By Mike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large
Editor’s note: Not all states license or otherwise vet outfitters providing hunts within their borders, but most do. Step one when considering any US hunt is to check with the wildlife agency in the state you intend to hunt to ensure the outfitter you are considering is legally authorized to conduct hunts there. Failure to do so can lead to Lacey Act charges if you take an illegally hunted animal across a state line. Here are some other considerations when hunting with an outfitter who hunts multiple states.
Over the past 40 years increasing landowner tag fees, decreasing draw odds and shortened seasons have forced many outfitters to branch out just stay in business. Good outfitters with solid reputations have responded by taking on more property, hunting additional species and crossing state lines to maximize their opportunities to attract clients. The advantage to hunters is that once you’ve found an outfitter you like, you may be able to hunt with him or her in several states for several species. Most of us who travel enjoy new scenery, but there is a degree of comfort in hunting with an outfitter you already know.
A multistate outfitter is particularly handy if you’re lucky enough to draw one of the once-in-a-lifetime tags for sheep, goat or moose or if you purchase a governor’s tag or other special opportunity tag. It’s unlikely that you’ll have the experience necessary to mount an effective DIY hunt for one of these opportunities. Many western outfitters have built teams for these special tags. They typically employ locals who scout the area in advance, but they conduct the hunt themselves to control the quality of the services. An outfitter who jumps state borders can offer once-in-a-lifetime draw or governors’ tag hunts in a wider range of units than an outfitter running out of a fixed-base lodge.
Although a multistate outfitter can offer consistency of service, you need to remember that the actual hunting experience may vary between locations. An outfitter offering hunts for clients who draw tags will likely be hunting from a mobile camp (tents or trailers). An outfitter who offers a lodge-based hunt in one location may be hunting out of a ranch house in a second location.
Also remember that the physical demands for the hunts vary greatly among units, and unless you’re already in top physical condition, you will want to consult with your outfitter before applying for a tag. Because they can operate in a number of units in more than one state, multistate outfitters may be able to suggest which unit best meets your physical needs.
Also—this is important for draw hunts—a good outfitter tracks the number of applicants and points required to draw particular tags. You may want to hunt Unit 999, but if you only have four points and it takes eight to draw that unit, the outfitter may suggest another hunt that can put you in the field sooner.
Finally, outfitters who hunt in multiple locations keep track of particular animals, and when an outstanding specimen is located, they can direct those hunters with the financial means to an auction or to a landowner’s tag that allows them to hunt the area. Keeping track of tag opportunities can be arduous, but a mobile outfitter has the time and incentive to do just that.
As noted, outfitters who specialize in some species such as mountain lions or bighorn sheep are more likely to jump between states and areas than those who hunt something more common like whitetail deer. There are only so many sheep tags available, and to stay in business, the outfitter needs to be willing and able to travel between units and states to stay booked. With mountain lions, the weather conditions, game migration and open quotas force outfitters to be mobile if they are going to hunt throughout the season. If you’re looking to hunt these species, you can expect that most of your outfitters will hunt different states as needed.
Finally, state licensing may dictate the scope of the outfitting business in a particular state. Texas, for example, is almost entirely private land and the outfitting business is not regulated by the state. Any landowner can be an outfitter and any outfitter from anywhere can lease land and go into business. Idaho, on the opposite extreme, has a restrictive allocation process and the only way to enter the outfitting industry is to buy out another outfitter. In Idaho, only four of 31 licensed outfitters are from outside of the state. With Nevada’s less restrictive licensing system, 26 of 104 master guides are from out of state (including some from Idaho!). New Mexico does not prohibit nonresident outfitters but incentivizes resident guides and outfitters with a separate pool of tags in an outfitter draw.
Multistate outfitters are numerous, but a couple of examples may serve to illustrate the point. Greg Simons and his crew at Wildlife Systems (325-655-0877; www.wildlifesystems.com) hunt several properties across Texas for whitetail deer, turkeys and free-range aoudad, nilgai and other exotics. But Simons has taken his wildlife management background into northeastern New Mexico to offer pronghorn hunts on private property. With NM’s landowner permit system, Simons can guarantee tags to clients and control the number of pronghorn taken. Hunting more than one state gives him an additional season as well as a new location for returning hunters to experience.
Using a completely different model, Cary Jellison of G&J Outdoors (530-263-0492; www.gandjoutdoors.com) offers private-land hunts in California for elk (Roosevelt, Rocky Mountain, and tule) and wild turkeys, while also hunting public land in Nevada for mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and desert and California bighorn. He also offers guided chukar and quail hunts in NV. In addition to draw tags in NV, Jellison can assist hunters with landowner tags and auction tags.
Postscript: NV offers a separate outfitter draw for mule deer tags with an earlier deadline and better odds for nonresidents. To apply, you must be under contract with a licensed outfitter, so hunters looking at the 2018 drawing need to be talking to an outfitter now.