Every year thousands of people book hunts around the world with outfitters and guide services. Hunter’s rely on these people for their knowledge of the terrain, animals, transportation in the hunting area, and getting game out of the backcountry. Of these, a guide’s worth is primarily judged by their ability to get the client within shooting range of the animal they are after. However, if the client is unwilling to listen or follow the guide’s instructions, even the best guide is a waste of money. In my five years as a professional hunting guide, I have rarely seen or heard of clients who did not take advantage of the guide’s expertise, and one’s that do are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to guided hunts. That said, in the last two years I came across three cases which highlight why you should listen to your guide, and how it might save your hunt.
Let’s start with the incident we called “The War Zone”. I was guiding two eastern hunters on an elk/ mule deer combo hunt in late October. One had missed a bull three times the previous morning at longer distance, mainly due to not being knowledgeable about how his rifle scope worked, and the other took a small buck while eating his lunch at the truck. Both had been on guided hunts before, and were experienced hunters in their home states.
This particular evening we set up to glass a lot of open ground near where we had sat the day prior. Early in the evening I spotted three bulls come over a ridge line a mile and a half away. After observing them for several minutes, I had determined their most likely route, and since we had cell service, told my hunters to proceed on a path that would take them downwind of the elk along a fence line. I would advise them of the elk’s path and position while they made their way out of sight through the brush to a clear shooting position. Two hundred yards later they abandoned the plan, turning the opposite way to gain high ground downwind and in the open on a hillside half mile west of the bulls.
After twenty minutes I was able to reach them by phone, none to happy that they probably had blown the opportunity of killing two bulls in one day. For a guide, having both clients tag out on bulls together is akin to finding the Holy Grail, but alas, it was not to happen on this day. They had ranged the bulls at 800 yards, and thinking they were close enough, wanted to shoot. This from the same guy who had missed at 509 yards the day prior. I was able to convince them to close the distance to less than half, and while they could have gotten closer still, bull fever overtook one of them, and he opened up from 380 yards with his companion joining in.
I said this was a war zone, and I meant it. For the next ten minutes I listened as the countryside was riddled with .338 win mag and .325 short mag rounds, all the while watching helpless through my spotting scope as the bulls milled around the very clearing I had predicted they would be in, and could have talked my clients within 200 yards of with ease. I texted my wife and called my boss, telling all that was happening, thinking that with all the firepower being expended one or more of the bulls was going home in a cooler. In the end, a total of sixteen shots had been fired, from ranges of 380 to 620 yards. The reason they stopped shooting, as it turns out, was both ran out of ammo!
I lost track of the elk as the last shots were fired, but thought I heard at least one bullet find its mark. It was dusk by the time I reached the clearing and got the guys to come down and meet me. Neither could tell me definitively where the elk had been during the shooting, and as dark wore on, a light rain began to fall. We retired for the night and came back the next day, finding a blood trail that washed away once in the brush. Turns out one had been hit, but in the hindquarter. We never came within a clear shot of elk or deer after that, though we did spot a nice bull across the canyon one morning.
My next example is not a tale of shots gone wild, but of simple stubbornness. We had a group of hunters on horseback, and I took two brothers off to an area we had not yet hunted on the last evening of their trip. They had not been overly happy with the guides, though we had seen a massive 300” plus bull on the second day. It was a rough year, with a lot of winter kill, and our deer numbers weren’t what they usually were, especially for big bucks. The only buck they had seen was a fork horn on the first day.
As evening was closing in, I suggested we leave a bit early, mentioning that it was likely we would see more deer besides the does we were currently watching. One brother packed up, but it took twenty minutes for the other to get in the saddle, thinking a buck had to be near the does, and putting our departure just before the end of shooting light. As predicted, we came across a herd of deer not a half mile down the trail. Horses are great for closing the distance on game, and we were less than 150 yards from this group. The downside was, shooting light had ended ten minutes prior, and though there was a very big bodied deer in the group, we could not ascertain what it was, much less shoot it. Unfortunately, these gentlemen went home empty handed.
Everyone loves success, and this one is it, though hard won. One of our long time clients had purchased a ranch hunt, and though he had hit a deer there prior to me guiding him, they had not recovered it. This was our third hunt together, having taken a cow elk and a mule deer doe on the other excursions. The good and bad about this gentleman is that he gets very excited when it’s time to shoot. So much so that it throws off his aim to such an extent that he missed a two bucks from a rest at 220 and 155 yards. I had heard that the outfitter didn’t want him shooting beyond 200 yards after he wounded one buck, but when I saw him miss from 155 yards on a standing still broadside, I knew we had a serious issue.
I told him we were done hunting until we checked his rifle and him down at the truck. On the way back we passed up on a beautiful, 25” wide 3x3 we had stalked two days earlier. This deer was well within range but I couldn’t take the chance of him wounding another animal. Back at the truck we found the rifle to be perfectly sighted in, but someone had a flinching problem. I coached my client through dry firing exercises and before long the flinching subsided. But a new rule was invoked, he had to dry fire on the animal until he could do it without flinching.
That afternoon we started out in the wheeler, hoping to find the big 3x3 again as he was the best overall buck we had spotted. As luck would have it, we found him in a draw not far from where we passed him that morning. At 160 yards I figured this would be over quickly, but the ol’ boy would not cooperate and kept his butt to us. We tried stalking through the thick sage to get a better angle, but got spotted and the buck disappeared behind a hill. Several minutes later he reappeared, but this time at 315 yards and quartering away. We got set up, and after finding a comfortable position, my client practiced dry firing. He was so excited that this took several minutes and about a dozen dry fires before he was ready to put a live round in the chamber. When he did, I checked the range and told him where to hold. I watched through my binoculars as the 130 grain, .270 Winchester impacted the spine just behind the front shoulder, and the deer’s rear end dropped to the ground. Though it took another shot to finish this deer, it would not have happened had the client not been willing to listen to and apply the knowledge his guide imparted to him. As it turned out, this was the first mule deer buck he had taken in 15 or so years hunting with our outfitter. Not bad for a pair of Navy vets who served nearly a half century apart.