What’s It Really Like to Be a Hunting Guide?

When I was entering the U.S. Army right out of high school in the early 1980’s, I read every hunting magazine available. It did not take too long before I started fantasizing about being a big game guide, so I started doing research. As soon as I found out the truth about what a greenhorn western-states guide earns during his first few years of guiding, I was leery. However, like most guides I got sucked in and here I am with some truths on what it is really like to guide other hunters.

I would have to characterize guiding as better than working for a living but just barely. A guide deals with long irregular hours, sporadic pay, lack of sleep, always having to put on a happy face, (while projecting a positive outlook no matter what) and then there are the people. Guiding is a lot like traffic; people make it fun or miserable. I have shared a lot of nightmare client stories, but there were tons of good ones. I have had clients that I only knew for the one week we hunted together, leave as brothers and life-long friends. One of my best friends is an outfitter who once guided me.

Lack of sleep is one of the hardest drawbacks to overcome. If you are an uncaring, unconcerned guide, you sleep well. I never slept well during any of my seasons. It terrified me to think I might take someone hunting and I might not be able to help them realize their goals. I have heard all the pep talks blaming non-successful hunts on weather, moon phase or time of year, but it still does not help me sleep better. For every client I have ever had who was my first hunter on opening day of any season, they got a guide who did not sleep the night before. I have never been able to sleep the night before any opening season, period.

Besides the lack of sleep that drains your body like a vampire, there is the constant interpersonal relationships and communication that is required for the entire time afield. I am not much of a talker so that always drained me even more. It is hard to be someone else for an entire week of days where there is no place to hide or take refuge. I do not mean that I did not enjoy doing it all, but it was just hard work and it did not come easy for me. I almost always ended up satisfied though that I had answered the call and achieved another personal challenge. 

As you can tell, the moments and accomplishments of guiding that stuck with me most are the ones relating to my dealings with other people, but there is so much more and I will be featuring the real truths of what guiding is really like during this month’s hunting section.