So, You Want To Hire A Guide…
The 2017/18 Maine waterfowl season has now concluded. This is the time of year we receive many phone calls and emails inquiring about our guiding services. Choosing the right guide or outfitter for your next adventure is critical. A good guide can help you make memories that you will talk about for a lifetime. However, you will also create memories with a bad guide, only your “blood will boil” when you think of your horrible experience you had with the wrong guide.
While on the water with our clients, I hear many stories about their experiences with other guides. Some are really good while many are downright miserable. As a guide and owner of an outfitting company, I thought I would offer some advice on what to ask a prospective guide or outfitter before booking your next trip. Perhaps I can help you ask the right questions so you can feel comfortable that you made the right decision upon booking a trip. Some of these questions will seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many folks fail to ask the most basic questions.
- Are you a full-time or part-time guide or outfitting company? Many good, full-time guides are available for hire in Maine. They tend to have more at stake if they do not offer their clients a favorable, professional experience. They will not be in business very long if they consistently fail to offer a positive experience. There are also some good part-time guides out there but they normally have another, full-time profession to fall back on when they are not guiding. In general, they need to work around their other job to provide guide services.
- Are you licensed and insured for the activity I am requesting? Again, most full-time guides are invested in their activities and will have all the credentials and proper insurance for their business. However, we have found that some guides may be licensed but not insured or may not carry the proper licensure for the activity you desire. For example; A Registered Maine Guide must also possess a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s license to carry passengers for hire on tidal water. Be sure to ask this question.
- What is your guiding specialty? Although many guides are licensed to conduct any hunting or fishing activity, most good guides or outfitters will have an area that they specialize in. There are so many aspects to fishing and hunting that one simply cannot be great at all of them. This holds true of guides as well. The “jack of all trades, master of none” philosophy applies here. If you are interested in a guided Black Bear hunt in Maine, be sure to hire a guide or outfitter who specializes in those types of hunts. If you see that a particular guide advertises that they “do it all”, ask how much experience they have in the activity you are interested in. What type of gear and equipment will be used or provided? Just like a licensed plumber could likely do an electrical job for you, you probably would be better suited hiring a licensed electrician for the job.
- Does the outfitter or guide conduct themselves in a professional manner? There are lots of good outfitters out there. Simple things like returning phone calls and emails in a timely manner should be considered. Will you receive printed correspondence about your outing? Does their advertising material or website look professional? Does it include rates, services, and background information in a clear and understandable manner? Is it outdated? If the prospective company is conducting themselves professionally prior to the hunt, then it is likely that experience will carry through the entire adventure. Guiding is a business. Be sure that your guide is not only great in the field as a hunter or fisherman but can operate a professional business as well. They do not always go hand in hand.
- What should I expect on my hunting or fishing trip? Clear expectations should be the norm. Anyone guaranteeing success should be looked upon with suspicion. Your guide should be providing honest answers to your questions. Even if the answers are not exactly what you wanted to hear. Certainly hiring a guide will increase your chances of success in the field, but there are no guarantees that you will “shoot a limit”, or “bag a trophy of a lifetime” on your trip. Be cautious if you are hearing a “yes” answer to all of your questions or you are feeling like you are succumbing a sales pitch. Your guide should be explaining the reasonable expectations of your trip when dealing with them.
- Will I be receiving a confirmation and receipt for my booked outing? Be sure that the outfitter provides written documentation regarding your trip. It should include a description of the services provided, the deposit paid, and balance owed. You should pay for your outing with a credit card or check. Do not send cash to an outfitter for a deposit. Also, be wary of “cash only” deals. Most reputable outfitters accept credit cards as payment. That form of payment, along with checks are always your best bet. Oh, and on a personal note; Your outfitter should not charge you a fee for using your credit card for payment. It is the most commonly used form of payment today. You don’t pay an additional fee at Wal-Mart or Cabelas when you use your card and you shouldn’t pay a fee when you book with an outfitter. From a business prospective, it’s the cost of doing business. Its not a deal breaker for sure, but just a pet peeve for us.
- What will my trip with you include? Be sure you know exactly what your booking includes. Does it include lodging, meals, tips, licenses, daily guide fees, transportation, etc.? Like we mentioned earlier regarding expectations; Your guide or outfitter should be providing you with detailed information about your adventure. This info should be listed on the website as well. Be sure to inquire about any fees that may be added on to your trip such as game shipping costs or additional room charges.
- Can you provide me with any references? A good guide will have a reference list. Just be sure and know that he or she is not going to provide you names of anyone that has not had a positive trip with that outfitter. The list may may very well include their hunting buddies. Treat that info with more or less “a grain of salt”. However, talking with references will be helpful in understanding how the outfitter operates and what you can expect on your outing.
- Check your guide’s social media outlets. Whether we like it or not, social media is an integral part of today’s business. It is here to stay. Your outfitter should be posting up to date photos and info about their adventures for all to see. Again, this dovetails into the professionalism piece I mentioned earlier. If a business is willing to adapt to current business practices, it should be telling prospective customers that they are invested in their business. Check the date at the bottom of their website to see when it was last updated. A business should be updating it at least yearly. If the info on the social media site is stale and the website has not been updated in a few years ask the owner why. Google the guide or outfitter and look for anything out of the ordinary. Just because an outfitter info is listed on the internet, the info may not necessarily be true or warrant any merit. However, you may discover little clues you can pick up on as to how their various business are run.
This list of questions is certainly not complete. It is only to be used as a guide to get you started with your search for a prospective guide or outfitter. Be sure and ask the tough questions. A good guide will appreciate you inquiring. If you experience that funny feeling that something is just not right about an outfitter, move on. There are lots of options out there.
The 2018 Maine Professional Guide’s Association Directory has a great article about hiring a guide along with other useful information. The guide may be found in print form at various sporting shows around the country this spring and online at maineguides.org.
Whether you choose us for your next waterfowl or upland game hunt, or another outfitter, we hope you find the information in this article useful in your search for your next great adventure afield. Please do not hesitate to call or email if you have any questions about this article, or our services.