November 05, 2021
By Darron McDougal
I hear it constantly: “If I had as much money as so-and-so, I’d kill big bucks every year, too.” Perhaps I was guilty of such remarks as an ignorant teenager 15 years ago. The misconception is that guided hunts are all bliss. Going guided certainly has advantages, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll kill or even see a huge buck. I know because I’ve been invited on a handful of guided hunts, and none produced a single world-class-buck sighting.
The American way is to covet when someone kills a huge buck and to diminish their accomplishment. Probably the greatest contributor to this foolish mindset is that we tend to focus on what we wish we had rather than be thankful for what we have.
That aside, some guided hunts are great and some are terrible. One thing I know for sure is that the DIY angle has many advantages that we often overlook or take for granted. Let’s discuss five in particular.
1. Save Money
There’s no doubt that many outfitters across American soil have some of the best deer dirt there is. Many lease or own large chunks or the right smaller parcels and manage them carefully. This allows deer to live on the property with little to no disturbance, and bucks that are left to mature produce outstanding antlers. But, you’ll pay for it.
Most guided whitetail hunts begin at $1,500 on the low end, and in premium states such as Illinois or Kansas, $5,000-$8,000 isn’t out of the question for a five-day hunt. Oh, and that usually doesn’t include your travel, license and tips. Even for a world-class buck, that’s a lot of money. If money isn’t an issue and you want to hunt for five days and possibly encounter your largest deer ever, sure, get out your wallet.
A DIY hunter can hunt the same states on public lands for a fraction of the cost. Yes, public land will mean that you must work hard for your opportunities, but you cannot deny the money savings. I can afford three DIY hunts for the same price as one premium guided hunt.
2. Hunt Where You Want…
“Don’t guide the guide” has become a recognized proverb in the guided-hunt world. That is, don’t make suggestions, because the guide or outfitter scouts deer for months or even year round. They’ve done the work and hung the stands.
Despite that, I’ve hunted from lousy stands that guides have hung and had to bite my lip. Some were ridiculously low and exposed, and others completely missed the deer movement. Or, it was obvious that the stands were exhausted from other hunters using them prior to my hunts.
Those aren’t issues on a DIY hunt. You pick where you hunt. If a spot doesn’t produce, you’re free to pack up and try elsewhere. You’re not limited to one property or stand. Basically, success or failure is in your hands. Make the wrong decision, and you get to blame yourself — not someone else. Harvest a deer, and you get the satisfaction of choosing the right spot all on your own.
3. …When You Want
One guided hunt I was on several years ago threw all sorts of foul weather into the mix. First, I lost a day of hunting due to cancelled flights. Then, I lost another day on the back end due to fierce winds in which shooting a bow accurately wasn’t possible. My five-day hunt turned into a three-day hunt.
On a DIY hunt, you get the flexibility to choose your dates, and if you must miss a day due to poor weather or for some other reason, if your schedule allows, you can extend your hunt so that you still get to hunt as many days as you planned on.
Sometimes unforeseen life events happen. When you pay an outfitter a deposit and lock in dates, you’ll either have to hunt as planned or attend to life matters and forfeit your hunt and deposit. With DIY hunting, you have so much less invested up front, which allows great flexibility with dates.
4. Figure Things Out and Become Wiser
Not all hunters are created equal. Some are great at learning, while others repeatedly make the same mistakes. If you’re the type to identify mistakes and then avert them in the future, you’re probably a great DIY candidate who’ll become wiser with every passing season and also increase your success rate because of it.
If you primarily or exclusively do guided hunts and someone is always making your decisions, you’ll learn far less, and your hunting skills will stay about the same. If you want to grow as a hunter, stay open-minded and do a ton of DIY hunting. Things will start to make more and more sense.
5. Experience Greater Satisfaction
I once arrowed a nice mule deer buck that my guide spotted from the truck. Yes, I still had to stalk in and make the shot, but he knew the land and found the buck for me. It was an incredibly fun hunt, but it didn’t compare to the satisfaction I’ve had with other big bucks that I’ve taken all on my own with no help from anyone (except for God providing for me). It’s such a fulfilling experience to put it all together on your own.
Folks hunt for different reasons and to achieve different goals. If you don’t mind paying thousands of dollars for five-day hunts that offer a chance to see a world-class buck, go for it. But, if you don’t have the money to do it, don’t covet those who do. Look at what you have instead of what you don’t. DIY hunting has many advantages, and the five we’ve reviewed here, in my opinion, make it better than guided hunting.