Steve Overguard may be the recipient of 2019’s Outfitter of the Year honour from the Alberta Professional Outfitter’s Association, but that hasn’t stopped the COVID-19 pandemic from taking a dire toll on his guiding business. With the border still closed to his mainly U.S. client base, Sundre-based Overguard figures his income is down by 80 per cent this year.
Still, he remains optimistic, and welcomes Alberta’s temporary regulation change allowing residents to purchase guided hunts normally reserved for non-residents. With that change, he says, there’s no better time for Canadians to book a bucket-list hunt—if they do their homework. Here’s what Overguard says you should watch for.
“It’s the best chance ever for Canadian residents to work with different outfitters,” Overguard says, noting that the U.S. dollar fees for many hunts are being offered on par with the Canadian dollar. “That’s a hell of a savings.” For example, he says his daughter and son-in-law recently booked a Dall’s sheep hunt in the Yukon, which would be have been prohibitively expensive in years past. The point here? Shop around.
Ask potential outfitters how many other clients they’ve booked for the same period you want to go. Due to all the cancellations this year and clients transferring their hunts to future years, some outfitters may be inclined to double book, creating conflicts. “You have to watch for outfitters who might say, ‘Yeah, come next year,’ but they’ve already booked guys from the year before,” Overguard warns.
Ensure your outfitter is taking proper measures to reduce the risk of guests contracting COVID-19. For example, Overguard’s hunter clients must undergo a temperature check and don masks before boarding the plane to his remote lodge on northern Alberta’s Bistcho Lake. Then once they arrive, “there’s no shaking hands and hugging like they’re used to be,” he says. And while at the lodge, guests must practise physical distancing at all times, even out in the field. Normally, Overguard would encourage guests to get involved in all aspects of the hunt, including field dressing game, but now they’re required to step back and leave the work to the guides. With any potential outfitter, he says, be sure to ask about the client-staff ratio—you want to ensure there’ll be enough hired hands to get jobs done, while still allowing everyone to maintain proper social distancing.