Eliminate the bad by making inquiries

Eliminate the bad by making inquiries

February 06, 2006|by BILL ANDERSON

Although the late winter is a slow time for many outdoors sports, it is the height of the show season. Over the past 10 years or so, shows seem to be more and more important to the process of choosing a guide or outfitter to book a trip of a lifetime.

The biggest reason the shows work for both parties is that it gives you the chance to meet one on one, size up the guide and ask the specific questions that are most important to you.

Like most, I have had good and bad experiences in booking hunting and fishing trips. In every case it was bad, I blame myself for not doing enough research. Research includes things like checking references, or booking with someonewhom a trusted friend recommended.

A friend recently told me about a trip to Canada that was major bust. It was supposed to be a cabin-based hunt for spring bear. The outfitter was to provide cabin, all meals and 4-wheelers to go to the baited stands which were being maintained daily by the outfitter. Pretty standard bear hunt in Canada.


What they got was a bag of stale pastries for breakfasts, stale bread and lunchmeat for lunches and one hastily cooked meal in the very late evening when they returned from stands. The cooked meals were usually made from strong-smelling ground meat which they suspected was ground moose meat - an old moose from the taste and smell.

The baits at the stands were not refreshed as often as needed, and as a result they saw only one small bear for the week of hunting. Guess what kind of recommendation they will give this guide if you call them for a reference? This is the kind of thing you hope to find out about before you book with this crook.

The other very important factor is that many of the most popular hunting destinations require that you purchase your license, or apply for limited permits by a certain date. Montana, for example, is usually mid-March. The time for making decisions is now.

When choosing a guide or outfitter, always check the references.

Obviously, the very best reference you can find is someone whom you know personally. If that is not possible, ask the outfitter for a list of all clients for the past two years. They obviously will not volunteer info on clients that did not have a great trip, but reputable guys will give you their entire list if you ask.

When you talk to a previous client, make up a list of questions before calling so you get your answers and not take up a lot of the person's time. I consider it a big favor, so I try to be prepared and keep the time on the phone as short as possible.

The one question we all probably ask is success percentage. I know I still do. But it's fair to keep in mind that there are a lot of factors. Things like weather, the shooting ability of the client, the physical condition of the client, and the overall hunting skill of the client. The guide can help put clients in position, but they can't make the shot for them.

A first-class big game hunt is a major investment. When you factor in licenses, travel costs and the like, you can easily get thousands of dollars invested in a hunt. When planning your hunt, it makes sense to take the time to research the guide or outfitter and try to make sure you are getting the type of hunt that you are expecting.

A week of stale pastries and smelly mooseburger is a tough lesson to learn.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail

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