Ten Questions to Ask a Reference Before You Book
Don W. Sangster
In another article, we examined some questions to ask a hunting outfitter before you book a trip. These were not basic questions that most outdoorsmen would automatically ask, but more penetrating questions that will help reveal potential surprises before itís too late.
One thing that most people know to do is ask for references from previous clients of the outfitter. Although this is a valuable exercise, you have to realize that an outfitter is only going to provide references who were happy with their trip, and likely only those who successfully pursued their chosen game. But by knowing what questions to ask these references Ė questions that you may not be able to ask the outfitter directly Ė you can ďread between the linesĒ and glean some very useful information about what you can truly expect if you too book a trip with the same outfitter.
1. Where Else Have You Hunted?
This question will reveal how much experience the reference has. If the reference has never been on a similar trip elsewhere, and has nothing but glowing reports about the trip in question, take it with a grain of salt. On the other hand, if the reference is a seasoned outdoorsman with guided hunting trips around the world, you can probably take their views to the bank.
2. How Often Have You Used This Outfitter/Would You Go Again?
This can be especially useful in determining what is the best time of year/season to go, as repeat customers often get first choice of time slots. It will also tell you how many trips worth of experience the references are speaking from, and gives you an idea of the best endorsement possible: return clients.
3. How Much Game Did You Encounter?
Your outfitter should give you an idea of how much game you can realistically expect to find. However, itís good to get independent confirmation of this, from as many sources as possible. Make sure, however, that you are on the same page as the references in terms of the time of year/season, the type of trip, etc.
4. What Methods of Hunting Did You Employ?
This can be one of the most critical factors of your trip as far as the quality of your overall experience. If you a deer hunter that prefers to sit in a treestand, booking a trip with an outfitter that mostly still hunts is a bad idea. Ask the outfitter these questions, but also ask the references, and donít be afraid to make your preferences known to your outfitter in advance.
5. What Kind of Shots Can I Expect?
Ask your outfitter about typical shooting situations and ranges, and be honest about your own shooting abilities and experience. Most limitations can be accommodated if known in advance. Ask the references the same questions, and try to politely ask whether the shooting distances quoted were estimates or actually measured.
6. What are the Guides Like/Which Guide Should I Ask For?
Although top-notch outfitters will usually have nothing but top-quality guides working for them, guiding is a tough job and, much like other occupations, some guides are simply better than others. Moreover, just like their clients, some guides are very quiet, while others are quite talkative and social. Although a guide and client may only be together for a week or so, they will spend a lot of time together during that week, sometimes during stressful situations. Having a guide with a personality compatible with that of his client can make a big difference in terms of team ďchemistry.Ē Ask the references which guide(s) they have had and whom they would recommend.
7. Whatís the Equipment Like/Anything Else I Should Bring/Leave at Home?
Most outfitters will provide you with a list of items to bring. However, much like you may look back on a previous tripís equipment list and wish youíd brought, or likely left behind, certain items, the references will likely have similar insight. Itís also good to know exactly what the outfitter-provided gear will be like. Again, based on what the references say, let the outfitter know about any special needs you may have.
8. What are the Accommodations and Food Like?
Accommodations can vary from nylon dome tents to five-star lodges, and everything in between. You should know what to expect by the time you book. However, photos in a brochure or on a website can sometimes be overly flattering. The types of beds, the temperature in the sleeping quarters and whether you will be sharing your accommodations are all good details to know in advance. You may even have some choice of accommodations, so ask the references about their experiences and at least be prepared.
If your trip will be American Plan, ask the references about the type, quality and quantity of the food served and, by all means, inform the outfitter in advance about any particular requests or allergies you may have.
9. Was there Anything that wasnít Satisfactory/Could have been Better?
Donít be surprised to hear some silence at first when you ask this question, as it is one that few people will ask. Many outfitters donít even ask their clients this question, even those clients that they ask to be a reference, and that is exactly why you want to ask it. If you are told of only minor issues, if anything, this should give you considerable comfort. If you hear something that gives you cause for concern, assess it carefully and donít be afraid to question the outfitter further. However, donít reveal the identity of the informing reference.
10. Were there any Surprises/Is there Anything Else I Should Know?
Before thanking the reference and hanging up, make sure you ask this catch-all question. Most people can usually come up with at least one thing that they wish they had known in advance. You are trying to learn from their experiences so that you wonít have the same wish after your trip.
Donít forget that references are doing you a favour by speaking to you, so be aware of time zones and donít call too early, too late or during dinner hour. Try to keep the calls to less than 15 minutes. The point to speaking with references is to confirm what the outfitter has told you. If you receive any conflicting information, confront the outfitter. Now is not the time to be shy. Remember, it is your hard-earned money at risk. If you feel at all uneasy at any time through the process, trust your instincts and look for a different outfitter.