It?s mid-October 2007 and I sit in my office chained to the desk trying to get some work done while daydreaming of being in a tree stand as the whitetail rut is in full swing. Oh, I?ve been out there already on some dandy hunts, and there will be several more before the New Year rings in. And while I am preparing for the remainder of 2007, I am already thinking about where, and with whom, I will be hunting in 2008.
Every season I hunt a lot on my own or with friends, where we do all the scouting, set the stands, and do our own thing. I also hunt with a handful of outfitters on guided hunts, something I have done a lot of over the last three decades. Booking a guided whitetail hunt can be a real crapshoot, a game of chance in which you are handing someone you may not know all that well a wad of your hard-earned cash and, just as importantly, your dreams. A mistake can cost you your deer season, something that can never be replaced.
To me, the real measure of a top-quality guided whitetail hunt is a desire to come back and hunt with that outfitter again, even if I don?t get a shot at a book-class buck. For an outfitter to earn both my trust and my repeat business he has to do several things. Number one on the list is be honest, both as a businessman and with clients, when he tells them about the hunting. Two outfitters I hunted with for the first time in 2006, Dan Perich and Greg Guerrieri of Mid-West Trophy Outfitters LLC in Illinois (570-656-5710 or 570-350-3960; www.mwto.com; and Todd Frank, Clear Creek Outfitters of Ohio (740-969-2536; www.clearcreekoutfittersofohio.com) will see me back in camp again soon, despite the fact that I didn?t have a shot opportunity with either.
The reasons are simple.
Both outfits have lots of prime private acreage leased in areas known for producing trophy-class bucks.
They do a lot of pre-season scouting, moving stands to match the prevailing conditions and not relying on stands from the previous season.
They take great pains to not over-hunt stand sites during the course of a long season.
They are meticulous about scent control and stand discipline, and make sure their hunters are as scent-free as possible before they enter the woods and, once on stand, do not walk around and stink up the place.
They manage their land for trophy quality, imposing strict size limits on the deer clients are allowed to take.
They are small, family-oriented, family-run businesses that take small numbers of hunters so that no client is hunting a marginal spot.
They do little, if any, gun hunting. And
And perhaps most important of all — both are upfront and honest with clients about their chances for success.
Outfitter Greg Guerrieri of Mid-West Trophy Outfitters LLC in Illinois knows how to both find ’em and give his clients a chance at success. Here he shows off a giant shed found while scouting one of his leased properties.
?We know that more than half of you will leave this week without shooting the buck you hope to kill,? Dan Perich told a group of new hunters at their pre-hunt orientation meeting. ?We want everyone to shoot a monster deer, but the nature of the beast is that only a few of you will have that chance.? ?We want you all to shoot a really good buck, but we know that most of you will not,? Todd Frank told incoming clients. ?We?ll do everything we can to maximize your chances.? What a refreshing experience to hear this kind of straight talk after years of hearing so many outfitters blow smoke about how many dumb, blind monster bucks with sinus infections they have running all over their land just waiting for a careless bowman to arrow them!
Both of these outfits employ guides that are hard-working and serious whitetail bowhunters themselves. Dan, Greg and Todd are also hard-core bowhunters that have arrowed several dandy bucks themselves over the years. They know what it takes to get it done.
?We try and be as upfront with prospective clients as we can,? Guerrieri said. ?We know that even on the best properties at the right time of year that Lady Luck plays a big part in shooting big bucks. I mean, it is fair chase hunting, and there are no guarantees.?
?We have comfortable housing and feed guys solid food, but we don?t have a fancy lodge or gourmet meals by any means,? Perich said. ?If we did we?d have to up the price to pay for it, and we?d rather keep the cost reasonable and put the money back into our leases.?
?In 2006 we set out 13 trail cameras so we know a lot about what is roaming our land, and where the bigger bucks are hanging at any one time,? Frank said. ?We can out guys on stand in those areas, but of course that guarantees nothing. We?re just trying to give our clients the best opportunity they can have.?
Outfitter Todd Frank of Clear Creek Outfitters of Ohio (right) located this monster on a trail camera and had Rick Bednar of Ten Point Crossbow in position on opening day. That’s what a good outfitter will do; scout his land and give you a fighting chance.
For the most part, Bowhunting.net readers are not neophytes. You?ve all been in the woods for years, so you know the drill. Shooting a big whitetail with your bow is about as easy as sneaking the sunrise past a rooster. If you just have to have one for the wall, there are plenty of places where you can pay a chunk of change, go inside a high fence, and in a day or two come out with a monster set of antlers. To me, though, this is not hunting, it?s collecting. Nothing wrong with that, if that?s your thing. But if you want a realistic chance at taking a whopper on a guided hunt conducted in a fair chase manner and you do not have your own land to hunt, you have to pick the right outfitter and put in your time. That might mean a commitment of two or three or four trips.
With these two outfits, next time I?ll be working on trip number two. That?s OK with me, because I know when I climb into a tree it could happen at any moment, that if I do my part ? you know, don?t poop my pants and hold it together long enough to make the shot when a stud buck walks past ? I?ll soon be wrapping my fingers around the antlers of a magazine cover buck.
Just the thought of it makes me quiver like a puppy.