By: J.T. Nunn
When you do a Google search for Antelope Hunting, you will find many outfitters to choose from. As you research your possibilities of where to take your next adventure for a trophy antelope, you should consider the following criteria to ensure the best hunting experience. I have outlined six important factors to keep in mind when trying find the right outfitter.
As you research your trip, the first thing you will discover is that Wyoming is the Pronghorn Antelope capital of the world. The open plains of Wyoming offer the perfect habitat to support large herds of pronghorn antelope. As a native of the Laramie Plains, in southeastern Wyoming, I have spent my entire life studying, hunting, guiding, and outfitting here in Wyoming for the pronghorn antelope.
Wyoming is broken down into many different hunting management areas. When selecting an area there many factors to consider such as: draw success, season dates, quality of animals, number of animals and the amount of hunting pressure.
Many areas throughout the state of Wyoming contain vast amounts of private land. These areas tend to have a higher draw success rate due to limited public access which leads to fewer applicants. The low hunting pressure in these areas allows animals to reach maturity and in turn produce trophy pronghorn antelope year after year. An animal that is harvested without being stressed also yields better tasting meat.
Season dates are very important because you need to choose a timeframe that fits your schedule. Wyoming offers a special archery season for most areas in addition to a rifle season that generally follows. Unlike most other big game species, antelope hunting is not always better during the rut. Some areas are better before the rut, some during and others after the rut is over. An experienced antelope outfitter will be able to give you his/her advice for what’s best depending on what your individual expectations might be.
When trying to decide on the quality and number of animals in a hunt area, ask the different outfitters what their success rates are and ask to see pictures of all the animals they have harvested over the past few years. When you compare one to another it won’t take you long to figure out what looks good and what doesn’t. Use some common sense when making this judgment. If you find an area with a good draw success rate and an outfitter with a high success rate and proof he has the quality to go with it, you will realize that you don’t have to hunt the biggest herd in the state in order to be successful.
As far as hunting pressure goes, this comes down to a few simple questions. One, ask how big is the area that you will be hunting. Second, ask how many hunters will be hunting the same land you will be hunting both before and after your scheduled time. Last, find out if the land you will be hunting has public access. When you know the answers to these questions, you will have a good feel for how hard the area has and will be hunted. A well managed area will have the same quality of hunting the last day of the season as it did the first day if not better. Antelope are not dumb and they will move from hard hunted areas to areas with less pressure and they will remember year to year where they are safe and where they are not. Just remember that the quality of a hunt area CAN NOT be determined by the draw success rate, as there are many other underlying factors which come into play.
Once you have researched and decided on a location and hunt area, the next step is to choose an outfitter that operates in that area. As a licensed professional outfitter, I am the first to tell you that there are many excellent outfitters throughout Wyoming and all of the other western states. That being said, you are probably wondering, “How do I know which one is the right one for me?” At this stage, you (the hunter), need to make some decisions about what you want your hunt to be like. Do you prefer a fancy lodge? Do you want to stay in a camp? Do you prefer to stay in a motel and have access to the other urban activities in the evening and after your hunt if you get done early? The bottom line is you need to decide where your priorities lay and go from there. All good outfitters will provide you with good food and adequate sleeping quarters but you need to decide if a camp with a wall tent is what you are looking for, or if you want a 5 star lodge, or all the above. After making some personal decisions find out what each outfitter offers and narrow down your list accordingly.
Another key factor that a lot of hunters forget to ask about is their guide. Most likely you will spend much more time with your guide than you will with the outfitter. If the outfitter is willing to put you in contact with some of his guides that will be guiding during your hunt, I highly suggest talking with them. Ask the guide how long he has been working for the outfitter. Find out how many seasons he has been guiding in the area where you will be hunting. The more questions you ask the better you will be able to make a decision. As with any other business, honesty, trust and the integrity of the people you are doing business with is worth the utmost consideration. All other factors being equal, what really makes the difference between a good antelope hunt and a great antelope hunt is how well your personality matches up with your outfitter and maybe more importantly your guide. The best hunting in the world is not enjoyable if you don’t get along with your guide!!
Last but not least check with the Wyoming State Board of Outfitters to make sure your outfitter is licensed. All licensed Wyoming outfitters are required to obtain the proper permits and authorizations in the areas that they hunt. Most outfitters are willing to help you with the application process to ensure that you apply for the correct area and type of antelope license for the hunt you want to do. A qualified outfitter should be able to provide you with a list of suggested gear, clothing and equipment. Most outfitters are more than willing to help with travel and taxidermy arrangements, as well as motel accommodations if needed.
Most guided antelope hunts range from $1200-$2500 depending on what is included. I do not suggest that a hunter use the price exclusively to evaluate the quality of the outfitter or the hunt but do keep in mind you may get what you pay for. Generally speaking the more luxurious the accommodations, the more expensive the hunt will be. Just make sure when price shopping that you are comparing apples to apples and that you understand what is included and what is not. Don’t forget to ask about license fees, trophy fees, meat processing, meat shipping, hunting stamps, gratuities etc. as all of these expenses will add up. A hunt that may seem like a good deal may not be quite so good when you really start looking into what is actually included.
As a hunter, outfitter and sportsman, I understand that the enjoyment of a hunting trip is much more than just the opportunity of harvesting of an animal. As true sportsmen, we realize that even though we are hiring a professional guide service there are many factors out of human control. Hunting is hunting and there are no guarantees on harvesting an animal, especially when it is fair chase hunting. The experience itself, along with the camaraderie of friends, old and new, will be the memories that will stay with you for a lifetime.