By Michael Deming
You've saved and saved and finally spent the required fifteen thousand dollars on a five-day fully guided elk hunt. Now you get to hunt a pristine private ranch where elk aren’t pressured and the bugling goes from early morning until long after legal hunting light. You are looking at twenty-plus mature bulls a day and having the time of your life. Every night you come back to a nice tent camp where you have great food, hot shower, and a warm wall tent to sleep in as you listen to the elk bugle throughout the night. Finally, on day three, you put the hammer down on a good bull and this is truly the icing on the cake for this trip of a lifetime for you. The guide takes great field photos, capes, and quarters your bull. The next day he hauls it to the processor for you and preps your cape for the taxidermist. This is the best experience you have ever had hunting and now the question comes of “what sort of tip should I give” and “who all gets a tip”?
Having hunted and fished all over the world for the past 30 years as well as having done my share of guiding both hunters and fisherman, I get this question frequently at camps. Most people have no idea of what is an appropriate tip.
T.I.P.S. is an acronym for “To Insure Prompt Service” and most people consider it more in the food service business than situations like mentioned above. However, good guides and staff at camp can make or break your excursion and the tip should be taken very seriously.
Let’s break down this elk hunting experience mentioned above to help you understand it a bit. You paid a lot of money for the hunt, but a good percentage of that went to the landowner for a lease to get you into this pristine hunting property. The outfitter and guides do a lot of work to make sure that your camp is extremely comfortable. The guide had you in elk each and every day and it was more like hunting in a zoo than stumbling around fifty thousand acres hoping to find elk. This is likely because the guide does a lot of homework on his own time to insure you are in elk each and every day. Your guide is usually up long before you are and getting the gear ready for the day or he may have even been out at night listening for bugles to make sure you were in the elk first thing in the morning. The camp cook was up several hours before you were even thinking of rising and making sure you had hot coffee and a good breakfast before you left for the day. He or she also probably prepared you a lunch for the day. Once you harvested your bull, you got years of experience at taking high quality field photos to cherish this memory for life. Your guide also got your animal broken down and ready for the butcher, as well as prepped it for the taxidermist. Your guide was likely getting paid somewhere between $150-$300 a day and the cook probably around $150-$200 a day. So, they aren’t doing this to get rich, but more because they love the lifestyle and meeting new people just like you. The reward for that is their tip. A tip should be between 10 percent and 20 percent of the cost of the trip. Ten percent should be an absolute minimum on your trip unless you had an absolutely horrible experience from start to finish and then that is up to you. The outfitter/guide can’t control the animals or fish and your tip should not reflect your success alone. If everything that is within their control is the very best it could be, they should creep up that tip scale towards the top. If everything within their control is top notch and the trip was a success and beyond your wildest dreams, they should have definitely earned that 20 percent bracket.
How do you go about breaking that tip down between the guide or guides, cook, etc? I will often talk with the outfitter himself to see how their tip structure is set up within the company. It varies from operation to operation, so this is good information to know. If everyone splits tips, it makes it easy. Put your 20 percent in an envelope and hand it to the outfitter to distribute. If that’s not the case, you spend the majority of your time with the guide and he will get a good majority of the tip. Consider your cook and staff like you would while eating out. You would tip at breakfast lunch and dinner if you were eating out, so plan to do the same here. If I decided that this specific hunt was worthy of a 20 percent tip or $3,000 total, I would likely give the cook/staff between $500 and $750 and the remainder to the guide.
Costs of landowner vouchers shouldn’t be included in this tipping process for a total. An example of this would be that you didn’t draw this elk tag and had to spend an additional $5,000 for the tag. You would tip based on the $15,000 cost of the trip and not the $20,000 total that was spent.
This is a good rule of thumb in today’s market. Your guide doesn’t need another knife or your old worn out backpack. He likely lives off of tips and if you are planning on returning for a future trip, a good tip will be rewarded greatly. If you are a poor tipper and a jerk throughout the week, chances are that you might just do some very long walks where nobody has ever seen an animal.
Day trips for fishing or bird hunting should be treated the same. These guides/outfitters won’t be doing as much for you, but the cost of the trip is much less as well. Always take care of your guides and outfitters. They will take good care of you.