By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald
With the recent single-digit temperatures and snow blanketing the hills and hollows of our fine state, many of us who prefer to live the outdoor lifestyle might be leaning toward becoming a little stir crazy. To fend off a full-blown case of cabin fever, some of us will turn to our favorite outdoor-related books, hunting and fishing magazines, and — if the condition is really critical — outdoor TV.
Daydreaming of bull elk, monster whitetails that roam the crop lands of the breadbasket of America or turkeys that look funny but gobble all the way to the barrel, can provide some much needed distraction from the icy reality of our homeland. What it can also cause is a moment of weakness and a charge on your credit card that will read “deposit on hunt” on your next statement.
Before you flop down your credit card at one of the many hunting and fishing shows, or call a number listed at the end of a TV show, perhaps a little advice on the topic may serve you well. The best advice I was ever given on booking a hunt was to control the controllable. Too many of us book hunts simply because the outfitter promises a chance at a trophy animal — after all, if they have been in business for any length of time that is what they’re going to be good at. But what separates a great hunt from a “you couldn’t pay me to go back” hunt is often found in the details. You must do your homework on the controlled aspects and make perfectly clear your preferences on how you like to hunt, how you prefer to sleep and what you like to eat. Sounds simple but I have seen first-hand way too many times an experience on a guided hunt fall apart simply because one of those preferences wasn’t met. Perhaps a few personal examples might illustrate the topic.
Letting the outfitter know how you like to hunt is critical. I have been on several hunts where I was partnered with a young guide whose mission in life was to prove how fast he could run up the hills, and then complain that I was taking too much time to get there. My favorite line for young bucks is, “I’m the one with the tag in my pocket and I can’t shoot the animal until I get there. If you want to shoot one before I get there, go ahead.” On the other end of the spectrum is the guide who likes to drop you off overlooking a waterhole or in a makeshift blind the entire day because he doesn’t like to spot and stalk game. Tell the outfitter how you like to hunt before you get there. It is YOUR hunt after all.
Nothing dampens your spirit after hunting hard all day to return to the camp to find bad food or, worse yet, not enough food. Most outfitters are not cooks and often times leave the cooking up to the guides. Address the issue up front. Will there be a cook? What time is dinner normally served? Will there be breakfast before the hunt? Do I need to provide my own food and beverages? If you take a trophy on day one, many ills are cured. If you hunt hard for five days and eat cold bologna sandwiches for dinner every night at 10:30 p.m., it is not a pleasurable experience.
Sleeping arrangements should be addressed before you book the hunt. Sleeping in a communal room with six of the best snorers in the country is frustrating and exhausting. You owe it to yourself to hunt hard and in doing so, rest is a very important part of your overall experience.
After the hunt is over and you are about to shake hands with the guides, the last thing you want are any hidden cost surprises. Costs such as meat processing fees, preparation fees for shipping and, of course my personal favorite, getting rooked into using the outfitter’s local taxidermist, who is overpriced and turns out subpar quality mounts (who is also generally his cousin).
The best way to ensure your money is well spent and you get exactly what you want out of your adventure is not to choose the most expensive or cheapest outfitter possible. The best way is to ask as many questions up front and then verify his answers by contacting a few others who have hunted with the outfitter before. A good outfitter will gladly offer up their past client list as a reference.
There are a ton of great outfitters out there, and many grand adventures await you from great first hunts like pronghorn antelope or feral hogs, to hunting the bull elk of your dreams. Now go find one!