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You Need to Lead

Clients can--and often do--add unnecessary pressure, but it's your job to guide. by Kevin Wilson

Guides and outfitters commonly encounter clients with strong personalities. Those who can afford guided hunts typically own or manage their own businesses or hold positions of authority. They’re used to being in charge and calling the shots.

This presents a unique and sometimes overwhelming challenge—especially for new guides. But guides need to know that it’s up to them to lead with confidence and communicate well.

Recognizing that clients often have strong personalities, it’s important for guides to have strong personalities, too. In fact, as an outfitter, that’s one of the characteristics I look for when interviewing potential staff. The hunting or angling will most often take care of itself, but disposition and resolve make the guide.

Often this pitfall will take the form of an expectation. Guests usually bring expectations of how the hunt should go, and if it doesn’t immediately meet those preconceived anticipations, some clients try to dictate what should happen next. Add to this, that their experience is often limited to their own hunting back home.

As a guide, you need to lead. Your job is to carefully and strategically influence those expectations and personalities. In large part, this is done through good communication that serves to instill confidence and encourage your hunters to trust that, if they follow you, their odds of success are high. It takes strength and strategy to do this. Bottom line—stick to the plan. Each guide knows their territory and what hunting, or fishing, strategies work best in their area. They are paying you for this experience and skill. Use it, and don’t get pushed around.

Again, remember that you’re in charge. Yes, they paid for the hunt or fishing trip, and it is their guided adventure, but a fine line exists between letting them do what they want to do and doing what you know you need to do to make them successful.

Allow me to share an example. I was guiding a young hunter from New Jersey years ago, and he was getting restless after sitting a couple of days in a ladder stand and not seeing the caliber of deer he was looking for. I was still a relatively new guide and felt pressure to keep him happy. I knew there were big deer where he was sitting, but eventually, I gave in and moved him to another location.

Certain my original strategy was on target, I returned and looked around the property. Sure enough, I discovered fresh tracks from a giant buck. I wasted no time in collecting my hunter and putting him back into the original stand despite his protest. Within an hour, he shot a big buck with a heavy rack.

I’ve lost count of hunters who grew frustrated early in a hunt and began dropping subtle hints or blatantly telling me that we should be hunting differently. Nearly every guide has experienced it and has developed their own strategies for navigating it.

I’ve watched guides abruptly shut their client down, and I’ve seen guides patiently hear their client out and discuss alternatives. In my experience, something in between the two tends to work best, but it’s more about reading the client’s personality and evaluating who he is to determine the best approach. Your best tool to keep things on track is good communication. It will always be a guide’s strongest asset. Regardless of what approach you take, you have to communicate something. Consider your guest’s personality and choose your words carefully. How much information you disclose, along with how and when you say certain things, establishes a rapport. Those very words, your demeanor, and your body language send signals that determine how your hunter views you as the guide. The best guides have a unique ability to instill confidence regardless of how the hunt is going.

A tweed-media Guides carry knowledge of the game, lay of the land, and an array of other information that a client won’t know. They can rest easy with that knowledge and lead a hunter to success—even if they realize a hunter is second-guessing their efforts.
photo courtesy Tweed Media

Don’t Get Rattled
Strong personalities learn how to get what they want. As a result, many clients know how to push buttons to apply pressure. Even if they’re not saying much, their body language and indeed their silence will tell you if they’re feeling uneasy about the way things are going. Don’t let this or anything they say, rattle you. Hunting is hunting and, by the way, the same principles hold true for fishing guides and handling visiting anglers.

If you’re a people pleaser by nature, you may have to fight the urge to bend to the pressure. In the end, I can tell that after several decades of hosting countless clients, it’s always best to stick with the plan. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing the same thing over and over. If something isn’t working, and you keep getting the same result, be creative and think outside the box. Often, modifications to your strategy are in order.

Ultimately, your job is to make a plan and execute it. This requires focus and the ability to constantly think several steps ahead. It’s your home turf, and the client is a visitor. They don’t know or understand the ground, the conditions, or the animals you are hunting. That’s your area of expertise.

Own it, stick to it, act professionally and with confidence. Work hard for them, and more often than not, things will go in your favor. The client will go home knowing you’re a pro and with a smile on his face.

Kevin Wilson is a professional outfitter and guide. He owns Alberta Hunting Adventures and is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and co-host of Canadian Outdoorsman TV. He’s been a member of Guidefitter for six years. Alberta Hunting Adventures

From the Summer 2020 issue of Guidefitter Journal.

Kevin Wilson
Edmonton, Canada
Russ Lumpkin
Augusta, Georgia
Featured Outfitter
Alberta Hunting Adventures
Edmonton, Canada
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