So, do you need a guide to go hunting? Not usually is probably the best answer but there are situations that might be worth considering when answering this question. Choosing to hunt with a guide or not is a big decision when planning a hunt. Obviously this is going to add a major cost to any hunting trip, but there are a number of other factors that you should consider when making this decision. We are going to cover five different topics in this article.
- New to Hunting in general
- New species
- New style of hunting
- Special opportunity for an exceptional animal or very hard to acquire species
- Required to hunt with a guide
Are you new to hunting?
The first topic is if you are new to hunting, now the guide can simply increase your odds of success whether it be because they have years of experience or it may be because the hunt they are hosting takes place on some sort of secluded area or private land that can increase your odds of success because there is a higher density of animals. Now at face value this can be fantastic and may be the only goal that you currently have, but if you believe that at some time you may be interested in hunting Do-it-yourself, then investing in a guide can be step towards this goal, as there are many different styles of hunting that you can learn on a guided hunt that could be worth more than simply taking an animal. Whether it be glassing, spot and stalk, stand placement or many other different things that will help you in becoming an overall better hunter, let alone it will definitely increase your odds of success as well which is always nice.
Are you hunting an animal you have never hunted before?
The second reason you may consider getting a guide for an upcoming hunt would be that it is a new species or new ecosystem that you will be hunting and again to hedge your bet, whether this be a bucket list hunt, or you are just getting started in what you hope will be many adventures with a certain species as the focus of the hunt. For example, maybe you have been living on the east coast or the midwest and you have become a truly exceptional whitetail hunter, you know how to set up a property from food plots, to established bedding area, stand placement, and all of the details that can really make a property shine when it comes to whitetail hunting. All of this is great, but it doesn’t mean that you will have the same luck when heading out west for your first elk hunt. It would be like a westerner coming into your county, leasing a patch of ground site unseen, setting up a treestand after a couple hours of being there and expecting to be successful on a big buck. Could it happen, possibly depending on where you are in the country, is it likely not particularly. Hunting elk is very different, and like whitetails, depending on the time of year you are planning on hunting the styles will change dramatically from calling, to spot and stalk, and long hours glassing. A guide will not only know how to hunt, but they will know where to hunt, they will know how to field judge the species. If you have never done this before it may be a good idea to consider a guide to increase your odds of success.
Is this a new style of hunting to you?
The third question we will answer regarding the question of do you need a guide to go hunting is maybe you are going to be experiencing a new style of hunting and investing in a teacher or guide is an investment worth considering to hedge your bet and get the most out of the time and money you will be spending either way when committing to a hunt. Examples like this could be similar to the example we gave in topic two. As you research the species you are attempting to hunt, and you begin to believe that the folks who are successful year in and year out are hunting in a method that you are unfamiliar with then getting a guide is worth considering if having a successful hunt includes taking an animal for you. Another example would be a seasoned elk hunter, deciding that he or she would like to take a Boone & Crockett qualifying Roosevelt elk. This would require that they be hunting west of Interstate 5 in the far western states ie; Washington, Oregon, or California or possibly on a draw hunt in Alaska, and if you were considering a hunt in British Columbia but this would already require a guide for other reasons will go into later in the article. So let’s just focus on the hunts that are based in the lower 48. If you have never visited the coastal forests of the pacific northwest, these are very likely to be much different than any terrain you have seen before. These dense patches of timber with heavy ground cover is where these elk call home,and your normal spot and stalk, and glassing, and well most any of your standard Rocky Mountain Elk tactics will not be very productive in this environment. We could have used lots of examples be it Moose in Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont, or a mule deer hunter from out west headed to Iowa for the first time. Investing in a guide can really shorten the learning curve when taking on a new species, and even if the end goal is to have a successful hunt on your own at some point at a minimum with some investment in your learning you will be off and running much sooner with the help of a guide at least for your initial trip focusing on that species.
Is this your only chance at this animal?
The fourth topic we will discuss is a special opportunity for an exceptional animal or a rare species to hunt. There are a number of applications across the country that I like to refer to as “unicorn tags” meaning that are almost mythical in their existence. Some of these hunts even with 20+ years worth of applying will leave you with less than a 1% chance of drawing. The reason often is because of some incredibly managed populations that have an above average age class of animal residing on the unit and a track record of producing some giants each year. Examples of this would be places like the Arizona Strip in northern Arizona or the Henry Mountains of Utah for mule deer, or maybe it’s the San Juan in Utah and Units 9 and 10 in Arizona for Elk, whatever it may be these are incredible destinations and to not double down on your luck and invest in a guide that has a proven track record would be a shame in these situations as you are likely not to have a chance at least in that state again given how hard the tags are to come by. The other scenario where this should be considered would be in the instance that you have drawn a by definition once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Many states out west have opportunities be it for Bighorn sheep, Moose, Mountain goat, or Bison that if you are successful in drawing these very difficult to draw permits then it may be the only time you are allowed to hunt them, not because of luck, but simply that once you have been selected to hunt, even if you are unsuccessful you are no longer allowed to apply for them ever again. These are in every way a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and again to not double down on your luck and invest in a guide that can increase your odds of success, and help to take not only a representation, but hopefully an above average representation being that it will be the only time you get to hunt that species maybe in your life, but definitely in that particular state.
State law may require a guide?
The last topic we will cover is that there are some situations that require a guide because of different state laws or provincial laws. For example it is illegal to hunt Dall Sheep, Mountain Goat, and Brown/Grizzly bear in Alaska unless you are accompanied by a licensed guide or a next of kin relative. If these species ever hit your radar or climb your bucket list then there is almost no go around and for most of us, as we do not have family residing in Alaska, a guided hunt is the only way it will be possible. Another example that hits a little closer to home is that nonresidents are not allowed to hunt in designated wilderness areas of Wyoming. Now if you have a friend in Wyoming that will hunt with you, then you may be able to have him declare himself to the Wyoming game and fish as your “guide” and you can now access these areas of the state legally, but there is no way to plan an unaccompanied hunt into Wyoming’s designated wilderness areas without meeting certain criteria that are set by state law. Much of your big game hunting in Canada is like this as well, for nonresident aliens, and sometimes even Canadian residents from other provinces.
Certain times it is wise to have a good guide.
To conclude and to reiterate again, do you “need” a guide to go hunting? The answer is again no, not in many situations when it comes to legality, we live in America and we are allowed to simply get a hunting license and head into the woods each year, it really is an amazing story of hunting history, and the United States has one of the best in world, making hunting available to anyone who wished to participate. This may sound silly, but before the United States, this truly was not the case in Europe and continued to not be the case for many generations, some would say it still does not exist. So as we truly dive into coming to a conclusion it would depend on how you would describe your personal “need” if any of these topics hits too close to home for one reason or the other, you may be the best hunter in the world, but given a certain situation investing in a guide might be worth a second look, and prove to be the difference having a successful hunt, or a hard lesson learned.