The Truth About Guided Whitetail Deer Hunts
While DIY hunting is all the rage these days – and certainly, my favorite – there is a time and place to seriously consider guided whitetail deer hunts. That’s true for even the toughest backcountry hunter. How so? To do it right, DIY hunting requires time and lots of it. You have to do the research, then do more research, especially if you are traveling far from home.
Ideally, you’ll be able to do some pre-hunt on-the-ground scouting to supplement all the Google Earth mapping, topographic map reading, and whatever info you’ve gleaned from speaking with people. Failure in any one of those things will cut your odds drastically. You have to put in the time, and be willing to spend a lot of days in the field – especially on unfamiliar ground.
What if you don’t live in a state where “monster” bucks roam, like Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, and the like, but you want to give it a go? A guided hunt might be your best and only option, at least the first time or two. That’s not saying these and other states like them don’t have solid public land options, because they do, but generally speaking the best chances for shooting a whopper buck is on private land where the gates are locked, food plots, and crops are planted specifically for deer, and the harvest is tightly controlled.
Then there are the “cult” whitetail species most people don’t live close to. I’m talking about Coues whitetail, Columbian whitetail, and Carmen Mountain whitetail to name three. I’ve killed all three subspecies on guided hunts, my Carmen bucks in Coahuila, Mexico, Coues bucks in Arizona, New Mexico, and Sonora, Mexico, and a whopper Columbia whitetail in Oregon. I’ve also shot big Canadian whitetails in several provinces on guided hunts.
Are there pitfalls on guided hunts? You bet. One thing you have to remember is that there are no guarantees of success in fair chase hunting, no matter how much money you pay. Also, many guided whitetail operations that tout quality over quantity have buck size minimums – the common minimum is a 140 buck – which means you’ll often see a lot of deer that you would shoot back home but are off-limits. Also, these operations usually have success rates well below 50 percent for bowhunters – 30 percent is realistic – and maybe 50-75 percent for rifle hunters, depending on the operation, and often the weather.
Nobody can control the weather, and when it is unseasonably warm during the rut, success rates can plummet like a stone. For example, I’ve been on several guided Canadian whitetail hunts in November when temperatures were 20 degrees or more above normal, and few hunters had opportunities at good bucks.
Another limiting factor on a guided vs DIY hunt is the amount of time you can spend afield. Guided whitetail hunts generally last a week or less, with 5-7 days about average. Hunting the family farm or a public land spot DIY means you can spend all season if need be. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about success in the whitetail woods is that it often means finding a good spot and then simply hunting it as much as possible, assuming conditions are right.
What do guided whitetail deer hunts cost? That varies a lot, depending on where, when, and how you hunt. Guided whitetail deer hunts in big buck states like Kansas, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, and others often run somewhere between $700-$1000/day, which includes room, board, pre-set stands, and guide service, and does not include out-of-state license and tag costs, meat processing, taxidermy work, and transportation to and from camp. Some guided hunts base the cost on antler size, with a base price for a buck scoring up to, say, 140 or so, then more money tacked on as the buck gets bigger. Be sure you ask about such things before booking.
Also, if you want to hunt places where there are a lot of deer, remember that generally speaking, the further north you go, the lower the overall deer density. States that allow corn feeders are also places where the chances are you’ll see more deer than those that ban feeders. For example, in Texas, you’ll see a lot of deer and some nice bucks on feeders as a rule, while in Alberta you’ll see way less deer hunting the huge ag fields, but have the chance to shoot a huge-bodied buck with thick antlers.
All that aside, some of my most memorable whitetail hunts have been with excellent, hardworking guides who knew the places they hunt intimately, were dang serious about hunting, and worked extremely hard for their clients. It might be they have bucks patterned on private land, or they have the advanced glassing skills necessary to find elusive Coues and Carmen Mountain whitetails in the mountainous brushy country they call home. It may be they have exclusive access to prime private land or have spent the scouting time needed to successfully hunt public ground.
How do you find a quality guided hunt? The best way is word of mouth from people you trust that have hunted with them. A booking agent you trust that represents several different outfitters can help match you up with a hunt that meets both your expectations and budget. I tend to shy away from outfitters I see on TV shows or YouTube videos until I have learned a lot more about them than just what some celebrity hunter tells me.
As the saying goes, you pay your money, you take your chances. Do your homework and book smart, and you just might find that going guided is a pretty good option.
Get More Information
For more information on guided whitetail deer hunts, visit these outfitters’ websites.
Coues Whitetail: https://www.arizonahunting.net/
Columbian Whitetail: http://www.crosshairconsulting.com/
Carmen Mountain Whitetail: http://www.backcountryhunts.com/