A top guide gives you insider tips on booking your dream hunt.

By: Sparky Sparkes

Booking a dream hunt can be as frustrating as spending a week with the in-laws on a week-long island vacation or trying to finish a puzzle when you are missing pieces. Although I cannot help you with your in-laws, I have put together some advice to help you put the proper puzzle pieces together to book the proper hunt.

There are many choices when looking for an outfitter to book a hunt. Referrals from friends, magazines, TV shows, the internet, Facebook, and more. The information is endless and like any other major decision in your life, you need to make sure to do your homework and avoid the pitfalls of booking the wrong hunt. There are many things to consider and questions to ask when deciding to book a dream hunt. What are my end goals? What are my expectations to achieve those goals? What is my realistic budget? How much work am I willing to put forth to achieve these goals? Is an animal on the ground my only success or does size matter? These are all factors you need to consider before you start pursuing that dream hunt.

The most important piece in this process is to be honest with yourself and look at what your goals are. Are you booking a guided hunt only to fill a tag or are you hoping to harvest the animal of your dreams? Both are valid reasons for booking but without this knowledge, an outfitter cannot help you achieve your goal. Let’s take elk for example: Do you want to harvest any elk or only a bull? Are you only interested in some magical number or the biggest bull the area has to offer? Yes, I know we all want the biggest and best, but is that your only goal? If you do not achieve this goal, will you be disappointed? Hunting used to be about the amazing experience of enjoying the great outdoors with like-minded people in pursuit of harvesting any animal to be successful. Social media has changed this by allowing us to see others amazing success instantly and it puts us in this mythical place of how easy it must be. Harvesting a trophy animal is not easy, even for the professionals. If it was easy everyone would do it.

In my life I live by a “NO EXPECTATIONS” rule. It is very hard to be disappointed if you have not set yourself up with unrealistic expectations. If you only want to harvest a 350+ bull elk, you cannot hunt where only one 350+ class bull lives. You must hunt where 350 is nice and 400 is great. Every year people draw coveted tags to pursue a monster bull elk in a unit that has harvested one 400-inch bull each of the last 5 years, ONE! Are you the ONE? Every year someone wins one major lottery for hundreds of millions of dollars, are you the one? Luck plays a pivotal role in harvesting the giants of the woods and it’s a lot like winning the lottery, which not many people will ever do. From the time you draw a tag, in all the months leading up to your hunt, there are numerous factors out of your control that will come into play. Will there be a harsh winter in that area? Will there be enough rain in the spring to produce great feed for the animals coming out of winter to make their horns and antlers flourish or will there be a drought diminishing antler growth? Will there be a major fire in the summer before you get there, pushing your trophies into another unit or burning up a lot of your hunt area? Will it be the hottest fall ever? Will the snow not come early enough to push the animals down? These are all contributing factors that are out of yours and your outfitters control.

Hundreds of thousands of people go after that 400-inch bull, 200-inch mule deer, 170-inch white tail with only a handful each year harvesting such majestic animals. If you do not reach this mark, will you be upset and consider your hunt a disappointment? Will you pass a 340 bull in an attempt to shoot that 400-inch bull on the first day? Will you pass a 270 bull on the last day because you did not get a shot at a monster, or will you shoot it because you feel that you have to harvest something? If you shoot a 330 bull (which by the way is an amazing trophy), will you still be happy? All of these things are part of managing expectations. I can tell you that you will never shoot these majestic trophies if you are not willing to pass on everything else. I recently spent 6 days hunting in Indiana and saw a few really nice bucks in the 140-150 range. Are they beautiful bucks? Yes, they are, but I will not shoot a 170 if I settle for them. I did not see a buck over 170 but I also understand they are not around every corner. If 140-150 had been my goal, then I could have achieved that level of success. In my eyes I was successful because I had a goal, managed my expectations and, enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with friends in the great outdoors.

In today’s hunting world the cost of the hunt can stop many hunters from pursuing their dream. Outfitters prices are generally based on the quality in the area, quantity in the area, and supply and demand of tags along with a few other factors. Be realistic about your budget and what you can afford to spend. Do not go looking for $8,000 hunts if you have $5,000 in your budget. Yes, you can find a good deal, but as they say in life, you usually get what you pay for! I say this because I hear all the time how someone has booked 3 different elk hunts ranging from $3,500-$5,000 every year, for last three years, and only seen a handful of elk. Never getting a shot and never harvested an elk. Why not save up for that more expensive elk hunt with a higher probability of success and go every other year or every third year? One major thing to consider when booking a dream hunt is how many clients do they run a year? Are you one of 80 guys a year they are taking out or one of 20? This is not only very important for increasing your odds of harvesting an animal, but also in the attention you will receive while on the hunt.

Finally, only you can prepare yourself for the hunt once you have booked. Your outfitter cannot make you shoot straight, or help you shoot 300 plus yards. They cannot practice shooting your bow or rifle for you. They cannot help you lose that extra 15 pounds you packed on since Christmas. They cannot hike 7 miles a day with your pack for you. They cannot help you calm down when that trophy of a lifetime is standing there for the shot. They cannot make you pay attention in the stand or blind when you are by yourself. If having your phone in the blind to check your Facebook account is more important than focusing on your hunt and surroundings around you, should you be booking a dream hunt? Hunting success is much easier to achieve if you are mentally and physically prepared for whatever dream hunt you book. Also ask your outfitter what they expect from you to prepare yourself for this opportunity. You owe it to yourself and your outfitter to be 100% ready when the opportunity presents itself.

With all the pieces sitting in front of you and the knowledge of how to put them together, it is time to add the final piece. Do you hire an outfitter or try to do a DIY (do it yourself) hunt? Make sure and grab our next issue and I will tell you how to put your final piece of the puzzle together and book your dream hunt.