Going Guided In 2021: How To Up Your Odds For Outfitted Hunt Success

The best news? Many hunt areas that have seen little or no pressure since 2019 will be back in play this fall.

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

The best news? Many hunt areas that have seen little or no pressure since 2019 will be back in play this fall.

Thinking about hitting the road this fall for an adventurous, out-of-state hunting trip? With solid signs of the global pandemic finally receding and many travel restrictions lifting, things are trending nicely, in many ways, for a stellar 2021 big game hunting season. Many hunting outfitters, for example, will be looking to ramp back up following 2020’s unprecedented challenges—which of course continue in many areas including, as of this writing, in Canada—but the reality is that many big game outfitters will be operating again this fall in areas that have seen little or no pressure since 2019. Opportunity is knocking, and loudly.

So how do you make the most of what will very likely be some historically good hunting this fall? Good question; for the answers we’ve compiled some thoughtful tips from several well-traveled outdoorsmen who know that there is way more to a successful big game hunt than simply leveling your sight and pulling a trigger.FensonBruin(8) 900“I put in plenty of extra hours and work hard for my money, so I consider time spent researching the right outfitter to be an insurance policy for my investment,” said Brad Fenson (shown above), HuntStand prostaffer. “Ask the tough questions and make sure to get references, including a client or two who were not successful. If your goal is to shoot a trophy deer, for example, first define your personal parameters, then find an outfitter with the highest percentage for that type of success.”Guided2 900Confidence in your hunting and shooting abilities is great; however, if you show up in hunt camp with the wrong mindset or attitude, your long-awaited hunt will likely be a disaster. That’s the advice from John Schaffer (shown above), a well-traveled bowhunter who owns Schaffer Performance Archery pro shop based in Burnsville, Minnesota. Schaffer regularly fields questions from his pro shop customers on how to prepare for an outfitted hunt.

One of Schaffer’s best tips for traveling hunters is to soak up all the knowledge you can from your outfitter/guide, and listen closely (and heed) any recommendations he or she might have.Guided3 900D“Back home you may be an excellent whitetail hunter, or maybe a great black bear hunter, but most people hire guides to experience different animals, and different terrain,” Schaffer said. “And the strategies for hunting those different species and areas can also be wildly different. Take elk hunting for example. Very little of what I’ve learned about hunting whitetails applies to elk. In the vast majority of cases you’re never going to know as much about hunting that particular animal as a guide.”


“You need to bring your best ‘student attitude’ to any interaction you have with your outfitter,” Fenson agreed. “Take detailed notes and be sure to perform all recommended pre-hunt physical conditioning. Practice shooting at specific distances, and follow any recommended gear list closely when packing. If you have questions, ask well ahead of time. And once in the field, don’t second-guess or debate the outfitter on hunt strategy or other critical issues. If you did your homework, there should be no surprises. On your hunt, it’s time to trust, listen and learn.”BinosLEAD 900Even beyond listening to and learning from your guide, both Fenson and Schaffer believe that your odds of success can increase greatly if you go the extra mile to not only strike up a friendship, but also make the effort to pitch in and help with camp chores while in the field.

“I could be wrong, but I think most guides appreciate it when you hunt with them as if you’re hunting with a good friend, and share the camp chores,” Schaffer said. “When it comes time to eat, as a paying client, I could just sit down and wait for my meal, but if you help gather the water or firewood, or set up the tents, and load the packs for the morning hunt, guides really appreciate that. Or maybe you’re sitting on a hillside with your guide glassing for animals; a lot of hunters don’t even bring binoculars, or have any interest in glassing for game because that’s the ‘guide’s job.’ Why not be as involved in your hunt as you can? And if you’re successful and bag an animal, you could just make the guide haul it out, but a lot of guides aren’t going to appreciate that. When you’re truly working with your guide as a team, your odds for success can skyrocket.”

Again, Fenson concurs.

“With few exceptions, your ‘all-in’ cooperation, backed by a positive attitude, are your best shots at a successful outfitted adventure.”Guided6 900Fenson also offered some tips on critical gear.

“On a recent Dall sheep hunt, I was severely limited in what I could pack—and would eventually carry on my back. There are two things I never leave home without: Top-shelf long underwear and a good premium rain suit. Other components of my personal ‘survival gear’ include a space blanket and a favorite Browning packable down jacket that includes a handy stuff sack; it weighs next to nothing. That jacket has been my saving grace on more than one occasion. Always take your smartphone (and a couple portable chargers), as it is the lightest camera with video capability, and of course, it can also transport the downloaded, cached maps of your hunt area via your HuntStand app. Do not leave things to memory—download and cache your maps well ahead of time

Another important thing to remember about a guided hunt? There are no guarantees, regardless of how much money changes hands.Guided5 900“It’s called hunting for a reason,” Schaffer said. “My attitude has always been that the animals don’t care what day of the hunt it is. Plenty of times, I’ve been on hunts where there have been virtually no close encounters or even sightings, then on that last day everything falls into place. I tell people don’t worry about how deep into the hunt you go without success, the animals don’t care. Things can change in an instant. No, it’s not easy to keep morale up on a difficult hunt. But you still have to stick with the program, and trust that the guide is going to put you in the best position possible.”



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