With more waterfowlers looking to book hunts in the Lower 48, it could be a very lucrative season for guides in the U.S. But that could also open the door to fly-by-night operations interested in lining their pockets. Most outfitters are reputable. Some aren’t so you’ll need to be on the lookout for guides who aren’t playing by the rules this fall.
If you’re going to hunt with an outfitter this year, particularly a new one you don’t have a relationship with, follow these tips so you know what to watch out for.
1. Review the Camp
The first thing I look for now in a new duck camp is cleanliness. If a guide takes the time to keep his or her lodging clean, it’s a good indicator they play by the rules. Untagged birds in piles is a big no-no. You have to be able to identify which birds are yours at all times, and they cannot leave your possession without being tagged.
Take a look at the butchering shack (if there is one) to see how they are processing birds. Some outfits will clean birds for you, and there are a variety of laws that must be followed. Make sure you are properly filling out tags before handing the birds over to your guide for processing, and that they return the birds to you tagged and with a wing or the head attached for identification purposes. Take all your birds home. Or donate them to someone directly. Don’t leave this process in the hands of the guide.
2. Ask Game Wardens (and Guides) Why You’re Constantly Getting Checked
In some lower 48 states, hunters are checked more often. If you’re with an outfitter and get checked by a warden once, no big deal. More than that, and I would grow suspicious, especially if it’s the same warden, because that likely means he or she is watching that outfitter closely for a reason.
If you are checked multiple times during a trip, you should absolutely question the warden as to why. Also, ask your outfitter and other guides why they think it’s happening. If there’s any indication that something isn’t on the up and up, politely leave camp. I know you have paid good money to hunt, but losing a little cash now far outweighs being fined, or worse, getting caught up in a federal investigation.
3. Check Out Your Guide’s Truck
Most duck guides are going to have a messy truck with Grizzly tins and a few crushed up Busch Light cans in the bed. That’s no problem. But if the truck bed looks like a ball pit of beer cans, be wary. Anyone who would openly flaunt that they’re drinking a 30-pack every day probably isn’t averse to shooting a few geese over the limit.
If you’re ever in the same field as another group of hunters with an outfitter, that’s not normal. Or, if an outfitter sets up on a treeline in an adjacent field to another group of hunters, he or she is 100 percent edge hunting. That means they couldn’t get in the good field and are trying to kill ducks and geese either before they get to the feed or are hoping to shoot swing birds, which are circling the good field. It’s not illegal, but it is a bush league way to hunt. If an outfitter is willing to hunt that way, bending the law isn’t too far of a stretch.
4. Avoid Guides Who Have to Kill Them ALL
There are competitive outfitters who want to get clients on birds consistently, and then there are full-blown blood-lust guides who have to get their limit every time. Most experienced guides will stop short of a limit by a few birds in case there are any ducks or geese the dog missed.
If a guide is all-consumed with killing, walk away. First of all, it’s not a fun way to hunt. I’ve been with several outfitters who run clients to the “hot blind” and try and get limits filled as fast as possible. That’s an annoying and pressure-filled way to spend a morning. Also, if a guide is always out for blood, he or she is more likely compelled to break game laws in order to get it done.
5. If It Gets Bad, Just Leave
If you don’t have the luxury of an intermediary between yourself and the outfitter, just make an excuse. A little white lie is fine if your guide is a criminal. Don’t ask for your money back, just take the financial hit and head home. But DO report what you’ve seen to the state or provincial game agency. The fewer criminals out there, the better it is for the birds and our sport, and your information will only help put a crooked guide out of business for good.
For ALASKA waterfowl hunters
contact the Waterfowl Program at 907-267-2159. (NOTE) - ADF&G does not recommend
or vouch for any specific guides or businesses.
OUT OF STATE HUNTERS, FISHERMEN & OUTDOOR ENTHUSIASTS; Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, there could be limitations for OUT of STATE hunters, fishermen and other outdoor enthusiasts to include a 14-day quarantine requirement or negative COVID-19 testing alternative. Please check with the State's Department of Natural Resources BEFORE you travel or apply for the 2020 Fall Hunts.
As OUR COUNTRY REOPENS AGAIN (from the COVID-19 pandemic) and continue to enjoy outdoor activities, ALL outdoor enthusiasts (man, woman, child) should follow the guidelines set by nps.gov. These guidelines include; social distancing, the Leave No Trace principles, including pack-in and pack-out, to keep outdoor spaces safe and healthy.