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Check out your guides and outfitters thoroughly

Check out your guides and outfitters thoroughly

January 28, 2007|by BILL ANDERSON

One of the most popular outdoors-related activities during the winter months is attending one of the many sport shows that are held nearly every weekend. Some of the shows are focused on a particular audience, such as fly fishermen; other shows are much more general and varied.

One of the biggest and best is the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa. This year the show will be held Feb. 3-11.

This show has just about anything related to outdoors recreations and, in addition to the various manufacturers that attend, also features events with a lot of spectator appeal such as turkey, duck, goose and elk calling contests.

If you happen to be interested in big elk, the largest bull ever taken will be on display at this year's show.

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If you are still thinking about booking an outfitted hunt for this fall, the Harrisburg show is a good place to meet guides and outfitters in person and hear what they have to offer. A personal meet is almost always better, but I think you still need do some research before writing that deposit check.

As one of the many who have booked mediocre hunts, I really think that you need to check a guide or outfitter out as thoroughly as possible before booking the hunt. The following are a couple of steps you may want to take:

Check the references. Obviously, the references they list on their Web site or brochure are folks they think will give them a good reference. But this is not always the case. I have had listed references give a surprisingly negative review when called.

A better approach is to ask them for a list of all clients from the previous two years and check with random names. If they resist in providing the list, you can find another guy.

Get the contract details in writing. Your contract should include all things related to the hunt - lodging, food, pick up at the airport, skinning and trophy preparation, meat processing and anything else you can think of. If things go badly, that contract will be all you have.

Check with the state DNR or wildlife department to see if there have been complaints filed against the guide or outfitter. Most state agencies will provide this information. It's in the public record.

The very best reference you can get is from a friend or acquaintance who has personally hunted with the guide or outfitter. If that is not possible, you will need to do your own research.

One thing that many guides complain bitterly about is being asked about success rates. I agree with them - to a point. Obviously, if they have a season where they have several clients who are too out of shape to hunt, or are lousy shots, they can not be responsible if the success rate is lower that season. Also, if the guy guarantees you an animal, I recommend you move on to the next outfitter ... quickly.

On the other hand, I think asking about the percentage of clients that get reasonable shot opportunities is a totally legitimate question to ask, understanding there are many variables that cannot be controlled.

This is not to say that a high percentage of guides or outfitters are crooks. In fact, a very small percentage are bad. But outfitted big game hunts are getting quite expensive, and it makes sense for you to do your homework before laying your cash on the line.

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