For hunting guides like me, the outdoor world is our church. The towering spires of the mountains are the stonework of an ancient, timeless cathedral. Every sunrise and sunset cast upon them is as magnificent and moving as light through stained glass. The bird calls and bugling of bull elk among the trees are our calls to prayer. Hunting in these beautiful places is a raw and blissful privilege where every moment; every frosty, pine-infused breath we take; every bead of sweat dripping off the end of our noses; feels like a moment we’ve earned. For a guide, hunting is a sacred thing in which we invest every ounce of our being—and we completely understand if you don’t feel that way.
There is a difference between being a hunter and being a guide. Hunters hunt as a hobby, a grand yearly adventure that breaks up the monotony of their typically more domestic lifestyle. Guides, on the other hand, spend almost every waking moment preparing for the hunt. Being a guide is sacrificing being idle. It’s long months of early mornings and late nights. It’s climbing mountains, slogging through mud, and ripping through brush. It’s being a good teacher. It’s being an expert at everything you do, even when you have no idea what the hell you’re doing. Guiding is constant labor, trying to make sure your clients are successful—and taking the blame when they’re not. Often enough you do everything you can, get your clients as close to the game as possible, and when they miss a shot, you have to be able to accept their frustration or outrage. Most guides, though, truly find joy in taking clients out into the wilderness, showing them their “office”—the world they love.
Whether you’re an experienced hunter in need of someone to help you find a true trophy, or you’re just starting out and want to learn, a good guide can give you everything you desire. But to make the best of the experience, a client should have responsibilities as well. Nothing undermines a good hunting trip faster than an unhappy client. With just a bit of preparation, though, you can ensure the hunt you go on is an experience of a lifetime.
Do your research when you’re choosing a guided hunt. Most guides and lodges have websites and phone numbers. Contact them and learn about the hunts they offer. Don’t just pick any hunt out of a hat because it offers a chance at the species you’re after. Without research, a lot of hunters, expecting lush accommodations and gourmet meals, end up on a backcountry trip eating cans of beans in a leaky tent with a guide whose best friend is an ancient mule named Bubba. Not knowing what you are in for can be a nightmare for both a client and a guide.
Once you know what you’re getting into, prepare yourself. If you’re hunting in the mountains, get to gym months beforehand. Train, walk up hills, practice carrying a heavy pack, push yourself a bit. Your guide will take you as far as you’re willing to go, so it’s your responsibility as a client to be up for the challenge. Practice shooting with your rifle and bow. Practice on a variety of targets. Practice when you’re out of breath. Become comfortable with your weapon, so when your guide gets you your opportunity, you can uphold your half of the deal.
Finally, go into the hunt trusting that your guide is going to do the best they can to ensure your success. Don’t go in expecting it to be easy or guaranteed. The pursuit is what the hunt should be about: enjoying the adventure rather than pulling the trigger or making the kill. Wear the beating the wilderness gives you as a badge of honor and go out looking to earn your animal, not just to take it. And finally, remember that guiding isn’t easy, so no matter how successful you are on a hunt, always leave a good tip.