Let’s face it, most of us don’t have the luxury of walking off our back porch and going for an elk hunt. As a matter of fact, I read somewhere that the average Joe travels over 1,200 miles to a spot where he can hunt elk — and that’s only one way. If you have to drive the homeward leg of that journey empty-handed, you might not be the most popular guy in the office come Monday.

Everywhere you look there are outfitters beckoning you to come “Have the experience of a lifetime.” I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have the experience of a lifetime someone’s gonna hear about it. Here’s a few tips on what to look for in a good outfitting service and when the best times are to book your next elk hunting trip.

Grab your Sherlock Holmes hat 

Incidently, Sherlock Holmes wore what was called a “deerstalker hat.” So this is a no-brainer to most people, but it’s very important to do your homework. I have heard numerous outfitter horror stories and I can’t help but point the finger right back to the guy complaining. Usually, he was too anxious to get out there and he simply didn’t ask the right questions. A lot of these incidents occur when people go to sportsman shows and get roped into a situation where the guy behind the booth is more of a salesman than an actual guide. He lures you in with all the glitter and inundates you with pictures and information. By the time you leave his booth, you are so exhausted (and excited) that you cave in and settle on the smooth talker. Then you find yourself walking 15 miles and forgot to ask about the difficulty level involved in going out with this outfit. You wanted a soft bed and indoor toilets too . . . you should have asked! 

Get references

This is the second best advise and it will usually get you steered in the right direction. Make a list  of questions ahead of time so you don’t forget. You want to know key issues like what time of year is best, what the weather was like on his trip, how many hunters were there, how many hunters got a kill, what the energy was like (loose and fun or serious and stressful etc.), and, one of my favorite questions of all—would another time have been better or did he think he was there during prime conditions? That’s a hugely important question! Then be sure to ask if there were any other things he would have brought or techniques he would have changed. I know it’s a lot of questions but most people love to talk about epic adventures. Spend a lot of time talking to people that did this trip. You are buying yourself very valuable information and it has always paid off for me.

Food and shelter

Gone are the days where I’ll spend a bunch of money and sleep in a pup-tent. Even if the hunting is epic, sometimes you’re not prepared (even if you think you are) to put in all those hours hiking with a sore back from sleeping on the ground. Sure you can save some money but for me, I want to be comfortable and well fed. Don’t get me wrong. I just spent a week in the wilderness on the ground and it is still my favorite way to experience hunting. But, if you’re paying several thousand bucks to have an opportunity at a beautiful bull elk or moose, you’ll want to feel good, be well rested and well fed. It’s worth the extra money in my opinion. I can easily be uncomfortable in my own woods and it hardly costs a thing.

Dig a little deeper

A phone call to the State Wildlife Department can tell you how this outfit stands with the agency. Believe it or not, there are several outfitters who have dings on their record and even some that operate on a revoked license. Another thing you can do is look and see what organizations they belong to. Most reputable outfitters belong to several foundations and most states have local guide/outfitter associations. I like a guide who gives back and is concerned with conservation. It will give you a feel for his character.

Hire an agent

I’ve personally never tried this but I have a buddy who swears by his agent. Sure it’ll cost you a few extra bucks but from what I’m hearing these days, hunters are having great experiences with agents, so it seems like it’s catching on. And the agent has a reputation to keep so you can be pretty certain that he’s going to work hard to make you happy.

The pearl

Most hunters of good integrity know the real reason we get up early and wait for hours on a mountain top. Some of my most memorable hunts were one’s that didn’t involve a kill. We do it for many reasons but most hunters will tell you it’s the experience more than filling a tag that brings them back season after season. If you do your homework, a good experience will be what leads to a wonderful lifelong memory. It’s worth a little extra planning.

Photo credit: Dreamstime