Even when you pay for a hunt, you still need to pull your weight
A guided hunt can fulfill a lifelong dream or it can quickly turn into a living nightmare—and often the difference hinges on you, the client. While most reputable outfitters know their responsibilities, many hunters don't understand theirs, which can lead to disaster. If you're planning to go on a guided hunt, then, there are several steps you can take to ensure it ends up as a positive, memorable experience.
First and foremost, tell your guide if you have any health problems or physical limitations, or if you're taking medication or have dietary restrictions. Be honest, too, about your level of physical fitness. And be sure to tell your guide at the time you book, not when you arrive in camp.
Same goes for anything else that could affect the hunt. Can't ride a horse? Get airsick in small planes? Your back won't tolerate rough rides on ATVs? If you're upfront, conscientious guides will alter their plans as best they can to maximize your experience, but their options may be limited if you surprise them when you arrive.
Next, make sure you bring all the equipment and clothing that the outfitter recommended when you booked the hunt. Nothing will spoil a hunt quicker than being ill-equipped. The rifle you use at home for hunting 150-pound deer in thick timber, for example, just isn't suitable for shooting 300-pound-plus mulies across a valley.
Outfitter recommendations usually encompass rifle calibres/shotgun gauges, bullet weights, scopes and clothing, including footwear. Adhere to them—they've been made for very good reasons, so don't assume to know more about the local game, weather and habitat than your outfitter.
The gear needn't be of the finest quality available, but don't scrimp (a cheap rainsuit for a $3,000 caribou hunt just won't do). And make sure your gear is well maintained and properly prepped. For example, check that your rifle is sighted-in and that all the screws have been tightened.
As far as shooting goes, guides are aware that most of us have limitations, so be straightforward about your abilities before you head afield. Again, if the guide knows about such things beforehand, he can likely find situations that play to your strengths rather than your weaknesses.
Clear communication between you and your guide is also critical when it comes to deciding what constitutes a trophy animal. If you'll only settle for a book animal, be prepared to go home empty-handed—even from the best camps. If you're on a multi-species hunt, tell your guide which species you'd prefer and whether you want representative examples or trophies of a specific minimum. Whatever you do, have the appropriate licences and tags with you at all times. That's your responsibility, not the guide's.
When the time does come to shoot, keep your ears and eyes open. Your guide will likely offer valuable advice regarding distances and which animal to take based on considerable local experience. Unfamiliar terrain can fool the best of us, so don't try to second guess your guide.
And even though you're paying for the hunt, and can be waited on hand and foot if you so choose, pitching in with basic chores at the camp can go a long way to developing friendly relationships with guides, cooks, wranglers and fellow hunters.
Perhaps most importantly, bring your best attitude. Accept that things can, and often do, go wrong. Bad weather can close in, gear can break and game can be unpredictable. This is hunting, after all, and retaining a positive attitude will ensure that whatever the hunt's outcome, you'll go home with great memories.
Aside from knowing your responsibilities as a client, you can go even further to help ensure your dream hunt lives up to your expectations.
Whatever your physical condition, make every effort to get as fit as possible; you won't forgive yourself if the trophy of a lifetime escapes just because you couldn't climb that last ridge.
Hone your shooting skills, especially if you haven't squeezed the trigger in a while; a little time at the range can only improve your odds for a successful hunt.
Do your own research and learn as much as possible about the area and game you'll be hunting; some background knowledge can help to enrich the overall experience. Always remember, though, that your guide is the expert, not you.