Tip No. 1: Searching the Web is easy.
A wealth of information is quickly and readily available on the Internet. Search engines can flood you with many links and Web sites for evaluation. But you must be cautious when viewing "flashy" Web sites that boast nearly unbelievable statistics. This source can provide you a limited view with photos and video clips of only the biggest bucks.
Also beware of fancy lodges, big endorsements and a high volume of hunters. It is more important that you have a successful guided hunt than to be catered to as if you were in a five-star resort lodge. Small motels with restaurants can produce the best hunts because they are located where the big bucks roam.
Tip No. 2: Magazine and Internet ads are also popular.
Paid advertising is simple. It is what someone pays to be included in a printed medium or on the Internet in order to reach a large number of potential clients. Remember that the goal of marketing is to create awareness and familiarity. This doesn't necessarily mean that an outfitter is good or bad, though. It just means that they want you to contact them, and it's a good way to connect to a large audience.
Tip No. 3: Hunting and sportsmen shows attract many outfitters.
Attending trade shows, seminars and other outdoor events is fun. Outfitters often spend considerable amounts of money to be a part of these events. The personal contact with a representative can bring instant information and answers. But beware of huge deer mounts and pressured sales pitches. Remember, that representative's goal is to get you to book a hunt.
Tip No. 4: Calling references is always a good idea.
This is absolutely the single most important aspect of selecting a great outfitter. If you know someone who has hunted with a prospective outfitter, then this can be extremely helpful. But just don't take his or her word for it -- check with others. Buy a calling card with lots of minutes and call at least a half dozen references. You can find out critical information and learn about other outfitters, too.
If several references are delivering the same, consistent message, then most likely you have landed very accurate information on the outfitter. References who have hunted several times with the outfitter and/or have gone on other guided hunts can be the most discerning and helpful. Take plenty of notes!
And don't forget to ask about the most productive dates to go. Typically, a November hunt is best when there is more rut and breeding activity. Daytime buck movements will be highest during this period of time. But some early and late seasons can be quite productive as well.
Tip No. 5: Booking agents and hunting consultants can help too.
Agents and consultants who sell hunts can take the pain out of your search. But you must use the same guidelines in your selection process. Check as many references as possible with hunters who have gone on hunts booked by these agents. Speak with hunters who have gone on your prospective hunt, as well as those who went on hunts for other game. There is nothing more secure and easier than a highly competent consultant. He or she will be your friend for life!
Tip No. 6: Carefully check out TV shows and videos that recommend destinations.
It seems logical that if a professional hunter or celebrity used a specific outfitter, then that outfitter must be fair and reputable, and most likely the best available. But remember that this is free advertising for the outfitter and sometimes the hunts are free or greatly reduced in the pricing. Even though
these celebrities may be successful, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will be. Some people may even receive preferential treatment since there is exposure to be gained. Check out these guides with the same discretion as you would any other prospect.
Tip No. 7: Ask plenty of questions.
Success rates, opportunity rates and trophy size are important items to ask about. But asking other detailed and specific questions can gain you the extra information you are seeking. Evaluating whether or not the outfitter "over-hunts" his property can be tricky, but this is something you need to know. You must consider the acreage and number of hunters. Ask how many hunters are taken per week and per year. If an outfitter is taking too many hunters, then the trophy quality and quantity will almost certainly be compromised. Young bucks may be over-harvested and mature bucks will be rare. Average B&C scores can be misleading, but those scores are a common gauge for evaluating trophy potential.
Reviewing a list of questions with both the outfitter and the references will help you gain the most knowledge (see list). Remember that outfitters are selling hunts for money. They must cash flow their operation whether they are full- or part-time. But like any other product or service, there will be variability in the quality you receive.
Your job is to make the best possible decision you can with the information you have gained from your research and phone calls. Educate yourself by calling as many outfitters and references as possible. If you do, you'll greatly reduce the chance of having a "failed" hunt. What's more, you'll greatly increase your chances of tagging a trophy of a lifetime! Do your homework and good luck!