There is nothing quite as exciting as hunting new ground in a new environment. Whether it is an out-of-state hunt or merely a hunt on the other side of your home state, the option of hiring an outfitter is becoming increasingly popular and more affordable.
Let’s face it, land and lease prices are really skyrocketing. It has made it increasingly difficult for many hunters to realize the dream of chasing mature bucks. One thing that I’ve noticed as of late is the trend of many hunters shunning the idea of paying thousands of dollars for a small lease near home — that is usually surrounded by heavy hunting pressure — and instead opting to spend as much or less on an outfitted hunt.
If you do your homework and are willing to be mobile, it is very possible to take one, two or even three outfitted hunts annually for what it would cost to lease land, plant food plots, buy stands, etc. Of course, there are some pitfalls. One of the bigger ones is not knowing what to expect when you show up in camp. A common mistake that I see people make is that they show up in camp expecting to kill a deer immediately, or they sit in a stand, don’t see deer, and then start second-guessing their guide.
I just returned from a trip to Minnesota where we hunted with Pat Gafney of RAM Outfitters. In all of the years I’ve been working at D&DH, I must say he is one of the better whitetail deer hunting guides I’ve met, because his approach is unique and very hands-off. In a nutshell, Pat strives to book hunters who don’t need a lot of baby-sitting when they’re in camp. His main goal is to provide hunters with premium-quality land teeming with mature bucks. He also makes it a point to have multiple stand sites available on each property, which allows hunters the option of moving spots if wind conditions change throughout the day. That’s it. No posh lodge (we stayed in a hotel), or curbside pickup at the tree stand. Just good land — really good land — a few food plots and easy-to-find stand locations.
If you’re thinking about booking an outfitted hunt, consider these additional keys before booking a trip:
1. A low-impact approach is crucial. Find out how many hunters are roaming the land. If the outfitter is running a dozen guys across the property week in and week out, you can pretty much guess how pressured those deer have become.
"Our strategy is simple," Gafney said. "We minimize hunting pressure. Many of these deer live to full maturity without ever having been shot at — or even seen — by a hunter. That’s the kind of low-impact approach you need to have a reasonable chance at seeing these deer during daylight."
2. Size matters. Well, it does when it comes to the amount of land an outfitter controls. Is it contiguous? If it isn’t, what’s the situation on the neighboring properties? In that regard, this might be a lot like hunting at home.
3. Dream big, but not too big. Don’t let your excitement run rampant with thoughts that you’ll kill a Booner just because you paid $2,500 for a hunt. Those deer certainly do exist on many outfitted properties, but a mature buck is still a mature buck. The outfitter who tells you the truth — and proves it with photos — is the kind of guy you want to do business with. You’re paying for the experience and the opportunity to possibly see a mature buck. You are not paying to shoot a fish in a barrel, so to speak.
A final tip: The best outfitters are a lot like the best carpenters, drywallers, masons and electricians. If they’re doing their job right, they will have plenty of references. Don’t be afraid to call those references and learn more about the quality of their work.