SELECTING AN OUTFITTER
Selecting an outfitter is no easy task especially when I consider myself a novice when it comes to choosing someone to take me moose hunting. I am an avid game hunter like many of you that may read this. That being said, the extreme adventures of big game and locations that the world offers are somewhat foreign to me. With my career, I have much of the biological knowledge, but the application of it and my experience with adventurous hunts is still limited.
So where does this blog post originate from? I guess you could say as I am aging and have crossed over the 40 year mark. My perspective on enjoying life, coupled with balancing wants versus needs continues to loosen in some regards and become stricter in others. I have had the notion of harvesting a bull moose as a lifetime bucket list item for almost two decades along with stranger notions like swimming with dolphins and wrestling an alligator. Like many of us, a bucket list really contains things I’d probably admit will never happen, but wow do we like to think about them. So about two years ago, I told myself time to start doing instead of talking! The thought of aging parents, the circle of life and watching my children grow convinced me that I am going moose hunting! Wait a second, I am? What did I just commit to?
Okay, a little side note here. Let us assess with my clinically diagnosed OCD and anxiety what I have actually just decided to take on. My personality with hobbies and planning generally takes an extreme approach, panic and micromanaged planning. Truthfully, it is to a fault and has caused unnecessary stress in my life over the years. Thus, a decision like completing my bucket list hunt comes with some undue tension. Therefore, to begin the process I told myself that I need to identify my goals and objectives of the adventure. So there you go leading me to the following steps of selecting an outfitter.
So here goes!
Step 1: Identify your objective.
Locate and outfitter that can help me achieve my goal, accommodate my needs and provide a real, once in a lifetime experience.
For my needs, this included being able to accommodate my aging father, as part of the adventure is to spend quality time outdoors with him just like I did as a child. I will tell you the resources available now as we all know with the internet are incredible and honestly, for a costly trip like this, the process can be overwhelming!
Step 2: How much do you want to spend? You must identify this early in the process and flesh out whatever the reality of your budget is if you want to reduce the overwhelming options the World Wide Web provides. Once you have a budget, you can start ruling out sites you click on. Oh yeah, don’t forget the ridiculous amount of blogs, forums, chat rooms, social media pages, and such where people can give their opinion on the topic. Much of it can be useful and much of it, well, don’t waste your time. I say this to caution that many of these sites appeared to have self-proclaimed experts that state there is only one way to do something, and I just tend to disagree with that view on some topics. So be prepared to absorb the information you find useful and filter out what you don’t find applicable.
Step 3: Realize anyone can make or pay someone to make a beautiful website with catchy phrases, photos and a dreamland. IT IS SO EASY TO FALL INTO THAT TRAP. I determined from my research that some are legit and some are not! I did find out there are a few sites out there that offer individuals like myself to go on and post a review of their outfitter experience. This was quite fascinating when you read through some of these and the responses good or bad from the outfitters. These sites function like Google reviews. I chose not to share these resources as again I cannot comment on the merit of them and thus want to remain neutral. These too, I took with a grain of salt, but nonetheless it provided a foundation to format my questions around before the phone calls began.
Step 4: Skip the emails. Granted initial contact via email was nice and helped rule in or out a few options, but in the end it all came down to conversations with people. Had I skipped the emails, I could have saved a ton of time and organizational issues.
Step 5: Keep a notepad or spreadsheet listing each person you plan to call so that you can take notes! This goes without saying but it’s so necessary to keep track of the info you receive and to separate the outfitters you are interested in.
Step 6: Come up with your questions! Here I would tell you some are general questions you should ask and some of your questions need to be tailored around your goals and objectives. See some ideas below in no particular order, but I have a few comments as well. I must also state I’m more of an earn my trust kind of guy and thus noting I often feel folks can tell me what I want to hear so I pay very close attention to personality traits and conversation from years of training on emotional intelligence and communicating with the public. Thank you U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for providing me a skill set in that!
Questions and information I wanted to gather:
What is the guide to hunter ratio? (Huge issue for me! I want this to be a unique experience for my father and I, not my father and I and a camp full of strangers. I know you can make great camp buddies, but not my style! In addition, I don’t want to harvest nothing and watch everyone else gloat in their success. I’m just being honest).
Is your hunting ground public or private? How many acres do you own or control and do you have exclusive hunting rights? (Pretty big issue for me as I hope not to run into many other hunters).
How many years of experience do you have as an outfitter? How many years of experience do most of your guides have? (This is an important question, but it generally comes out in discussion. At least it did for me. Granted my decision ended up flexible on this for other reasons).
Total costs and I mean TOTAL! Goes without saying the importance of this to keep in your budget.
What are the accommodations, camping, sleeping arrangements, meals, etc… (Find out all you can about accommodations.)
Do you have a list of references, both people who have and have not harvested game? (I honestly avoided this. It all goes back to the trust and pretty websites for me. Anyone can mislead you here. Just my opinion.)
Travel Logistics. (Especially important for newbie on a hunt like this).
What is the actual success rate on shots taken and their average shot distance?
What are the physical requirements of the hunt?
How would you describe the average temperature and weather conditions during my hunt?
Are there any hidden costs, trophy fees, or minimum score requirements? (This is actually shocking at the variety across regions, outfitters, etc..)
What dates would you suggest coming and why? Can I add extra days to the hunt if needed? (Really, important to me based on what type of hunt experience I wanted).
What is the cost of the deposit and what is your refund or cancellation policy?
What makes you different from all the other outfitters? (I didn’t ask this, but I was determining it on my own the entire time I was assessing in conversation.)
Get a gear list of recommended gear from the outfitter.
16. Get information about processing your meat, shipping it home, who capes the animal, trophy preparation. (Important in my case as we were planning to drive).
17. Ask about combining hunts. (I pondered and decided to add a black bear hunt).
18. If you would like to have a non-hunter accompany the trip, ask about fees. Some charge for having another person with you, others do not. (As you can guess, this was a necessity for me to check on.)
19. Meet the outfitters in person at shows. (If you have this opportunity, I would highly recommend it and if I had been able to do this, I would have).
20. Bottom line, communicate with them! That is what a good outfitter is there to do in my opinion.
Step 7: After all of the questions and information are gathered (some information you will like learning and some you will not) just realize if you are wealthy, you can make about any dream come true. Therefore, stick to your guns (budget) and keep yourself in check. Be flexible, but be reasonable.
Step 8: Start striking off some of the outfitter options and circling others that you are still interested in. This method worked for me. (I actually narrowed down to three outfitters based on my objectives which can and did lead to additional phone calls and I assure you additional questions that you will come up with and will want clarified or answered.)
Step 9: Be prepared for a little panic, at least for my personality. Crap, how do I really pick between these 3? Granted the process is really fun to work through and talk with these folks. They each have things they can potentially offer and I am getting ready to commit to spending some of my hard-earned money. Look over your list of outfitters remaining. Talk it out with folks (friends, other hunters, family, your spouse).
Step 10: CHOOSE YOUR DREAM MAKER.
Step 11: Be prepared for a smidge more panic as you send in the email or final phone call to commit!
Step 12: BOOK IT!
So what happened? Well, I booked a hunt for my father and I in British Columbia with Daniel and Ashley of Robson Valley Outfitters! Now it is time for the big reveal as to how I landed at this decision and am currently looking forward to the adventure.
Here is what it came down to for me and again each to his own for making big decisions like this but maybe the insight and decisions I made will help others in the future with similar questions. Daniel grew up hunting in this area and I believe his wife is from the area as well. They had recently acquired this outfitter previously under another name. This left more necessary analysis in my own mind and I must tell you I had it narrowed down to three outfitters that seemed very transparent and honest, but a few details kept me coming back to Robson Valley Outfitters.
They limit the number of moose hunters! They want folks to experience a quality hunt. I didn’t want to show up at camp after 10 guys have been there before me. It may be a mental game but nonetheless.
It is a one on one hunt/experience and there is no one else to be attended to. This was a huge factor for me. I wanted an experience with my father that focused on us. We aren’t there with other hunters or campers, the facility is small and our time is our time. I realize amazing relationships can be forged at camp with other folks, but beyond Daniel and his wife, we are it! This allows me to build a relationship with the outfitter and soak in my dad. For some other reason it relieves unnecessary pressure that I put on myself.
Daniel was willing to make it an experience that worked for all physical constraints or abilities. At nearly 70, I didn’t expect my father to traverse mountains for miles, that being said I did tell my dad if Daniel says there is a trophy moose at the top of this mountain then he can sit and wait, because I will be climbing after it.
Just a hunch, but Daniel and his wife being new to this outfitter probably want to make an impression and build a clientele, as any reputable business would want to do. Thus, I figure he wants to provide a great experience that I can tell everyone about. Well, I am willing to be that person!
The communication back and forth, flexibility, enduring all my questions and building a relationship ahead of the hunt has been a fantastic aspect of the overall experience.
Robson Valley Outfitters seems to be able to provide the type of experience I am after. I could find more remote hunts, ATV hunts, road hunts, you name it in my dealings with the identified outfitters, but Daniel seem to offer the level of remoteness, wilderness and accommodations I was after.
Honesty. I cannot afford guaranteed trophy hunts. Bottom line! (This goes back to Step 1, Identify your objective). I am after a fantastic representation of the species with always a chance at a trophy. He was flexible and allowed me to add a bear late in the game, which is super exciting, but aside from any successful or unsuccessful harvest, I know I will be walking away with a trophy experience of a lifetime.
This concludes my strategic decision-making process and right or wrong in the end, it might provide some benefit to interested parties in the future. Please stay tuned for a full review of the hunt, the outfitter and the experience in the very near future!