You have been planning that dream hunt to the Colorado Rockies for what seems like forever and want to make the most of it . . . or you have hunted before in Colorado and liked the services and experiences provided by going with an outfitter. Either way, you have made your decision for this season; you're going on a "Colorado Outfitter Guided Elk Hunt"! Selecting a reputable outfitter offering quality hunts seems to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. How do you find that reputable/quality outfitter?
It seems that outfitters are everywhere, advertising in the back of hunting magazines, or at sportsman's expositions or other sport shows where there are aisles of Colorado outfitters looking for your business. Or you read a featured article in a magazine about a Colorado outfitter or about a professional hunting consultant willing to connect you to an outfitter. Maybe you watched a television program highlighting a Colorado guide service. With more than eight hundred registered outfitters to choose from, the question is where do you begin?
To find that reputable/quality outfitter you must be like a private detective—ask a lot of questions. But before you get wrapped up in finding an outfitter and the excitement of planning your hunt, you must begin at the beginning! In order to select an outfitter that will best suit your needs, take into consideration your desired outcomes for the hunt. Questions to ask yourself should include:
How much can I reasonably spend on a hunt? Determining how much to spend on a hunt can be hard to estimate. As in most other situations, however, you usually "get what you pay for". The cost of the outfitted hunt alone should not be the only gauge to measure the value or appeal of your elk hunt. If your attitude is that you are out to get the "best deal" and cost is the overriding concern, then quality can take a backseat. The saying, "If it looks too good to be true then it probably is" can apply to an outfitted elk hunt, so beware. But, with that said, you should not necessarily book a hunt with the most expensive outfitter out there either. There are great deals available but finding them takes time, effort, and a lot of legwork.
What type of elk hunting adventure peaks my interest; what am I looking for? Do you want a wilderness elk hunting experience; do you want the experience of riding and hunting from horseback; do you want tent camping, to stay in a lodge or cabin or at a motel; do you want a drop camp; do you want the experience of hunting with your hunting buddy(s) or maybe hunting with strangers; do you want to hunt for that trophy bull elk or will any elk be like a trophy for you? The questions go on depending on what your expectations are.
Now, let’s find some candidates for your outfitter selection—then you'll have more questions to consider!
Important note: Outfitters must be registered, bonded, and insured in Colorado. So, one of the first things you need to do is to make sure that the outfitter you have in mind is licensed in Colorado. Outfitters are regulated by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), Office of Outfitter Registration, 1560 Broadway, Suite 1340, Denver, Colorado 80202, 303/894-7778.
The easiest way to see if a person or company is a licensed outfitter is to go to the DORA Website. Navigate to the automated license verification system by clicking on "Search the Automated Licensure Information System Online (ALISON)" link near the bottom of the page. Select whether you are going to search by an individual’s name or a company name. (A tip—if you are searching by the individuals name it is best to select "Outfitters" in the "Licensing Board" box drop-down list since DORA licenses many other professions; if searching by company name leave this at "Search All Boards". There seems to be a glitch in ALISON—if you search by company name under "Outfitters" it will come back with "no record found", but will show the record if all boards are searched.) Now, click on "Go To The Search Form".
The fastest way to search is if you have an outfitter’s license number. Make sure that this outfitter license number comes back to the outfitter you are looking at. (There have been instances where an unscrupulous person will use the license number of a licensed outfitter.) If you don't have the license number, just search by the individual’s name or company name.
Once you are at the individual or company name page make sure that you open up that record and check to make sure that the license status is active and see if there has been any "Board or Program Action" against that outfitter. If there has been, investigate what those actions were and how they might possibly affect your hunt or your relationship with that outfitter. Or, is time to start looking for another outfitter candidate?
Another great resource is the Colorado Outfitters Association. The Colorado Outfitters Association has an admirable Code of Ethics:
An Outfitter and Guide Member of the Colorado Outfitters Association shall:
Abide by all federal, state, and local laws and regulations concerning Colorado Outfitters and Guides.
- Abide by all state and federal laws and regulations concerning Colorado's wildlife and natural resources.
- Act as an ex-officio ambassador for the state of Colorado and shall not engage in practices or services that are damaging or disrespectful to the state of Colorado and the Colorado Outfitters Association.
- Represent their services completely, honestly, and fairly.
- Maintain serviceable and safe equipment used in their outfitting operations and shall maintain the highest safety standards allowable in conducting their outfitting and guiding activities.
- Conduct their outfitting and guiding operations in a manner that does not discredit themselves, other outfitters and guides, the Colorado Outfitters Association, (or) the state of Colorado.
- Require that all clients and employees obey all state, federal, and local laws concerning Colorado's wildlife and natural resources.
- Respect and not interfere with the public’s right and other outfitters and businesses right to utilize and enjoy Colorado's public lands, wildlife, and natural resources.
- Respect other outfitter and guide member’s rights within the association and shall not directly or indirectly cause injury to others.
Now back to being Magnum P.I.! One way to determine if an outfitter is qualified is to ask questions. You have to ask a lot of questions. It’s better to ask too many than not enough. It costs nothing to ask and will gain you everything.
After determining that an outfitter is properly licensed, insured and bonded, the next thing is to find out where the outfitter plans to have you hunt. Is it on public land or private land? If on public land, does the outfitter have the proper permits from the land-use management agency to outfit? (Do some extra research and don’t take his or her word for it. Check with the appropriate land-use management agency, such as the U.S. Forest Service if hunting in a national forest or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) if hunting on BLM land.) If hunting on private land, does the outfitter have permission or a lease to hunt on that private property? (If your outfitter is operating illegally, you run the risk of having your hunt canceled in progress and your game confiscated if your outfitter is arrested. Knowingly contracting with an illegal outfitter could result in felony convictions for all hunters involved.)
Get a feel of what the outfitter considers to be a quality hunt. Does it match up to your expectations? Look at the following checklist of questions, then get the answers:
- How long has the outfitter been in business?
- Does the outfitter provide a contract? (This is required if they are a licensed outfitter.)
- Has the outfitter ever been convicted of a wildlife violation?
- How experienced are the guides?
- What is the guide to client ratio?
- Will you always be with your guide or will they post you up somewhere and come back and pick you up later?
- Will the outfitter take care of the meat and hide of your animal?
- Will the outfitter use horses?
- How much riding will you be doing?
- What type of terrain will you be hunting in? (In return, be honest with the outfitter about your physical capabilities.
- What equipment will the outfitter provide and what equipment are you expected to bring?
- What weather conditions can be expected; what's the appropriate clothing to bring?
- What is the estimated size of the elk herd in the area you will be hunting?
- Can the outfitter provide a reference list of successful clients?
- Can the outfitter provide a list of unsuccessful clients?
- What are the harvest percentages or success rates?
- What is the outfitter’s cancellation policy if you need to cancel your hunt?
- What is the cancellation policy if cancellation is due to weather cancellations?
These are just some of the questions that you should ask when inquiring with an outfitter. Seeking a reputable/quality outfitter is similar to playing private detective. You have to investigate every angle possible and ask the right questions to be sure you are getting your money’s worth. You should consider several outfitters and compare them, recognizing that each outfitter will be a bit different in cost and ability, but allowing you to make your best choice. Remember and accept the fact that there simply are no guarantees to pursuing free-ranging and wild elk with an outfitter.
Act accordingly. That's the challenge of the hunt!
Now, as Paul Harvey would say, "For the rest of the story . . .” What do you do if you hired an outfitter and then found him or her unlawful or not in compliance with the services agreed upon? File a complaint with DORA.
All complaints must be in writing. Download the complaint form and submit it to DORA. The DORA Website describes the entire complaint process. The Office of Outfitter Registration, however, lacks the authority to order the outfitter to refund money or provide other services. Trying for those remedies would require you to take civil action against the outfitter.
If the outfitter is doing things that are illegal, such as taking wildlife unlawfully or allowing clients to do so, the best reporting mechanism is to contact Operation Game Thief (OGT) at 1-877/265-6648. You can also email the OGT. The OGT Dispatcher will contact the appropriate authority.
Good luck with your search for an outfitter. And have the hunt of a lifetime!