made us aware that thoroughly researching an outfitter is essential to enjoying your hunt. Here are a few tips on selecting an outfitter for your next hunt:

Do your research

Google Earth scouting ahead of time

There are good reasons for doing some research before you book your next hunt and put that deposit down. For every bad experience I have had I can tell you about 10 good experiences. The problem is that the bad ones are the ones that stick in your mind every time you look for a new place to hunt or outfitter to hunt with. Be sure to do your homework on the areas you want to hunt and the outfitters you would consider hunting with by using tools on the Internet like Google Earth, hunting forums and research platforms like goHUNT.com. All the resources are out there for us to use so take advantage of them.

Figure out what you want

Before dropping your deposit and blowing your hard earned money the first question you need to be asking yourself is, “What kind of hunt do I want?”

This can be broken down into multiple questions: Do I want a spot and stalk? Do I want to sit near water or baits? Do I want a combination? Do I want a rut, pre-rut or post-rut hunt? If I am hunting bears, do I want to sit over bait or run hounds? And finally, do I want to hunt on private property or public lands?

When to start your outfitter research

Hunting convention photo

The plans for my next hunt always start a year in advance as soon as the previous hunting season ends. Hunting expos/conventions, banquets and other outdoor events are a great place to start gathering information. These events will usually give you the opportunity and time to talk with the outfitter and possibly your guide in person. You can look at plenty of photos and also some of their past trophies. Over the conversation, you will be able to ask questions that may help your decision and start a dialogue that allows you to see if the outfitter is a good match for the type of hunt you want. On the drive or flight home you will think of even more questions to ask so be sure to write them down.

How to find an outfitter

When looking for an outfitter to hunt with it is important to take the time to research him thoroughly so you are not disappointed in the quality of your hunt. Be aware that even if you hire a guide you still may not harvest the trophy you are after. Regardless, we all want to leave the hunt pleased with the overall experience and the memories from that hunt and content knowing that you and your guide did everything in your power to try to harvest your trophy. We never want to leave with any regrets. This means that you want to hire someone that is willing to throw it all out on the table and give 100% so that you have the opportunity to take that trophy animal.

The power of the Internet

goHUNT's outfitter directory

Any more with the internet you can take care of a lot of homework without even picking up the phone. Social media, hunting forums, outfitters’ websites and search engines can give you a good idea of who is producing top notch animals and pleasing their customers before you even make a call. Use the information already there to your advantage. goHUNT.com has already done quite a bit of the homework for you and the information is easy to navigate. Use the site to find out top producing units, unit breakdowns, unit maps, yearly precipitation charts and other information to help plan your hunt.

Outfitter directory filtering by unit

The site also has a list of licensed and insured outfitters broken down by state, species, unit and proximity to unit. It is a great website to start your homework for unit selection and outfitter selection. The price for an INSIDER membership is cheap when you consider all the information easily accessible on most of the western states and all the units. Make sure to use applications like Google Earth to learn your hunting unit, the private property that lies within that unit and your hunt boundaries.

Verify licensed and insured outfitters

Most states now require outfitters to be licensed and insured. Look into state laws and requirements in order to narrow down your list. In most states it is easy to look up an outfitter and guide to make sure that they are covered. goHUNT also provides this information in its free Outfitter Directory. My home state of Utah is pretty simple. 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 for that criteria.

Verifying outfitter licenses with the state

This is the page where you can search by name or by selecting hunting guides and outfitters. From there you can look up individual outfitters or guides. The next page will tell you if a guide or outfitter is an actively licensed. If there is an issue with that guide or outfitter it will tell you in the status bar on the right side.

Communication is KEY

Once you have some outfitters narrowed down, pick up the phone. Most outfitters have a referral list that you can get if you call them up and they will email it out to you. At High Top Outfitters we have tried to narrow down our list to have it readily available, organized by the units that clients have hunted and the guides that guided them as well as another list of guides that can also guide that unit. We provide the names of the customers and guides, email addresses and phone numbers as a reference list for interested hunters. All you have to do is request it.

Be sure to ask any question that you might have, state any concerns you may have and be sure to clearly define your expectations for the hunt. Remember: communication is key. The majority of bad experiences can usually be traced back to bad communication. Whether it is on your part, the outfitter’s part or even the guide’s part, make every effort to ensure it is not because of your lack of communication.

How to use the reference list: What to ask past clients

When talking to previous clients, try to ask the following questions: Would you hunt with them again? Did you have any regrets? Did you harvest? What type of animals were you being shown? Be upfront so that you are not left with any questions. Also, make sure to call hunters who hunted with different guides so that if one guide is not available, you have some information on another guide.
 

Sheep photo while scouting
Photo credit: Taylor Albrecht

When talking with the guides be sure to ask what the unit has been producing and what it is looking like for the upcoming year. Communicate what your goal is and your preferred style of hunting. Tell him about your health and physical condition so that he can determine if there is anything that might hinder you on the hunt. You may learn that this unit is not for you and you may want to explore other options. Be sure to ask about their style of hunting as he may hunt differently from you. This may give you the opportunity to try new hunting tactics or you may want to try to find someone that hunts like you so that you are comfortable for your hunting trip. Consider your physical condition. If you are out of shape and his style is spot and stalk, you may not be in the physical condition to hike all day and will probably want a different guide for your hunt.

Request scouting and harvest photos
 

High Top Outfitters trail camera photo
Photo credit: High Top Outfitters

A final item that is important to request is past harvest photos and photos from scouting. With the harvest photos ask for them to be present in the picture. Unfortunately, in today’s multimedia world, there are plenty of pictures out there that guides and outfitters can easily pull them off the internet and send them to anyone they want claiming it as their own photo.
 

Kent's mule deer buck
This photo tells me nothing about the guide or the hunter. Photo credit: High Top Outfitters
 
Kent's mule deer with guides
While this photo shows me the two guides and the hunter. Photo credit: High Top Outfitters

Last, but not least, once you have selected your outfitter, unit and guide, ask more questions so that you are 100% prepared. Ask about weather conditions, elevations you will be hunting and types of terrain as well as what gear they use and would recommend that you bring with you. Any additional information that you can gain before you step foot onto the hunting area is a bonus and will help you out tremendously.

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