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When it comes to planning a hunt, the options are endless. Some hunts require little more than a loose timeline, a packed lunch, and a loaded gun, but others can be much more daunting, even for an experienced hunter. A turkey hunt one county over is a far cry from stalking elk through the Rockies, but if you’ve never done either, you’re still starting from square one.
That’s where hunting guides and hunting outfitters come in - someone else with the knowledge and skill to help close the gap between you and the game you chase.
But, don’t be fooled - the two titles are not mutually exclusive.
You might be shaking your head in confusion at that statement, but I’m here to tell you all you need to know about the difference between hunting guides and hunting outfitters, which one you may need for a particular hunt, and how to find them.
Let’s start with the basics.
A hunting guide is a person who takes you hunting - they “guide” you to a particular hunting spot or area (knowing all of the rules and regulations there), get the hunt set up for you, call game, and get you back out safely and [hopefully] successfully. But with a guide, the hunter brings off of his or her own weapons and gear.
A hunting outfitter does everything a guide does (or hires a guide to do so), but may also equip you with weapons, gear, and other miscellanea needed for the hunt. Outfitters will typically provide accommodations, meals, and transportation, or will arrange them for you in some way. The outfitter is more of a “full package” provider.
Did I confuse you even more? Don’t worry - even some of my fellow hunters have to be reminded about the differences when planning an excursion.
For reference, I am a hunting guide.
From youth duck hunts to chasing turkey and whitetail, I guide throughout hunting seasons in my state. On duck hunts, I get hunters to the blind, put out a decoy spread, use a call, pick up downed birds, work the dog - the list goes on. We guides are similar to hunting mentors or advisors for our hunters.
But, hunters have to bring their own guns, ammunition, and any personal gear they might need. If they don’t live close by, it is up to them to find accommodations and handle their own meals.
I will, however, typically bring some extra items just in case, like gloves, hand warmers, and extra water. After all, it is human nature to forget a few essentials when you’re waking up a 0-dark-thirty for a hunt, and a good guide wouldn’t leave you up the proverbial creek if you do.
On the other hand, I have used a hunting outfitter on many occasions.
I have travelled to Argentina a fair amount to hunt dove and red stag, and use the same outfitter, Argentina Wild Wings, every time.
The outfitter is so helpful in organizing flight schedules with pick up times upon arrival, transportation to and from the airport and lodge, and assistance with any paperwork needed to travel or to bring our own shotguns for the hunt. If we didn’t bring our own, one would be provided in addition to ammunition.
At the lodge for our dove hunt, all meals were planned and provided in coordination with our hunting schedule. Out in the field, each hunter was given a “bird boy” to help pick up the doves, make sure they have plenty of shells (you go through a lot in Cordoba, Argentina), and assist in anything else they may need.
The only things we had to worry about were showing up and shooting straight.
(The author in Cordoba, with fellow hunters and the bird boys.)
For the red stag hunt, we stayed at a different lodge located in the Patagonia region of Argentina, but everything ran the same way. Chasing free-range stag across the Andes is difficult enough for locals, so guides were assigned to each hunter for the duration of the trip. The guide led our hikes to different hunting areas throughout the mountains, or brought in horses to help cover more ground.
Once I had a stag on the ground, my guide field dressed and caped it for me so it could be packed out. The outfitter ensured that the mount made it safely and legally from Argentina to South Carolina a few months later.
I can’t imagine having done all of that without help – both the outfitter and hunting guide were lifesavers!
So, who can benefit from hiring a hunting guide or hunting outfitter?
Well, the short answer is everyone. From novice to veteran hunters, there will always be a situation in which a guide or outfitter will come in handy (or be a necessity), particularly if you are hunting in a new species or in an unfamiliar place.
Local hunts (i.e. in your county or state) may take place on private properties where the landowner requires guests to be accompanied by a guide. Heading out to public land you’ve never hunted before? Having a guide with knowledge of the area will cut down on your time spent scouting, so you can get straight to hunting.
If you are travelling to hunt – especially internationally – hiring a hunting outfitter is almost always the best course of action. They will make the entire trip run smoothly and ensure that you are prepared and taken care of.
Once you determine whether or not you need a guide or outfitter for your next adventure, then comes the arduous task of actually finding and hiring one.
Before getting too far down the rabbit hole, first determine what you want and need in terms of the hunt’s “big picture,” and do your research accordingly.
If possible, narrow down the area you’d like to hunt so you won’t be overwhelmed with the number of potential guides and outfitters. A Google search of “mule deer hunting outfitters” will give you pages and pages of results spread across a quarter of the country – not a great place to start.
Whether you prefer the rolling hills and mountains of eastern Nevada or the jagged Rockies in western Montana, do a bit of research on the game itself and figure out where you want to go. Hunting magazines and websites like Fin & Field can be really helpful here.
Next, ask yourself a few more questions about your experience. Do you want to stay in a comfortable lodge or hotel, or are you ready for a camp-on-the-mountain kind of experience? Can you actually afford to stay in a fully appointed, full-service lodge? Are you fine with (and physically capable of) multi-mile, high-altitude hikes each day, or are you looking for a less demanding type of hunt?
There are countless questions you can ask yourself, but try to focus on what is most important to you and your hunting goals. Between your budget, location preferences, and type of hunting, you should be able to pare down the list of prospective guides and outfitters to a more manageable number.
Social media can offer great insight as to the experience other hunters have had, too. Comb through Facebook and Instagram posts or hashtags for references – people don’t typically post fun and exciting hunting photos if they’re having a bad time!
Alternative to internet searches, word of mouth can be incredibly helpful in screening potential outfitters and aiding your decision. Ask friends and relatives if they have been on the type of trip you’re planning, or know anyone who has.
If possible, you can also check out outdoor trade shows and wildlife expos, from local Ducks Unlimited banquets, to the NWTF Convention or the Great American Outdoor Show. You can meet the outfitters and guides in person, and get a feel for what an excursion with them will really be like.
Follow up with a quick inspection of their website, looking for additional photos, testimonials, and other information regarding both the hunt and the overall experience.
You’ll find me on this outfitter’s website!
Try to follow up on testimonials and references to get additional information, too. Did a previous client give positive feedback simply because the hunt was successful, or did the operators go above and beyond to ensure they had an enjoyable visit? Perhaps the hunt itself was unsuccessful, but the hunter had a great experience nonetheless.
When you think you’ve made your selection, be sure to ask the guide or outfitter a few questions before booking anything. Are they licensed and insured with legal access to the land you’ll be hunting? What licenses will you need to acquire ahead of time, or will that be handled for you prior to arrival?
Confirm the list of gear you are expected to bring, and what will be provided for you. You don’t want to show up expecting a gun will be provided, only to be told they have nothing available.
This rifle was provided on a recent hunt, so I didn’t have to worry about bringing my own.
Lastly, there are two major points to be wary of when it comes to what a guide or outfitter offers – pricing and guarantees.
If an operator boasts about furnishing cheap hunts, odds are, you’ll get what you pay for and be left disappointed. That’s not to say you can’t have a great hunt without spending an arm and a leg, but be mindful of the potential risks.
If they advertise “guaranteed success,” definitely pump the brakes on booking. When it comes to hunting, there are very few instances in which success is 100% guaranteed. These are wild animals, after all, and the only thing predictable about Mother Nature is her unpredictability. Between the weather and wild game, any number of issues could arise, foiling even the best-laid plans by top-notch guides.
The best advice to hunters in these situations is to be flexible and stay realistic, and have fun.
With these helpful tips on finding the right hunting guides and hunting outfitters, you’ll be well on the way to your next adventure.