“To make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” is an old Southern expression that means to make something that looks pretty bad into something that looks pretty good – and the Internet savvy gurus in website development can do that. That’s why you need to really look at, talk to, and check out the references for your outfitter.
That piece of advice is especially important if the hunting trip you’re planning is your first time in visiting the area, or foreign country, because you probably don’t have enough intuitive knowledge to make a good decision on outfitters. If that’s the case, those references can make the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a financial debacle.
My expertise is in Argentina outfitters so I will use those as a basis for a 7-Step Plan that should work for other countries (including the U.S.).
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 are most likely one or several people at the club who have been. Seek them out. Ask them about the “experience,” not just the hunting. Unless you pick a really unscrupulous outfitter (didn’t do your homework), you are going find plenty of birds to shoot. Check ammo prices. For example, in Argentina most outfitters make their money from the sale of shells, and you might want to make a comparison given the number of birds you can shoot there. Ask the guys at the club how far the hunting lodge was from the airport, what were the drive times to the fields, how much shooting did they do, what was the lodge like, what was the food like, could you call or email home from the lodge to let everyone know you were okay, what was the daily routine, how were the bird boys, the guide, the host, what did they like most, what was the biggest problem with the trip? 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 in your area who has been to the place you want to hunt? Go to the web. Use Google to search for something like “Dove Shooting in Argentina.” Make a list of the top four or five websites (remember #1 could just be good Google marketing that artificially puts it to the top). Here’s a twist – now 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 marketing, but there is also a chance that they have a lot of hits because they are pretty darned good.
Now go to the website and READ about the organization – get past the pretty pictures of volumes of birds and look at pictures of the lodge. Most outfitters will tell you their location – Cordoba, Entre Rios, Santa Fe, etc. Some of these locations require that you go to Buenos Aires and catch another plane to get near the outfitter. Understand the travel requirements in terms of time and money.
Once you have narrowed your search down to three that fit, contact each one and ask for an “all inclusive” three-day hunting package with meals, lodging, transportation in country, licenses, 1,500 shells, gun rental or import and staff tips. If they don’t want to put tips in your package, ask for “suggested” tip amounts. 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 from each one, get at least 5. Good ones will have 20. Call at least 5 references for each outfitter 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.
Once you have settled on an outfitter, select your dates, get him to put you on the books, get your deposits in, and simultaneously work on getting your airfare. Use a travel professional. They can get you the best price 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? Send them your itinerary. Be proactive. Outfitters really like people who are seriously interested in their trip and want to have a good experience. It is the best advertising an outfitter can have – you saying how great everything was.
Much of what I have outlined here can be used for any hunting venue from Canada waterfowl to African big game. Following these 7 steps will help to ensure that you have a great hunting trip.
Read John’s article Argentina Wing Shooting 101 OR a Practical Guide to Volume Wing Shooting.