Mossy Oak ProStaff
Big Game Regional Manager (MT, WY, ND, SD and NE)
Q: Should I hunt Western Big Game on my own or with a guide or outfitter?
A: This question has two good answers to it. If you choose to hunt Big Game on your own you have to be committed to doing a lot of homework first: spend the time and money required making phone calls, buying maps, talking with the local biologists in the state and area you plan on hunting. Take good notes and have several back up plans. Call local sport shops as well as taxidermist shops in the area also. These people really know where the game lives. You have to stay updated on your hunt area as well. Several times your hunt area might change due to fires, drought, etc. Make sure you have several areas to hunt.
When hunting with an outfitter the benefits are the following:
They know the areas that you will be hunting. They have the most current locations of the game and are very familiar with their travel patterns. The homework has been done for you. The animals will be taken care of after your harvest. Meals will be made for you, transportation taken care of, and they will handle most of your needs.
Hunting on your own will be the most rewarding and the cheapest route but the guided hunt will have the higher chance of success but cost you more money. My opinion is go with an outfitter the first time and learn an area and see how it is done then come out on your own with some buddies.
Q: If I need a guide, how do I find a good one?
A: The horror stories are abundant when this topic is addressed. Each and every one of us has had at least one bad experience with a guide.
It comes down to how much work you want to do prior to your hunt. Quiz several outfitters about their guides. It is not fun to have a 60-year-old man or woman teamed up with a 22-year-old mountain climber unless you are ready for it. Be honest with yourself as well as the outfitter. Find out what style hunt you are booking, time of year and type of terrain you will be hunting. If possible, ask to speak with your guide. That is the best way to insure you are both on the same page.
Q: I hear that a lot of Western outfitters are ranchers. Do they make good guides?
A: Depending on what time of year and what species of game you are hunting can make a big difference. If you are booking a truck hunt where you drive around all day spotting game you will be fine. If you want to cover ground and walk far ridges in search of game, then this might become a problem. Ask when booking your hunt if the rancher and/or guides are bow hunters or rifle hunters. It does you no good to have a third generation rancher who has never bow hunted trying to help you get within 30 yards of a deer or stalk a bedded animal and get archery close.
In the fall, ranchers are generally working cattle or putting up hay so they do not spend a lot of time out scouting for you. They can be good hunters but overall make sure that they put in the necessary time to make your hunt a good one. If you plan on hunting elk in the fall ask if they have ever used calls or bugled in any elk.
Q: How much research should I do before booking a hunt out West or in Canada?
A: This will either make or break your hunt in my opinion. The legwork you put in now will pay big dividends down the road. Make a bunch of phone calls, research areas, and speak with people in the areas you are going to hunt. If going with an outfitter talk with both hunters that took game as well as those who were not successful. Ask for a reference list of both. Learn how to read maps and have your hunting areas and access points marked down. Make sure you are familiar with the game laws in each state. Check regulations about hunter orange, permits required for weapons, and licenses needed to hunt. You can never do too much research prior to your hunt. Do not rely on others to do your work for you.
Q: Is fitness as important as I hear when it comes to hunting out West?
A: Depending on what type of animal you are hunting and the time of year determine the answer to this one. If you are going out West to sit in a treestand or ground blind to hunt deer or antelope then fitness is not so important. If you are going to chase bugling bulls or velvet mule deer in the high country then absolutely it matters. If you are planning on hunting all day and have all your equipment on your back then you better get prepared by training wearing the same equipment you will be hunting with. If it is in the late fall where deep snow could be a possibility make sure you are prepared for it.
Elevation takes its toll on everyone, so the better shape you are in the better your hunt will be. Can you wake up on day eight and feel as fresh as you did on day two? If an elk bugles down in a deep canyon can you get to him before darkness sets in? The oxygen levels are lower the higher you go so be prepared. Also can you settle your pin or cross hairs on the animal with your heartbeat elevated? It does you no good to hunt out West if you cannot get to where they live. Start a physical regimen long before your hunt starts. If it takes you a year or more then postpone your Western adventure until you are ready for it. Again, be honest with yourself. I have had a 70-year-old man out walk me and on the other hand a 27-year-old lag behind.
Q: Are combination hunts worth it? Example: Deer/Elk, Bear/Caribou or Moose/Goat.
A: Do your research on these types of hunts. Make sure that several species live in the areas that you will be hunting. Out West we are fortunate to have numerous animals living in the same area and it offers us the ability to hunt them at the same time. It is always best to concentrate on one species at a time and fill that tag first. A great way to hunt elk/deer and antelope out West is to chase antelope during the middle of the day. Elk and deer tend to bed up in the dark timber so you can go out into the plains and look for speed goats. On the other hand it would be upsetting to come across a species while hunting another one and not have a tag for it.
Q: Can I hunt big game out West with the same set up I use back East for hunting, either bow or gun?
A: Most of the game out West can be hunted with the same set up you use back East. It is more important to be proficient with your weapon than the size of the caliber or weight of your arrow or poundage of bow. Take ethical shots and you should not have a problem.
Q: I hunt back East with a bow and only shoot 20-30 yards. Do I have to practice and be able to shoot out to 50 yards and beyond?
A: The country out West or up North is much larger than the wood lot back East. I guide mostly archery hunters so this topic I am very familiar with. The average shot on a high country mule deer might be 40 yards or further. Everyone has their comfort level and do not try to over step this. I use this simple method for me to determine my comfort zone for shooting. If I am shooting at 20 yards I can accept a group out of the bulls eye area of 2 inches. At 40 yards it can go to 4 inches. Sixty-yard shots would be 6 inches etc. The more you practice at further ranges the better you become at close shots. I am not telling anyone to shoot outside of your comfort zone but stretch the distances. You will determine if your equipment is tuned perfectly as well as your shooting form. Do not release an arrow unless you are very comfortable with the shot. Also practice uphill or downhill shots, sides hills as well and shoot from awkward positions too.
Q: What is the industry standard for tipping your guide or outfitter?
A: As a guide out West, I live off of what I make throughout the hunting seasons. Tips are very important for paying bills. Most outfitters do not pay all that well so tips become very important. I tell people put aside roughly 10-15 percent of the hunt price. For an average elk or deer hunt, $500 is a fair price. Of course if your guide or outfitter does an exceptional job or a terrible job it might vary. Remember that your guide works for the outfitter. If he or she does a good job for you and tried his best, tip them well. It should not matter if you harvest or not. Also remember the cooks or packers. Divide your money up between all the help. If you are hunting with a group of buddies pooling your money will sometimes work. I go to the extreme of putting a section in their contract about tipping and I make sure they initial it prior to their arrival in camp. Gear can also be given for tips, but remember that we can only take so many knives for a tip. I have a full drawer of these and most people will not give away a good item in replacement for a tip.