As we all are awaiting anxiously the results of the 2020 Minnesota Bear Lottery, it has many of those who are anticipating a tag starting to formulate a plan. One main question being, to hire a guide or not? As a licensed Master Bear Guide, we receive calls all throughout the year of people inquiring about Bear Hunting in Minnesota. As many of us know, Minnesota Bear Permits are issued by lottery only although there is a large portion of the state that is “no-quota” which allows you to purchase a tag over the counter. A majority of calls are from those who understand our points system and have started to accumulate points. However, we get several calls from those who are not familiar with it, they just know they want to do it. I, as a guide, not only have an obligation but I hold the privilege of informing and educating these people, and I am delighted with each and every call. Much like the one I received today. A gentleman from Tennessee had called, he was trying to plan a hunting trip for him and his son this fall. Having never applied for a Minnesota Bear Permit before I was more than happy to explain how the points system worked, the unfortunate circumstance that he had missed this years draw, the availability of possible surplus tags, and how Minnesota also has several well-known guides that service the “no-quota” area. It was at that time this gentleman asked the most profound question I have ever heard from a potential client. He said “Alice, what should I be looking for, and what questions should I be asking when I am looking for a guide?”
First, before I delve into that, let me first explain the benefits of hiring a bear guide. Bear hunting is a very timely and tedious task. Not necessarily the hunt itself, but the preparation and work that is involved prior to the hunt. Bear baiting opens usually two weeks before the season begins. Baiting is just that, much like cattle coming into feed on a silage pile, you are providing bear with a food source. As we enter into fall, bears begin their entry into hyperphagia. This is where they are eating continuously to build up the much-needed calories and nutrients to sustain the long winter of hibernation that lays ahead. During the early parts of season bear can become very much structured and routine animals. The sound of the wheeler driving in and back out becomes more or less a dinner bell for them. It is important to maintain a schedule in baiting, if the bears are used to you coming in at a certain time, one missed day can cost you an opportunity as they will choose to move on to the next food source. Baiting is timely, should be structured, and can be extremely costly especially if you live outside of the area you are hunting. Having a guide who lives in and knows the area in which they are baiting and locations of what could be considered “prime” bait locations, as well as a guide who is able and willing to bait regularly and often are going to increase your chances of a successful hunt. Hiring a guide takes an incredible amount of stress and expense off your back, especially if you live outside your hunting area.
So, what are some important questions to ask when you might be seeking a guide?
- Are you Licensed?
This should always be your first question. The state of Minnesota requires all those who “guide” bear for a monetary exchange to be licensed through the state. Furthermore, there may be other licensing requirements needed depending on the type of land the guide operates on. For instance, if they choose to guide on any portion of Federal land, they will also be required to obtain permits from the USDA. There are significant penalties issued to those who guide without being licensed, sadly the clients, be it known or not, also may not exempt from certain consequences either depending on the situation.
- Are You Insured?
This particular one is a little obvious. Hunting, as we all know can be very unpredictable, at times even dangerous. It is important to know that you are protected to an extent, as well as the guide.
- How often do you Bait?
Every guide operates differently. Knowing your guides routine ahead of time can provide you with slight insight on what your expectations should be. As said previously, bears often become very structured to routine in the early days of season. Knowing you have a guide who baits regularly and often will further provide you with reassurance your chances are good.
- What is Your Success Rate?
This is a straightforward question that can even be hard for some guides to answer, but in you knowing the results of previous seasons, you can gain more confidence in your selection. Beware of guarantees, an honest outfitter will give you an honest answer. Please keep in mind, and I cannot stress this enough… there is never a guarantee when hunting wild animals. There is not a single guide in this state who has had “lights-out, tag-out” every season of operation. It is important to remain understanding, and compassionate that each seasons harvest will reflect differently. If they admit they had a tough year at one point, ask them if they know the reasoning. Asking questions like “was it a heavy acorn crop that year?”, “What was the client like?”, “What would you have done differently looking back?” will be beneficial in knowing that other circumstances were at play, rather than faulty service. But if the numbers are staggeringly and consistently low, you might want to seek elsewhere, or consider your willingness and possibility to go home with an empty tag.
- How long have you hunted in the area you guide?
There is nothing wrong with new areas, even more a new and energetic guide. But experience and local knowledge will definitely count in the field.
- How many hunters do you anticipate on guiding?
Knowing the numbers of other hunters can help in what you are to expect, low numbers are often favored to avoid overcrowding if you are looking for a more personalized successful hunt, compared to large groups where you might seemingly feel like just another number.
- Are stand and transportation included?
Some guides are all inclusive providing you everything but the weapon, whereas others will just simply toss the bait for you. So, make sure you know what your outfitter is providing. If you will be taken to your stand, as well as means of transportation.
- How many baits will I have?
Minnesota issues a licensed outfitter 3 baits per licensed hunter, as well as 3 additional as the guide. Knowing that you have more options to go to if you find yourself sitting over a “dead” bait can make the difference.
- Are you First Aide/CPR Certified?
Although this is no longer required by the state in order to hold a guide’s license, knowing you are with someone who knows how to respond appropriately and correctly in an emergency situation is important.
- What is your cancellation policy?
Many guides require deposit upfront, and start booking well before season. Unexpected health, family, or work situations can arise at any time and may prevent you in taking the trip. Will you receive a full refund? Or perhaps a credit towards a future service?
- Exactly what is included in booking a hunt with you?
Emphasis on “Exactly”. Prior to booking it is extremely important to know what is included. Some guides only bait for you where as some guides provide everything and more up to meals and lodging. First think of what it is you are seeking in this hunt. Maybe you like to join in on the fun of baiting, or maybe you are looking for a relaxing and exciting getaway, maybe you’re the type who will want to do everything yourself but struggle with the ability to bait in a realistic fashion. But be sure to know fully what is included in the rate you are paying prior to putting down the deposit.
- Can you provide references?
Never be afraid to ask for references from previous clientele. Please note that very few guides will provide you with references to those who were unsuccessful, if you find one that does, that is a huge display of integrity and honesty. But don’t be afraid to ask if they had a reference for an unsuccessful hunter either. Ask for phone numbers and names, and in discussing with these fellow hunters ask what their experience was like? Did they have a good time? Were they disappointed by anything? What was the atmosphere at camp like?
There is not necessarily right or wrong answers to any of these questions. These are simply just things to weigh and consider in your decision to hire a guide or not, and if so, in choosing the right one. Communication is key and knowing what to expect in the hunt before arriving is helpful so there are minimal surprises upon arriving. Whether you choose to do it yourself, or hire the right guide, the thing to remember is that everyday out in God’s glory of nature is a good day… kick back, relax, and enjoy the experience.
Above all get out there and “Break the Chain of Routine!”
Happy Hunting All!