By Erin Merrill and John Floyd
Hiring A Moose Guide: Some Tips
Erin Merrill has hired a few guides to help her; most recently, in 2021 when she drew a moose tag. John Floyd is a Registered Maine Guide and the owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. Together, they discuss thoughts, questions and concerns about hiring a guide.
EM: A moose hunt can be an expensive hunt. There are a lot of things that can factor into the week you spend in the woods. I didn’t realize how much the entire hunt would be. Do you think a lot of hunters understand the costs?
JF: Winning a Maine moose permit for most is a once in a lifetime experience, most hunters do not understand the costs and situations that arise during this special hunt. There are many factors unique to moose hunting that guides are used to but hunters may not understand at the outset. Things like piles of bagged ice in coolers that are refreshed as needed to keep a harvested moose cool, daily fuel tank fills, gate fees and lodging expense outside of where a hunter usually hunts are the norm for a Maine moose hunt, but not necessarily expected by a first time moose hunter. Inquiring about costs above and beyond the moose permit and guiding service fee is crucial. Your guide should be able to advise you on average additional costs and if these are part of an outfitter’s package rate or if these expenses are the client’s responsibility.
EM: What about tipping?
JF: Tipping has always been a sticky topic for guides. While tipping is standard in the guiding industry, many first time clients hiring guides may not be aware of it. From a guide’s perspective, you hope if you work hard for your client and exceed their expectations you will receive a tip. However, if you do not it feels crass to ask for one. I have been tipped exorbitantly by a single client and been skunked by an entire group who thanked me effusively for the experience. If you would consider tipping the contractor that performed a specialized service at your home efficiently and with great results, you should probably consider tipping your guide.
Special note: As a sporting camp owner I do subscribe to the idea of clients not having to tip the owner if I am their guide. However, tipping for the housekeeping and cooking staff (my wife) falls in line with standard norms in the hospitality industry.
EM: I packed every article of hunting clothing that I own and two pairs of boots. The weather was warm, cool, sunny and rainy so I was prepared throughout the week. But, I also know that I left a few bags in the truck that I never opened throughout the week. What is the right amount?
JF: This is a very common condition hunters traveling north experience – Imayneedthisitus. If left unchecked and not treated properly, this condition may lead to swollen camps and the much more serious condition Icantfindititus. All joking aside, the packing list of required items for your hunt is one of the most critical aspects often overlooked. Any guide or outfitter worth their salt should be able to supply you with a standard packing list of required and optional items for your specific trip. I recommend clients break down their packing list into two sections – hunting & camp.
Good, comfortable boots, extra socks, cold and wet weather gear and hunter orange clothing requirements are essentials on any hunt. A small daypack with toilet tissue, spare eyeglasses, prescription medicine and personal comfort items is recommended. Bring a dependable rifle that is zeroed, extra ammunition and a quality case. For camp, pack your ‘civilian’ clothing and personal hygiene items. The last thing your guide wants to see when you come out of the camp in the morning is a client wearing brand new boots, carrying a stuffed hockey bag and rifle with the manufacturer sticker still on the barrel.
EM: I completely blew a shot on Wednesday morning. I was embarrassed and felt like I had let the group down because it meant that I might not get a moose. How should hunters handle that pressure?
JF: In my experience many hunters put a lot of unnecessary pressure on themselves. Some first time clients hold beliefs that guides are ‘super hunters’, all knowing and expert marksman to boot. This is rarely true. A good guide should know his clients strengths and weaknesses, as well as the chosen firearm’s limitations to put the hunter in the best position to be successful. The hunter and guide need to be on the same page in regards to shooting distances, effective range and shooting positions before the hunt begins. This also should be discussed during the introductory phase. If I know a client is a novice shooter and comfortable only to 100 yards in a supported position, I will not give the client the “Take him!” command when a called in bull hangs up at 200 yards – no matter how impressive the bull is. If I ask a client to exceed their comfort zone and ability, a bad shot is on me not the client. A good guide should reevaluate and reposition to get an ethical kill shot for the hunter.
EM: When our hunt ended we had traveled more than 750 miles in the truck and hiked more than 25 miles. That is a lot. Aside from realizing how much time you will be driving and/or hiking, what should hunters do to prepare?
JF: Guides can be downright driven to put a moose in front of their client. No guide wants to look their client in the face after six days of moose hunting and know they are going home with their tag in their pocket and not attached to a moose on the game pole. Guides want to do everything they can, take advantage of every minute of legal light and cover as much ground as necessary to fulfill their clients dream. Working guides are also used to the rigors of moose hunting, and I suspect often overlook the hunter’s comfort level during pursuit. We just want to work hard for you and earn our wage. If a client needs a break I welcome it, I just need to know. I tell all of my clients, “This is your hunt. Tell me what you need. I’m here for YOU.”
JF: One of the things I ask my clients is if they are physically and mentally prepared for this hunt.
EM: It might sound weird but I started a training program for my moose hunt as soon as I was drawn. My rifle weighs 7.5lbs and I knew that I needed to be able to stand in the middle of a road or chopping and hold my gun steady to make a good shot. I also threw weights into a backpack and started hiking around my house. The work pays off when you have to jump out of the truck and have seconds to get a good shot off.
EM: Most spots where you hunt will not have cell signal. I loved my OnX maps and used it to track where we went and what sign we saw. But, I knew that it was not going to be our go-to for mapping. Knowing phones probably won’t work, what’s your game plan?
JF: Having a daily hunt plan is a great way for guides and clients to work as a team and connect. We usually do it over breakfast. I outline our current scouting report, where we will be operating that day and prominent road names using the Gazetteer. During the hunt, I point out major terrain features and names of brooks, streams and ridges. This not only provides conversation but helps to keep clients in tune to our surroundings.
EM: I didn’t really care how big of a moose I shot, but I didn’t want spikes. I know a lot of people try to wait and possibly get a bigger bull later in the week. I made sure that my guide knew that we just wanted a moose. Should hunters be upfront about what they will and won’t shoot?
JF: Yes. We need to know that in order to meet or exceed your expectations. Most guides get tunnel vision, expecting that clients want nothing more than the absolute biggest bull or cow they can get. This happens because most clients actually say that. But when a hunter can’t take a 50 inch class bull in the first three days, the client’s expectations rapidly change. A guide may have passed on a few 40 inch class bulls to meet assumed expectations early in the hunt and now is struggling to put a 30 inch class bull in the crosshairs later in the week. My advice to clients for any big game animal might sound cliché, but it stands the test of time. ‘Don’t pass on something on Monday that you would shoot on Friday.’ If your guide knows your expectations and goals, you will both be working on the same page and as a team.
JF: Another key thing to think about is your experience level and/or comfort level hunting and being in remote places.
EM: I was very happy to have a hot shower and bed every night. But, I know there are a lot of guides that are off grid in tents or somewhere in between. Hunters should think about where they want to be if they have to hunt for a day in the rain or heat. Fall in Maine can encompass every possible weather option we have; rain, snow, 20 degrees and 80 degrees. Moose hunting is mentally and physically hard. You want to enjoy your week so be honest about what you want out of your camp experience.
Overall, we wish all of the permit winners a wonderful moose hunt. It is a once in a life time experience for so many and you cannot beat hunting in the Maine woods this time of year. Enjoy every minute!
Erin is a member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and the New England Outdoor Writers Association. She is a senior writer for Drury Outdoors’ DeerCast. You can read about Erin’s adventures and contact her at www.andastrongcupofcoffee.com
John is a Registered Maine Guide, an NRA Certified Instructor and is the owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Facebook @tuckerridgeoutdoors
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