What kind of a hunt do you want?
The first question you need to ask yourself is what type of a hunt you want. There are baited hunt, spot & stalk hunts, and even combinations of these. Think about your physical capabilities, your shooting ability, experience and desires. Scenery, number of bears you want to see, frantic action or lack of it, and climate. These things and more go into your choice of a hunt. If you start talking to an outfitter and you realize this isn’t exactly what you are looking for, don’t hesitate to back out.
Websites are one of the best places to learn more about a hunt. You can read about the outfitter, the guide and importantly, how long they’ve been in business. You can look at an album of photos and have a candid discussion that will give you a real gut feeling for the hunt and the people you will entrust with your money and in some cases your life. In the course of the search you will think of questions to ask so ask them on the spot in your email or phone conversation, you will think of even more questions to ask so write them down and ask at a later time.
If you do not meet the outfitter in person then plan to have a good phone conversation and ask the tough questions. Get references of successful and unsuccessful past clients and call them.
Define your Expectations
Realistically, an outfitter can’t offer you the hunt you really want unless they know exactly what you want. Many people have had a bad experience because they went on a hunt that wasn’t a good fit because they didn’t specifically tell the outfitter what they wanted. If an outfitter says they have fishing available, but you get there and find out its only fly fishing and you don’t know how to fly fish; that’s your fault, you should have clarified it before you left home.
Be honest about your physical limitations. Don’t go on a spot & stalk hunt if you can’t hike up a steep hill. Likewise, if you are 400 pounds and can’t get into a tree stand, it would be a good idea to tell the outfitter that ahead of time so he can get a ground blind in place. Don’t surprise your outfitter when you pull into camp. He will be asking questions and expecting honest answers and you should be too.
Are you looking for a truly big black bear? Make sure you are going to a place that has them. There are a lot of places that specialize in getting everyone a bear, but the top end of them is about 300 pounds. If you want to bag a giant, you have to ask the questions that will help you understand the type of operation you are dealing with. Looking for a color phase bear? Ask the specific questions about percentages of color bears. Then ask exactly how many and what colors were bagged there in the past three years. Trust your gut, if it doesn’t feel right, back off.
Make your needs and preferences known. If you have health issues as simple as a lactose intolerance or an allergy, tell them so they can pass it along to the cook. If you don’t like baloney sandwiches, tell them that. Or don’t complain if you find yourself in a tree stand for six hours with nothing but a baloney sandwich to eat.
Ask specific questions about the temperatures, clothing you should bring and footwear. Not much is worse than having nothing but leather hunting boots when you have to slog through a swamp to get to your stand. Wet, smelly feet can ruin a trip as fast as anything. Ask about outerwear, mosquito protection, long johns and headwear.
Many baited hunts mean long hours in the stand during the afternoon and evening, but having something to do during the mornings can make a hunt much more enjoyable. What if you shoot your bear early in the hunt? Learn what might be available to take up your time while you wait for a buddy to get his bear.
Get to know the area well before leaving for the hunt. Look at the area on Google Earth, check the weather for the hunt on accuweather.com, spend some time on the outfitter’s website.
The theme in this article is communication. That’s because the vast majority of bad experiences can be traced back to bad communication; either yours or the outfitter’s. Make sure it isn’t yours.
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