How Do I Hire a Wingshooting Guide?
Anyone who has spent time bird hunting knows how thrilling wingshooting can be. Whether you're hunting Sharptail grouse in North Dakota or mallards in Louisiana, getting into birds plus having some luck with your gun means equals a day you'll remember forever.
Unfortunately, the first part of that equation—getting into birds—is the biggest problem most bird hunters have. If you're new to wingshooting, or an upland pro travelling somewhere new, here are some ways to find game:
- Spend hours studying books which describe the cover grouse, quail, pheasants, and other upland game birds prefer.
- Zoom in and out of Google Earth, analyzing satellite imagery to find "birdy" looking areas.
- Drive around for a few days, putting boots on the ground to see if any of these areas really hold birds.
Of course, there is a simpler way get into game: Hire a guide. With a guide, all you have to do is write a check, show up, and be ready to have a great time.
A Guide to Guides
A good wingshooting guide will know the ins-and-outs of the terrain in their area and get you into birdy spots right away. Other than your hunting clothes, your shotgun and some shells, they'll have all the gear you need—including a dog. They'll also show you where to stand to get the best shot, spot your downed game, and keep you from getting lost.
A great wingshooting guide does all the above while also acting as a mentor and friend for the day. Instead of bringing a single dog that will tire out as the day goes on, they'll bring a string of canines and swap them out every few hours.
Great guides also teach you about bird cover, answers your questions about plants and vegetation, and carry on a conversation at lunch (if conversing is your thing). They clean and pack your birds for you, too.
If you're hunting all day, most guides will offer you lunch. The good ones give you a sandwich, chips and a soda maybe on the tailgate of their truck you drive or between spots. The great ones turn lunch into an experience by setting out chairs, building a fire, and preparing a hot meal.
Find a Great guide
Most parts of the U.S. and Canada with decent populations of wild game birds also have guides willing to take you out to hunt this quarry. In some places, these guides are licensed and required to display a certain level of outdoor knowledge and first aid skills, from navigating with a compass to performing CPR. These guides also required to know the local laws and hunting regulations, like possession limits, land access rules, and shooting restrictions. In other places, guides are not licensed or regulated in any way. You're on your own when you hand them your money and you head out together into the field.
When looking for a guide, here are some things to ask before you book a slot for the upcoming season.
- What type of game birds do they hunt most often? Do they specialize in birds or in other animals?
- Do they hunt public or private land? If they hunt private land, do they have exclusive access to it or are the sharing access with other guides and hunters? How many times a season do they hunt a cover or spot?
- How do they arrange their day? What time does it start and how long does it last? How much time will be spent travelling between spots?
- Are the birds they hunt all wild, all released, or a mix of both?
- What gear do they provide? What do you need to bring? How many dogs do take into the field each day?
- Do they provide meals or expect you to bring your own? If they do provide meals, which ones and what do they serve?
- Do they have references you can contact?
- If you have any medical concerns, has the guide received any first-aid or Wilderness First Responder training?
Be a Great Client
Just like guides, there are all kinds of clients, from PITAs to ones who are a pleasure to take into the field. Here are some tips on how to stay out of first category and remain in the second.
- Respect how much they cost. Depending on where and what you're hunting, expect to $300-$500 per day for one person. While this is a lot, if you think about all the hours and effort that goes into providing a great day of hunting, you'll realize it's a fair price.
- Contact them early in the season. Any guide who is good at his jobs and has access to wild birds will book up early in the year. Don't expect to call him the week before the season begins and find any openings.
- Don't surprise them with a buddy. While most wingshooting guides will take up to three people into the field at once, extra bodies requires more gear and a different game plan. Don't show up with a friend or two without giving your guide a heads up.
- Don't blame them if you go home empty handed. While getting you into game is a guide's job, making sure you can hit it isn't. If you can't knock down birds, that's your fault. Don't blame the guide.
- Tip them if they do a great job. Everyone appreciates a little something extra for super service. When you get it from a guide, slip them a 10%-15% tip at the end of the day.
- Be sure you would invite you back. Great don't have any trouble finding business. Just as you'll be judging them, they'll be judging you—and deciding if they'll say yes if you ask to hunt with them in the future.
Whether you're just getting going as a wingshooting or you're an experienced hunter trying something different, hiring a guide is a great shortcut to having great time. By asking the right questions before you go, and acting the right way when you're in the field, you can be sure everyone has fun.