Guided Waterfowl Hunts: What to Expect

You’re excited to be going on a premium guided hunt, the other guys you rounded up are pumped up too. When you pay $150-$650 per gun to an outfitter you’re expecting a good chance at decoying birds, maybe you expect nothing less than a full day of fast paced shooting? I get it, I’ve been in your shoes and I know the feelings and expectations leading up to a guided duck or goose hunt.

You need to keep one thing in mind when planning a guided duck hunt…it’s called “hunting” not “killing”. A lot of hunters who travel the country and even the world going on guided waterfowl hunts understand this concept and they know what to expect. If you develop the mindset of “This is an experience, it’s time with my friends, my sons, my family…” you will be much better off. I don’t care if you hunt with the best waterfowl outfitters in the world, if you hunt enough you will have some mediocre to poor hunts.

If you’re one of those guys who expects to go on a guided duck hunt and kill a limit every time don’t even bother booking a hunt. Also, if the thought of spending a couple hundred dollars to sit in a cold hole in the middle of corn field bothers you, don’t book a guided waterfowl hunt. Lastly, if you’re going to be that guy who complains the hunt only lasted 20 minutes because the hunting is too good, DON’T BOOK A GUIDED WATERFOWL HUNT!

Look, one thing you need to keep in mind is you’re paying peanuts to go on these hunts in comparison to the costs involved in running a waterfowl outfitting business. Get on and add 20 dozen premium duck or goose decoys to your shopping cart and see how much that costs, then go knock on farmers doors and ask them how much they want for their 120 acre corn field in the heart of a major goose/duck traffic area, then multiply that by 20-50! The yearly expenses of an outfitter can easily range from $50,000 to $100,000 or more depending on the part of the country they’re in. You’d be surprised to know a lot of these outfitters barely break even and are satisfied they got to hunt and do what they love all duck season for free.

Now if you’re one of those guys who understands and respects the concept of paying an outfitter for the opportunity to hunt ducks or geese, here’s a few tips to increase your chances of having a killer guided duck or goose hunt.

1. Do your research!

Take some time to research the migration and weather patterns to determine where the majority of the birds are and what time of year is the best for hunting ducks or geese based on location. If you’re looking to hunt geese in the early season (September/October) consider booking a hunt in Canada or North Dakota. The birds haven’t been harassed in months and successful hunting should be very easy as long as your in a feed field or under plenty of traffic.

2. Choose the right waterfowl guide:

Once you’ve determined where you want to hunt and what waterfowl species you want to hunt, go to and begin your search. Read reviews, look at their pictures, pick up the phone and call them! Ask them questions like: How’s the hunting in December? (or whenever you plan on going), do you offer a re-hunt guarantee if we don’t get an opportunity to kill birds? How many years have you been an outfitter? What should I bring? Be proactive!

3. Warning signs to watch for:

Here’s a classic example: Let’s say you’re interested in hunting snow geese during the spring conservation season. No plugs, no limits it sounds like a barrel melting good time, right? You’ve seen the videos on Youtube of guys killing 200 snow geese in one day or pictures of 525 snow geese in a pile so this is what you expect on a guided snow goose hunt. Think again! I’ve personally heard outfitters tell clients they will kill hundreds of birds, order a pallet of ammo and get ready and guys race for their wallets to get their deposit in. Well, when they show up and kill 14 snow geese they are pissed!

Good outfitters will shoot you straight, if someone is stroking your expectations or idea of what you’ve seen on Youtube some red flags should be going up and you should move along.

4. Opportunity Guarantee:

I mentioned this above but I wanted to elaborate so you know what to expect. Most good outfits offer an “opportunity guarantee” which means they guarantee you opportunity or they will re-hunt you for free in the future. Listen, the last thing a guide wants to do is play spin-the-bottle with your hunting location and take the chance of having to re-hunt you for free. When an outfitter tells me they offer a re-hunt guarantee I’m confident they will be out scouting days before my hunt making sure we’re in a field or water spot where there’s plenty of duck or goose traffic.

Now let’s define “opportunity”. If you’re guide puts 5 flocks of 50-100 Canadian Geese out front at 15 yards and you and your party of 5 doesn’t kill a single bird, that’s a very clear definition of opportunity and it’s time to hit the trap range in the off season. In this case you wouldn’t be getting a free re-hunt and the 250-500 geese you shot at wont be coming back to that field anytime soon.

Then there is the unpredictable slow time of the season (which happens everywhere and at anytime) and it just happens to be during the dates you booked 8 months ago. It does happen and it sucks but most good outfitters will either call you in advance to re-book your hunt or they will take you out to give it a shot knowing they will probably have to re-hunt you in the future.

At the end of the day, it’s hunting. You can increase your chances of having a successful hunt by doing your research and going at the best time of year or by choosing the best outfitter for the job. If you’re considering duck or goose hunting on your own, hiring an outfitter for a few hunts can be an invaluable experience to learn the ropes and once you realize the investment required to do it yourself you’ll gain even more respect for waterfowl outfitters. If you’re flexible, in it for the experience and opportunity then you’ll have a good time regardless of where you go on a guided waterfowl hunt.