Every year, The Hunting Report receives scores of complaints from hunters who are unhappy with the way a hunt was handled for them. Invariably, a number of these hunts were booked at one of the hunting shows, where the hunter liked an outfitter or agent’s presentation, marketing materials and apparent sincerity. Yet when the hunts took place, things were not as they were represented or as the hunter expected. So, what can you do to minimize your chances of booking a bad hunt, or simply a hunt that’s not right for you? Here are some tips:
1) First of all never book a hunt based solely on what an outfitter/guide or booking agent tells you. If you have an established relationship with an agent or operator, that’s one thing. But to plunk down thousands of dollars based on a brochure and how sincere someone looks when you meet them is not a wise way to commit your limited hunting dollars and time. Save yourself the grief of a bad experience by investing a little more time and effort on research before booking a hunt.
2) Decide up front what kind of hunt you are interested in and capable of doing. Be honest with yourself. If you’re not in good shape, a backpack mountain goat hunt or a spot-and-stalk brown bear hunt in muskeg probably isn’t a good idea. Look at boat-based hunts instead. Learn as much as possible about the hunt you’re interested in before trying to book something; that way you’ll know the right questions to ask.
3) As part of your research, check The Hunting Report’s database of articles and hunt reports on our web site. These will help you understand the different hunting opportunities out there and shed some insight on the ups and downs of the hunt you are considering. For example, if you’ve hunted only whitetails and RockyMountain mule deer but are interested in desert mule deer hunting, it helps to understand that you will not see large quantities of these deer because they require much larger territories just to survive in the kind of habitat where they live.
4) Check out operators ahead of time. Many of the shows will list their exhibitors on their web site or in their literature. Look over the list and spend some time online looking up the operators that interest you, or call them. If there’s enough time, ask them to send you some information. That way you can narrow down your search before the show, and you’ll already be familiar with the operators you visit.
5) Also, check The Hunting Report web site for hunt reports on operators. You can search by specific operator and see what other hunters had to say about their experiences with them. Most reposts list some kind of contact information for the hunter, so you can contact them with more specific questions.
6) Always ask operators for references and call them. Get references for the last three to five years, including the last hunting season. Ask for references who were successful on their hunts and some who were not. If an unsuccessful hunter still recommends an operator, that’s a good sign.
7) Ask specific questions and do not accept general or ambiguous responses. If a reference tells you the guides are great, ask what makes them great. Make them tell you about their personality at the campfire, their ability to spot and put you on game, their understanding of a bowhunter’s special needs, their ability to adapt a hunt to a client’s capabilities, etc. When they say there’s plenty of game, ask about overall numbers, various species, trophy quality animals, accessibility, shot distances, how spooky the animals are. If someone says the terrain is easy, do they mean rolling hills, walking, climbing, driving most of the time, sparse cover? Is it easy for a fit 30-something or easy for a 70-year-old with two knee replacements? Get specifics and watch for conflicting information from references or the outfitter.
8) Make sure you understand the fair chase standards of your hunt. This is important in many destinations. For example, much of the hunting in South Africa is on fenced ranches. Some are very large. Others are not. Some hunts are for a specific animal on one ranch. Other hunts allow you to look over a number of trophy quality animals on one property. Many operations in New Zealand, Argentina, and Saskatchewan are behind a wire as well. Some New Zealand operators use a helicopter to hunt tahr and chamois. Others offer foot hunts for the same species. Never assume the specifics of a hunt. Always ask for details.
9) Ask for a complete breakdown of charges. Some countries charge an ammo tax or area fee. In Zambia, for example, you must pay a fee to transfer to another Game Management Area. Also, ask about charter fees. In many cases, the cost could double if other hunters are not on the same flight with you and you are the only passenger. Be sure you understand any sliding scales for trophy fees.
10) Check to make sure your guide/outfitter is legal. Every year hundreds of hunters learn they were guided by someone who is not legally allowed to guide. Call the wildlife department in the state or province you plan to hunt and ask how to check on your guide/outfitter’s status. Some states require formal licensing. Others require registration or membership in an association. Ask if there are any complaints on file against your operator too.
11) Finally, many hunting operators provide a contract that you must sign. Some destinations, such as the state of Alaska, require this. Be sure to read the contract in its entirety. Contracts should contain the terms and conditions under which you will be granted a refund should you have to cancel or if something goes wrong. Make certain that you are in agreement with all the terms and conditions. Knowing what’s in there will help you avoid a situation where the contract you signed comes back to bite you!
The Hunting Report will be at the SCI Convention in Reno next week, and we’ll have our computer database with us if you find something on the floor you want to check out with us. Come to booth # 3905. Although I’ll be on the floor researching stories much of the time, I will have dedicated hours in the booth and will be happy to answer any questions I can. Hope to see you there! – Barbara Crown, Editor.