Ask a lot of questions, and don't be misled by the answers. When you talk with an outfitter, ask the right questions, and listen carefully to the answers. Be careful not to use what I call the optimism filter - hearing the good news and ignoring the bad. Success rate - something an outfitter uses to sell hunts - is typically expressed as some ratio of success relative to the number of hunters. They might say “our hunters have 90 percent success.” What does that mean? Shot opportunities? Kills? Trophies? Don’t be afraid to ask for details. And be realistic. In many areas a 25 - 30 percent success rate on trophy bucks is pretty darned good.
Research your outfitter. Ask for references and contact them. Word of mouth is an outfitter’s best (and potentially worst) form of advertising. Any outfitter worth his salt should be willing and able to provide you with a recent list of references. Try to get references from successful and unsuccessful hunters. I would put more credence in a recommendation from someone who took no game, but still had an enjoyable hunt, than from a successful hunter.
Services - Be absolutely clear on what are you getting for your money. Outfitters use various terms like: fully guided, semi-guided, or just guided. Ask exactly what they mean by whichever term your prospective outfitter uses. Again, don’t be afraid to be very specific with your questions. Ask what hunting methods you’ll be using. If it’s a big game hunt, will you be spotting and stalking or stand hunting? If the latter, what kind of stands will you be using, ladder stands, lock-ons, shooting houses? If you’re spot and stalk hunting, will you be walking or riding? If you’re on a waterfowl hunt, will you be alone or with a group? If the latter, how big?
Ask what type of equipment you might need to bring. If you’re stand hunting, will you need a safety harness and if so, does the outfitter provide one? If you’re on a semi-guided spot-and-stalk hunt, you may need some type of off-road transportation. Will they provide ATVs or Side-by-Side vehicles or can/should you bring your own?
A lot of this is common sense, and will be easier for those of you who have been on guided hunts previously. If you’re new to hunting travel, don’t be afraid to seek out the advice of someone more experienced. And you shouldn’t have much trouble finding someone at the outdoor shows. Good luck and happy hunting.