Choosing An Outfitter

“How about coming to Kotzebue with me this year,” my friend Bob Condon asked. Given the fact that this area in Alaska is home to over half a million caribou, it didn’t take too long for me to agree to go. Trouble is, getting to a place in the Arctic Circle, which is not all that far from Russia, becomes quite a logistical challenge.

Many hunters will be heading out on trips this year. Some of these adventures are as simple as hunting a couple of states away; others involve long journeys to far off destinations. Either way, though, planning a hunting trip involves a lot of detail, including some new wrinkles recently thrown in the mix. 

Hopefully, anyone planning a trip for this year will take the time to do the research needed to find a good outfitter or guide service. A good guide service is worth its weight in gold, and most of the people in this business are honest and work hard.

Yet, all it takes is a few minutes on any of the hunting websites with a message board to find stories of folks who got ripped off. As an example, I recently heard about a group of caribou hunters who had their outfitter cancel their hunt the day before they were supposed to travel there and refused to refund thousands of dollars they had paid in deposits. Needless to say these folks were none too happy.

Pack light when taking a small plane into hunting camp.

The difference between a good guide service and a fly-by-night operation that is going to take your money for nothing is simple. Reputable guide services have plenty of happy and returning customers, and crooks do not. 

Check References Of Outfitter
If you have found a hunt that you are interested in, take the time to check references and do the homework necessary to prevent a problem. Ask the outfitter for references, and check several to make sure the service is legitimate. Also take the time to search the Internet for the name of the guide service. If there are complaints or problems, they will show up. You can also check the Better Business Bureau of the state you are interested in visiting.

Once you settle on someone, make sure you know exactly what is included on the trip, and what things you are responsible for handling. My buddy Bob owned an outfitting service in Maine before he moved to Alaska, and he has plenty of stories of what can best be described as hunters who didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

If you are not physically up to wandering around the mountains for a sheep hunt, don’t book one. If you need four-star accommodations, a remote tent camp might not be for you.

Even if you have the whole thing figured out and are going to a good destination just getting there and back is an uphill battle. 

One of the latest wrinkles is that you now need a passport or enhanced driver’s license to get into and out of neighboring countries, such as Canada and Mexico. Make sure you have the required documents well before the trip.

Another difficult situation hunters will face is getting their firearms or archery equipment on an airline. Most airlines have specific rules for transporting guns, including that they be stored in a locked, hard case, separate from any ammunition. It is important to check with the airline well before heading out for a trip. 

Archers do not get put through all the hoops that a firearms hunter has to deal with, but they still need to have the right case to transport their equipment so it gets safely to where they are going. 

If getting to where you will be hunting will involve smaller aircraft, make sure that your gear is in soft cases, such as duffle bags, so it can easily be stowed in a smaller plane. In addition, most of the air transport services require that each hunter only take along 70 pounds of gear, so you must pack only what is essential.

Even if you are going on, say an elk hunt in Colorado, most of us tend to take along too much stuff. Try and pack your gear early and then try and pare things down a little. It makes life much easier for lugging gear around the airport and into any other transportation. 

Game Meat Care Important
If getting there is half the fun, getting back from a successful hunting trip is the other half. Hunters should take the time to check the regulations on chronic wasting disease wherever they are going to find out the rules on bringing home meat and antlers from another state.

Make sure you plan ahead on how you are going to get your game meat home because it becomes a difficult task in some situations. For example, when I hunt with my buddy in Alaska, we are responsible for boning out our meat and getting it loaded up into meat boxes for shipment home. We allow a day for doing this after we get flown out of the bush. 

Nancy Condon, former owner of the Allagash Guide Service in Maine, with a nice bear.

Meat care while out in the field can be difficult as well. If you are going to be hunting elk for a week in the beginning of September on a remote trip into the mountains, and are lucky enough to take a nice bull on the first day, the fun is over and the work has just begun. Warm weather and game care do not go hand in hand and you have to be ready to deal with it.

If possible, arrange with your outfitter for some way to get checked on half way through the hunt, and hopefully they can take care of any game meat and get it to a processor before it spoils. If not, there are some tricks, which can be used to cool it, which you should read up on before heading out.

Out-of-state hunting trips can be a lot of fun, and successful or not, are usually a great experience. Planning now will avoid problems later.

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