There is no doubt in my mind that hunting is one of the most incredible adventures that I ever imagined. It is also one of the most infuriating, scary, frustrating, and even grueling things that I have ever tried.
I have only been hunting the mountains of Utah for 7 years, but in that time I have sustained blisters, blood, tears, and snot-sicles that make amazing moments in hindsight.
At this point, I have only hunted DIY (do it yourself), which means all public land and working as hard as you can to separate yourself from the sea of other hunters. It makes the challenge that much sweeter when you locate a herd or find a prize trophy animal.
The ins and outs of a DIY Hunt
DIY hunting is honestly the supreme challenge in my eyes. It demands a great amount of time both at home and on the mountain.
You have to study topography and terrain using apps such as OnX Maps or even Google Earth/Maps. This allows you to nail down some trails to utilize to obtain a hidden gem of a meadow or water hole. You may also find an area where you feel that you should search for animal sign of movement through the potential spot. It would be greatly beneficial to build or clear a shooting lane or create a natural blind to give you the best ability to set yourself up where the animals may come through the spot that you have chosen.
In a DIY hunt, you should already have a solid knowledge base of the animal that you are hunting. You should be pretty darn familiar with their likes and dislikes in general to increase your odds of a good location panning out.
When we moved to Utah from Georgia, I had no idea where to find elk. I was out hunting in my first season and was approached by another hunter. He was hunting for deer, and I told him that I would love to find an elk. He truly looked at me like I was loopy and explained to me that elk would not be down as low as I was hunting in early season.
He educated me on elevation, weather, food sources, and many things that I did not ever have to learn back home in Georgia. Whitetail deer are always around, so I really learned a lot that day.
If you consider these above time and physical demands, then calculated that amount of time as though you were punching a work time clock you might find that it equals a pretty large amount. Imagine if you had to pay yourself for that amount of work and time while committed to a DIY hunt.
DIY Or a Guided Hunt?
This brings me to the choice of DIY or selecting a guided hunt. There are several factors that I want to present in making the decision to venture on your own, or if you wish to purchase a guided hunt.
The very first thing that I want to mention is money. If you can save and afford to do a guided hunt, then give it a go! Not everyone gets the freedom to gift themselves with such a fabulous treasure.
I have started a separate savings account that is labelled “Dream Hunt”. I haven’t decided yet what it will be, but I am going to make it happen one day!
In need of Mentorship
If you need mentorship of the expertise of a guide, then you surely want to choose a guided hunt. Perhaps you might be new to a species, area, or even hunting is new to you entirely. This is the perfect opportunity to learn from some well versed and knowledgeable professionals, and the information alone may pave the path for your next hunt to be on your own.
Limited time away from home or work
Time limitations may be another factor to consider. If you are a busy individual (really, who isn’t), and you may not have the time required to perform the research, set up, and scouting then you truly would do best with a guided hunt. For someone honestly time crunched, it would be devastating to fumble around without direction or a knowledge base of where you are going. Moments like this are where a guide pays off exponentially.
Another really important highlight of choosing a guided hunt is if you would prefer to have a luxury or restful vacation like experience. Many guide services either have cabins or a lodge, or even an amazing canvas tent with a warming stove nestled deep in the mountain at an established base camp. This experience is what would win me over to pick a guided hunt.
I am enamored by the thought of waking up to someone cooking breakfast and my tent is warm while I get dressed for a day on the mountain. Food, lodging, scouts, transportation around the hunting area (and often pick up from the airport is possible). Many guides will even do all of the heavy lifting such as cleaning and processing the animal and getting it down off of the mountain for you.
After carrying my spike elk, I would have happily paid ANYONE to carry ME by the time I made it back from the steep and grueling climb while elk hunting last year.
Best chance of success
One final factor to consider is the increased odds of filling your tag. There is never a guarantee that you will be successful or find the biggest animal in the planet to target; however, a guide service will not remain open and functioning for long if they cannot seal the deal and keep hunters happy with a successful hunt. I truly fumbled around the Utah mountains for 3 years before I got my first mule deer, and it took me 7 years to get my first public land elk. I would be out of business and on the street corner with a sign if this was my career.
In truth, the decision is always a personal one. If you have the time and physical ability to put in the work, then that is honestly the greatest achievement. It feels beyond amazing to know that you did it all on your own. If any of the considerations listed above apply to you, then you may with to proceed with a guided hunt option.
There are MANY to choose from. Several are bare bones and cheaper where you bring your own tent and food. Or you may wish to have a full service, waited on hand and foot type of experience. The bottom line is making the choice that you feel best about.
Hunting is an experience that many never appreciate. How you choose to go out and hunt, make it your dream. DREAM BIG!