You’ve done it! You’ve finally booked the trip of a lifetime . . . Chasing Eiders and Harlequins off the Aleutian Islands, or a mixed bag massacre in Corpus Cristi . . . Your mind is probably racing as you begin to imagine what the hunt will be like.
Here are a few things to keep in mind . . . Some are expectations for the hunt, others are open ended items you should discuss with your outfitter before arrival to make sure everyone is on the same page . . .
Rules – You outfitter will have rules. Every good one does. No shooting while seated. No waders in the house. Don’t call the dog while in the field.
Some will have these typed up as part of an agreement packet you sign your first day . . . Others may have them more loosely defined. It’s worth being prepared for when you arrive, as he is who you’ve chosen to deliver the experience of your dreams. A few well-intended rules is not really that big of a deal . . . Just be ready for them when you arrive . . .
Different shooting conditions – I’ll never forget my first Arkansas hunt. I grew up shooting divers out of boats in South Florida . . . Sure, I’d heard of pit blinds, but down south we call those “gator traps” and you’d need to be crazy to use one . . . So I was a bit thrown when we sat down in a gigantic metal coffin barely eye level with the flooded rice. Not that it was an issue, mind you, but I really had no frame of reference for the idea that I would be aiming “up” at even the lowest flying ducks.
Hunting sea ducks will bring waves and high winds . . . Pit blinds and elevated blinds and standing to shoot and sitting to shoot . . . Be flexible and attentive, because once the birds begin to show, they’re still ducks and you’re still holding the gun.
Not calling your own shots – As a guide myself, this is one of the harder things to remember . . . Your guide will call the shots. He may miss a bird periodically while looking the other way; that’s okay . . . This is about safety and his job to give you the best experience possible . . .
Elements – The weather. No respectable outfitter will ever use the weather as an excuse . . . But, truth be told, this has as much to do with the success of a hunt as almost any other variable.
Lack of water, too much water, wind shifts, cold fronts, unseasonable warmth, snow, ice, sun . . . Every day is an educated guess as to what situation will give you the best opportunities, given the weather (and forecast) . . . Much like meteorologists, we’re not perfect. However, most outfitters will have a plan to deal with whatever hand Mother Nature has dealt. Just be prepared to roll with the punches as they come up . . .
Other questions to check with your guide or outfitter on:
Do you clean the birds, or offer this as a service? I’ve seen three scenarios play out with regards to this question – 1) bird cleaning is part of the package, 2) bird cleaning is an added expense (usually a couple of dollars per bird), or 3) you clean your own birds. In the instances where #3 have risen, it’s because of a previous bad experience a client had experienced with customs and importing his harvest. In all scenarios, simply ask up front and set the expectation.
This also leads into questions about bird transport . . . Does the lodge offer shipping as a service? Is it an additional cost? Or do you need to bring your own coolers? For a trip across the country, obviously you will need a way to get your trophys and meat home . . . Your outfitter has dealt with this a million times . . . He will have a method they typically use or recommend . . .
Ask about the shooting scenarios . . . When I have hunted with an elderly or young member of my party, I’ve learned to inquire about logistics for getting into the blind . . . Will my grandfather need to stand to shoot, or is there a scenario where he could remain seated . . . My son is 10, will he be able to see out of the blind? Things like this can avoid some tense moments once you’ve arrived at the lodge. Most outfitters have plenty of things they can do to mitigate for these types of scenarios, but they don’t know to expect them until you ask . . .
I’m sure I’m missing a few, but often the questions I’ve listed here will open the door for others to surface. Ensuring you and your outfitter are on the same page is paramount to ensuring a successful trip before the first gun is loaded.
Make no mistake, you are in for the trip of a lifetime, with memories that will far outnumber any wall mounts you may take. Enjoy the journey, the sights, the sounds, the smells and camaraderie . . .