July 05, 2021
By Scott Haugen
When you save your money and vacation days for a "bucket list" fishing or hunting trip, you naturally want everything to be perfect, and for most people such a trip makes for unforgettable memories. For some, however, the trip goes terribly wrong, and they end up paying a lot to be miserable.
There are no sure bets in hunting and fishing, but you can avoid most disastrous outcomes by carefully planning your trip and thinking through exactly what you want to get out of it well ahead of time. Choose the best destination and go armed and equipped as the journey requires.
1. PICK A PRIME TIME
One of the biggest mistakes people make is building trips around their schedules, not those of the fish or game they intend to pursue. Planning your trip so that it coincides with a period of high activity for your target species sounds obvious, but bucket-list trips often involve hunting or fishing in places or for species with which you are not very familiar.
Some seasons are open long enough that the odds of taking a trophy are far better during one part of the season than others. Research the best time to go and you are far more likely to avoid the "you should have been here last week" problem.
2. CHOOSE GEAR WISELY
Accommodations for bucket-list trips range from well-appointed lodging to rough backcountry camping. Be sure to have the proper camping gear, apparel, footwear, rod and reel or firearm and other gear you’ll need for the adventure.
Pay particular attention to weather extremes rather than average temperatures—as much as possible, gear up for the extremes. It may pay to bring spares of some types of gear. A backcountry fishing trip quickly turns into a camping trip if you break your rod and don’t have a backup. Invest in the best gear you can afford, as some of it will last a lifetime.
3. TEST NEW GEAR
If you buy new gear for a trip, try it out before you go. Make sure it is not only functional, but that you are comfortable with it and like it. A classic example is new boots—you should break them in well before a trip.
Make sure your drinking water filter works well. If using a new tent, practice putting it up and taking it down—then do it in the dark. If your adventure requires a new stove, test how it works in the wind and rain, and get a sense for how quickly it goes through fuel. A backcountry hunting or fishing trip is not the place to try new gear for the first time.
4. RESEARCH SAFETY AND COMFORT
Knowing what you need not only for catching fish or shooting game, but also to be safe and comfortable, is particularly important on DIY trips. Talk to others who have made similar trips and find out what they brought, what they wish they had brought and what they could have left at home.
Do not rely solely on electronic navigation and digital maps on backcountry adventures; bring a paper map and compass, and know how to use them.
If you hire a guide, he or she will typically have a recommended packing list, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. What kind of insect repellent should your bring? Will you need bear spray or other bear-safety equipment? What about snake boots? If you are hiking, how often is water available? Most importantly, whether doing a guided or DIY trip, make sure that some responsible person at home knows where you’ll be and when you plan to return.
5. RESEARCH YOUR GUIDE
Before you finalize booking a trip with a guide, call previous customers for references and personal recommendations. While web research and social media leads can provide some information, talking directly with former clients will give you the most accurate information, not only about the guide and the quality of the trip, but also about what the previous customers wish they had done differently when they were preparing for the trip.
6. SET REALISTIC GOALS
Bucket-list trips are an attempt to realize a dream. But even dream trips are subject to real-world constraints. Manage your own expectations before you even leave home, and you’re more apt to enjoy yourself. If you’re on a fishing adventure that’s known for 100-fish days, but you only catch 70 fish, are you going to be disappointed?
Similarly, before you go on a hunting trip, have an honest conversation with yourself about what a trophy is for you. When a bull or a buck presents a shot, you should feel good about taking the shot—or passing on it—without kicking yourself the rest of the trip.
7. KNOW YOUR LIMITS
Bucket-list trips often involve heading into rough country, whether it’s a DIY adventure or a guided trip. It’s worth your time to get in as good of shape as you can before the trip, but it’s also a good idea to plan the trip so it does not require you to operate beyond your limits.
If you design a trip that requires hiking 15 miles a day and you are sore after 8 miles, you’ll be miserable much of the time. Add an extra day to your schedule for getting in and out. On a guided trip, be upfront with your outfitter about how much hard, physical activity you can handle and still have a good time.
8. HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY
Finally, know what to do once you’ve found success. When you pull the trigger on a moose, elk or other big-game animal, the real work begins. Sometimes a couple days of packing are required to get all the meat out, so make sure you plan for success. Similarly, if you plan to keep fish on a warm-weather trip, be sure to have a way to quickly cool the meat so it doesn’t spoil.
Half the fun of embarking upon any bucket-list adventure is in the planning. Don’t cut corners. Do call references and take your time to research the species you’ll pursue and the area you’ll be in. Success in a once-in-a-lifetime adventure comes down to knowing what you’re getting into and careful planning. That’s how you make your own luck.
Editor’s Note: Scott Haugen is a full-time author who books bucket-list hunting and fishing trips in select parts of the world. Learn more at scotthaugen.com.