Considerations for the Hunting Client
Upon retiring from the fire service in 2017 I immediately embarked on a new full-time journey, guiding big-game hunters. This endeavor is what ultimately lead me to the creation of Best of The West Arizona where I now primarily hunt with friends, family and customers helping them on their hunts. But, while guiding for several prominent outfitters over those years, I observed and learned a lot about the often-misunderstood art of tipping your guide.
There are few things more disheartening for a guide than to receive a low-ball tip or even worse, getting stiffed! I’ve been fortunate over the years to be paired with great people and I have no qualms about the tips I’ve received so I don’t want to give any former clients the wrong idea. I write this because I’ve seen numerous examples of hunter/guide relationships turn awkward around tip time, and in the end, result in a lesser or even no tip for a hardworking and otherwise deserving guide.
This can be a sensitive topic. On one hand you have a hunter who works hard for his money and a guide who is also working hard to provide an exceptional service. In the end, its often misaligned expectations that leads to problems. If I can be allowed to speak on behalf of those in the guiding community I hope to shed some light on the hunting business and the work that goes in behind the scenes in hopes that this article results in improved expectations between hunter and guide.
Tipping is a common practice to show appreciation for services rendered. While there are no strict rules regarding the exact amount or percentage you should tip, it is generally recommended to consider a few factors before planning your hunt and when determining an appropriate amount to tip.
Generally speaking, in the U.S., it is customary to tip 10-20% of the cost of the hunt.
Therefore, a $6,000 hunt would normally result in a $600-$1200 tip. Now this is a good chunk of change on top of the cost of the hunt (and all the other expenses a hunter incurs just to make it to camp) so it’s really important to plan accordingly and budget ahead of time. I can assure you, your guide knows very well what a “good tip” is for any given hunt so their expectations are set that they’re going to get tipped this amount and they’re usually working hard to earn it. So, when they receive anything less they’re understandably disappointed.
Guiding is tough work.
Preparing to take a client afield takes weeks, even months, to prepare for and often at considerable expense to the guide. Guides are usually private contractors, (1099) workers for an outfitter and the overhead expenses incurred while preparing for your hunt may or may not be reimbursed by the outfitter. In most cases, they are not reimbursed.
Take into consideration an early-season archery deer hunt. In Arizona, those hunts kick off in mid-August which means your guide is likely scouting for you months in advance in the dead of summer. With the recent trail cam ban, scouting has become even more time-consuming, requiring considerable time in the field hiking ridges, watching water holes where deer are likely to visit and ultimately trying to pattern a specific animal. These are all-day endeavors that begin hours before first light and end hours after dark. In that time, your guide is covering a lot of ground in a truck or side by side and on foot over rough and rugged terrain. Very quickly fuel and maintenance costs start to add up and it seems there’s always a price to pay for traversing rugged backcountry. Trucks and UTV’s break down, tires go flat, suspensions take a beating, not to mention the cosmetic damage vehicles suffer on nearly every trip. I know I tend to break stuff and repairing any vehicle these days is really expensive. As a guide, this is just part of the job and “the cost of doing business”, but those expenses stack up really fast!
No one ever got rich guiding. Guiding for most is a labor of love.
Money filters up to the outfitter and some of it trickles back down to the guide. Although guides are generally paid fairly by their outfitter, even the top earners are merely breaking even by the time all their expenses are accounted for. This is why guides rely so heavily on their tips to help them come out just a little bit ahead. Dan Zellner, owner of Lucky Canyon Outfitters, reminds clients, “The guide does not get paid the amount you pay the outfitter”.
Food, fuel, footwear, RV’s, clothing, optics, tripods and other necessary gear also add up fast. Not to mention your guide has likely invested in top-of-the-line equipment. No guide wants a client showing up with better optics and gear than they have and their livelihood requires that they invest in high-quality stuff. In summary, guides are investing a lot of time, energy and capital to prepare for your hunt. Far more than the average client realizes.
There are often some extenuating circumstances that cause hunters to pause and reconsider their tip amount so I want to share and review a few common issues.
For example, how do you tip if you tag out on day one? Heck, some clients even tag out at first light on day one! Should the guide's tip be affected by this outcome? While some hunters might view this as an ideal scenario, others might see it differently. Some hunters may feel they were deprived of the full hunting experience and despite a successful harvest, might leverage that outcome against the guide.
For instance, some hunters feel like a lesser tip is warranted in a situation like this because the guide “didn’t have to work that hard”. Hunters can easily overlook the fact that all the hard work was done leading up to the hunt and it is that effort that put them in a position to harvest on opening day. Others might rationalize that tagging out early means the guide “got off easy”, when in fact, the exact opposite is true.
Most professional guides are working hard the weeks and months in advance of a hunt to put you in a position to harvest your target animal on opening morning.
This IS the desired outcome! It goes without saying that this is arguably the best time to harvest a target animal, before they react to hunting pressure and retreat to dense cover. Additionally, you don’t want your target animal being harvested by another hunter, do you?! Harvesting on opening morning (or soon after) is a testament to the competency of your guide. Its demonstrative of their commitment to scouting and learning that animals’ patterns. This is an outcome that should be celebrated not dismissed as being too easy on the guide.
What if you don’t harvest an animal at all?
This is an outcome that no one wishes for or expects. Every time a guide accepts a new client he/she is usually abundantly confident in the outcome. In their mind there’s no doubt the team will have a successful harvest but it does happen and despite everyone’s best effort it can be hard to connect on some hunts.
Things to consider:
Opportunities, effort, and success rates. More specifically, did you have an opportunity to harvest an animal? A missed shot or blown opportunity by the shooter shouldn’t adversely affect the tip of the guide. The guide is expected to provide “opportunities” and if you got one or more you should consider yourself fortunate and not penalize the guide. Effort; did the guide put in the time to scout and exert the necessary effort on the hunt? If so, they may have earned their requisite tip despite the outcome. Lastly, success rates. Its always good to have an idea of the published success rate for any given hunt so the hunter may have realistic expectations going in. For instance, archery hunts generally have lower success rates than rifle hunts. Rut hunts have generally higher success rates than non-rut hunts, etc. Knowing success rates ahead of time can help frame your expectations. The reality is, despite the guides best efforts, it may just be a tough hunt. Dan Zellner of Lucky Canyon Outfitters shares his thoughts, “It all boils down to the experience. Did you enjoy your hunt?”
Another Partner Outfitter, Toby Weaver of Antler Canyon Outfitters (ACO) advocates that tips should reflect only those factors the guide can control. For example, bad weather, hunting pressure, and missed shots, shouldn’t necessarily affect a guide’s tips if those factors were beyond their control. Tony Kiser of Cedar Ridge Outfitters in Wyoming suggests that bad tippers who return year after year soon develop a reputation among the guides and this may affect the guides effort, “Guides are not going to work their ass off.”, he advised.
Here’s a few final tips and guidelines to help manage your relationship with your guide:
Use the customary tipping range: As a general guideline, a tip of 10-20% of the total cost of the hunt is considered appropriate. You can adjust this range based on the factors mentioned earlier. For exceptional service, you should consider tipping towards the higher end of the range.
Assess the level of service provided by your hunting guide. Did they go above and beyond to make your hunting experience enjoyable? Consider their knowledge, expertise, professionalism, and attentiveness. If the guide put out the effort and ultimately exceeded your expectations, you should tip more generously.
Guides prefer cash tips or tips of goods or services. Some clients give their guides a new gun, bow or optics. One guide I know had a former client tip him by building him a beautiful new flatbed trailer for his UTV!! Whenever possible tips should be in cash and not be given by check or IOU. Pat Romero, owner of Trophy Hunts of Sonora offered that his tips have varied widely over the years from a box of Washington apples (which he thoroughly enjoyed) to a set of kitchen knives, to binoculars and even a muzzleloader. The largest tip he ever received far exceeded the 20% threshold. It was $3500 for a 137” Coues buck.
Many hunters book a 2:1 hunt in order to share the experience with a friend or family member and/or to save money on the cost of the hunt. However, when it comes to tipping, you should do so as individuals. Some clients rationalize that the tip can be combined between the two hunters to add up to what one hunter would tip. This is NOT fair to your guide. Guiding two hunters is exponentially more challenging and puts more burden on your guide. This is not the time to be cheap! If you are part of a group that shared the hunting guide's services then each member of the group should tip within the customary range, based open their individual experience.
Present the tip appropriately: When giving the tip, it's customary to do so in person, directly to the guide after the hunt. Express your gratitude for their services and hand them the tip in an envelope or in some other discreet manner. This should be accompanied by a hand shake and genuine show of appreciation for their efforts. Sharing specific examples of things you liked about their character or work ethic will also mean a lot to your guide.
No tip or low-ball tip? Toby of ACO again shares his opinion, “If you leave a bad tip or don’t tip at all you need to at least explain to the outfitter why so they know the issues with the guide, if there were any.” Ideally, any serious issues with a guide should be conveyed to the boss.
One final reminder, if your camp has a “Camp Cook”, they too should be tipped. $10-$20/day/client as a general rule.
I hope you found these guidelines helpful. If it sounds like I’m speaking more so from the guide's perspective, I am. Simply because I’ve seen some great guides be treated poorly by hunting clients, even by the ones who tagged out on great animals.
Remember, tipping is a gesture of appreciation. I know full well this can be a two-way street and there are some lousy guides out there but in most cases, your guide is a hard-working professional trying to make a living doing something they love and coming home with a little sugar in their pocket is a great motivator and the best way you can show your appreciation for their efforts. If you can afford a guided hunt, you can afford the tip as the two go hand and glove when budgeting and planning your next adventure.
Did you find this article helpful? Any experiences you’d like to share? Please like and comment.