I've been a professional hunting guide since 1992. In 20 plus years of hunting with clients I have learned that the most important thing is being honest with your customers. I know each time I take a client hunting there is a good possibility that the weather or the animals won't cooperate. Subsequently, I try my hardest to make sure each of them knows exactly what to expect and help them to express what their expectations are.
I have no more control over the weather or the birds than the next guy. What I do have control over is making sure my clients know how to be prepared for success. Sharing that information is key to happy hunters. Beyond that, all I can do is work my tail off to give my customers the experience possible in the manner I promised them.
Here are the top 5 things you can do to book and complete a successful guided hunt.
1. Know what kind of experience you're looking for and be realistic about price.
Not all hunting guides offer the same caliber experience. They run the gamut from DIY outfitters who charge a daily access fee to full-service luxury hunts. If you're operating on a budget you need to learn what you can expect to get for your money. Ask the guide to explain all the details of a typical hunt offered through his business. Make sure you know going in if he includes lodging and meals. Ask about each service included in the price of a hunt and what you are responsible for yourself. Get as many details as you can so that you are prepared to make an informed decision on the outfitter you choose to spend your money with.
2. Communicate your expectations to the outfitter.
Nothing turns a hunt sour faster than coming into a chartered hunt with certain expectations only to find you're not getting what you thought you paid for. When choosing an outfitter, give them a specific picture of what you expect him to provide to you, how you envision your hunt to take place and what goals you've set for yourself on this particular hunt. By doing so, you give the outfitter the opportunity to understand what you expect and whether or not he can realistically meet your needs. A good outfitter will tell you what he can provide to you or suggest an alternative guide that might better suit your needs.
3. Ask for details that will make your trip as successful as possible.
There are lots of variables that can affect your trip. Weather, water conditions, available food sources, variety of hunting locations, amount of land available to hunt, and peak season dates are all things you need to be aware of when choosing the dates for your hunting trip. A reputable guide will share that information with you and make sure you are well informed before coming to complete your hunt. Ideally, you want to go when the times and conditions are optimal for success. Keeping that information flowing between you and your guide is key to maximizing success while afield.
4. Demand references and do your homework.
Outfitters and guides who have been in business for any length of time will have a number of references to whom they can refer you. Ask for the names, phone numbers and email addresses of past guests and call them to check out what their experiences were with the guide. Make sure you ask those reference whether or not they have hunted with the outfitter on more than one occasion. Get a feel for the reference, their level of hunting knowledge and if they are truly a client or a personal friend of the outfitter. Have them tell you what makes the guide or outfitter special and get details of their hunt. This will help you weed out the real references from the friends posing as references.
5. Make sure you and your gear are reliable and suited to the conditions of the hunt.
Nothing will ruin your hunt faster than failing equipment and being unprepared. You owe it to yourself, the game and the guide to do your part competently and efficiently. That starts with making sure your gear is suited to the conditions of the hunt and that you are capable of handling whatever nature throws at you. It's unrealistic to show up to a mid-December hunt in Kansas with a rusty old pump gun and a set of 3.5mm, 400 gram Thinsulate waders when the temperatures are often going to reach well below freezing. Neither you or your weapon will function for long in those conditions. Take the time to ask and know what gear you will need to bring and have that gear in top functioning order. If the weather is going to be extreme, make sure your clothes match the conditions and that you are physically capable of handling those extremes.
Every hunt is different and not all of them end with full limits of fowl. But if you follow these steps in planning a hunt, your odds of success will increase significantly. I measure the success of a hunt not by the number of birds harvested or the quality of the shooting (although that does make life easier), but by the satisfaction of my hunters knowing that I did everything I could to make their time with me enjoyable and that I spared no effort to give them the experience for which they paid. At the end of the day, a quality experience is one you will enjoy and remember no matter how many birds you shot or different species you collected.