Starting At Ground Zero: Planning Your Dream Hunt

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Posted April 12, 2016 by Rachel Ahtila in Trophy Species

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You have saved your hard earned cash and want to treat yourself to a hunt. Excellent! What’s next? It’s a daunting task to start chipping away at an outfitter directory when multiple outfits offer similar experiences. How do you choose? What makes you go with one outfit over another?

Most of my hunting career has been based solely around the success of my clients, taking them on trips that they have booked with me to fulfill their dreams of pursuit. Last year, I had the opportunity to reverse the role and become the hunter. I found myself booking a trip to the Dark Continent with two of my best friends.

As first time hunters abroad, we took a crash course in gathering information, making arrangements and limiting ourselves to a realistic budget. For three gals in their 20’s from the United States, New Zealand and Canada, we compiled what I consider to be the TOP TEN DETAILS to research when booking a once in a lifetime hunt:

  1. Word of Mouth: You cannot beat old fashioned word of mouth referrals. As fast paced as our world is today and with all of the mediums to connect socially, you will always find solace in a relay of positive experience from other hunters or personal connections. If you can travel to meet your list of candidate outfitters in the spring during trade-show season for a face-to-face meeting, even better.
  2. Type of Hunt/Gear Required: What kind of hunt would you enjoy? A large component of your choice in outfitter/guide would depend on whether you would like to do traditional horseback hunting, backpack hunting, or get into an area that uses ATV’s, boats, or other means of transportation. Deciding on what type of hunt you want will directly reflect on what necessities you will need. Most outfits have a list of gear that their guides use, down to how many socks, what brand and what you can expect for temperature variations depending on the time your hunt dates run. Rifle or Bow? Be sure that you are practicing and spending time at the range in a variety of environmental conditions, as well as body positions because you never know when you might be presented with your shot!
  3. Travel: Know where you are required to travel to and what other costs will be associated with getting to base camp. Be sure to make note if you have to arrange a charter or if the outfitter will do that for you.
  4. Duration: What is the duration of your hunt? You will need to know this for booking flights to and from their pickup location and to know how much you need to pack. Also, is there an option to return home early should you tag out early? If you get a run of bad luck, will they allow you to come back for a discounted rate? Outfitters don’t have to offer this but it is always a good question to ask. Sometimes if there is a cancellation after your hunt time, you may request to stay on a few days longer at a per diem rate.
  5. Cost: It’s a necessary discussion and one that should not be overlooked. Some outfits run more expensive than others but do your homework. Sometimes the cheaper price isn’t the better deal. For example, they may not have great success rates. This is an important factor to consider and research. Are they a new outfit trying to build their list of clientele? Sometimes this may be the cause for a lower rate and they may have a history of great success. Ask for a detailed list of what your prices are going into the hunt and get it in a contract. The last thing you want to have is a financial surprise that might put you over your spending budget.
  6. Species Add-On: Besides your big-ticket item, are there any other species available to hunt? For example, if you were to purchase a sheep hunt in the Northwest Territories and Mountain Caribou comes open, is there an option to add a second or third species for a “trophy fee.” Again, get this in a contract.
  7. Outfitter/Guide Selection: Who will you be hunting with? Outfitters make it their business to ensure that you are going to have a quality experience while hunting with their crew. They are good at reading people and getting to know you as you build your professional relationship. Outfitters will do their best to pair you with someone on their crew so there will be no personality conflicts. For example, as a lady in a the backcountry, my employer often asks clients if they will have a problem hunting with a female guide. Nine times out of ten, there isn’t a problem. Also, will this be a one-on-one hunt or a two-on-one guided trip? Often a two-on-one will be at a cheaper rate or offer you the opportunity to plan this trip with a friend. Make sure you let your Outfitter know if you will be hunting with a rifle or bow. Knowing this will help them pair you with a guide that has the same experience.
  8. Freighting Your Trophy Home: How will you get your trophy home and what tags/permits will allow you to do so? Some species have to be shipped via a distribution company and inspected. While others you are able to bring home as carry-on as long as they have been properly inspected by government officials. With many exotic species, you will have to coordinate shipping, permits and ports of entry. Many of these hurdles become issues and prices are subject to change. Be prepared to have your quoted price double and sometimes even triple!
  9. Research: Invest time into reading hunting articles, published notes and forums. There is a wealth of knowledge at the click of a mouse. If you are unsure, don’t hesitate to email your outfitter. The success of your trip and experience is what they count on to stay in business.
  10. Outfitter Professional Standing: How involved is the outfit you are going to hunt with? Are they professional members of any guide/outfitter organizations? To someone who isn’t familiar with such an organization, I encourage you not to overlook this step. If you are spending a great deal of your hard earned money, having peace-of-mind that the outfit you chose holds itself to high ethical standards with their peers is always a confidence builder in your decision. Contacting state or provincial licensing bureaus to follow up with their history and good standing is also a great research tool.

Travel is an amazing way to learn and gain experience. It’s a rush that makes you feel alive. There is nothing quite like setting off on an adventure that you have planned, saved and prepared for. The anticipation alone builds the excitement and the thrill of the unknown keeps us hungry for more opportunities and new experiences. Good luck and remember, it’s not about the kill, it’s about the whole adventure.

Long live our hunting traditions…


About the Author

Rachel Ahtila

Rachel Ahtila is a hunting guide from British Columbia, Canada. Her career has taken her from the far reaches of the Northwest Territories, through the Yukon, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and down to New Zealand. She is a director on the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance, an ambassador for industry leading outdoor companies, international columnist and pursuing a future career as an outfitter.

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