Thursday, May 7, 2009

Selecting An Outfitter, Part Three


If I say "tomato soup," you may remember your grandmother's perfect porridge, or you may recall some tasteless, curdled bowl of something from 3rd grade hot lunch.  If I say "Montana Elk Hunt," you may either remember a brief, yet exceptional time of hunting and fellowship, or you may recall a never-ending week of hell.

Happy Hunters of Lynx Creek.

Military leadership classes and college communication courses refer to these dichotomies as barriers (technically, many refer to them as filters) to communications.  When you are choosing an outfitter it is important to keep those barriers (or filters) in mind.

Before purchasing my outfitting business I did a formal five-year business plan, and followed every paragraph of the plan, except one.  That paragraph set out a set of rules hunters would follow while on my hunts.

When it came time to write the rules, I was lazy and thought, "No one wants to have a set of rules when they come elk hunting."  Additionally, no outfit I knew of had any rules.  There were contracts, payment schedules and liability releases, but nothing that brought hunter and outfitter to a "meeting of the minds."  Not following my plan and not writing the rules was a mistake that bit me in the ass on the first day of my first rifle hunt as an outfitter.

I rode into a meadow with three or four hunters.  We were headed for further points, but near the top of the meadow, 150 yards away grazed four-five to six point bulls.  We dismounted and each hunter took a poke or two.  Only one hunter hit one bull.  The bull was hit hard, but wasn't dead.  (This was from a .340 Weatherby Magnum)

It was a steep hill, so we remounted and rode within 30 feet of the bull.  As I rode past, we eyed each other and since he didn't struggle to get up, I continued the 40 yards to the tree line.  I had intended to tie up the horses and return to finish him.  Before getting to the trees, "BOOM!"  No one had had enough time to dismount, un-sheath a rifle and shoot the bull.

That was true.  No one had dismounted.  The hunter who had shot the bull couldn't wait to make a good shot.  From 40 feet, he pulled his rifle, took half-assed aim, and shot the bull in the ass.  The shot injected adrenaline, and before I had dismounted the bull jumped up and ran past me into the timber.

Coffee, cake and happy hunters in the cook tent.

It amazed me that someone would pull a John Wayne and shoot from his horse.  Luckily, the hunter was riding the one horse I owned that wouldn't buck him off after such a stunt.

Shooting the bull in the ass wasn't a news flash.  Interestingly, in his movies John Wayne never telegraphed the difficulty of shooting from a horse.  Anyone who has taken photographs from a horse knows you need a fast shutter speed to stop a horse's constant motion--even when appearing to stand still.

We eventually found the bull several hundred yards away, standing and sick, but it took a couple days for me to express to the hunter that John Wayning would not be tolerated.  That is when we had a meeting of the minds and became friends.  He returned for several more hunts over the years.

The incident forced me to write my rules.  It must be noted that if I had written the original set of rules as outlined in the business plan, it would not have included, "Do not shoot from your horse," because I felt that that was more universal than, "Don't spit into the wind."

Packing into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area along Gibson Reservoir.

Some hunters were initially put-off by the rules, but most eventually embraced them.  They realized that the rules weren't Hitler in the wilderness.  They delineated expectations that led to a meeting of the minds--good for all parties.

Barriers (or filters) to communications don't just apply to east versus west, Christian versus Muslim, NATO versus Russia, or even tasty soup versus ptomaine-like gruel, they also apply to American hunters versus American outfitters.

Many internet sites list questions you should ask potential outfitters.  It is more important for YOU to question yourself on both the questions YOU ask and the answers YOU get.  (Most outfitters have no rules)

For now, this is the last post I will make on selecting an outfitter.  Some prospective hunters may find the information "light."  Some outfitters may find my comments vis-a-vis outfitters as particularly harsh, but if more hunters and outfitters approached booking hunts in a more objective fashion (than is being done today) there would be fewer bad hunts and more successful hunters and outfitters.

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