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Finding the Right Outfitter – The Seven Step Process
– Gear & Guns

It’s tough to find the right outfitter. It all starts with asking the right questions – especially of yourself.

Focusing just on price and species isn’t always the right approach. You need to be clear about the elements you want from the hunt – whether it’s a trophy, a unique environment, an experience you can share with a non-hunting partner. Some elements – like trophy size – are easier to quantify. Others, like the quality of the hunting experience, are much less so. It’s also imperative to dig deep into a potential outfitter’s passion, knowledge and problem-solving skills. You need to find out if the outfitter is a strong fit for you. And to do that, you need to ask some tough questions.

Here are the seven steps you should follow:

1. Know Yourself
These questions will help you determine your fitness levels so you can be realistic about your capabilities.

Are you in good shape? How far could you hike with gear and maybe a trophy on your back? Are some kinds of hunts out of your reach in terms of fitness levels? Are you willing to get in shape so you can achieve the kind of hunt you want? Maybe you should have a thorough Physical, or consult your Doctor or a trainer at your gym about your physical capabilities – it can be hard to accurately assess your own health and fitness. Maybe your gym can put together a program to help you with the rigours of a hard backcountry hunt.

 

2. Know Your Budget
What are you are willing to spend on a hunt? Be very realistic about exactly what your budget should be for the type of hunt you want. Are you willing to accept a budget hunt where you may save a few dollars and forego a few amenities, or would you wait until you have the budget to afford the right outfitter and the right hunting experience? Be honest with yourself about what you will accept. Focus on value for money not lowest price. You do pretty much get what you pay for.

 

3. Know Your Skill Level
Why spend good money to hunt and not be able to make the most of it? Your opportunity to take the trophy of a lifetime can sometimes happen in a matter of seconds. Success in the field – at the moment of the shot – is yours alone. Are you a great shot? Are you willing to do the practice necessary to be successful? Have you practiced for all kinds of conditions and all kinds of distances? Would you push yourself to shoot at distances outside your comfort zone?

Those are the toughest questions to answer realistically. But before you step out into the world looking for an outfitter – you do need to ask yourself a few more questions…

 

4. Choose Your Species
What species do you want to hunt? Maybe you’re looking for a combination hunt for several species? Answering this question will narrow down your options significantly by eliminating whole countries or even continents. Are you looking for an Artic adventure or African safari, or maybe stalking majestic red stag or wily sika in pristine New Zealand wilderness?

 

5. What Type of Hunt?
What exactly is your dream hunt? Do you want an easy hunt or a hard one? Free range or a trophy hunt on a game estate? How important is the environment? Do you want a back-to-nature adventure sleeping in a swag, with no toilet or running water, and only a stream to bathe in? Or would you prefer a comfy bed with pure cotton sheets in a well appointed private cabin? A hearty meal around a shared table in a quality sporting lodge, and a nice glass of red wine and a cigar to celebrate a great days hunting? Maybe even a massage and sauna to take the edge off the aches and pains…

Many hunters find their ideal hunt changes over time. And often there is a non-hunting partner to consider. Some outfitters like Poronui provide a wide range of quality options – from fly fishing to beauty treatments, geothermal sightseeing to Maori cultural experiences, horse trekking and guided walks to shopping expeditions, golf and wine tasting tours.

Have a think about transport options too: would you hike into hunting country for a few days with your pack, or ride on horseback? Are you willing to helicopter in to remote locations? Or 4WD and walk? You can work hard in the field all day but still be back at base in the evening. What about river crossings, bugs, heat, snow, rain and altitude?

Remember, this is your hunt and you want it to be the experience of a lifetime. Don’t settle for less than the dream.

 

6. Define a Trophy
Define early on what you consider a trophy to be. Are you looking for a representative head or do you desire an SCI record? Maybe the trophy of your dreams is simply one large enough to hang over the fireplace or in your office. Spend some time looking at trophy galleries and try and define exactly what you’re looking for. Work out what you would take on the first few days of your hunt, and what compromises you would make on the last day of your hunt.

Now you’re ready to choose an outfitter!

 

7. Do Your Research
There are three main ways to do due diligence on which outfitter is the best for you:

  • Online – use the Internet to research outfitters
  • Word of mouth – ask friends or family who have hunted with an outfitter
  • Face to Face – attend hunting an outdoor shows.
  • All three have advantages and disadvantages and the following questions and advice will help you in researching your hunt of a lifetime.

Online
Use of the internet in pre-trip planning and booking is increasing and will continue to do so. Smart outfitters will at least have their contact details online, and many will have comprehensive websites with trophy galleries and testimonials, photos of the accommodation they offer and bio’s of the guides, plus more. You can get pretty much all the background information you need from a good website. Remember to check the currency of the testimonials and trophy images – make sure they are from the most recent seasons – not ten years ago.
Once you have defined the species, location and trophy size you want, you have narrowed down your search to outfitters that offer these kinds of hunts. Send an email, asking for pricing, a digital brochure and some references. Again, remember not to focus on price but on value. What is it worth to you to get the experience you want? Check out those references, narrow your options down even further, then call them and make a choice.

Word of Mouth
Ask around. If your friends and family hunt, they can be a great source of trusted advice about where to go hunting. They know you well and can give you honest feedback about where you might be happy hunting. They might have contacts they trust who hunt that they are happy to refer you to. However, watch out for those who might steer you onto an outfitter so that they can get a discount hunt in return. Also, check the currency of their recommendation – a lot can happen in the five years since they went and conditions could have changed dramatically. If a friend recommends an outfitter, do your due diligence just as you would on any outfitter.

Hunting Shows
Most reputable, professional outfitters will attend at least the major hunting shows. Smaller outfitters may only attend local shows. Shows are simply the best ways for outfitters to connect with hunters face to face, so take advantage of the opportunity if you can.

Before attending a show, look at the exhibitor list and look up any outfitters of interest online first. Check their testimonials and go with a plan in mind. Talking to people at shows helps you get a feel for attitude and personality. Just remember:

  • Always talk to the outfitter himself and not just the guides he has brought to the Show
  • Get a feel for the type of hunting they offer and find out if it matches what you’re looking for
  • Ask about the experience level of his team
  • Ask for a list of references you can follow up
  • If this outfitter is offering a show special, ask for a few days to check his references and even have him follow up in writing
  • ALWAYS actually check the references!
  • Ask questions! If the outfitter is busy, ask him to spend time with you after the show, or call you later in the evening or the next day.
  • Don’t judge an outfitter just by the display of heads in the booth or their pictures – they may or may not be a good representation of what they have to offer. Do get a feeling for how professionally presented they are, and their attention to detail – this is the kind of attitude you want displayed in the field
  • Remember the outfitter wants to talk to as many people as possible. Have your questions ready and don’t waste his time if you’re not actually interested in booking a hunt
  • Be very honest with the outfitter about your expectations and your physical limitations. Will the guide work with you?
  • Ask if there are any hidden fees – is all food and house wine or beer included, what about airport transfers?
  • Ask about trophy preparation and shipping back home
  • Ask about group rates and/or bringing a friend or your partner who doesn’t hunt. Many top lodges will offer a wide range of activities for non-hunting partners, this makes it easier to stay that bit longer if you need to secure a top trophy.

 

After you’ve talked with an outfitter, it’s important to pay attention to whether they follow up to convey how much they want to work with you. Are they passionate or perfunctory? What will help you achieve the hunting experience of a lifetime?

Identifying the perfect outfitter isn’t easy; it starts with asking smarter questions – of yourself and finally, of them.

Happy hunting!

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