Choosing an outfitter the right way
by Ray Brock, the Interstate Sportsman
You’ve planned it for years, a weeklong trip to the wilds of northern Canada, where you will hunt for caribou, fish for trout and pike and dine on the fruits of your efforts. For years you have dreamed about watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky and hearing the distant, forlorn cry of loons on pristine lakes. You have saved nickels and dimes by stopping smoking or by forgoing soda pops. It will be the perfect trip
Such a trip of a lifetime can be all you dream it should be, and even more. You’re a working man who has saved to have the extra money set aside. In your mind, you know how it should go, but for many drivers, booking the hunting or fishing trip of a lifetime can be a real shot in the dark. You might get lucky and find a stellar outfitter that meets your lofty expectation. On the other hand, if you are not careful, you might sign up with an outfit that no matter how much you paid, it just doesn’t deliver anywhere near your expectations.
For many professional drivers, time is a precious commodity. The need to drive to make money does not permit self-guided hunting, except when it is close to home where you know your way around (such as a Kansas driver hunting whitetail near his home). When close to home, a driver can simply do his hunting and fishing on his own, and he would not want it any other way. However, this is not the case if you want to go to hunt or fish in Canada, where regulations require aliens, as U.S. citizens are classified there, to employ the services of a licensed outfitter. To hunt certain game animals in Alaska, the same is true. Additionally, an ever-increasing number of private western ranch lands where non-resident hunters want to go after elk, moose, antelope and bear require booking with an outfitter.
An outfitter differs from a guide in that the outfitter is the person or business that offers hunting or fishing trips. An outfitter may provide everything from transportation, lodging, meals, licenses, equipment and guides, to none of these amenities. A “fully guided, inclusive” trip generally provides everything except fishing tackle and firearms/ammo. An “American plan” trip usually means you will have a place to sleep and cook, a boat and a place to hunt and fish, but otherwise you are largely on your own. Variations of these arrangements may include meals and one guide per camp, or other combinations. The amenities you will receive on your trip are important to understand when booking a trip to Canada, Alaska or Mexico.
In recent years, booking hunting and fishing trips has become very popular. As a result there are now tens of thousands of various outfitters throughout North America. Just like there are many places to eat or stay overnight when you are driving across the country, the costs, services and quality of various outfitters varies greatly. Oddly, your personal success may not reflect on how good an outfitter is or isn’t. For instance, if you book a fishing trip to Alaska and while you are there the weather is terrible and ruins the fishing, you will not be as happy on the way home had weather been good and the fishing red hot. On the other hand, if you book a moose hunt with a drunken out- fitter that feeds you gruel three times a day, but a 65-inch bull moose wanders by and you shoot it, odds are you’ll go home happy. Outfitters can’t control the weather, how well you shoot or fish, or if the fish or game are cooperative. They can control the food quality, service, accommodations and condition of the gear.
Locating outfitters is easier these days. Most of them attend major consumer sports show like the Great Eastern in Harrisburg, PA each winter. These give you an opportunity to talk one-on-one with several prospective outfitters. The Internet is another great way to do that. You can go to brockstoplodges.com, for example, to access the Web sites of outfitters who have proven track records for providing great fishing and hunting trips over the years. An outfitter or hunting/fishing lodge Web site typically has much information that includes pricing, location, description of types of trips available, what is and is not included in the price of a trip, when trips are available, and a list of references.
For example, let’s say you are looking to book an elk-hunting trip, and you have narrowed down the places you want to hunt to Colorado and New Mexico. After looking around, you find four outfitters who have the type hunt you want, and their cost is within the amount you have budgeted. The next step is to give the outfitter a call to ask him what is available and to gauge the chemistry between the two of you.
Next, you need to invest the time and effort into contacting references provided by the outfitter. If an outfitter does not have references, it might be better to continue shopping for one. Have a list of questions ready when you call the fellows on the reference list. These questions should include more than simply the opinion that they liked their hunt and recommend the outfitter. Also ask the outfitter about the quality of meals, the condition of equipment like outboard motor, truck and ATVs, the quality of the accommodations, the guide’s knowledge and friendliness and the quality of the game and fishing in the area.
Once you have made your choice and paid your deposit, you will probably receive some sort of trip gear list. If the list says to bring three pairs of heavy wool socks, a Gore-Tex rain suit and a dozen 3-inch red- and-white spoon lures, then you arrive with these items. If your outfitter tells you it is a fly-in camp, and you are limited to 50 pounds of gear, this is not a suggestion on his part. It may cost him $3 a pound to fly stuff into the bush, and all of the extra weight he can allot is 50 pounds. If you drive to a trip, take lots of extras like spare fishing tackle and bottles of bourbon. If you fly in, make sure you are within the limits of the poundage allowed.
Fishing trips are usually not so strenuous that the average driver needs to physically prepare for a trip of a lifetime to some far northern lake or river. Hunting is often another matter. If you are spring bear hunting over bait, odds are you will not have to move a lot. The same is true of stand hunting for whitetail, in most instances. However, if you are making a western elk hunt, or heaven forbid a Dall sheep hunt in Alaska, you had better get into good physical condition. Make sure you are able to do what it takes to ensure your success before booking a hunt that requires a lot of walking and climbing.
Trips of a lifetime are just that; deposits in your memory bank. Make sure you research a number of outfitters and hunting lodges before deciding which is best for you. You will be glad you took the time to do this, making this your trip of a lifetime. Check out our Web site at interstatesportsman.com. Remember, take a kid to the woods and it will keep him off the streets. May God bless you as he has me.