The most important qualities of a hunting guide may not be immediately obvious. Sure, a guide needs to be a knowledgeable hunter. But that’s not first on the priority list. In the first part in this series, we covered two critical qualities that every hunting guide needs to have.

The first is a keen awareness of safety at all times. And the second is an unwavering commitment to ethics. Those two qualities form the foundation of a great guide. Now assuming a guide has those two things in place, what comes next? What else does it take to be a successful hunting guide?

Since receiving my first outfitting license in 1977, I’ve discovered that some components of being a successful guide have remained the same. In a lot of ways, the things that were true then still apply today. On the other hand, there are some things that have changed. Guides need a few things today that we didn’t back then.

In Part Two of this series, I’d like to look at those things that have remained consistent, the timeless skills of great hunting guides. Once again, the most important skill is not hunting ability. Rather, it’s reliability and toughness. Day in and day out, all season long, great guides are reliable. Our clients like to remind us that we “get paid to hunt.” While this job is extremely rewarding, it doesn’t always feel that way.

Rain, snow or shine, you can’t call in sick. When you’re tired and sore, it takes some grit to keep going. Different types of hunting require different levels of fitness. Whatever the situation, a guide needs to be able to hunt hard all day, every day. The most talented hunter in the world wouldn’t make a great guide if he weren’t reliable.

More than just toughing it out and showing up, an excellent guide also has fun doing it. A big part of the job is having a smile on your face and a positive demeanor. A guide’s personality and character is an important part of making the hunt enjoyable. It makes the client feel at ease and lightens the mood even when the hunting is tough. Because at some time or another, the hunting will be tough!

It’s easy to be positive on the first day of the hunt. But on longer hunts, like a five or six-day elk or mule deer hunt, the shine wears off. Difficult hunting and poor weather can take the wind out of a hunter’s sails. It’s a guide’s job to keep working hard and to convey a sense of positivity. As most experienced hunters know, success can change in the blink of an eye.

Finally, a hunting guide must have an intimate knowledge of game patterns, movements and the animals being pursued. Skilled guides have the ability to anticipate their movements, habits and reactions to hunting pressure.

When it comes to judging the animals, a good guide knows more than if he’s looking at a decent buck. The guide should know about the animals and their different characteristics, when they reach trophy potential and how to judge a trophy.

Yet even a guide’s best advice doesn’t always get the job done. Here at SNS Outfitter and Guides, one of our excellent guides and camp managers, Benny Tillerson, tells the story of a client who had trouble listening to advice. One snowy morning, Benny and his hunter snuck to within 50 yards of a group of antelope.

“Now the buck is over on the right side of the group,” Benny whispered to his hunter.

“I can see the dang antelope,” the hunter snapped. And boom; he shot an antelope from the other end of the group, which was a doe.


“Why did you shoot that doe?” Benny exclaimed.

“I didn’t shoot a doe,” the hunter stubbornly replied.

“Well, somebody did,” Benny said. “And since you’re the only one with a rifle, there’s a pretty good chance it was you.”  

There’s always a wild card and there are often surprises. Sometimes it’s a surly hunter. Sometimes it’s the weather or the animals. But no matter the situation, a great guide will remain positive, keep working hard and take it all with a sense of humor. Perhaps these qualities don’t only apply to great guides. These are also the qualities of great hunters.

Keep an eye out for the third and final part in this series. We will take a look at the things that have changed for hunting guides over the years, and the requirements of the modern hunting guide.

By Sy Gilliland, SNS Outfitter & Guides


About the Author

Sy Gilliland received his first outfitting 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 prime big game habitat on private ranches throughout Wyoming and Montana.