Back in the good ol’ days, you could pick up your phone and call an outfitter a few months before your hunt, book with them, and go hunting. You had all the time in the world to go on some amazing hunts by simply booking a few months out. If you were playing the point game and trying to draw hunts, you could wait until all the draws came out to see if you drew or not. If you didn’t draw a tag, it was no big deal because you still had a few great over-the-counter outfitter options to go with. In the past 5-10 years, chasing max points has been a hot topic. Hunters are starting to reevaluate their strategies because the reality is that the demand is too high and supply is too low. Years ago, you didn’t have much to worry about when playing the point game. Yes, you still had your higher point holders, but you could draw some amazing hunts every couple of years. That is not the case in 2022 and the foreseeable future.
In today’s world, if you’re not booking a hunt at least one year ahead of time, there’s a very good chance you’re not going to be hunting with an outfitter that year, or at least not the outfitter of your choice. This is true even for your higher point holders. You may wait a long time to draw and have an outfitter in mind, but there’s no guarantee they’ll have room for you just because you’ve waited longer than someone else to draw. If you’re not planning ahead of time and communicating with the outfitter, you’ll most likely find yourself in a bind. Whether you know you are going to draw a tag at max points or 4 points, my advice is to start calling outfitters a year before and figure out who fits you the best and who you would like to go with. If you wait, it will be too late.
There are a couple of reasons that it has come to this. The most obvious reason comes is supply and demand. The number of hunters is growing rapidly each year, but the number of tags is not. For example, outfitters that offer private land hunts can only book so many hunters each year to keep that property well-managed and producing quality animals for years to come. Outfitters that have state-issued landowner tags have the same problem with only a select number of tags to sell each year based on annual surveys. Another reason it may be too late is because outfitters are usually fulltime and they have to outfit in multiple units and states to keep it all running. They may be the best outfitter in the area but already be booked up in another unit across the state for the sake of keeping their business profitable. They’re going to fill up their schedule based on the calls that come in, rather than waiting around hoping to book enough hunts in a specific area. This has drastically shifted from the days when outfitters would book hunts during one or two months out of the year and stick to a designated area that they had experience in. All that being said, if you are booking a guided hunt that doesn’t require you to draw, it’s a good idea to stretch that timeframe out and be on the phone with outfitters up to two years in advance.
Most of the public land OTC outfitters have the room to take more hunters, but we’re finding that they don’t have the quality help to make sure you have a successful hunt. The guides, spotters, cooks, packers, and everyone in between make a guided hunt enjoyable. Without that backbone, they’re going to be conservative and only book a select few hunters each year to be able to produce the great quality experiences that they might be known for.
The reality is that the demand for good hunts across the world is growing rapidly each year. It seems like the easier it is to get a tag, the harder it is to get a good outfitter because they book up so quickly. Don’t let this discourage you from going on outfitted hunts, though. Even if you have a wild hair and book a hunt a few months out, it can still be done on certain species in certain areas. We try to list as many cancellation hunts as possible at www.huntfinder.com.
If you can’t find a western big game hunt, there are other options. Texas has a ton of great private ranches that run native species hunts in the fall and winter, while offering exotic hunts in the spring and summer. They still have to manage properly, but Texas is a very animal-rich environment. Africa is another option that has great outfitters with a diverse range of game. Maybe branch out to Hawaii for Axis deer or New Zealand for tahr. Certain outfitters and certain species are going to be booked out early each year, especially out west, so you will have to broaden your horizons to make sure you are able to go on a hunt if you wait too long to book with an outfitter.
As always, it is a very good idea to do your research and talk to as many outfitters as you can before deciding which one is going to fit you the best. If you give yourself time, you will be able to go through all the necessary steps to go on a great outfitted hunt.