Written by Greg Simons and Ruben Cantu, Wildlife Biologists
Running a commercial hunting operation is equal parts outdoor adventure and hospitality.
As an outfitter, your clients are essentially is living with you and your staff for the duration of their hunts. You provide them a place to sleep, prepare their meals, tend their needs, and guide them throughout the course of the day. The guide and cook often hear their life stories, sometimes serving as their counselors and confidants.
Occasionally, you have to balance their desire to have a drink or two with hunting and drinking policies designed with everyone’s safety in mind. Sometimes your clients may be inept shots or novice woodsmen, and yet, as the outfitter, you must make them feel as though they are bwana, the great hunter.
Some of your clients may be diabetic or lactose intolerant, while others may simply prefer to have their tea hot, as opposed to iced. The chemistry of personalities is a mystery. Sometimes they go together like salt and pepper, but other times, it’s more like oil and water. Regardless, the host must keep the peace and keep it fun.
There is no doubt that the hunting business can be challenging from a client-service perspective; however, as they say, “The bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity.” Most successful hunting operations embrace that mindset. Remember, your clients are essentially living with you for several days, which in itself creates a tremendous opportunity to have an impact on your clients. Whether the impact is positive or negative is up to you and your staff. It’s that simple. Recognizing this fundamental truth is Step #1.
Step #2 is communicating with your clients prior to the hunt. A written pre-hunt planner is a great way to make sure that your clients know what to expect. It also provides you with a mechanism to identify and make accommodations for any special needs that your clients may have, whether it’s dietary restrictions or physical limitations. A pre-hunt planner might include: a suggested list of items to bring, regulations governing air-travel with firearms and ammo, normal weather conditions for the hunt area, ranch rules, and other relevant details.
Step #3 is handling the hunt variables that are under your control with excellence. You can’t control the weather, the hunters’ abilities or game movement, so don’t get too mired down by worrying about those. Instead, become hyper-fixated on preparing the things within your reach. As the host, you can control the facilities’ cleanliness, the meals’ quality, the equipment’s condition, and the staff’s friendliness and preparedness, all of which are vital features of the overall hunting experience. Make sure that everything you control is top-notch.
Step #4 is training your staff. As with any service business, it’s paramount that your staff be properly trained so that they are in synch with your tailored program and in step with one another. Normally, this doesn’t happen by accident. At a minimum, you should meet with your guides and cooks annually to review customer service philosophies, standard operational procedures, and business policies.
Step #5 is managing risk. Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society, and the hunting business is fraught with risk exposure. It is paramount that you have a risk management plan in place and that your entire staff is familiar with the details. Gun safety is the biggie, so make sure that you have standard gun-related policies in place and enforce them. You can’t be absolved from gross negligence, so make sure that any known pre-existing hazards such as gas leaks, exposed electrical wiring, uncovered wells, faulty deer blind steps, and any other possible perils that you know of and that you can remedy ahead of time are taken care of.
A fun entertaining experience can turn into a nightmare in the blink of an eye, so go to the extra mile to address these matters. If you are going to engage in commercial hunting activities, vigilance is part of your obligation.
Step #6 is putting a bow on it. As they say, “It’s not over until it’s over,” and so goes with it with hunting business hospitality. The last impression is often a lasting one, so be diligent all the way to the end — and then some. This includes providing the necessary documentation to accompany the clients’ game whether they take it with them or whether you take it to the taxidermist. Don’t let fatigue or stress cause your clients’ departures to be anything less than friendly, warm and positive. Going all the way to the end, might also include thank you notes, post-hunt photos, or follow-up correspondence, which can sometimes ensure retention for the next season.
As you plan hunts for your clients, be aware of opportunities for extraordinary hospitality, but never underestimate the importance of basic congeniality and fundamental customer service.
As my mentor Dick Laros from Allentown, PA used to tell me, “There’s no business like the hunting business.” And he was right. If you anticipate the challenges and recognize the opportunities, though, you can provide your hunting client with the time of their lives, creating a win-win. This has to be one of your objectives when you’re in the outdoor hospitality business.
In addition to co-owning The Wildlife Consultants, Greg Simons owns and operates Wildlife Systems Inc., also based in San Angelo. Currently, WSI offers commercial hunting on more than 800,000 acres in Texas and New Mexico.
Here are a few more hunting hospitality tips that are worth considering:
- Your clients’ names are their most prized possessions, so remember them and use them.
- The most important thing that you and your staff wear are the smiles on your faces, so wear them early and often.
- For testy clients, “kill ‘em with kindness.”
- Slacking is obvious….go the extra mile.
- Be at the client’s beck and call….”May I get you some more iced tea?”
- Treat all game harvests as celebratory moments, even if the animal “ground shrinks.”
- Don’t wear your negative feelings on your sleeves. Always be positive and upbeat.
- When times are tough, remember, the sky isn’t falling. Rarely are things as bad as they may seem.
- Have fun.