EDITOR'S NOTE: Master Western hunter J.R. Keller of Delta, Colorado, a member of Hunter's Specialties' Hunt Team, is one of the most-versatile hunters in the U.S.
QUESTION: What do you look for when choosing an outfitter for an elk hunt?
ANSWER: I'll ask myself what type of hunt I want. Do I want to go on a drop hunt, where an outfitter drops me off in the woods with my basic essentials, or do I want a lodge-style hunt, where I can come back each night to a good dinner and a nice warm bed. When you look into some of these outfitters, you want to call some of the past customers to make sure the outfitter is a reputable organization that will give you a good quality hunt. You need to call successful hunters and non-successful hunters. You want make sure your money and your time is well spent when you are out there.
Next, I'll ask an outfitter about the success rate. Some guys ask how many hunters harvested an animal last year. But you need to take into consideration that the outfitter may have had a bad year as the result of bad weather. Ask about the success of the last three years to give you a better outlook on his success.
Next, I want to ask what all will be included in the hunt. Will the price include my hunting license and food? With most outfitters, you are responsible for your transportation there. Will they pick you up from an airport if you fly? Consider how much the hunt will cost you and how many days you'll be hunting.
QUESTION: What do you usually tip?
ANSWER: The tip depends on whether I've experienced a bad or successful hunt. I usually split it up between the outfitters. When I work with an outfitter who has a cook in the camp, I like to tip the cook as well. Generally, I tip between $300 to $400. I will spend $300 for the guide and $100 for the cook. But it really depends on how you feel you've been treated. That is a general rule of thumb.
QUESTION: What else do you recommend when picking a guide?
ANSWER: Like I said earlier, most guides will run you into the ground the first day to tire you out, and then they have you for the duration. So get in shape, and know your limitations. If you have any medical problems, be up front with those guys, so they know what you can handle. Being upfront with them is just as important as their being upfront with you.