Elk HuntSo you’ve finally decided to book an out of state hunt or you finally drew that once in a lifetime tag in your home state. You want to make the most of it by hiring an outfitter or guide, but what’s the first step? Who should you hire? Why should you hire a guide?

I’ll answer these are questions and I’ll try to give you all the information you need to help protect yourself by hiring the right guide and to maximize your trip and your hard-earned dollars. Many of the suggestions I will give you are based on the knowledge I’ve learned from being a professional outfitter and guide in Arizona.

Why Should You Hire a Hunting Guide?

There are many different reasons people look to hunt with a guide, from being an out of state hunter to not having the time to put into scouting for that dream animal for which you’ve waited 20 years to draw a tag.

Contrary to what some people think, if you hire a guide he will not hold you by the hand and leisurely walk you out into the woods and show you several different animals to harvest and tell you to pick one. Here in Arizona over 80% of our land is public, so there is quite a bit of competition between hunters for the prime spots to hunt. I see and talk to many people who finally drew a great tag who decided not to hire a guide and find out that the areas they have scouted and put all their hopes and dreams into is the same spot that 50 other hunters also thought was the promise land.

If you hire a guide service there is a great chance that they have hunted the area for many years and have developed a novel of information on areas with the highest and lowest hunting pressure, animal movements when they get pressure and if bad weather moves in. Way too often hunters spend the first 3 days of a five or seven day hunt relearning the area once opening day starts and the animals have changed their patterns. Not to say that there are times these situations throw a wrench in a guides plans but a good guide always has several back up plans in place so your hunt will continue on with out missing a beat.

Are There Any Financial Benefits to Hiring an Outfitter?

Next let’s take a look at the financial end of hiring a guide service. From an out of state hunters perspective, I think it’s a no brainer, unless you have hours and hours to put in on the phone talking to every one you can get a hold of and prying information out of them on good hunting areas. And that’s if they will even give out that information. If you’re not am avid phone talker, you’d need to have the time and financial means to make a couple scouting trips out to the state or area you plan to hunt.

A great example is an area we call the strip in Arizona. This area has world-class mule deer, but it takes on average of 12 to 13 years to draw a tag with some people waiting 20 plus years. If I drew a tag there I would want to do a minimum of 10 scouting trips there and its 400 miles one way from my home. With fuel prices being what they are right now, I would spend about $3,000.00 in fuel and then add in any vehicle break downs, food, etc. and after spending all that money I still would only know a fraction of the unit and have no idea about animal patterns once the hunt starts. As a guide I firmly believe I could go up there and harvest a 180” to 190” mule deer, but after waiting so long to draw a tag in an area that can and has produced 240” bucks, I would hire a local hunting guide for a guide only trip and supply my own camp and food. I would end up spending about the same as doing it myself, but I would have someone with me who knows the ins and outs of the hunting land to maximize what could be a once in a life time opportunity.

Where Can I Find Outfitters?

So assuming you’ve decided to go ahead and hire an outfitter and guide service, what’s the next step? You can call the state agency who handles the outfitter and guide licensing to see if they can give you a recommendation on some reputable companies. In Arizona, our Game and Fish Department does not provide this service but many other states do. Next you can usually look in the state’s hunting regulations book for advertisements and start calling and discussing your plans with them. You can also surf the internet to find lists of outfitters by state or animal.

How Can I Select the Right Outfitter?

I always recommend calling at least three different outfitters before making a decision. The two things I always tell people are that you need to get verifiable current references and make sure your personality gels with that of the guide’s. You certainly don’t want to show up on a hunt you’ve spent months dreaming about only to find out you don’t get along with the person you’re tied to for the next week. Okay I’m exaggerating, but you get point. Validating compatibility is best for both you and the guide.

Also make sure to verify the outfitter or guide is properly licensed and they’re permitted to outfit and guide in the area you will be hunting. The BLM and the National Forest require all outfitters and guides to have a special use permit to run operations on their lands. If possible, I always require a face-to-face visit with prospective clients. As the guide I also want to make sure we will get a long. Most reputable outfitters and guides want their clients to have an enjoyable and exciting hunt, so you will book another hunt with them or tell your friends how great the experience was and they too have to go on a hunt.

Can the Hunting Guide Really Deliver My Dream Hunt?

Once you have chosen the guide service you want to use make sure you explain what your expectations are for the hunt and ask your guide or outfitter if your expectations are realistic and obtainable. So many times I have people call me and say I drew this tag and I want to kill a 420” bull elk. In Arizona we do have several bulls over 400” harvested every year, but they are not around every tree and they’re living in every unit. All the reputable guides I know would be honest with you and tell you what the unit you will hunt can offer and what size animal you could expect to harvest. Beware of any outfitter or guide that promises you any size animal. Guide or no guide, it is still hunting and there are many things out of our control.

What Should I Ask My Hunting Outfitter?

Remember to get all the specifics on such things as hunt start and end dates and transportation to and from camp. Get all specifics in writing so every one is on the same page as to what services are included in the price you will be paying. Make sure if there are special items you require for food or if you have allergies, you notify the outfitter or guide in writing prior to your arrival in camp.

Also make sure you ask who will be your guide. Many times I’ve heard complaints from other outfitter’s clients that they thought the person that would be guiding them was the same person they had been talking with and booked the hunt with only to show up at camp and have a guide there who they don’t even know. Some outfitters and guide services “sub” out clients to other companies or individuals.

And Last But Certainly Not Least

Last but not least, there are two things that are totally in your control to maximize your trip and opportunities. First, be in good physical condition, especially in western states where the county is very rugged and you will be hunting in high altitudes. Second, be as proficient as possible with your weapon. Ask the guide what distances you should be prepared to shoot and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!!!

Whichever direction you decide to take, either doing it yourself hunting or hiring a guide, don’t forget why you are there in the first place. You’re there to experience new and enjoyable things and make life long memories. Do not let it be only about the kill, with only that driving you, or you’ll miss out on all the great things right in front of you.