After over 20 years of guided hunting and fishing trips in five states, five provinces and the Caribbean, I thought I knew all the right questions to ask before I book a trip with an outfitter. However, a horrendous guided whitetail hunt in Alberta, Canada, a few years back showed that perhaps there are some more questions that I should be asking.
Here are 10 questions that you should ask a potential outfitter before plunking down your hard-earned cash:
- What is the primary specie(s)? Many outfitters offer guided trips for multiple species of game; however, usually only one or two are the outfitter's bread and butter. It's rarely a good idea to book a trip for an outfitter's secondary species, regardless of price, as the outfitter is unlikely to have the same knowledge, equipment, areas and dedication as he has for his main species. Look for an outfitter that specializes in what you are most interested in, and treat other species as merely incidental/bonus.
- What methods do you employ? One of the most common causes of disappointment with a big-budget hunting trip is a misunderstanding over the methods to be employed in the field. Certain methods are simply more effective in some areas and times for certain species, but not all hunters are necessarily interested in/comfortable with all such methods, such as the use of vehicles during a hunt. Make sure you know in advance exactly how you will be spending the bulk of your trip.
- How many years' experience? My "guide" on my Alberta hunt had been guiding for a total of two weeks, and it showed. Being inexperienced was not his fault and is nothing to be ashamed of. However, untrained or rookie guides should not be asked or allowed to take clients out by themselves. Be honest with the outfitter about how much experience you have, and ask him to do the same about how long he's been in business and how long his guides have been guiding.
- What percentage of business are repeat bookings? Nothing says more about the quality of an outfitter's operation than repeat business, or lack thereof. For this reason, most top outfitters are booked up a year or two in advance.
- Success rates? There are no guarantees in hunting, and you should be very suspicious of any outfitter who offers one. However, you obviously want an outfitter who has a proven track record. Make sure that you understand what his numbers are based on, as some outfitters only count actual game taken, while others base success on chances or even just animals seen.
- Average size/number of game taken? Some outfitters offer quality over quantity, or vice versa, so it is important to decide what is most important to you. Be up-front with your outfitter about whether you are looking for a new world record or just a nice representative of the specie.
- Are you licensed/member of an association? Many states and provinces have professional outfitters associations, and membership may even be mandatory. Some jurisdictions also require guides and outfitters to be licensed. If the outfitter is not a member of the local outfitters association, ask why. If you are not happy with the answer, look for another outfitter.
- What if no game is found? Certain species of game follow seasonal migration patterns. A good outfitter will know where your quarry is likely to be found at the time of your trip. However, a number of factors, such as unseasonable weather, can intervene. Ask your outfitter about alternate locations or camps that you could be moved to in such cases.
- What if I tag out/have to leave early? Although "getting away from it all" is one reason that we go on such trips in the first place, many of us still feel the need to stay in touch with home or the office in case of unexpected emergencies. Make sure that some form of communication will be available to allow this, and that an early return home can be arranged. Also ask about secondary species to hunt should you bag your desired quarry on the first day or two.
- Cancellation policy? Unexpected health, family or work problems can sometimes prevent us from leaving for our dream trips. Depending upon how far in advance you have booked and how long before your departure date, you will likely have paid anywhere from 25-100 percent of the price of your trip. Although it may seem like an unnecessary precaution, make sure you know the outfitter's cancellation policy in advance and consider purchasing trip cancellation insurance.
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