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When to Trust Your Guide--Allen Bolen, Bolen & Lewis Trophy Guiding

As a traveling bow hunter I've hunted with a lot of guides over the years; I believe that this, coupled with my profession as an outfitter, gives me a unique perspective into what hunting guides are really made of.

My most recent hunt took place in Newfoundland, Canada, where I hunted for Woodland Caribou. Upon the evening of my arrival, I was introduced to my guide, a rough, older man named Lyman. Throughout my time hunting with Lyman, I found myself reflecting on some of the characteristics of good guides.

Old guides vs. young guides

Young guides have enthusiasm. They will go anywhere, and do anything. There is no mountain they won’t climb. They usually act quickly when opportunities present themselves in the field. Young guides hunt hard and fast. Many times this leads to great hunting success.

Old guides have experience to draw upon, and experience can mean wisdom and sound decision making. Old guides are typically thoughtful and patient when opportunities present themselves in the field. Old guides hunt smart; and many times this pays off.

One morning in Newfoundland, we hiked into a bog where we had glassed a giant stag from across a big river the night before. To our disappointment, when we got to the bog, the stag had crossed the river and was now close to where we’d been glassing the night before. I suggested to Lyman that we immediately make the 4 hour trip to the other side of the river to attempt a stalk on the bull. Lyman was reluctant to make the trip, he observed that it was a long ways and there was no telling where that stag would be when we got over there. Lyman relented to my enthusiasm and agreed to make the trip. I was excited. This was an amazing stag. When we arrived to our lookout point several hours later, the stag had crossed the river again and was running his herd not far from where we had been standing hours earlier.

In this case, I acted the part of the young guide, and Lyman the wise and patient old guide. Sometimes patience is best.

Tenure with an outfitter

Every experienced guide was once a rookie. Most likely, the best veteran guides were always pretty dang good, even in their rookie seasons. So even rookie guides can be very good. But this doesn’t mean all rookies are good.

As outfitters, we do everything possible to keep the same guides year after year. Replacing a guide is hard work and can be a gamble. But inevitably guide turnover happens, and we have to hire new guides. Unfortunately, even with tough interviewing and reference checking, about half of new guides don’t make it past one season. Assuming you are with a good outfitter, a guide with several seasons working under that outfitter is likely a safe bet. He has proven himself through many seasons that he knows how to be successful. Trust that guide. 

Knowing this, on the first morning of my caribou hunt I asked Lyman about his work history. I was pleased to find that this was his 12th season with this outfitter. I immediately rested more easily, and it was no surprise to me that during the hunt we saw more caribou and bigger stags than any other guide/hunter combo in camp. This stemmed from tireless hours spent behind our binos and Lyman’s ability to look in the right places at the right times. It was the mark of success made possible only by over a decade hunting the same area.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

You can’t tell a good guide by looking at him. A guide’s mettle can only be tested in the field with a hunter who has an open mind.

Lyman is quite a bit older than me, and he might be on the downhill side of his physical abilities. On top of this, Lyman smokes 3 packs a day. These things don’t usually mix with the kind of bow hunting I like to do. At this point I could’ve let my confidence in my guide slip. That would’ve been a mistake.

Several years ago, my outfitting partner, Spike Lewis, and I had the pleasure of guiding Jim Shockey on a mountain goat hunt. Going into the hunt I didn’t know what to expect while guiding Jim. I don’t know of anyone with more hunting experience than Jim. That was intimidating. I remember wondering, “Who’s gonna be guiding whom here?” To my surprise, Jim made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t know anything close to what we knew about mountain goats and the country that we were hunting. He said, “Tell me where to go, and I’ll go. Tell me when to shoot, and I’ll shoot. You guys are the experts here.” He put complete trust in us as his guides.

In the end, trusting my guide paid off. I traveled to Newfoundland with a tall order. I wanted to take a Boone and Crockett stag with my bow. I was clear with the outfitter about my goal and was paired with Lyman for this specific reason. The outfitter knew Lyman had the experience to find and field judge stags of this caliber.

On day 7 of my hunt, I sat 40 yards from a giant, tall-racked caribou bedded in some think brush next to the river. The stag lay alone sleepily, but I had no clear shot. Any attempt to get closer would not improve my shooting lanes.  After an hour of waiting the wind started to shift from south to east, as predicted in the day’s weather report. I knew it was now or never.

I had an aggressive idea. It was risky, but no more risky than sitting in the shifting wind. I put my binos on Lyman who sat watching intently a few hundred yards away. I hoped we could communicate through hand signals. With my regular hunting partners it would’ve been an easy message, but I had only known Lyman for a week. Amazingly, after a minute of signaling, Lyman perfectly grasped the plan. He stood up and walked into the caribou’s view. The alerted animal watched Lyman approach. When the pressure got to be too much, the stag stood, offering me a clear shot.

In the next few moments, two arrows, launched from my Element RKT, zipped through the giant stag’s chest.  He is the Newfoundland trophy of a lifetime, with a Pope and Young score of 311 2/8. This surpasses the B&C minimum by more than 15 inches and should land the stag in the top 5 of P&Y.

Hunting with a guide is a team effort. I’ve always had the best experiences when I trusted my guide and let him show me how to hunt the country and critters he has come to know through experience. There is definitely a place for a hunter to give valuable input that can help make the difference, especially when it comes to bow hunting expertise. But be careful to not second guess your guide’s judgment or plans; putting your trust in your guide will empower him to make good decisions that will generate opportunities for you to harvest what you’re pursuing.

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