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Planning Your Waterfowl Hunt of A Lifetime

Shane Smith

Just about anyone that has put on waders and thrown out decoys has had a destination, species or hunt that they always wanted to take. The hunt of a lifetime for me may be very different for you. Either hunt can be filled with memories that will be forever etched in your mind, whether good or bad. 

But, if you didn’t do your homework this hunt of a lifetime can turn into a very expensive and time-consuming nightmare. There are some basic questions as well as some deeper questions that need to be asked when you are planning out such a trip.  

My recent trip of a lifetime was to Boston, Massachusetts, with professional guide Randy Drago who owns and operates Codfather Charters.  

Shane Smith oldsquaw

It was everything I wanted and then some. But I had already asked the questions so I knew what I was getting. I knew we would be in layout boats bobbing around in the ocean. It would be cold and wet with no blind with a roof over my head. I knew what the legal limits were on the birds we were after. I knew we would be taking a boat out into the bays of the Atlantic Ocean. 

So, let’s go over some things you need to plan out to ensure you have a great trip. 

  • Is it a guide or outfitter?  
  • Do you want them to pick you up at the airport and take you to a lodge with a hot meal ready for your arrival?  
  • Do you need to book a room somewhere and plan on eating out every meal?  
  • What level of service do you want?  

These are a couple of the biggest questions you need to ask yourself when you begin this process. 

  • Who is the one spear heading the trip?  

My good friend Dylan Sing was the one who put the trip into motion and stayed on top of things to make it truly a trip to remember. He set up a group text/email and made everything completely transparent.  Even if something happened to him, we all could see the texts and knew who, what, when and where it was taking place. 

  • Who are you going with?  

Most waterfowl hunts are designed to be with friends or family. This is when you need to know the people you hunt with and know who you will enjoy spending time with.  

  • Does your guide require a certain amount of people to book?  
  • Do they require a deposit?  
  • What is the refund policy?  

Most of your hunting partners will want to know the answers to these questions. 

Getting Money  

Once you and your group decide on a hunt and date, someone will need to be in charge of the money. If you wait until the last minute, you will certainly have people back out on you and possibly ruin the entire trip. Get a set amount up front and that way everyone has skin in the game and is more vested in the hunt. If the hunt is $1,500 a head, you need to try and get $500 in 3 installments to keep everyone in the loop. After the hunt is paid for, start looking at things like transportation, room and board or anything else like that. Things such as tips will be up to each individual member of the hunting party.  

Hidden Costs 
Shane Smith eiderThings like a non-resident hunting license, shells, food, gas, car rental and whatnot are always going to be a part of a trip of a lifetime. Yes, you need to set a budget and plan for something going wrong and costing more money. When we found out that nonresidents can’t purchase ammo in Massachusetts, we had our ammo shipped to the outfitter. Small things like this will add up to much fewer headaches and a lot more enjoyment. 

  • What equipment do you need?  
  • Do you need to bring a gun?  
  • Chest Waders? Calls?   
  • Can I bring my dog? 

 Ask your guide what gear you will need and plan accordingly. 

  • What are the goals of the trip?
  • Do you want limits? 
  • A certain species? Black Duck, Pintail, Canvasback, Oldsqauw, Eider?
  • Are the goals of the group similar?  

When we booked our trip, Randy asked us specifically what we wanted. This is a sign of a legit guide who wants his clients to be happy and get the hunt THEY want….not what the guide wants. 

  • Are you bringing a spouse or non-hunter?  

Some outfitters don’t allow non-paid hunters to come. So ask and clarify before you book the trip.  

Additional activities  

  • Are you wanting to play golf at the famous course nearby?  
  • Are you wanting to go snow skiing after the hunt? Are you wanting to go look at lighthouses or historic venues?

If so, try and line these activities up as early as possible. 

Book early

We booked our hunt in March 2020 and hunted in January 2021 and Randy Drago only had a pair of 3-day hunts left. Booking early will give you some options and give everyone time to get money together and schedule vacation time. 
Look for recommendations.
Get on the internet and ask the guide for recommendations. Talk to some folks and see what they say. 
If you measure the success of the hunt by the amount birds on the strap or try to figure out how many dollars per bird it costs, then you will probably not enjoy the trip near as much as you should. Soak it all in and enjoy it.
I would hate to know how many people just throw some money in a bowl and book a guide and let the chips fall where they may. If you truly want a hunt of a lifetime, a little planning goes a long ways to ensure it will be just that, a trip of a lifetime.

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