Re: How to choose an outfitter
This is from Lark Ritchie but very well written . mainly towards choosing a bear outfitters but most the rules apply for anything.
How does one choose a good guide or outfitter?
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to discuss this selection problem with many clients. Many have been on good and bad hunts over the years. The most common conclusion that the major cause for disappointment was caused by expectations which were not met.
Another was that, before they had been on several trips, they did not know what to look for when selecting an outfitter or guide. They felt that they had been swayed by the brochures, or the super-confident attitude of the representative of the lodge or guiding service. Some had talked to another hunter who had been successful and received an overly positive recommendation based entirely on that hunter's "glory stories".
Glory stories always make things rosy, because they enhance the prowess of the story teller. They sound terrific, but was it really that way? Others had selected a service based on low cost. One even admitted that he had chosen his outfitter strictly because the name of the service "sounded good.
These criteria did not usually produce a good selection which met the expectations of the guy who paid the shot. Many said that after their experiences, they would have asked more direct questions before making the final selection.
Here are some of the best questions to get answers for, and the reasons they should be asked.
Start your interview with some very general questions, but with an objective in mind. Make a list of what you want to discover. You may not have an opportunity to ask them in sequence, but having a list will keep you on track. Remember, it's your phone call, and you can terminate it or extend it as you see fit. The outfitter, on the other hand, wants to stay on the line until he closes a deal. In such a situation, you have an advantage if you are seeking specific information.
How Long Has the Outfitter's Business Operated?
This will give you an indication of experience and success as a business over the years. A business with a history of operating with the same owners and personnel suggests that someone must be doing something right. The key is what is the business? Fishing? Motelling? Cottage Rental? If your going fishing, choose a fishing business. If your going hunting, select a hunting business.
Motel operations, cabin rentals, resorts, and fishing lodges make their living catering to people with varied interests. Are you really addressing the same interests? Once you've narrowed your selections to hunting businesses, You're in business!
How Large is the Hunting Area?
The answer to this question may let you know the relative hunting pressure on the outfitter's hunting area. Beginning 1989, all Ontario bear hunters were allocated fixed boundary territories called bear management areas (BMA's). These areas are exclusive to each organization, and the non- Ontario-resident clients of that organization are permitted to hunt that area only.
Ontario's MNR Biologists estimate that to maintain a healthy bear population, no more than two bear per year should be taken per hundred square kilometers(MNR, June 1998). For example, if an outfitter or guide maintains a BMA of 500 square kilometers, then hunt scores over 10 bear he is over-hunting, and will deplete bear populations in his BMA. and surrounding territory.
Ask your outfitter to give you his BMA area(s) in square kilometers
(Outfitters are billed by the Ministry of Natural Resources in square kilometers, and he will know exactly how many square kilometers he has. Consider these figures when making your final selection.
Maximum Hunters Per Year?
An idea of the outfitter's client volume also allows you to infer the amount of hunting pressure applied to his area.
You need to know how many clients per week, how many different plans he offers, and how many weeks he books on a regular basis. Knowing these maximum number per year, and his BMA size, allows you to compute the potential success rate based on MNR recommended harvest rates.
Does He Offer Custom Hunts?
Some offer custom tailored hunts. When they do, the cost varies because of the expenses incurred in providing those special services you want. Those who are "processing" people will attempt to discourage such a hunt because of the special planning and additional expenses in the business. For fees that seem outrageous, have your outfitter explain how he arrives at his fee.
What is the Guide/Hunter Ratio?
Bear hunting does not require a one for-one guide to hunter ratio, but the less hunters per guide means you will get a more personal hunt and service. The cost of a hunt should vary with the ratio, because of the increased expenses. A low cost hunt usually means lower expenses, and maybe lower quality.
What is The Success Ratio?
Each outfitter's plan may have different success ratios. How does he calculate success?
Some may quote sightings rather than kills, others may consider success as having a shot at the game. Others may even classify some of their guests as non-hunters if the guest only rented baiting services, and thereby exclude that client from the calculation.
These factors can greatly modify success ratios. Know what you and he are talking about. FOR EXAMPLE: I have just viewed a website featuring an Alberta Hunt, 155 miles down the Athabasca River from the town of Athabasca (date when I write this:June 16, 1998) Here is a direct copy/paste from that site...'Wounded bear will be counted as a kill."
Expected success ratios can vary. A custom hunt may approach or exceed 100 percent, and may be very expensive depending on your needs. A high volume operation may fall at 30 to 60 percent success just due to the number of hunters. Bait rental services may run a success of 10 to 100 percent, depending on the operator and his commitment to the hunter. As a note for comparison, game report statistics gathered prior to Ontario's bear management program set non-guided hunts at a success rate of just over 30 percent.
What Type of Guest Does the Outfitter Service?
Some lodges cater primarily to the vacationer or fisherman, with bear hunting offered as an extra. If the operator makes his living through resort operation or fishing, he may not always focus on results for the occasional bear hunter. If he is serious, his price will reflect the cost necessary to provide you a good hunt.
What is the Preferred Method Of Hunting?
In Ontario, baiting is usually the method of hunting. Sometimes dogs are used if the terrain permits. (Note that dog hunting is only allowed in the earliest part of the season - Check with local officials, or obtain a current Ontario Hunting Summary which stipulates the season in the area you plan to hunt.) Baiting costs in money, time, and effort. Effective outfitters and guides purchase the bait they use in large quantities, pay vehicle expenses to transport bait, and prepare stands, and he must pay himself, or an employee. Your hunt cost should reflect these expenses. If not, what are you actually paying for? A few reads through this information will allow you to roughly compute expenses on your hunt. And your result should be close to the fee your outfitter asks. Much lower, and he is either Santa Claus, or going out of business. A lot higher, and he is charging what the market will bear.
Ensure that your outfitter or guide baits properly. Ask him questions, and get answers. Talk to his former guests. How frequently does he bait, and how many stands does he maintain? In this case, less is better than many, because it indicates care has been taken in locating and servicing stands. Estimate 1.3 sites per client per week as being a reasonable number of stands.
Accommodations can be tricky. Luxury accommodations mean a high capital investment in real estate, indicating that the operator is running a resort style lodge. His bread and butter will be from high volume, resort and vacation guests rather than seasonal bear hunters. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily exclude him as a choice. If he maintains a good hunt service, it will be reflected in his fees. Rustic accommodations do not mean that one is a serious outfitter. It may only mean the operation is low cost, and low effort. Never make a decision based on accommodations unless this is your prime concern. To be blunt, Ritchie accommodations are considered "tent-outpost". Safe, clean, and comfortable, but all in all, still on the rustic side. We are neither resort nor motel class, but a hunting camp.
The amount of extra activities offered to you by your outfitter can be a help in making your decision. The more facilities and distractions there are, the more you and he will be able to justify why you didn't end up with results. This is not necessarily wrong. Consider the Ski Lodge does the guest really have to ski to have a good time? You have to decide on what your priorities are.
For the Ritchie's, each hunt area has possibilities for fishing, although we place no emphasis on it, you can reserve a boat or canoe for a little play during the week. Should you want to hunt rabbits or wolf, you may purchase a small game license. Usually side trips can be made to local centres for souvenir shopping and evening entertainment.
How Does One Get A Record Class Trophy?
Number one... Don't take the first thing that appears. Realize that first is not necessarily best, that record class trophies are not everyday occurrences. You may have to pass several opportunities to make that big one. You may even go home skunked. The Ritchie's have recorded several official Pope and Young kills. Many rifle kills are well with in this category. Each year we have several bears that approach or meet record scores. Unfortunately, these are not all bow kills.
What Proof Indicates The Outfitter/Guide Knows The Game?
Number one.. Results. A knowledgeable outfitter can tell you a lot about bear habits because he knows. Those that are confident in their ability to produce are not secretive with their knowledge. They are proud of it and willing to relay it in detail.
The Ritchie's do this as a matter of practice. Also, over the years we have had opportunities to raise both black and polar bear cubs on a temporary and long term basis of several years. They were both pets and objects of study. We can demonstrate our knowledge by giving you the shot of your choice, be it a right or left broadside, front or rear quartering, at 20 feet or 100 yards. We've done it and our hunters can verify our abilities.
How Much Experience Resides in the Camp?
Experience counts. Ensure that your outfitter has the experience. He may have recently purchased the operation from another. He may have gained experience working for someone else, or he may be totally green. Remember that operations pass from person to person and you should know who you're dealing with. There is one question that almost always is a good indicator of the experience level within a hunt camp. Rather than give away this clincher, talk with me (sorry! no e-mail requests for this one), then put the question to the other guy!
Percentage of Returns?
Hunters return to the same camp or guide service for many reasons. We feel we can satisfy our clients time after time. Some have made the trip more than four or five times. Obviously their objective is more than just taking a bear. Others have a successful hunt and move on to other game. Rough calculation puts our returns at about 60 - 70 % for those returning twice or more. If you're looking for a hunting atmosphere and good company both styles of hunt offer this.
Does The Guide Expect Help?
Some paying hunters like to get involved in the chores and camp activities. Others would rather use the time in camp to relax and enjoy. The outfitter should tell you up front whether or not he expects your help. Your help may mean he can operate with a lower over head, and pass the savings to you. Others may not want the help due to risk factors and possibilities for accident. You should know, so that you're not disappointed either way. If he returns with a question on your personal experience and abilities, don't be insulted. He may want to assess you prior to allowing you to help. Always heed his instructions, he most likely is seriously concerned for your safety.
And last but not least, don't help if you or your relatives are likely to bring a legal suit for some action that is a result of your own inexperience or foolhardiness. No outfitter or guide needs that kind of help. At our camp, if you like to pitch in and learn, then we have no objections to you doing so. If you would rather let us do the work, no problem; that's why you're paying. Many hunters like to learn how we hunt and we're quite willing to explain the thinking and reasoning behind what we do.
What About Transportation?
Some outfitters provide transportation during your hunt, others do not. Transportation can be a major cost due to the investment in vehicles and personnel to operate them.
When an outfitter provides transportation, it will be reflected in his fee. If the fee does not show some variation with others in his area of the country, then you can expect that distances are probable relatively short. Cross-checked with the number of hunters per week will indicate you may all be hunting the same area, or worse, the same bear.
What's the Bait?
Whoa! This is where we draw the line... but whatever it is, it seems to do the trick... You'll have to talk to one of our clients to know the answer to this question....
Some Final Notes.
The best way to ensure you have a good camp, is to ask people who have hunted with them. Ask for references. Use a service such as the North American Hunting Club, or Safari Club to obtain non-biased evaluations. If you talk to them, ask what was good and what was bad.
On those who give a bad report, give the outfitter the benefit of the doubt until you've heard more from the person giving the reference. Did s/he have realistic expectations? Was it a disappointment because that person was basically miserable in his own character?
Ask others about the concerns expressed by a what you might call a bad reference? Were things really they way they were described, or was it a bad attitude? Remember that not all people can be pleased all of the time. If a majority of replies to your questions are favourable, your chances for a memorable hunt will be good.
I was walking home and a guy hammering on a roof called me a paranoid little weirdo. In morse code