Growing up in the eastern United States I always dreamed of chasing bulls and bucks in the Rocky Mountains but never thought it was possible without a guide. No matter what anyone tries to tell you, it is incredibly overwhelming to pick one state, one unit within that state and hope to find animals there — sometimes without ever stepping foot in that state prior to the hunt. Though it can be intimidating when you first start diving into the process, you do have an option of paying a guide instead of doing it yourself. Not everyone has the money to pay for a guide and not everyone has the time to plan a do-it-yourself (DIY) hunt so you need to decide what is right for your situation. When assessing what is best for you, it is important to understand and be honest with yourself about your investment ability (both financially and time-wise), your expectations and the experience you are after. With all the tools available on goHUNT — from the statistics to the 3D maps — it is way easier to plan a DIY hunt than it was 10 years ago. Yet, DIY hunting might not be for everyone.
When it comes to hunting — no matter where you go — there is a time investment that goes along with it. Hunters wishing to be successful need to put in the time to scout, train, travel and hunt. For the DIY-style hunter, the scouting portion often takes the most hours and days. Preseason scouting, especially before hunting a new area, can be very time consuming if done correctly. It’s important to determine which state you will hunt, which unit, which spots, what is a trail versus a road and how deep is deep enough to find animals based upon your experience level. You must understand where you plan on going and have multiple backup plans daily for unforeseen circumstances. This type of scouting takes some experience, phone calls with local forest and game wardens and a lot of guesswork. The GOHUNT platform takes countless hours out of preseason scouting thanks to Filtering 2.0 and the 3D mapping; however, to truly be successful on day one of your hunt really requires a complete understanding of an area.
This complete virtual immersion in an area takes time and also takes understanding that you may find out that you are wrong about a spot when you arrive. Some place you thought would hold elk or deer may have none and that is okay. When you are a DIY-style hunter, your mindset needs to be that it’s important to understand that learning where elk, deer, bighorn sheep, etc., are not is just as important as finding them. If you are not OK with that or don’t have time to invest preseason, then maybe a guided hunt is a better option for you. If you expect to get into your quarry every day, then maybe a guided hunt is more your style. Overall though, financially, it costs more, you put in way less time preseason scouting when you do a guided hunt. During a fully guided hunt, you should expect that your guide has done the scouting and understands where your quarry is going to be in order to give you an opportunity at a harvest. After all, that is what you are paying for.
Hunting, in general, from the guns, bows, gear, tags, processing, travel and countless costs is an expensive lifestyle. When it comes to hunting out West — especially out of state — these costs often double if not triple. However, a DIY-style hunter can go out West and hunt for a fraction of the cost of a guided hunt. If you choose to go on a guided hunt, there are different styles, ranging from fully guided to partially guided to drop camps and more. Each of these styles of guided hunts have a different dollar amount associated with them, but they all are more expensive than a DIY hunt. Many times there is some shaming done by DIY hunters towards hunters paying a guide; however, I wish this was not the case. Of course, it should be recognized by any hunters that most of the time DIY public land hunting is extremely more difficult than private land or a guided hunt; however, hunting is hunting and these are our brothers and sisters supporting the outdoors. If you have the financial stability to go on a guided hunt and you are unable or do not wish to put in the time to preseason scout and hunt public areas then that is okay and your choice. It is everyone's free will to hunt on public or private land with permission. After all, if we had access to private land out West to hunt, I would certainly be on it as much as possible even though, as of today, I solely hunt western public lands.
Understanding and having the correct expectations before going out West is a vital part to going home feeling that your experience is successful whether you filled a tag or not. When you are a DIY-style hunter, expectations can be high even though, often, during the first year in a new area, it’s mostly a learning experience. Yes you may get lucky and shoot a bull or a buck, but this is the exception not the norm. Your experience on a DIY-style hunt is what you make of it. From the lodging, food, gear, plans and backup plans — it’s all on you to plan. What type of lodging works for your hunt and works for you? Will you be staying in a camper, truck, tent or hotel? What will you eat?
On the contrary, when paying for a guided hunt, typically, the guide and outfitter will take care of everything for you. You will be told where to sleep, what is for dinner and where to hunt. The luxury of the outfitter planning everything does come with a financial cost, but also comes with your expectation that you will have an amazing time. There are a lot of great outfitters out there, but also a lot of not so great ones. Make sure to do your homework, call around and understand what you should expect and what their success rates are before you invest your time and money.
Paying a guide or doing it yourself is something that everyone struggles with during their first year out West in a new area. Is it worth the financial investment to have someone telling you where to go, where to stay and what is worth shooting or is this all part of the experience for you? GOHUNT has made planning a DIY-style hunt so much easier, but there is still some virtual work that needs to be done to determine where to go, stay and hunt if you choose this option. If you don’t want to put in the work or can’t, then hire a reputable guide and get out in the mountains. Personally, the financials of a guided hunt do not work for me so I would rather plan and pay for a DIY hunt every year instead of a guided hunt every couple years. Overall, it’s every hunter's decision on how they wish to get out West. How they choose to plan it, pay for it and experience it is up to them. No matter what you choose, I wish you the most success this fall and in the upcoming years ahead.