Another hunting season is over, at least for big game, but you’re already looking forward to the next one. And you’ve made up your mind, this is the year you’re finally going on that out-of-state guided hunt. It could represent a significant financial investment and you want to make sure that money is well spent. Here are a few tips that might help.

First you need to find an outfitter. There are several ways to find one, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Among the easiest is an online search. Simply enter your target species and preferred destination and you’ll get oodles of possibilities. The downside is weeding through the multitude to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Another relatively easy and fairly reliable method is recommendations. Most outfitters will admit that word-of-mouth is their best form of advertising. Find folks you know who have been on the type of hunt you intend to do. Ask them if they would recommend their outfitter, and why.

A third method is attending a sporting show. You have far fewer choices, but get a chance to talk face-to-face with the outfitter. But don’t feel pressured or obligated to commit on the spot. Much to the chagrin of my outfitter friends, I would advise against it. Gather information, then take it home and study it. If you’re going with a group, share the information with your buddies and get varying opinions.

Once you’ve gathered a list of reliable names, it’s time to do some research. Talk to the outfitter, either in person or by phone. Ask the right questions; listen carefully to the answers.

Find out how long they’ve been in business. Established veterans are probably running a legitimate operation. On the other hand, some new outfitters may work even harder to make your hunt successful.

Ask for references, and use them. If possible, get local references that can provide you with a more familiar perspective. Get references from successful and unsuccessful hunters. I’ve been on plenty of hunts where I failed to take game, but would highly recommend the outfitter. And I’ve been with a few that I wouldn’t recommend, even though I was successful. Ask the outfitter what their rate of return customers is. A high rate speaks volumes.

Once you’ve narrowed the list down you can ask still more specific questions, like exactly what is being offered. Definitions of a guided hunt can vary considerably. An American plan typically includes meals and lodging, while you may be responsible for meals on a European plan. A fully guided hunt could mean one guide per hunter, particularly if it’s a spot-and-stalk hunt. If you’re hunting from stands, it could mean one guide dropping off and picking up several hunters.

Success rates are something an outfitter might use to sell you a hunt. Ask what they are, and what they mean. It could be straightforward, like the number of hunters who successfully bagged an animal — any animal. Or, it could be the number of hunters who had an opportunity to harvest an animal, but chose to hold out for something bigger.

Put them into perspective. You’d expect a higher success rate on a gun hunt than a bow hunt, or on an any-deer hunt than a trophy hunt. Consider the location. On a northern New England deer hunt, a 15 percent success rate with any weapon is exceptional. Twenty-five percent would be a good rate for a midwestern bowhunt.

Ask plenty of questions. Be thorough, and don’t be hasty. Statements like “we’ve only got a few slots left, and they’re going fast,” should send up a red flag. You may miss out on a great hunt this year, but it’s better than going on a poor one, especially if it’s a once in a lifetime hunt.

Once you’ve decided, you’ll be facing long months of anticipation, and preparation. There’s also a lot you can do while on a guided hunt to make it more successful, which I’ll cover next week.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]