A Maine Guide and a young hunter crouching in front of a bear

Choosing the Right Guide


–Michael Tuminaro, Deputy Director

Just as a good waiter can make-or-break your dinner out, a guide can impact your dream trip in a similar fashion.  How do you make an educated decision when choosing one?  When is it best to go out on your own?  There are several key factors that can help you make this important decision.

DIY Trips are Sometimes the Best Option

Should you even use a guide?  Not always.  There are times when it is best to go without one. If you are familiar with the terrain and game species, it may not be worth your while to hire a guide.  Hunting deer in Michigan’s U.P. has similarities to hunting in the north woods of Maine, so perhaps you can save the cash and DIY.  If you have your own equipment and expertise, you’re likely able to figure it out on your own.  Perhaps you’re one of those intrepid souls who figures that the journey is more important than the destination, that the hard hunt is the best hunt.  If this resonates with you, then you’re likely a good candidate for a DIY trip.

Guides Can Really Level Up Your Hunt

For most trips, a good guide is worth their weight in gold.  A guide will take the worry and planning out of your trip by arranging your lodging, equipment, transportation, meals and licenses.  Most importantly,  they will know where the best lunch spots, views and game are.  The guide has already put in the sweat equity and knows where the wildlife will be in rain and windy weather, uncommonly hot days, and when under pressure from other sportsmen and women.  They’ll know where there is water for your dogs.  A guide can put you on fish and game much more quickly than you’d find them on your own, and you’ll be able to spend your time enjoying your day hunting instead of logistical planning.

A few years back, a work trip put me within striking distance of the Smoky Mountains.  I decided to go after the trout alone and find the fish myself.  I reasoned that, as an experienced fly fisherman, I’d be able to figure it out and did not need a guide.  I ended up spending a day and a half figuring the area out before I started catching trout with any regularity, and by that time I was on my last afternoon there.  Hiring a guide could have led me to the productive spots that first morning, and this would have added to the experience immensely.  

Questions to Ask and Red Flags to Look For

Interview your guide!  He should be happy to answer your questions.  Does he have insurance? How many people will be in camp?  What are the accommodations like?  Who will be your guide?  Many times the owner that you spoke to on the phone will not be the person you’ll be guided by, and that can make a big difference in your experience.  Find out what’s included in your trip.  The guide should be clear and forthcoming about these things.

Be wary of any guide too eager to book your trip.  If they mention that they’re “filling up” or offer you an early booking discount, it may be a sign to steer clear.  In my experience, this can mean that the priority is the paycheck, and not the client.

A good guide should come with good recent recommendations, not from people that they guided ten years ago.  They should be able to provide you with a list of recent clients.  

A reputable guide should be a member of his state’s professional association. This allows the outfitter to stay aware of law changes, pending legislation, and the opportunity to network with other outfitters.   They may have the opportunity for training.   Membership shows that they’ve been vetted to a certain degree, and are a good option for your consideration. 

A guide cannot guarantee success on a hunting trip.  If someone is offering you a 100% guarantee that game will be harvested, I’d think twice.  There may be ethical issues here.

When a guide takes a rigid stance on his trips and has an “it’s my way or the highway” type of inflexibility, keep looking.  If they are not willing and eager to hear what it is that you are looking for in a trip, then they may not be interested in making your trip what you want it to be.  A guide should know their audience, and be aware that everyone has a different interpretation of a great trip.  I’ve guided older clients who are just looking for a slow paddle on the river with plenty of time at camp for relaxation, families who want to trip but also find that swimming hole or good view for lunch, new bird dog owners who are looking to work the dog more than anything else, serious fishermen and women who will stay in the field from dawn until dusk with only the occasional granola bar to keep them going.  A good guide will listen to his clients and work to make their trip the best that it can be, advising and directing along the way to make sure that everyone is safe and taken care of.

A guide with no presence on the internet may also be a concern.  Although it’s true that many guides operating in the woods may not always be tech-savvy folks, no online presence at all could denote a “fly by night” operation.  Our guides appear on the MPGA website, and we know that they are legitimate operations. A website usually shows an established business and provides a great deal of information.  Most importantly, you can see Google reviews and get a feel for what their operation is all about.

Help Your Guide for the Best Chance for Success

It’s important to be honest and let your guide know what type of trip you want.  Food allergies, medical issues, physical fitness and other factors can help the outfitter customize a hunt to your standards.  I was recently told by a local guide that he had a client show up for his turkey hunt without knowing that the client would be in a wheelchair.  The client had not mentioned this beforehand, and therefore, the guide was unprepared for this.  All of his blinds were deep in the fields.  With advanced notice, he could have prepared another site customized to his client.  The hunt was not successful.

Typically, your guide should review the menu with you to make sure that you’re on board with the meals planned.  Outdoors participants, like armies, run on their stomachs.  Food is important!  We find that it rivals the actual time spent in the woods for making their experience great.

Everyone should understand that although a good guide is working their hardest to give you a great trip, factors such as weather, client fitness, game movement and abundance on any given day are out of their hands. 

Be sure to provide feedback to your guide after the trip.  Let your guide know what was great, and what could use improvement.  A good outfit will take your recommendations to heart, always striving to improve and become the best at what they do.

What a Good Outfitter Should Be

Guides should be a mixture of woodsman, medic, risk-manager, entertainer and facilitator.  They will keep you on the legal side of fish and game law and recommend appropriate gear for the conditions you’ll be encountering.  They’ll pay attention to the little details and needs of their hunters. They’ll quietly offer you those gloves when you’re cold because they’ve been paying attention.  A good guide will offer the level, grown-over logging road when they see you’re tired from busting brush.  They’ll share a moose stew from the bull they harvested last fall, and prepare the birds you harvest for the evening’s dinner, or for you to take home.

Guides will entertain you and keep you laughing and positive even during those slow days.  They’ll teach you the history of the area.  Our clients love the ruins of an old WWII-era prison camp located nearby, or the sunken town beneath the waters of Flagstaff Lake, sometimes visible from a canoe.  They love the vistas we choose for field lunches, and they appreciate our flexibility to switch things up by throwing a line in for trout if everyone gets their birds especially early.

The best guides are the ones who make you feel like you’re a friend even before you meet them.  They greet you with a warm smile and immediately make you feel comfortable and welcome in their camp.  You can tell they’re happy to have you and share their best season with you.  They’re anxious to show you a productive and safe hunt, good meals, and dynamic conversations by the evening’s fire.  They share the common love of the birds, doubles, dogs, good scotch and the camaraderie of fellow hunters.  You only book a trip as a stranger with a good guide once…the next time you’re friends.