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 Booking a bargain hunt: Stretching your dollar

Our best advice is to book the best hunt you can afford. If an outfitter or a rancher has produced a long record of high success on trophy-class animals, your chances are excellent of coming home with a wall-hanger. But sometimes such a hunt is more than many hunters can afford, especially if the hunting is physically easy, the accommodations and meals are superb, there's a good chance of putting an animal in the record books, and you can simply buy a hunting license without worrying about drawing a tag.

When a hunt is priced below the prevailing market rate, it's wise to consider the reasons because sometimes a bargain hunt can turn out to be no bargain at all. Yet often a lower priced hunt can be trip of a lifetime, an exceptional value. Every year we have many customers who take great animals on bargain hunts.

Hunts.Net Customer Curtis Kelstrom with his Wyoming elk, taken on a do-it-yourself hunt. Click on photo for larger image.

If a hunt is less expensive than similar hunts, there is a reason. Perhaps the hunting is fantastic, but you have to draw a permit in a low-odds lottery, so the outfitter has to keep his price low to attract hunters. Or maybe the outfitter does not have a long record that you can use to gauge your likelihood of filling your tag. Maybe the trophy size is not big enough to attract the well-heeled hunter. Or perhaps the trophy size is fine, but the hunting is physically difficult or the game numbers low enough that hunter success is spotty. Maybe the outfitter is willing to fill a spot at a discount because he has had a cancellation. Many outfitters and ranchers allow bowhunters and muzzleloader hunters to hunt at a fraction of the rifle price.

Lisa and CJ Park with Lisa's 2008 buck that she took on a self-guided hunt on a private ranch in northern Utah. Click on photo for larger image.

You must consider many factors when trying to stretch your dollar on a hunting trip. How many extra or hidden costs can you expect? How believable is the rancher or outfitter? Is the potential great enough and the hunt inexpensive enough that you consider it worth a try?

A hunt with a new outfitter or a rancher who has not yet proved himself is always a gamble. When a reputable long-time outfitter offers a new hunt or gets a new lease or area, there's usually less risk. That's because the reputable outfitter can usually be trusted to tell you the truth and to provide everything he promises, and he also has the ability to foresee and prevent or deal with problems that might crop up. A new outfitter or rancher might turn out to be wonderful, but he also might exaggerate and make promises that he won't or can't keep. A new outfitter typically will have some organizational and planning problems even if he's of good character.

It is impossible to know for certain that any hunting trip will be successful or that any outfitter or rancher will perform as promised or that you will do as well as expected. This is true of any hunt, even one that has consistently produced for years, but it is more likely with unproven hunting trips.

Al LaRocco, right, got this beautiful Boone and Crockett record-book bull moose on a do-it-yourself hunt. Click on photo for larger image.

Still, the best bargains are usually new hunts. For example, when a state game department opens up an area that has been closed to hunting for several years, the trophy hunting can be excellent. Or when a good outfitter picks up a lease he has been trying to get, he sometimes has to offer a reduced price to get bookings late in the year. Some outfitters like to keep prices low because they like the security of having their hunts booked up, and they're always looking for new opportunities to provide good hunting for their working-class clientele.

NM list

You can look for several things that can improve your chances of finding a great hunt at a great price. It's always wise to steer away from outfitters who make outlandish claims. Hunt providers who decline to make any commitments at all also should be avoided. Private-land hunts usually are more successful than hunts on public land, but be sure the outfitter has exclusive hunting rights and won't be competing against the landowner's family and friends.

Don't go on a bargain hunt if you have unrealistic expectations. And be prepared to be flexible during a trip. Also, you should be assertive in seeing that the hunt is run properly. Be prepared to take charge. For example, a friend of mine insisted that his outfitter call for permission to hunt a field where they were seeing bucks every day. The outfitter resisted, but my friend persisted. The call was made, and my friend killed a beautiful buck the following day. He left a nice tip for the rancher and the outfitter.

Randy McHugh got this great whitetail hunting on his own in Kansas. We have a couple of places where you can book a self-guided or semi-guided hunt for Kansas whitetails. Click on photo for larger image.

If a problem crops up during a hunt, get your feelings out in the open immediately and try to get the hunt provider to solve the problem. Sometimes a hunter will keep his concerns to himself, thinking that he will be treated poorly if he complains. This is seldom the case because almost all outfitters want their customers to be happy and will do whatever is reasonable to satisfy them. Yet if you wait until the trip is over to make your complaints known, it is almost surely too late to do anything about them. You're almost always better off discussing your concerns while there is still time to make adjustments. You can show the outfitter that you're reasonable, friendly and positive while asserting your right to have the best hunting trip possible.

We at Hunts.Net prefer that our customers book hunts that have proven successful over several years. We also prefer hunts that we have experienced ourselves or hunts that other customers of ours have enjoyed. Still, we keep our eyes open for promising hunting new opportunities and bargains.