How to Choose a Bird Hunting Outfitter

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Here at The International Wingshooter, we aim to give you the information and tools to help you get the most from this great sport. That’s why uncle John’s advice for today has to do with how to choose a bird hunting outfitter to ensure you have the adventure of a lifetime.

I like to kid my stylist that her job is to “make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” That’s an old southern expression meaning to make something that looks pretty bad into something that looks pretty good.

With the power of the online marketing machine, good pictures and clever words go a long way toward selling someone on the positive attributes of a location, a lodge, and an outfitter. In reality, that outfitter may not begin to live up to the “silk purse” appearance they’ve created online. So you need to really look at, talk to, and check out the references an outfitter gives you.

You did ask for references, right? This is especially important if you’re visiting an area for the first time, or you’re planning to bird hunt in a foreign country.

Chances are you probably don’t have enough intuitive knowledge to make a good decision on outfitters in far-flung locations. If that’s the case, those references can make sure you have the trip of a lifetime, or avoid a financial debacle.

I know more about Argentina outfitters than any others so I will use those as a “What to do” example. The plan should work just as well for other countries, including the US, and for other hunting venues.

How to choose a bird hunting outfitter:

*The best reference is word of mouth. If you want to go dove shooting in Argentina, go to your local gun club and start with the guy who owns it. Ask him if he has ever been to Argentina and/or if he knows anyone who has. You will be surprised to find there is most likely one or even several people at the club who’ve been there and can offer valuable advice. Seek them out. Ask them about the whole experience—not just the
hunting/shooting.

Unless you pick a really unscrupulous outfitter (didn’t do your homework), you are going find plenty of birds to shoot, so that won’t be the issue. It’s usually other aspects of the trip that make or break the experience, such as did the outfitter perch you in a spot where the sun blinded you most of the time—this happens a lot with inexperienced outfitters.

For instance, in Argentina, many outfitters make their money from selling shells, and you will shoot far more than you thought you would—to both your and your outfitter’s delight. But make sure you have an idea of costs before you go, so you’re not blindsided by a huge bill at the end of the trip.Also ask other hunters how far their recommended outfitters are located from the airport, how long it took to drive out to the fields, how much shooting did they do, what was the lodge and food like, could they call or email home from the lodge to let everyone know they were okay, what was the daily routine, how did the bird boys, the guide and the host perform, what did the hunters like most about their experiences, what were the biggest problems with their trips? Make a comprehensive list of questions. People who had a good, or bad, time will wear your ear out once they get going, so don’t be afraid to ask.

*Can’t find anybody who has been to the area you wish to hunt? Go to the web. Type in what you want to do, as in “Dove Shooting in Argentina”. Make a list of the top four or five websites (remember #1 could just be good Google marketing, you need choices). Here’s a twist… retype the same search in a different way, as in “Argentina Dove Hunting”.

See how many names you get that match your first search. Again, this could be good website optimization, but there is also a chance that they’re showing up because they’ve been around a long time, they take their business seriously (including their web marketing), and they’re attracting a lot of hunters to their site which will push it up to the top of the search pages.

* Now go to the website and READ about the organization. Get past the cool pictures of birds and hunters, and look at pictures of the lodge. What kind of condition is it in? Look at the “About Us” page, what kind of track record do they have? Do you get the impression this is a professional company, or a sideline gig?Find out the outfitter’s location, and how difficult it is to reach it.

Most outfitters will be glad to give this information, and it’s important to know because in Argentina, for example, some locations require that you go to Buenos Aires and catch another plane to get near the outfitter. And you may find yourself forking over a $130 fee for this transfer. Before you say “yes” to any oufitter, make sure you understand all of the travel requirements.

* Narrow your search down to 3 or 4 choices. Then contact each one of them and ask for an “all inclusive” hunting package with meals, lodging, transportation in country, licenses, shells, gun rental or import, and tips. If they don’t want to put tips in your package, ask for “suggested” tip prices. Tips can, and often do, amount to 10% of your total package, so you are looking at $300 to $400.

* Ask for a list of references. It’s best to get at least five references from each outfitter. Don’t worry, that’s not a lot—good ones will have 20 or more. Call these references and ask them about the shooting, the food, the accommodations, the staff, the vehicles, how many times they have been on this kind of hunt, and, if more than one, how did this one rank to the other places they have been. Don’t be shy. It’s your money, spend it wisely.

* Make your choice. Once you’ve settled on an outfitter, select your dates and get him to put you on the books. Send your deposits, and simultaneously work on getting your airfare. I always urge hunters to use a travel professional for these arrangements, especially if you’re traveling outside the US. They can get you the best prices and save you a lot of hassle.

*COMMUNICATE with your outfitter. Ask questions. What is the weather going to be like, do you have laundry service, do I need waders, do I need high boots, is there any significant walking involved, how will I know you when I get to the airport, how will you recognize me?

Don’t forget to send them your itinerary. Be proactive. Outfitters really like people who are seriously interested in their trip and want to have a good experience. Giving clients a great experience is the best advertising an outfitter can have because there’s nothing as powerful as Word of Mouth recommendations from a happy client.

Much of what I’ve outlined here can be used for any hunting venue. Knowing how to choose a bird hunting outfitter, or any other outfitter for that matter, will help make sure your trip lives up to your expectations.

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