You have done your research, called references and dropped a healthy down payment. You are confident that this brown bear hunt will be the one that you bag your 10-foot bruin. Maybe this time the outfitter will do his job, or the guides will be more knowledgeable, perhaps the weather will cooperate and you will get the shot you have been dreaming of. Every circumstance could play out perfectly but might not do you any good, if you are not the perfect client.
Brown bear guides for the most part are good people, hard working and patient. Most of them could walk out into the woods, put the time and effort in, and connect on a bear. So why is it more difficult to do that with a client? The answer lies in the client. Some clients are not hunters, they are shooters. Some are poor listeners, some cannot seem to hear well when their heart is beating in their throat. For some, the least common thing in their repertoire is common sense.
I had the privilege of guiding one hunter on his third brown bear hunt. He had nothing but negative comments of the other outfitters he had hunted with. I did not think much of it until I realized I just wanted this guy to fall off the planet. He was by far the worst person I had every walked the tundra with! He did not communicate with me, listen to me, or even hunt with me. Come lunchtime, I would sometimes cover close to a quarter mile to find him and give him his meals. Some days he would leave the look out and head back to camp, over a mile distant, without so much as a wave. Clients like these, no guide wants to work for. Follow some of these guidelines to ensure that every morning the guide you hired is eager to spend the day wanting to find you a bear.
First off, have some realistic expectations. Going into a hunt and asking something of your guide or his area that just is not realistic is going to be the first nail in your hunt’s coffin. Make sure you have asked the right questions and conveyed exactly what you are looking for to your outfitter. This way, when you show up, there will be no surprises for anyone.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Kodiak Island, only 11% of bears harvested have a skull size greater than 28 inches, (Boone & Crockett All-Time minimum entry requirement is 28˝). Now, a 10-foot bear might have a skull size smaller than that, but a 28˝ skull might also come from a bear in the 9-foot range, but it seems to balance out. The point is, even on the island known for its monster bears, only one bear for every ten harvested will qualify for the record book. For an average yearly harvest of 160 bears, that means that only about 18 of those bears will be in the 28˝ range. Knowing what the facts are about the area you have researched will enable you to enter the hunt mentally prepared, with more realistic expectations.
Be in shape and have your equipment broke in and/or sighted in and ready to hunt with. Showing up unprepared for a hunt that slides past five digits shows laziness. Not putting the time in tells your guide that you do not really care how this all turns out. You study for a test, so you should also prep for your hunts. Your success rate will improve in all areas. Being in shape will also ensure that you will have more enjoyment on your adventure. Too many clients I have guided were not physically ready for it. At the end of the day, campfire morale was low. No matter how well you hide your lack of preparation, your guide will see it.
Never get discouraged! Some hunts are unsuccessful, if you define success as killing an animal. Remember that when bear hunting, things change quickly. I tell my clients that it takes a bear one step to become visible and one step to disappear. Do everything you can to enjoy the time you have in the field, ask your guide questions, share stories and learn what you can about the area you are in, then think of all your buddies back home at the office. Just remember that hunting is a privilege, just because it has gone slow thus far or has not turned out just like you dreamed, does not mean you cannot enjoy it. This point often ties itself with your expectations. Remember to always trust your decision and your guide, you are hunting a wild animal and there are no promises.
Then there is the category of annoyances that I am sure every guide has dealt with. They are petty things but after a while they will really add up and weigh down even the toughest of nerves.
• Do not be a braggart about past hunts or shots you have taken that no one would believe. Remember who you are talking to, someone who hunts for a living. If you had the time, your guide would probably put you to sleep every night for ten years with all the stories they have accumulated over the years, and most of them will be true. There is a big difference from telling hunting stories and trying to dazzle someone with your remarkable skill and finesse. As a client you do not need to impress your guide. When the time comes, just make a great shot and they will be as impressed as need be.
• Please spare your guide the talk about money and how much you have spent on the hunt. Or how your wife is going to nail your hide to the wall if you come home without a bear. Your guide understands all the expenses and costs associated with a guided hunt. Keep in mind that they spend more on a hunt than you would imagine. Most brown bear outfitters profit less than 30% of what you pay them.
• Do not complain about anything, your job, spouse, income, old football injuries, the weather, the guide’s cooking, how much game you are or are not seeing or missing that shot. You are on the adventure of a lifetime. Do not squander it with negative thoughts and emotions that sour the soul and spirit. Stay positive, encourage the guide and they will encourage you. You will succeed as a team, or fail as one.
The bottom line to being the client of your guide’s dreams is to work together. You are not just there to follow them around and count footsteps. You serve an active purpose in the quest to harvest one of North America’s grandest trophies. Be a participant, listen to your guide, stay positive and optimistic and make a friendship. You will undoubtedly look much happier in the trophy photos.