Ask MeatEater: Do It Yourself or Guided? Part Two

Ask MeatEater: Do It Yourself or Guided? Part Two

In part one of this series, we discussed why guided hunts may be better than attempting to do it yourself.

Every year, I make it a point to go on a DIY, out-of-state hunt in a place I’ve never been. This is what we like to call a “cold roll” at MeatEater, and is often the most fun, satisfying hunting experience of the season.

Planning these hunts builds anticipation. Once I’m there, I relish the adventure of soaking in a new area and the puzzle of learning the habits of game animals in unfamiliar territory. During the hunt, dealing with the daily doubts, unknowns and challenges makes me a better hunter in the long run. Filling a tag is icing on the cake. These are the hunts I look forward to with the most excitement.

For me, much of that would be lost on a guided hunt. Planning is reduced to packing gear. The stage is set before you arrive. You’ll look at the country much differently if a guide is there to tell where to go. There’s no need to figure out where the animals are. Your guide, hopefully, will have a pretty good idea where they’ll be based on prior experience. Much of the challenge lies squarely on the shoulders of your guide. Finally, there’s an unavoidably raised expectation that you’ll notch your tag. After all, when it comes down to it, that’s what you paid for.

There is a good compromise between going either DIY or guided. Many outfitters offer drop camp hunts where they haul hunters, camping gear, food and even pack animals into remote hunting areas. This option is much more affordable than fully guided hunts. Once there, the hunter is responsible for finding animals, although outfitter usually provides some valuable tips on where to start looking. Drop camp hunters will usually still be responsible for field butchering and packing meat back to camp, but with most of the time-consuming hassles and logistics taken care of, hunters can focus on hunting without relying on a guide.

Still, you are relying on the outfitter’s knowledge, experience and labor.

Ben O’Brien prefers DIY hunts. “Hunting is like learning a language,” he said. “Guides act as translators, providing interpretations of their experiences so that you can hunt a place without speaking its native tongue. For me, though, hunting with a guide is like reading cliff notes while DIY is like reading the entire book, one chapter at a time. I prefer the long, hard DIY road and the unavoidable pressure that it adds to the pursuit. I don’t mind a nice shortcut, but I sure appreciate them more if I’m the one who first charted the course.”

So why choose a DIY hunt over a guided hunt? For some hunters, it’s a simple financial reality that they can’t afford a guided hunt. The best hunting guides don’t come cheap, and cheap hunting guides are usually a waste of money. Most DIY hunts can be pulled off at a fraction of the cost of even reasonably priced guided hunts. This may mean sleeping in the back of your pick-up, eating freeze-dried meals, drinking instant coffee for days on end and other sacrifices. All of this will consume energy and time.

And remember, if you go the DIY route, you won’t have anyone to help you. From map research to proper gear choices to physical fitness, make sure you cover every variable in the planning stage. You have to take responsibility for making sure the hunt goes well.

You may have to navigate a complicated tag application process. There won’t be anyone by your side to keep you from getting lost. You’ll be deciding when to move to a new area or if you should commit to going after a distant buck or bull. When your spot is loaded with other hunters or you’re having trouble finding any game, it’s easy to give up. If you punch a tag, you’ll be the one quartering and packing out your animal. A guide takes care of a lot the pain-in-the-ass work.

If you are a self-reliant person that enjoys being responsible for taking care of every detail and you appreciate a good challenge, a DIY hunt might be a better choice than a guided hunt.

For dedicated DIY hunters, the process, how it’s done and who is doing it is at least as important as the end result. You’ll need to put up with everything from cold, crappy weather to animals that don’t cooperate to cooking all your own meals when all you want to do is crawl into your sleeping bag, and you need to do all this while maintaining a positive attitude for days on end. If you can manage to do that, the satisfaction that comes from a DIY hunt can’t be duplicated by a guided hunt.

I look forward to packing my raft or truck with gear with the understanding that the coming snow storm could ruin the hunt or get every mule deer on the mountain moving. I actually enjoy agonizing over which areas will have the least amount of hunting pressure. I look forward to cresting a ridge at sunrise, hoping the drainage is loaded with animals, but knowing it might be a complete dead zone. Field butchering is work I prefer to do myself. Miserable, grueling, meat-packing death marches in the dark back to a cold camp remind me I earned everything myself.

Remember the guided elk hunt I went on described in part one of this series? The entire time, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of mystery and misery that I’d come to expect with just about every DIY public lands elk hunt. Also missing was the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that came with every elk I’d managed to kill in the past.

Not all guided hunts will be as easy as that one, and not every DIY hunt forces you to suffer for your success. However, whether I’m successful or not on a DIY hunt, I come out of it knowing I made each decision along the way. There’s no need to follow someone else’s schedule; you can go where you want when you want. The beauty of a DIY hunt lies in that freedom, even though it comes at the cost of more work on the part of a hunter.

Feature image via Captured Creative.

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