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July 2022
Author: Josh Harris

Due to the level of experience and expertise of an outfitter, they’ve become a necessary part of the hunting, fishing, and outdoor industry as a whole. If you’ve ever been on a guided hunt or fishing trip with an outfitter, you know all too well that some turn out to be experiences you can’t forget soon enough. On the flipside, there are also those that you can’t wait to repeat. I’ve had the opportunity to experience both, and I definitely prefer the latter. Some clients are going to leave happy regardless of their success, while others will be going home bitter and unsatisfied no matter how hard the guide or outfitter worked for the client. Traveling the globe and having hunted with outfitters worldwide, I’ve learned a lot of the “do’s and don’ts” of selecting a good outfitter, and because of my line of work, those I select to work with as well. Along the journey, I’ve come to better understand the job outline of an outfitter and what it takes to be one of the top tier or elite. Needless to say, it’s no easy task.

What is an outfitter? The simple answer is that an outfitter is a licensed business that runs an operation that employs guides who then take clients on trips to pursue their goals and aspirations. All outfitters should be licensed, bonded, and insured, and there are certain requirements outfitters must abide by so that they can legally and properly conduct business. These requisites are strictly enforced and monitored just like a business in your town or city. Some of the states in the lower 48 set experience, qualification, and testing requirements for licensing outfitters to be able to provide fishing/hunting services for clients. In a lot of cases, there are also associations they are required to be a part of as well as standards that they must adhere to in order to remain in good standing, which I will mention later.

The opposite of hunting or fishing with an outfitter would be what some call a “DIY” or “Self-Guided” trip. These trips are un-guided and non-outfitted, and generally speaking, most of them occur on public property/ land. The hunter relies entirely on his or her own knowledge and experience to scout, hunt, survive, and harvest the animal. These experiences cost less up front, but when weighed out after the trip, the time, gear, and other expenses involved add up quickly, and what a lot of people don’t know is that at times the overall out-of-pocket expense isn’t far off from a guided trip with an outfitter. For guided hunts/trips, the price is usually indicative of what the experience/service entails, and knowing what it takes on the outfitter’s side of things can shed some new light on your experience as the client.

Outfitters provide a myriad of products and services to ensure clients are getting the best experience, and they are typically placed in the best opportunities with the best odds for success. There’s a lot that goes into being an outfitter, and it isn’t a job just anyone can do. This is something that I know and respect to the utmost degree, and I can say this because I know, I’ve seen, and I continue to see what it takes to do what they do. Maybe not everything, but certainly enough! No matter which way you look at it, you’re never going to see all that goes into making an outfitted trip possible. It takes a lot for outfitters to do what they do, and whether it’s a whitetail or antelope hunt in the lower 48, a moose or sheep hunt in Canada or Alaska, or an African Safari in South Africa or Tanzania, the bottom line is that each outfitted hunt requires its own level of preparation, resources, time, energy, and equipment, just to name a few. Nowadays, the gear can get quite spendy, and a lot of the gear you would buy for one hunt you possibly wouldn’t use again for a very long time. Things such as propane heaters, horses, ATV/UTV, tent, sleeping bag, stove, tables, cots, knives, bone saw, whetstone, gloves, tarps, coolers, trucks, etc. Considering those variables also makes for an easier decision when you combine them with the time it would take and the money you would have to spend on top of that for a self-guided hunt.

I’ve hunted a lot on my own as a self-guided hunter, and I thoroughly enjoy it. I love hunting and fishing, and I get the same gratification out of self-guided trips as outfitted trips. There’s no part of me that has to prove anything to anyone. It’s about being in the wild and capitalizing on my allotted time away from work and the hustle of life and to soak it all in as much as possible.

When I do decide to hunt with an outfitter, the decision to make that move is determined by way of asking myself a few questions. I ask myself the following:

·      Can I hunt “WHERE” I would be hunting without an outfitter?

·      Can I hunt “WHAT” I would be hunting without an outfitter?

·      Do I have the “TIME” available for scouting and/or preparation prior to when I would be hunting?

·      Will the overall “QUALITY” of the experience be better than the alternative by a justifiable margin if I use an outfitter?

·      I drew or purchased a coveted tag! What are my “BEST ODDS” of harvesting the best/biggest trophy possible? (I would choose to book with a specific outfitter if his or her past success far outweighed the success of self-guided hunters.)

·      Do I have the “BUDGET” to pay for an outfitter?

Over time, I’ve heard comments about hiring an outfitter for a hunt and relating it to being “unfair” or “cheating.” That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, and it couldn’t be further from the truth! Some people have the time to scout for days and some simply do not. If you’re one who doesn’t have the time, but your budget can afford it, do it! Why wouldn’t you do it? Outfitted hunts cater to exactly that, the clients who are on a time schedule. Rather than wandering for extended periods of time with limited to no opportunity at harvesting an animal, hunters can maximize their time and resources by booking with an outfitter. Contracting with an outfitter is a way of giving yourself the best possibility of a positive experience and outcome (results). An outfitter and his or her guides provide comprehensive knowledge of area(s), transportation, gear, safety, guide services, airport transportation, horses, ATV/ UTV, charter flights, snow machines, boats, cabins, airplanes, helicopters, field dressing, room/board, meals, drinks and snacks, and even exclusive locations. They feed their livestock year-round, and they purchase trailers and equipment, planes and hangers, houses, cabins, storage, etc. that sometimes take years to pay off. They cut trails in the mountains for months before the season just so the clients can maximize their time for the short windows of opportunity. Simply put, outfitters make for a more efficient and overall successful experience for those who may not have the time to go into the field prior to the trip, for those who don’t have the gear and resources, and for those who can’t access the location where the trip is designated. For some, the idea of tackling all or even a fraction of what I just listed can become very overwhelming, and outfitters fill that void, making the impossible actually become optional. A person should never speak negatively about someone for contracting with an outfitter/guide. There’s a shoe that fits every person out there, and in the end, that’s what makes the world go round.

As I mentioned, there’s a lot that goes into being an outfitter, and it isn’t a job that just anyone can do. There are other variables that come into play, such as a lot of sleepless nights because of the laundry list of things that can roll through an outfitter’s head. There are “knowns” and “unknowns.” There are “controllables” and “uncontrollables.” Some things the outfitter has control of, and he or she simply needs to complete those things and/or keep them dialed in. Then there are other variables that the outfitter has no control of, and they can only do what they can do.

The faster clients understand a day in the life of an outfitter or guide, the faster his or her experiences will begin to get better, be more appreciated, and become more meaningful all around. To give you a better idea of what I’m referring to, I’ve listed some (but not all) of the challenges outfitters deal with on a regular basis on top of what I’ve already addressed:

·      Land/access prices

·      Maintaining quality locations

·      Divisional changes in laws and regulations • Maintaining a balance with hunt/trip prices

·      Long irregular hours

·      Lack of sleep

·      Time away from family

·      Always having to put on a happy face

·      Constant interpersonal relationship expectations

·      No place to hide or take refuge

·      Required annual license renewal

·      Required guide licensing

·      First-aid certification

·      Can’t be a convicted felon

·      Guides have to pass exams

·      Predators

·      Forest fires

·      Closures

·      Diseases

·      Droughts

·      Harsh winters

·      Overall habitat loss

·      Anti-hunting groups

·      Cultural changes

·      Growing government bureaucracy

·      Some clients want the food to be exceptional

·      Hunting or fishing has to be good

·      Employing guides that meet the necessary criteria to legally guide. If you lose a guide, you can’t just take the next available person in line.

·      Some clients couldn’t care less what the food tastes like, and all they care about is the hunting quality

·      Some clients want 5-star accommodations

·      Some clients can sleep under the truck if the hunting is good

·      Some clients are just looking for an all-around good experience and a week of peace and quiet away from the chaos at their home

·      Client physical fitness

There are pluses and minuses to both self- guided and outfitted hunts, and each one of us knows what makes the most sense for us. It comes down to personal goals, preference, occupation, time, budget, and the overall experience. As an outfitter, it takes a lot to put on a 360-degree seamless experience, especially when Mother Nature, locations, and wildlife are a few of the main front-runners that determine the overall outcome. Outfitters can only control so much, and that needs to be understood by the client. There’s also a flipside to that, which is that outfitters do have control of a lot of things, and it’s their job to be an expert in those areas. The good outfitters understand this, and they’re standing firm today and continue to be in a status of high demand and low supply. These outfitters are those that have maximized the controllable elements and variables that being an outfitter entails, and that continues to provide unparalleled experiences year in and year out. They do it because they love it, and it’s as simple as that!

For me, it’s become more about time than anything. As much as possible, I want to be hunting, calling, strategizing, and reaping the rewards from such efforts rather than driving, cleaning, cooking, cutting wood, etc. To each their own, and don’t get me wrong, I love camping, hunting, and fishing on my own. It’s all that I’ve done for the majority of my life. I’ve had amazing experiences both unguided and guided. If you decide to hunt or fish with an outfitter, don’t settle for less. At the same time, don’t expect more than what you paid for either. When it comes to guided hunts with outfitters, the cost is almost always associated with value. Skimping the price typically means a lower-quality animal, lower-quality accommodations, and a lesser overall experience. Hunting with an outfitter doesn’t mean that you’re paying for an animal. You’re paying for an experience that’s provided by professionals who are masters in their line of work. You’re paying for above average to extraordinary opportunities and the peace of mind in knowing that everything has been accounted for. Prior to pulling the trigger on an outfitter, cover those bases of expectation and then land on the outfitter that can commit to those expectations.

If you want help through this process, the Huntin’ Fool Adventures team is here to assist you at NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU! From a completely unbiased position, through Huntin’ Fool Adventures, we can book you on your next adventure with the best matched up outfitter within the parameters and expectations you set. Although Huntin’ Fool Adventures cannot guarantee your game, we can do everything we can to assure that we will put you with the best outfitter for any particular species in any given part of the world. With our 25+ years of experience, contacts, and network of outfitters across the globe, we have first-hand knowledge of where we should send you next!