Part 1: Two Critical Qualities

By Sy Gilliland, SNS Outfitter & Guides

As a professional outfitter and hunting guide for more than 40 years, I’ve received a lot of questions about what it takes to be a hunting guide. I am now fortunate to be surrounded by an incredible team here at SNS Outfitter and Guides. But there have been some challenges, learning curves and a lot of laughs along the way.

Years ago I was guiding a client who hunted with us many other times over the years. But this was his first Wyoming antelope hunt. We spotted a nice antelope and I wanted to get a closer look to see if it was anything we wanted to kill. We climbed up the side of a big mesa so that we could walk across the top of it and look down on the buck.

As we were about to start across the top of the mesa toward the antelope, I turned to the hunter and said, “Ok, no talking now. We don’t want him to hear us. Just walk where I walk and be very quiet.”

We snuck across to the far side of the mesa. I got down on my hands and knees and peeked over the edge. The antelope was only 100 yards away. I could immediately see it was not a buck we wanted to shoot. So I stood up and said, “No, that’s not the one we want.”

As the antelope ran off, we turned to walk away and my hunter said to me, “Did you feel that?”

I replied, “Did I feel what?”

“You really didn’t feel that?” he asked.

“What are you talking about?” I said.

He finally said, “You didn’t feel when that rattlesnake struck you on the boot?”

“No I didn’t feel a rattlesnake strike by boot!” I said. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything?”

“You told me not to talk,” he said.

“Ok, here’s the deal,” I told him. “When a rattlesnake strikes your guide’s boot, it’s okay to say something. That’s a new rule. That’s an exception.”

Being a hunting guide can be full of frustration, exhilaration, humor, disappointment and satisfaction. But most importantly, it is incredibly rewarding. Getting to share these experiences with those who are often seeing it for the first time is worth all the hours, the short nights and the hard work. Many of our clients have become close friends over the years. Most of our guides will say that the people and the relationships are their favorite part of the job.

So, you really want to be a hunting guide? The first thing most people think of is hunting ability. But that’s not the most important factor. Not by a long shot. Being a good hunter, having reliable equipment and a good personality are important. But we will cover those in the next part of this series. In this first installment, let’s cover the two most important qualities for any hunting guide.

In my mind, these two things are tied for first place – I’m not sure which is more important. But the two most critical factors for any hunting guide are a guide who is safety conscious and a guide with an ethical approach to staying within the rules. Without those two things, none of the rest matters. You could have a great hunt and an otherwise exceptional time. But if you get hurt or get in trouble with a wildlife officer, those two things could ruin the trip.

A hunting guide must be keenly aware of safety at all times. Whether you’re working with horses, boats, ATVs or whatever the situation entails, safety must be a priority. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rush or running late out of camp. Having a strict awareness of safety is such an important factor. If you or your client gets hurt because of carelessness or negligence, the experience is ruined.

A hunting guide must also have a very strong sense of ethics and of course be very knowledgeable on local and state game laws. It’s the guide’s responsibility to make sure the hunter is on the right side of any property lines and within all laws and regulations. There might be times where it’s tempting to bend the rules. The rules might even be a little gray. But for a guide, it must all be black and white. A strictly ethical approach to each situation is critical – no matter how much pressure you feel to succeed.

These two qualities form the foundation of an excellent hunting guide. Everything else should build upon these principles. In the next part in this series, we will take a look at some of the things that come next.

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About the Author

Sy Gilliland received his first hunting license in 1977 at the age of 21 and he founded SNS Outfitter and Guides. SNS is now the largest outfitter in Wyoming and the largest antelope outfitter in North America, leasing more than 750,000 acres of big game habitat on large private ranches in Wyoming and Montana.