From The Guide’s Desk – Getting Your Money’s Worth On A Paid Hog Hunt
June 27, 2013
Thought ya’ll might like a break from the lead ban discussion. Let’s see if this one is any less controversial…
While running through my Facebook feed the other day, I saw yet another post where someone was looking for “cheap” hog hunting opportunities in California. I read through the comments/responses, and through it all ran the same old thread I’ve been seeing for years. There were a few helpful suggestions. There were a couple of guide services plugging their own operations. And there were the guys, stubbornly mired in a fantasy world, who insist that no one should pay more than $XXX for a hog hunt. Some of what I read bothered me a little bit, so I figure it’s worth sticking my two cents in on the topic.
I’ll start by saying that I haven’t done extensive research lately. I used to be pretty diligent in researching outfitters and guides, both to get some ideas on new hunting locations as well as to keep a competitive eye on the market. But I don’t live or guide in CA anymore, and my research down here in TX is really just getting started. I think that, between what I’m finding now and what I knew before, I can make some pretty solid extrapolations.
The truth is, for a quality, guided hog hunt you need to plan on paying upwards of $500 (this appears to be true no matter where you’re hunting… CA, TX, GA, SC., etc.). In most cases, you’re going to pay significantly more. I was looking at a couple of operations here in TX recently, and found that their hog hunts were running in the neighborhood of $400/day… with a two or three day minimum. A guided, weekend hunt at a nice place in SC will set you back around $900-$1200. Day hunts in the “Brush Country” area of west-central TX are showing up from $450 to $600, which is pretty much identical to what a hunter will pay in the central coast region of CA. (There are also cheaper hunts advertised, often $100-$200/day… but when you read the fine print, you find that those include “kill fees”, and even mandatory field-dressing/skinning fees.)
Are there cheaper options? Definitely. I suppose that some folks will even luck into a real deal for half that amount. It’s not really a regulated industry, so prices are entirely up to the operator. Of course, the flip side of that is that the quality of the hunt can also be entirely up to the operator, and if you didn’t pay very much in the first place, the incentive to offer real value isn’t going to be very high.
So how do you decide?
It really comes down to your expectations. What do you want to get from your hunt? What are you willing to accept? Are you out for the guaranteed kill, are you hoping to get an education, or do you just want to experience a good hunt in some beautiful country? Do you need a skilled guide who can help you with everything from finding game to skinning and butchering? What do you want in regards to accommodation?
So let’s say you have an operator who says he offers a guided hunt in CA for $450. He tells you that the pigs they kill average 200 to 300 lbs. Sounds pretty good, no?
Well, as a novice hunter you may not be aware that a 200 lb feral hog isn’t necessarily rare, but let me tell you that a 200 pounder is a really big pig in the wild. And 300 lbs? That is a true monster among feral swine. Do such hogs exist in the wild? Absolutely. But as a hunter and guide with a reasonable amount of experience, I can tell you that I’d question anyone who told you their average kill was that large.
The operative word here is “question”. Don’t be afraid to ask. Maybe the outfitter has a solid explanation. For example, if he’s running hunts inside an enclosure, a high-fence ranch, it’s entirely possible that they have a good stock of large hogs. Maybe they manage their hunters and their herd to keep a ready supply of trophy-sized animals. Or maybe they run hunts on tens of thousands of acres with a lot of pigs, and only allow the hunters to shoot really large hogs. But the only way to find out is to ask.
By asking, you’ll know if you’re about to show up and hunt inside a fence. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that… but some folks do. When I was guiding out at Native Hunt, I saw more than one client get upset when they found out that their hunt would be in an enclosure. Newsflash, people… when this happens, it isn’t the outfitter’s fault, it’s the customer’s. You’ve got to do your homework! (Native Hunt offered both high fence and free-range hunts, but unless specified otherwise by the hunter, we put them where they would find pigs.)
Asking questions is also a two-way communication. Maybe you’re not really interested in killing a 200 lb. hog, but would be perfectly happy with a 100-pounder for the luau pit. Are you opposed to hunting with dogs? Are you able to hump up and down steep canyons? You give the guide a chance to find out what you want, and you get to find out what the guide expects.
So that’s the $450 guided hunt. What about these cheap hunts you hear about for $250 – $300/day?
To be honest, there aren’t that many places doing this anymore, but when you can find them it can be a really great opportunity… for a great hunt or a flat-out bust. For this kind of money, you should know you’ll get a bare bones hunt with minimal extras. Usually, at this price you’re getting access to someone’s property or lease. You won’t be guided (although some outfits, like Bryson Hesperia, will give you a ton of good intel if you ask), and you won’t have anyone packing your game out or processing it for you. This can be a good opportunity for an experienced hunter, but you still need to do the homework. What are success rates? Is there a time of year that’s better than others? If you don’t do some serious homework on this kind of hunt, you are setting yourself up for frustration.
Doing your homework is just as important when you’re looking at the higher-priced hunts. In fact, it might even be more important. Just because you’re paying a lot, doesn’t mean you’ll get a lot. I’ve seen hunts advertised at $1000 for a weekend where the hunters stay in run-down farm buildings and have to provide their own food. The “guided hunt” consists of taking the group of six to eight hunters out to tree stands and bait piles, and leaving them there for a few hours. In other cases, I’ve seen weekend hunts for $650 where the hunters stay in a beautiful lodge with quality meals provided and the guiding is two hunters per guide. Either way can be perfectly fine, as long as you know what to expect. The only way to find out is to ask.
So what does this all boil down to?
Basically this… the days of the cheap hog hunt are pretty much over. Not only that, but prices are going up. Even in states like TX where hogs have become such a nuisance that the state has pulled out all the stops to reduce them, landowners and hunt operators are capitalizing on the popularity of hog hunting. There are still bargains available, but never has caveat emptor meant more than it does today. Remember that whenever a deal seems too good to be true… well, you know the rest.
At risk of redundancy (I know I’ve written about this many times before), I’ll offer these recommendations for getting the most out of your hunting dollar:
- 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.
The bottom line is that you are responsible for ensuring that your hunting experience is everything you want it to be. It’s true that part of hunting is the unexpected twists of nature (human and wild), and that sometimes stuff happens beyond your control. But the more proactive you can be, the more likely you are to have the experience and success you’re looking for.