Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Outfitter selected, now for planning . . .

We’re exploring new territory as we try to become a client instead of an individual hunter/fisherman. We got a tag through the Wyoming big game license draws so it looks like we’ll be exploring some new hunting country this fall as well as the new role.

The area around Buffalo, Wyoming looks like hilly plains with some badlands-like features here and there. The temperature in October will probably be chilly, but, weather could be warm, snowy, blustery with sleet, or warm enough for shirt sleeves. The wind can be expected at speeds of three to 30 miles per hour – which means wind estimation skills are going to have to be refined and practiced.

We talked and corresponded with several exhibitors at the Dallas Safari Club Convention, including Heaven’s Gate Outfitters who offer pack animal trips into Idaho Mountains. Very positive, helpful and friendly at the convention. Once we began online research, though, we found their response to be, “This is the way it is, figure it out if you want to come.”

One example is their requirement for clients to drive a 4WD vehicle to the trailhead to meet the party. The question asked was, “I don’t have a 4WD – are some available to rent in town?” was answered  “Meet the pack-in party at the trail head, map attached, be sure you have a 4WD.” Eventually we decided to pass due to concerns about the service orientation of the group – if they can’t answer a specific question will they be able to fit my rifle in a scabbard, or get my elk to camp? Dumb, noob questions, I know, but questions nevertheless.  

One outfitter we found by internet search is offering a Montana hunt for guided prices but providing semi-guided service. Semi-guided isn’t bad – many folks prefer semi-guided or
drop-off services. However, his neighbors offer similar trips fully guided, with food provided and prepared for the hunters for the same price. And, unless you read the services list really carefully you’d think the 1X1 or 1 X2 guide/hunter ratios were for a fully guided operation. Caveat emptor!

Grizzly Outfitters was one of three that we found in Buffalo, Wyoming. The owner is a member of the outfitters’ associations for Wyoming and Montana, a hunter, and a rancher.

He talks a good talk – and is just wary enough about a new client to seem like the real deal. He asked informal (or “off the cuff”) penetrating questions trying to determine if I’m likely to shoot cattle, get drunk on the hunt, or scare the hell out of the guides. We could be wrong, but this suggests his staff is likely to be serious and professionally responsible.

He also was clear about when he could answer calls – and he did answer them in a timely manner. BBB and farm/ranch references are positive or absent. He’s adamant about using licensed guides/outfitters rather than a local ranch hand that isn’t busy at the time.

All in all, he seems likely to be pretty much what he says he is, and he demonstrates a solid interest in customer service. His wife even hand-holds the neophyte through Wyoming license drawing applications. So the deposit went in. (Lesson learned from the fishing trip.)

Unfortunately, the WY F&G website quit working in April which prompted me to call the ranch. It seemed to this noob that if the site stopped showing fees and regulations the drawing must be over. Not so, the drawings aren’t done until June. Mrs. Benton was patient with me . . . (Note: my license/tag was drawn.)

Now there’s the matter of a 1200 mile drive each way – and lodging, weather and all the other details. Planning will depend on the dates that Cole and Grizzly Outfitters say are available – it’s mid-July as this post is finished but the physical license and proposed hunting dates aren’t available yet.

This looks like a whole new world – I’m used to going down to the local Target, picking up the license and tags I want, arranging days off, getting the maps and gear together, and getting my shooting skills up to date – and then heading out into the mountains.

Tag drawing and having somebody else put the hunt together is new territory, just as the rolling grassland around Buffalo, Wyoming will be.

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