What you need to know when planning a guided hunt. This feature is part of a Game & Fish series on hunting with an outfitter.
Most hunters don't own land for managing trophy whitetails, wild turkeys or other game, but still have dreams of bagging trophy-class bucks and boss gobblers. And since those dreams often require traveling out of state, hiring a good outfitter is often a smart idea.
Of course, with a three-day guided whitetail hunt ranging from $1,000 to $3,500 and a similar turkey hunt running up to $1,500, hiring a good outfitter is an investment, and all investments require intensive research.
After deciding what to pursue — whitetails, elk, black bears, turkeys, etc. — hunters must decide between a fully guided or semi-guided hunt, or conduct a do-it-yourself hunt by only paying for access to property.
Other important information that should be acquired during the planning stages are regulations, bag limits, cost of permits and even whether hunter education is a prerequisite; some states require hunter education regardless of age. Even time of season should be considered, as some portions of seasons have much better success rates, which hunt prices usually reflect.
When in search of a good outfitter, most folks start on the Internet and at local sporting and firearms shows. Both are excellent places to begin, but an overlooked resource is at fundraising events for conservation organizations.
Quite often, guides donate quality hunts to groups such as Quality Deer Management Association, National Wild Turkey Federation and more. Many times, these hunts go for much less than the standard price, and the money goes toward conservation and preserving hunting traditions.
Jim Mraz is a board member of the St. Louis Big Game Hunter's Association, also serving on the committees of other organizations. In addition to having been on dozens of guided hunts, Mraz serves as a guide at Ozark Mountain Outfitters. Over the years, he has seen the good and the bad, from both sides of outfitting.
"People just don't ask enough questions when it comes to hiring an outfitter," Mraz said. "Be specific in your questions and ask a lot of them."
Also in this series
One of the first questions to ask an outfitter is how long they've been in business. Then, ask for the names and phone numbers of references, and don't be shy about calling those references or asking them questions. How much game did they see? What did they think of the lodging, food and gear? Did any guides stand out as being better than others?
"Ask outfitters what their success rate and shot opportunity rate is, too," Mraz said. "But don't just rely on these ratios, because some hunters are bad shots and some are picky about what they want to shoot."
This is why talking to references is so important. More information to determine is whether the hunt will take place on public or private lands, and the number of other hunters at camp that same week. Also, it might be good to know what type of habitat will be hunted, for determining gear needs.
In addition to terrain and habitat, hunters should also ask about the style of hunting. Are all hunts limited to tree stands and blinds, or are spot-and-stalk or still-hunting allowed? Also, what is the average distance for a shot?
"Don't forget to ask the outfitter what the population of the deer, turkey or other species you are hunting is at your destination," Mraz said. "An outfitter might have tens of thousands of acres, but if all that land is in a region where wild game numbers are limited, then you might be better off finding a different outfitter."
Of course, even after asking about game numbers, hunters should do some additional homework before booking a hunt by calling the state wildlife agency and asking about the region and counties.
"You will definitely want to know what gear you need to bring with you on your dream hunt," Mraz said. "Most of the time you bring your own clothes, sleeping bag, firearm or bow, and other personal accessories but you need to be clear about what exactly is provided and what you should bring."
TIPPING ON A GUIDED HUNT
Just like a good barber or server deserves a tip for exceptional service, a good guide deserves a tip. Unfortunately most hunters don't know how much to leave.
"If a guide does a great job for you and you are successful on your hunt, you should tip them at least 10 percent of what your hunt cost," said Jim Mraz. "A good guide works hard for you for many hours a day and does a whole lot more before the hunt and behind the scenes that you'll never know about."
Mraz also says that tipping doesn't stop with just the guide. If there is a camp cook or a horse handler (wrangler) you should tip them $50 to $100.
However, if your hunt was a disaster and your guide was grouchy and lazy, and if the food was bad, tip them accordingly or not at all. But if you've done your homework, you should have the hunt of a lifetime and tipping will be a joy.
Some outfitters provide breakfast, lunch and supper, while others may only offer certain meals, or even none at all. Also, ask about accommodations, as some folks might be willing to stay in a tent, while others might want something more comfortable.
"Hunters should also be well aware of any physical requirements that may be required of them," Mraz said. "Some hunts demand that you be in top shape to walk up and down steep ridges or ride horseback all day. You need to know in advance so you can get in shape for the hunt or book a hunt that requires that you have less strength or physicality."
And absolutely be sure to ask about required permits. Some states require habitat stamps or additional permits in addition to the pursued game tags. This is also a good time to learn about the regulations, as ignorance is not an excuse, even if the guide provides inaccurate information.
Also, be sure to research how to ship or transport trophies home. It is often illegal to transport whole animal carcasses due to laws trying to prevent Chronic Wasting Disease from spreading. Find out if the outfitter provides or has access to meat processing, taxidermy and shipping. And be sure to ask if this is included or requires an additional fee.
"Finally you will also need to know specifics about how much your hunt will cost," Mraz said. "Aside from the basic outfitting fee, are there any trophy fees, field-dressing, caping and butchering or other fees?"
Be sure to ask for complete details on how much money down is required and how the balance is to be paid. Many outfitters will ask for a down payment of half the cost of the hunt to book it, and the balance to be paid upon arrival. And ask about cancellation fees or if there are any refunds available for unforeseeable circumstances.
Every hunter has preferences about hunting and what he or she wants, needs and expects from an outfitter. Just like dining at a fine restaurant for a special occasion, look online for what their menu and pricing looks like and even ask for references from friends before going.
Booking an outfitter is a much bigger investment and may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Taking time to "look at the menu" before booking is a must.