A good guide is like a path that leads you to where you need to go. A good guide will help you be successful and add to your journey.
The following is my guide to 1) deciding on whether to use a guide and 2) choosing the right guide. For up to date information about my ‘guide experiences’ and other tips on dealing with guides check my blog pages: GUIDES - TIPS, IDEAS, & INFO and GUIDES I’VE USED.
One of the most important (and definitely more difficult) questions to answer before preparing for any hunting or fishing trip is “SHOULD I HIRE A GUIDE?”
Should you? That is a question you will ultimately have to answer. Until recently, this wasn’t ever a question for me to consider. I’ve been hunting and fishing for more than 30 years I had never used a guide. My next hunt will be my FIRST guided hunt. Why now after all these years?
Two consecutive (unsuccessful) years on a “Do It Yourself” elk hunt in Colorado started me thinking about using a guide. When coupled with article after article and show after show of SUCCESSFUL trips utilizing guides, I started thinking that using a guide might be a good idea.
- PROS & CONS OF HIRING AN OUTFITTER OR GUIDE
What, though, are the drawbacks to hiring a guide? Money for one. Using an outfitter and guide is usually more expensive than a DIY hunt. Couple that with fear of the unknown and forking over a few thousand extra dollars for a hunt becomes VERY difficult.
On the flip side, a competent guide offers lots of advantages, not the least of which is increasing your probability of harvesting a great animal. A good guide will know the area you are going to be hunting, know where the game is, and help make your trip more a lot more enjoyable. A good guide can help you decide “shoot I take the shot”. A good guide can teach you, motivate you, amuse you, and encourage you. A good guide is a pleasure to be around.
Unfortunately, we have all heard the stories of ‘bad’ guides. You know, those guys that you are afraid to go to sleep around. People that are demeaning, have surly dispositions, and order you around like you’re a first grader with attention deficit disorder. No one wants to spend a few days or weeks with one of these ‘bad’ guides.
- WHEN A DIY TRIP IS BETTER
Sometimes, hiring a guide simply isn’t possible. Maybe, it’s a last minute trip and you don’t have time to research a guide (not to mention most good guides are booked way in advance). Or, possibly you have plans to spend some quality time with friends or family members and you don’t want the intrusion of a guide.
If you are like me, at all, then you might just be looking to savor the experience, see the sights, relax, get some meat for the table, and are not worried about harvesting a trophy. On a hunt or fishing trip like this, a guide may not be necessary, and probably wouldn’t add to your enjoyment of the trip.
Or maybe, you are hunting or fishing an area that you are familiar with and you don’t require any help. Most of us will spend the majority of our time hunting and fishing the same areas and eventually becoming experts at those areas and with those techniques. I’d hate to hire a guide for an area that I know more about or for something that I’m more proficient than they are!
Sometimes, hiring a guide for a short period can be a great strategy. Say, for instance you are fishing a lake or river you’ve never been to before. In this case, hiring a guide for a day or two could be an alternative to a fully guided trip. In a few hours a good guide can show you the lay of the land (or water) so to speak. Or, what if you’ve never been paddlefish snagging and are not sure if you’ll like (or how its done). Than hiring a guide for a day is a no-brainer. The cost of the guide will probably be less than you’d spend buying gear. Decision made!
- HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT GUIDE
This dilemma of whether to hire a guide or not and then how to go about it helped motivate me to start this blog site. Hopefully, by sharing my experiences with guides (and DIY trips) and then my experiences in finding and hiring guides and outfitters, maybe I’ll help make your next trip easier to prepare for!
Start by talking to people you know and trust; and people that know you. A guide that is expert at taking record book trophies may not be the best choice if you are taking your son on his first elk hunt. An otherwise good guide may not be good for your particular needs or circumstances.
Before you begin searching for a guide, take the time to make a list of what your needs are. If you are going as a group, answer these questions as a group. Start with these questions:
1. What type of game am I interested in pursuing?
2. What weapons will I use?
3. How proficient am I with that weapon?
4. Am I looking for a record book trophy, a representative trophy, quantity or something else?
5. Where (geographically) am I wanting to go?
6. What size is my party (just me or am I part of a group)?
7. Am I willing to camp and/or hunt/fish with people (other than the guide) that I don’t know?
8. What type of method and experience am I looking for? (ie treestand, stalk, etc?)
9. When am I available (dates & times) for this trip?
10. How much preparation time do I have?
11. Are my dates flexible?
12. What is my total trip budget?
13. What type of accommodations am I looking for?
14. What are my main concerns about the trip?
15. What are my main concerns with a guide?
16. What is my physical condition and stamina level (be honest here)?
17. Do I have any special medical or dietary concerns?
18. Do I need help in field dressing and/or caping my game?
19. Can I be happy if my trip is not successful?
After compiling the answers to the questions above, you will be better prepared to actually search for a suitable guide. You’ll be able to define what you are looking for and quickly weed out guides that don’t match your needs. For instance, if you are not concerned about a record book trophy (Q4) and you won’t be happy with anything less than success (Q19), than you probably won’t want to book a hunt with a guide that has a relatively high success rate for record book animals, but an overall success rate of 50%.
So, now you know what you are looking for – and you’ve defined it and put it down on paper. Its now time to start looking for a guide. We’re back to talking to friends and family members. Have they booked a hunt with someone that they were happy with and that would also fit your needs? If so, you MIGHT already be getting close. You don’t however want to rely solely on their experience. Again, their needs might not be the same as yours.
What, though, if you’ve struck out talking to friends and family? You might try to talk to some of the guys hanging out at the local gun, fishing, and archery shops. You know, the guys that are just hanging around the shop and you can’t really figure out why they are there other than to shoot bull. Sometimes, these guys have lots of helpful information. Sometimes, they truly are full of bull. Don’t worry, even if they give you some bad suggestions for a guide, you should be able to weed those bad guides out by asking the right questions.
After exploring the word of mouth options, it is time to turn to the Internet for potential guides. Unfortunately, this can be a daunting and intimidating search. There might be dozens or hundreds or more results from your initial search. Narrow it down by searching specifically for the type of game you are looking for and the area. For example you might search for “Colorado Licensed Elk Guide” or “Guided Alaska Black Bear Hunt”, etc.
You can quickly skim through the search results using the answers to your questions above. When you find something on a guides site that doesn’t mesh with your needs, move on. If I think the guide might work at some time in the future, I put the site in a folder in my favorites. I keep the folders pretty specific so I can quickly find what I’m looking for. Remember to listen to your gut. If your gut tells you to move on and keep looking – keep looking!
- QUESTIONS TO ASK POTENTIAL GUIDES
Once you have narrowed down your search to a few guides, it is time to contact them and start asking any questions that haven’t already been answered on the guides website or brochures.
The key to this is to try to get the answers you need all at once. This works better and shows a lot more respect and appreciation for the guide’s time than hitting them with one or two questions at a time repeatedly. Then when you get the answers, if they skip some of your questions: ask them again. Don’t just assume that the answer is favorable. Ask again.
The following is not a comprehensive list of questions. However, these questions are a good starting point and will help you further refine your search for the right guide. As you get more and more experience in dealing with guides, this entire process will become second nature. In addition to any questions that may result as a result of your list of needs above, consider the following questions:
1. How many hunters do you take out each season?
2. How many hunters will be in camp with me?
3. How long have you been doing this?
4. How many hunters is a guide responsible for at any one time?
5. What are the accommodations like?
6. Are there bathrooms with running water?
7. Are a washer and dryer available?
8. Do you have an equipment and gear list that you will provide prior to the hunt?
9. What am I responsible for bringing?
10. What happens once my animal is harvested?
11. Does the guide help with field dressing the game and preparing the cape for transportation?
12. What is the food like?
13. What is the total cost due to the outfitter/guide?
14. What is included and what specifically is not included?
15. How much will the tags cost and where do I get them?
16. What is your payment schedule?
17. What transportation am I responsible for?
18. Can you provide a list of references – providing names of both successful and unsuccessful past hunters? (a recommendation received from an unsuccessful hunter always carries more weight with me than someone that was successful)
Many of your questions will probably be answered on the guide’s website. However, if an answer is not specifically provided and you are seriously considering this guide, make sure and ask your questions. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Once you have narrowed your search down to no more then four potential canidates that meet your requirements, then contact several references from each. I’d consider asking the following questions:
1. What did you think of this operation, overall?
2. What did you like about it?
3. What did you not like about it?
4. Would you book again with this guide/outfitter?
You should be able to find the outfitter/guide that best fits your needs and which you feel the most comfortable with. Once your trip is booked, the fun is just beginning.
- OTHER IMPORTANT GUIDE INFORMATION
Guides are people, too – just like you and I. They are not your employees and if you treat them like one, you probably are not going to enjoy your trip. Never be arrogant or discourteous. Asking questions is OK, arguing with their answers is not. You, in effect, are paying them for their advice – so take it.
No one likes a lazy bum. So, just because you are paying, don’t lay around camp like a beached whale. Pitch in and help out, it will do wonders at earning the respect of your guide which is fundamental in developing a long lasting relationship. If you hit an animal, help your guide trail it. Don’t sit on your butt! Guides are professionals – not slaves.
Finally, don’t forget to tip your guide. A good guide works hard (regardless of your success) and rarely are they paid that well. TIP YOUR GUIDE. Ten percent of the cost of the hunt is a reasonable tip. If the guide was outstanding, increase your tip even more. Guides remember will remember you – good or bad. If you helped around camp, were courteous, and left a tip – they’ll remember you kindly and you will be welcome back.
For more information on guides, please check the following areas of this site
Guides I’ve Used
I’ll try to update this page with information on guides that I have booked and have experience with.
Guides – Tips, Ideas, & Info
This is an ongoing blog category of my blog posts relating to guides; including tips on how to find and choose them, guide gossip, ideas, what to expect from guides, etc.