In a previous blog we examined some questions to ask a potential outfitter before you book a hunt. Most people also know to ask for references from previous clients of the outfitter. Although this is a valuable exercise, realize that an outfitter is only going to provide references who were happy and likely only those who successfully pursued their chosen game. But by knowing what questions to ask these references, you can "read between the lines" and glean some very useful information about what you can truly expect if you book a trip too.
- Where else have you hunted? This will reveal how much experience the reference has. If the reference has never been on a similar trip elsewhere, and has nothing but glowing reports about the trip in question, take it with a grain of salt. If they're a seasoned hunter with guided trips around the world, you can probably take their views to the bank.
- Have you used this outfitter before/would you go again? The best endorsement is return clients, and this question can be especially useful in determining the best time of year/season to go, as repeat customers often get first choice of time slots.
- How much game did you encounter? Your outfitter should give you an idea of how much game you can realistically expect. However, it's good to get independent confirmation from as many sources as possible. Make sure, however, that you are on the same page as the reference in terms of the time of year/season, the type of trip, etc.
- What methods are used? This can be one of the most critical factors of your trip as far as the quality of your overall experience. If you're a deer hunter that prefers to sit in a tree stand, booking a trip with an outfitter that mostly still hunts is a bad idea. Ask the outfitter these questions, but also ask the references, and don't be afraid to make your preferences known to your outfitter.
- What kind of shots can I expect? Ask your outfitter about typical shooting situations and ranges, and be honest about your shooting abilities. Most limitations can be accommodated if known in advance. Ask the references the same questions.
- Which guide? Top-notch outfitters will usually have top-quality guides, but some guides are simply better than others. Moreover, just like their clients, some guides are very quiet, while others are quite talkative and social. Although the two of you will only be together for a week or so, you will spend a lot of time together during that week, sometimes during stressful situations. Having a guide with a personality compatible with yours can make a big difference in terms of team "chemistry." Ask the references which guide(s) they have had and whom they would recommend.
- Equipment? Most outfitters will provide a list of items to bring. However, the references will likely have some thoughts on things they'd wish they'd brought or left at home, such as shooting sticks, for example. It's also good to know exactly what the outfitter-provided gear will be like. Again, based on what the references say, let the outfitter know about any special needs you may have.
- Accommodations and food? Accommodations can vary from nylon dome tents and sleeping bags to five-star lodges, and everything in between. You should know what to expect by the time you book. However, photos in a brochure or on a website can sometimes be overly flattering. The types of beds, the temperature in the sleeping quarters and whether you will be sharing your accommodations are all good details to know in advance. You may even have some choice of accommodations. If your hunt includes food, ask the references about the type, quality and quantity of the food served, and inform the outfitter in advance about any particular requests or allergies you may have.
- Was there something that could have been better? Don't be surprised to hear some silence at first when you ask this, as it is one that few people ask. Many outfitters don't even ask their clients this, even those clients that they ask to be a reference, and that is exactly why you want to ask. If you are told of only minor issues, if anything, this should give you considerable comfort. If you hear something that gives you cause for concern, assess it carefully and don't be afraid to question the outfitter further. However, don't reveal the identity of the informing reference.
- Any surprises/anything I should know? Before thanking the reference and hanging up, make sure you ask this catch-all question. Most people can usually come up with at least one thing that they wish they had known in advance. You are trying to learn from their experiences so that you won't have the same wish after your trip.
References are doing you a favor by speaking to you, so be aware of time zones and don't call too early, too late or during dinner time. Try to keep the calls to less than 15 minutes. The point is to confirm what the outfitter has told you. If you receive any conflicting information, confront the outfitter. Now is not the time to be shy. Remember, it is your hard-earned money at risk. If you feel at all uneasy at any time through the process, trust your instincts and look for a different outfitter.