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Hunting with A Guide

By Paul Neess
August 31, 2020

Hunting with A Guide

Even though you may be a die-hard DIY guy like me when it comes to hunting, the time may come when you need to consider hiring a guide. Maybe it’s a really special once-in-a-lifetime tag, or perhaps you are going hunting in a place that requires a non-resident to hire a guide—such as Alaska—for sheep, goat and brown bear. If you’ve never worked with a guide before, you are going to be in new territory, and hopefully this article can offer you some helpful suggestions.

Choosing the Right Guide

To begin with, the sooner you can make the firm decision to go with a guide, the better off you’ll be. If you’ve built up many points in a state for a special tag and are likely to draw in a given year, contact guides before the draw even takes place. The best guides are always busy, and will have regular, repeat hunters every year. The sooner you inquire, the more likely you will be to get a spot. Be aware that to go hunting with the very best guides may take a year or more on a wait list.

Hunter and guide on mountain side posing with ram.

Choosing the right guide, even if it means waiting a year, can help make your hunt more enjoyable, and more successful.

When you’re still searching for the right guide, try to narrow your choices down to a short list. You need to consider things like guide permit areas and specialties. State outfitting laws are all different, but many times not all guides can hunt in all areas.

If you have a specific tag or desired hunting area in mind, you may be limited in your choice of guide service. If you have a desire to hunt a particular species, be aware of guide specialties. Not all guides may do well hunting all species and others may be very well known for a particular species expertise.

One of the very best ways to narrow down guide options is recommendation from someone you trust who has hunted with the guide recently. Word of mouth recommendations from people you don’t know well can be helpful, but you may not be able to completely trust them. Guide and outfitter reviews can be found on internet hunting forums and social media, but take these with a large grain of salt as you do not know the reviewer or his/her motivations. Magazine articles, television shows, and outdoor expos can also provide guide options.

Hunter and guide climbing a glacier in Alaska.

Make sure your guide has plenty of experience working the terrain, and the animal, you plan on hunting. There’s many ways to do this, but word of mouth from hunters who have used a guide in the past is hard to beat.

Once you have a short list, make some initial contacts and find out if booking a hunt is possible for the season and animal you’re interested in. Ask some general questions about the hunt and trophy potential. Beware of hunt success promises: There should be no guarantees when it comes to real hunting. Most likely you will find that not all the guides on your list are available and your list will be shortened. As I mentioned previously, the very best guides may be booked years in advance and you might even consider going on a wait list to hunt with one of them. Expect a good guide to be busy!

By now you should be down to a very short list and you can begin some final research before booking. Spend some time searching the internet for comments about the outfitter. Call the outfitter and ask for a complete client list and contact information from the previous season. Try to call all hunters from the last season, not just the successful ones the outfitter may recommend. Be chatty and ask about all details of their hunt – guide’s area knowledge and attitude, animals seen and taken, food, horses, camps, staff, vehicles, who was the best guide in outfit, trophy & meat handling, etc. The longer you can talk, the more likely you are to get useful information. Unhappy hunters will usually let you know, but keep an open mind as there are always two sides to every story. Lastly, check with state outfitter organizations to be sure the outfitter is properly licensed and bonded. Booking with an outfitter who is operating illegally can get you in trouble.

Preparing for A Guided Hunt

Once you have finally decided on an outfitter and booked your hunt, you need to begin preparing for it. If you’re smart, you’ve already begun this part!

As a former mountain hunting guide, I can tell you the most important things for you to concentrate on as a guided hunter will be your physical conditioning and shooting skills. These will have a direct impact on the likelihood of success on your hunt. Your guide will be expecting you to have made an effort to get in shape and to be comfortable and proficient with your weapon, whether it be a bow or rifle. Don’t be that guy that shows up with a brand-new magnum rifle or powerful bow and can’t shoot it well because they’re scared of recoil or the draw weight is too heavy! Far better to bring an old rifle or bow that you know and can shoot well.

Don’t just shoot off of a bench, practice a wide variety of shooting scenarios including offhand and using your pack as a rest. Your outfitter should have sent you a detailed gear list; pay close attention and follow it. Don’t try to second guess the list: If you have questions call the outfitter. Be sure your hunting boots are appropriate for the hunt and if new, break them in well in advance of the hunt. Go for long hikes with your boots, hunting pack, and other gear.

Guided hunt outfitting horses with gear

Being prepared means getting in shape physically and mastering your gear. But it also means focusing on the little things: If you’ve never ridden a horse before and your outfitter uses horses, try and take a few lessons before you’re in the field.

Try to find locations where you can work in some elevation changes. If your hunt is on horseback and you’ve never ridden a horse before, consider a riding lesson before your hunt. If nothing else, this will reduce your concern about riding.

Expectations, You and the Guide

If you can do just a few things, you will meet your guides expectations. He will likely have had many poorly prepared clients in the past, and his initial expectations will probably be low. You will make him very happy if you can be in good shape, be comfortable and proficient with your weapon, have decent gear, and have a friendly, positive attitude.

In return, you have a right to expect your guide to also be friendly and motivated to go hunting every day. You have a right to expect very good knowledge of the hunting area and the game you are pursuing. Excessive use of alcohol or drug use is unacceptable (for you as well!). Your guide should make you test your limits sometimes, but not to the point of exhaustion. He or she should always be concerned with your safety. The best guides should be able to get the most from you through encouragement at the right times, and maybe a little pressure at other times. He or she should always be positive with a never quit attitude, even when the hunt or weather are not going well.

Hunter and guide on mountain in conditions that are less than ideal.

There’s a lot of things your guide can control, and weather is not one of them. You and your guide should keep a positive attitude, even when conditions are less than ideal.

To get the most from your guide, be friendly and open minded. Remember that a successful hunt depends on a good partnership between you and your guide, and that your guide wants a successful hunt as much as you do. Trust his experience and knowledge of the area and how to best hunt it. Have realistic trophy expectations; there’s an old saying about never passing an animal up on the first day of the hunt that you’d shoot on the last day. Lots of truth to that one. Pay close attention to what your guide says about trophy potential of animals in the hunting area.

Be willing to push yourself physically when it becomes necessary. Communicate and ask questions even, or most especially, when you’re unhappy about something. An old guide once told me to avoid discussing politics and religion in hunting camp, bad topics with strong personalities, guns, and whisky at hand! Try not to be a slow poke in the morning leaving camp when your guide is itching to get to a glassing spot at dawn. A drink or two in the evening after a long day hunting can be very enjoyable, but don’t overdo it so much that you or the guide struggle to get going early in the morning.

After the Hunt

Once your hunt is over, don’t forget to tip your guide. A tip should be based on how hard your guide worked for you, not whether an animal was killed or not. Most guides depend on hunter tips for part of their livelihood; plan this expense into your hunt cost from the beginning. There is no set-in-stone amount to tip, but 10% of a hunt cost is a reasonable minimum. The outfitter can also suggest a typical tip amount. Be sure to exchange any photos taken during the hunt; you will both appreciate this later. Exchange contact information and try to stay in touch, you may build lifelong friendships. Lastly, be sure to remember and fulfill any promises made during the hunt!

Photos courtesy of Paul Neess and Carl and Peter Oswald, Alaskan professional guides

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