Do your research on outfitters

By JEFF NORTH,

From March through September, every waking moment is focused on work, work, and more work. On weekends, dawn hasn’t made her first little crack as the headlights illuminate the guardrails of the dam we cross each morning. The lake resembles glass, as the pontoon boats are still nestled within the boundaries of multiple boathouses. After a 15-hour day, those same headlights are needed to get back home. Remnants of lights, from both stern and bow, can be detected as the last of the partiers head in from the lake. Fading music can sometimes be heard over the hum of the gumbo-laden tires from our muddy pickups. A quick sandwich, a shower, and a short nap, and the routine is repeated. There is an agenda, however, for this relentless effort.

Hunting out west is expensive. My extracurricular activities during summer is entirely based on collecting coins to fund my excursions to Kansas, New Mexico, Montana, and the like. Sure, hunting locally has its rewards, but there is something about the experience of the mountain, the prairie, and the canyon, that offers more to those of us that have this embedded desire. All summer long, the thought of snow-capped peaks, gravel-bedded streams, the bugle from the bull, and the release of the arrow, keep me focused and alive. I can miss the summer party, for my time will come with the frost and the north wind.

Anticipation of the hunt grows just as the crop does. As cotton begins to open, and corn shucks dry, so is the knowing that the trek west is nearing. You must also realize that as some crops don’t yield what we are hoping for, the same applies to some hunting experiences. I’ll share two scenarios from just a few weeks ago. We rolled into the Kansas lodge with high hopes. The whitetail rut was peaking, and the weather was perfect. Our outfitter had been sending pictures of mega-bucks since late August. He described the fresh farms we would be hunting where no man had sat. Smoking hot rubs and fresh scrapes lined the edges of harvested corn and soybean fields. Bows were tuned and broadheads were sharp. Alas though, something was amiss.

Deer sightings were few and far between. The telltale sign of numerous boot tracks in and out of our hunting areas revealed we weren’t the first to these blinds and sets. Candy wrappers were found at the base of the stands. Bow hooks and video arms had been left screwed into trunks and limbs from archers of the past. One of our group had to purchase a couple of extra stands just to have a place to sit. The rat was beginning to smell. Wait, there is more to come.

When one of the “celebrity” television hunters came into camp, our outfitter had bigger and better plans. He had to leave with him for opening day in another state and leave us on our own. Our stands were miles apart and with only one truck, it was tough getting to and from areas to make it on time. Add to that, someone had to stand in the dark for an hour or so after the evening hunt waiting for their ride. It was turning into a debacle. Let’s move forward to another hunt one week later with a different outfitter.

Each hunter was briefed on where they would be hunting and what type of stand they would guard. Guides were well informed and descriptions of bucks that were in these areas were revealed. Guides were on time for pick up in the mornings and very accommodating. While hunters were on stand, other areas were being scouted and adjustments were made if there was need. It was a team effort. Our input was welcome, and we moved and tried different strategies if the situation was warranted. Don’t get me wrong, it is still deer hunting and there are no guarantees. These are wild, mid-western bucks and they are sharp as they come. You have to be on your “A” game to close the deal when an opportunity presents itself. It sure helps though, when the outfitter has done all he can to offer a good experience. As I stated though, it’s still hunting.

I was having a pretty tough hunt. I was seeing some bucks but nothing that floated my boat. On the other hand, many other hunters had been having wonderful success and a couple of bruisers had been taken. Every hunter in camp was friendly and congratulated each other on their successes. Each day, one or two more tags were punched. My guide and I kept grinding it out. After a few days, I was still struggling to see what I was looking for. I could sense the frustration of my guide, but I knew he was doing all he could to help me. It was hunting at it’s best, and that’s what I came for, the experience.

I had been sitting for about four hours on the next to the last morning of my hunt when I noticed my guide heading my way at a high rate of speed. He drove right up to me and said, “hop in, I’ve found a good one.” We drove about 15 miles and of course what are the chances the buck was still where he last saw him? As we figured, he wasn’t there so we walked to a high vantage point to sit and glass. I still can’t believe what happened next.

We spotted what we thought was a deer bedded in a small plum thicket. Our suspicions were confirmed when a doe stood up and then laid back down. Long story long, my guide tickled his rattling horns together to see if a buck was with her. It was a long shot across a canyon but with a solid rest I made the grade on a big ole chocolate horned bruiser. High fives and our smiles told it all. It wasn’t easy but it was an awesome experience that I will always remember.

You really must to do your homework when booking a trip of a lifetime. These hunts aren’t cheap, and you can have a bad experience if you’re not careful. I can’t tell you how many times preferential treatment has been given to hunting “stars.” Do your research and talk to as many people as you can regarding an outfitter. Better yet, take to heart the testimonials of friends that have hunted there before you and not just what is on a website or some successful hunter’s blog. If the camp is full of big shots and money, I’d beware. I’m sure you can see where I’m coming from. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.

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