July 27, 2016
Oh, look! I have a blog! I should write something…
On a Facebook page I follow, I saw a post about a guy in California who booked a hunt with an outfitter he found on Craig’s List. The outfitter had a website that listed references and other realistic information, but when the time came to hunt… you guessed it… a no-show. Not only did the guide not show up, but he took the hunter’s deposit with him into the ether.
Not long after the post appeared, a small gaggle of “me too” posts followed. This ersatz guide did pretty well for himself… as long as he can avoid some really pissed off hunters.
This should never happen, but it does… every season, and especially in the last minutes before a season opens. Folks are desperate to find good ground. Time slipped away, and suddenly the opener is looming. Whatever the reason, they start grinding through the usual routes to find a guide. Of course, the reputable guides are generally booked well in advance, or their prices are set a little high. The search gets wider, and before long, a Craig’s List posting, or maybe an ad in the local paper shows up. A couple of phone calls or emails get exchanged, a plan gets made, and the deal is done.
Often, it goes well. The guide is maybe new to the business, or maybe it’s just someone who has a good hunting opportunity and wants to make a few bucks on it. The hunter has rolled the dice and come up a winner.
But sometimes, it doesn’t go well at all. In the worst case, the hunter gets stood up and the crook absconds with deposit money. In some cases, the hunter finds himself facing trespass charges because an unscrupulous outfitter has dropped him on someone else’s property. Other cases include blatant misrepresentation… such as how much property is actually available (10 acres instead of 100) or even the actual presence of game (crawling with sign turns out to be an old game trail). The “comfortable lodging” turns out to be an old chicken coop. The “hearty meals provided” are snack crackers for lunch, and MREs at dinner. And so on… I’ve heard all of these things from jilted hunters.
It seems odd to me that, for all the distrust and skepticism people demonstrate in daily life, hunters so often fail to do a little due diligence prior to paying someone to take them hunting. Caveat emptor, folks!
When the fellow on Facebook posted his sad tale, I quickly jumped to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s registry of hunting and fishing guides. In seconds, I found that the alleged guide was not listed in the directory. That would have been my first move, and what I found would have been a significant red flag.
Apparently, the fake guide had a website too. It listed “references”, and provided some other good-looking information. When I asked on Facebook if the victim had actually contacted the references, I never got an answer. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that he did not call. The presence of references on the website was enough to give the appearance of propriety.
Point is, I can see how someone would find themselves in this situation, but I also believe it’s 98% avoidable. I’ve written a time or two in various places (like here)about how to select a guide. However, to break it down to a bullet list:
- Define your expectations clearly before you ever contact an outfitter or guide. You need to know what you want before you can tell someone else.
- Communicate these expectations to the outfitter or guide. Don’t be afraid to be specific about what you’re hoping to get for your money. You don’t have to be a jerk, but be upfront and honest.
- Be completely clear about what you will accept, and what you will not (e.g. high fence, hounds, road hunting, etc.).
- Be prepared to be flexible. These are wild animals. They don’t always do what the guide expects them to do. Sometimes you have to be willing to adjust if you want success.
- Verify what is included in the price of the hunt (guides, accommodation, food, skinning/field dressing, etc.). The more you pay, the more important this is. You may find that what one outfitter offers for $1200 can be had from another at half that price.
- Ask about success rates. Guided hog hunts usually have high success rates, but if anyone advertises 100%, then question them. Also note that some outfitters advertise “shot opportunity” instead of actual success. Be sure you understand and agree about the definition of “shot opportunity” before you book the hunt.
- Ask for referrals AND THEN CALL THEM. (Be sure to ask for successful as well as unsuccessful referrals.)
- Oh… and ask about tips. The outfitter may hedge, but it’s always good to feel out the expectation.
You’d think it would go without saying, but you have to do your homework.