How to become a professional hunting and fishing guide

Blog


May.2.19


10 MIN READ

Hunting and fishing are enjoyable hobbies for those who love the great outdoors. For many outdoor enthusiasts, they also represent a way to make a living. We’re not talking about landing your own hunting show or tooling around the country while fishing on the pro circuit – we’re talking about working hands-on to help others find, track and harvest the quarry they seek.

With an exclusive group of more than 120K credentialed hunt and fish experts, we were able to narrow down the five steps to become a hunting and fishing guide:

5 Steps to Becoming a Hunting and Fishing Guide

  1. Specialize and Focus with your Hunting and Fishing Experience
  2. Research Relevant Laws and Regulations in the Hunting and Fishing Industry
  3. Create a Business Plan for your Hunting and Fishing Career
  4. Build Your Authority as a Professional Hunting and Fishing Guide 
  5. Continue to Learn | Hunting and Fishing Jobs are Evolving 

Before you search for jobs as a professional guide, it’s important to note: Being a hunting or fishing guide is hard work. It isn’t a walk in the park that’ll put change in your pocket for waiting in a tree stand with a rifle or ripping up points with a crankbait all day. You’ll be working … hard.

 

Hunting and Fishing Guide Overview

Hunting Guide Job and Fishing Guide Job Description

You’ll spend your time carrying gear, glassing for a glimpse of fur chasing fish and doing what you can to make the magic happen for your clients. You’ll need to keep up-to-date with current trends, strategies and techniques, as well as the behavior of the fish or game you seek. You’ll also need to develop impeccable people skills, which will endear you to colleagues, locals and the people paying your bills.  

Hunting and Fishing Guide Salary: How Much Do Outdoor Guides Make?

The salary of a professional guide varies by an order of magnitude. The most successful guides earn six-figure salaries and use the finest gear. Of course, that’s not guaranteed. Most guides max out making middle or working-class pay — and they’re happy to make this trade-off for the chance to spend their lives in the outdoors.

Many guides make little more than minimum wage when they’re getting started. Some outfitters provide lodging as part of the compensation package, which may offset the modest wages you’ll earn while you gain the experience you need to be at the top of your game.

Salary is just one element of the job. It’s important to consider all the pros and cons of pursuing this type of career.

Hours and Seasons | Hunting and Fishing Guide Jobs

The hours and seasons of guide work vary greatly, based on location and the species pursued. A fly fishing guide in Colorado will likely stay busy from late winter to mid-fall, while a white-tail deer guide in Maine will be busiest when the leaves have fallen and snow is on the ground. In the western U.S., hunting outfitters start booking hunters from January through June. Guides will start scouting out areas the first of July, all the way up to when their hunting actually begins. Archery seasons begin in August, so it’s game on after that. When you’re first starting out as a guide, job searching may be easiest during the peak season. However, there’s also prep work in the off-season as employers need help keeping feeders full and repairing broken equipment.

Some guides never break out of this type of workflow, while others begin guiding clients pursuing the game they’re after. For inspiration, you can read about Cole Hollingsworth, Oregon’s youngest Hunter Education Instructor. Although it isn’t always easy to do, there are job opportunities for guide work in all seasons of the year.

As far as hours are concerned, you likely already know the best time to chase the critters you’re after. If you want to help clients wrestle cats onto your boat, you’ll likely find yourself working after dark (depending on which side of the argument you lie on) . If you want to guide clients seeking ducks and geese, you’ll probably be heading to the water before dawn.

Guides do all the prep work for their clients, which means that your work will start several hours before the client joins you, and will likely continue for a few hours after. So while your recreational hunting and fishing days may end with you recounting your adventure with a cold drink in hand, that may not be the case when you’re doing it as a professional.

Experience and Other Requirements | Hunting and Fishing Guide Jobs

Hunting and fishing guides must have experience with the fish or game they hope to help others pursue. However, the amount of experience required varies on a number of factors. Essentially, it comes down to how much work experience your prospective employer or clients expect. In most cases, you’ll likely need at least a few years of experience and a whole bunch of local knowledge.

In addition to experience, you may also need to obtain certifications annually or enroll in educational courses to become a guide. Each state has its own laws regarding guide requirements, and regulations also differ based on the type of work you intend to do. Contact the Fish & Game Department or the Department of Natural Resources in your state and go from there.  

Pros of Being a Professional Hunting and Fishing Guide

Being a hunting or fishing guide means that you get to spend most of your working day in the great outdoors, and you’ll get paid to use your skills and experience. You’ll also have the chance to work with others who share your passions.

Additionally, you may enjoy special privileges and fringe benefits. For example, you might be allowed to hunt on the land you work for free, or have the chance to use high-end sonar equipment or boats that aren’t easily accessible to everyone.

You’ll get better at what you do. Being a guide will give you the chance to learn more about your sport every day, advancing your skills and making you an even better angler or hunter. Aside from a better understanding of the sport, a professional guide will also gain access to top hunting, fishing and outdoor brands through ExpertVoice for a better understanding of equipment and gear. Guides can join ExpertVoice and qualify as experts for exclusive brand access.

Cons of Being a Professional Hunting and Fishing Guide

The most obvious downside of the job is the compensation, especially at first. In addition to the wages offered, it can also be difficult to stay employed all year long, so you may have to spend the offseason working in another industry.

It can be physically demanding, requiring long, hard hours in inclement weather — and you may not ever get to set a hook or pull the trigger yourself. Being a guide isn’t like hunting or fishing recreationally; you don’t necessarily reap the rewards of your hard work. You’re responsible for most of the grunt work and when it comes to the moment of glory, that belongs to your client.

 

5 Steps to Becoming a Hunting and Fishing Guide

Still want to turn your favorite hobby into a fishing and hunting job? Follow these tips to live your dream as a professional hunting and fishing guide.

  1. Specialize and Focus with your Hunting and Fishing Experience

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine an area of focus, such as trout fishing or elk hunting. You should also determine the location you want to work in so you can familiarize yourself with the climate, the behavior of your chosen quarry and the techniques that work best in that particular area. If you’re searching for Alaska fishing jobs, you may find several job openings, but it helps to have experience with Alaska’s fishing industry and sailing the Gulf of Alaska. As you progress, you’ll likely expand your horizons and begin guiding customers in the pursuit of other species or in other regions. However, it’s always best to start with a narrow focus until you achieve an elevated degree of expertise and success.

  1. Research Relevant Laws and Regulations in the Hunting and Fishing Industry

One of the most important services a guide provides their clients is the relevant rules, laws and regulations of their sport. This is vital information as they can differ from one type of game to the next, as well as from state to state (and, in some cases, county to county).

Additionally, different states impose different legal requirements for guides. Some require licenses, certifications and/or instructional courses, and other states won’t require much at all. And some of the skills and certifications you’ll acquire will relate directly to hunting or fishing, while others are more general, such as CPR certifications or liability insurance. You can find your state’s prerequisites here.

  1. Create a Business Plan for your Hunting and Fishing Job

You can make a living as a guide in several different ways. You may work for an outfitter or guide service, or be employed by resorts, parks or other businesses that cater to outdoor-minded folks. Some hunting and fishing retailers even employ guides among their staff.

Or, you may prefer the notion of running your own business. This will require you to find your clients and carry out all of the business matters associated with running a business — including advertising, bookkeeping and customer service. In exchange for being willing to perform these tasks, you’ll enjoy the freedom of working for yourself and being able to set your own course.

Neither approach is inherently better than the other; it’s just a matter of personal preference.

  1. Build Your Authority as a Professional Hunting and Fishing Guide

Whether you work for an existing business or start your own, you’ll need to market and advertise your services.

If you intend to work for an existing company, you’ll need an impressive resume that highlights your experience, skills and certifications (if applicable). Brush up on your interviewing skills and be sure to include a cover letter that establishes you as an authority in the specialty you intend to provide. In some cases, a paper resume may be sufficient, but an online portfolio could set you apart from other applicants. You may find a position on industry job boards, but serious job seekers should also send out resumes to businesses that seem like a good fit for your skills — even if they’re not hiring (a little gumption never hurt anyone).

If you decide to go into business for yourself, you’ll need to create a comprehensive marketing plan. This should include a website, brochures you can hand out, and if it works with your budget and your marketing plan: advertising space to attract new clients.

Social Media is a huge component for both job seekers and business owners these days. Prospecting clients will look at an outfitters Facebook and Instagram accounts ahead of time to see what type of catch/kill is actually going on. Most good guides/outfitters are updating their social sites regularly. For a prospective guide, that should be part of their “resume.”

As you’re trying to break into a small and tight-knit industry, networking is important. You should take every opportunity to join other guides or potential employers in the field or on the water. This gives you facetime with the people who matter. And these “field interviews” will not only demonstrate your expertise, they’ll also show how you would do on the job, building your authority and trustworthiness as a hunter or angler and hopefully, as a guide.

  1. Continue to Learn | Hunting and Fishing Guide Jobs are Evolving

The best guides never stop learning. No matter how long you’ve been hunting or fishing or how successful you become, there will always be new innovations, strategies and techniques you’ll want in your arsenal. In fact, some states require guides to participate in ongoing education programs to stay up to date with evolving best practices. This can be done through classes at a hunting or fishing guide school or by joining online communities, subscribing to relevant newsletters or researching on your own.

 

Join a Few Professional Hunting and Fishing Guide Organizations

Most guides find it helpful to join professional hunting and fishing guide organizations. By doing so, you’ll be able to learn more about your pursuit, stay current on new trends and network with important members of your industry. These memberships also provide opportunities to help you market yourself more effectively to clients.

A few of the organizations you may want to look into include:

  • Boone and Crockett Club – The Boone and Crockett Club is a 125-year-old organization that champions wildlife conservation and ethical hunting practices and is best known for the scoring system they’ve designed to help hunters rate and compare deer and other big game.  
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation – The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is a conservation organization that seeks to secure the future of elk, elk hunting and the sport’s history and heritage. The organization was founded in 1984 and is represented by more than 500 separate chapters located all over the U.S..
  • National Wild Turkey Federation – Dedicated to supporting wild turkey populations and the hunters who stalk gobblers, the National Wild Turkey Federation played a significant role in boosting America’s wild turkey population from 1.3 million birds to more than 7 million in a few short years.
  • Fly Fishers International – Fly Fishers International is an advocacy group that works on behalf of fly fishers everywhere. Established in 1964, the organization promotes conservation and education, as well as a sense of community among fly fishers, guides and other fly-fishing businesses.
  • Bass Anglers Sportsman Society – Best known by the acronym B.A.S.S., the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society serves as the worldwide authority on bass and bass fishing. The society organizes fishing tournaments, educates anglers (and the public) on bass fishing and promotes conservation and ethical fishing practices.
  • ExpertVoice – Qualified hunting and fishing experts can join ExpertVoice, where members gain additional knowledge and share their experience with other outdoor enthusiasts, learn from other experts and interact directly with the best brands in their industry. And, as an established authority on hunting and fishing, your ExpertVoice membership provides you with access to premium gear at a significant discount.

There are dozens of other important hunting and fishing guide organizations, so be sure to do your homework and find the organizations that relate to your chosen focus.

 

Notable Hunting and Fishing Outfitters: Where to find outfitter Jobs?

Most Outfitters provide different options in terms of level of service. “Fully Outfitted” would mean the hunter basically just shows up. They’ll take care of food, shelter, rods, reels, etc. Most hunting outfitters still require hunters to bring their own firearm, but in some instances, they will have one for them. These same outfitters also provide a “Guide Only” service where the hunter provide all of their own food/lodging/gear, but the outfitter will provide transportation and in-field assistance the entire adventure. This range makes outfitters some of the best organizations to approach for employment once you get your ducks in a row.

  • Mossback – A leading elk and deer hunting guide company servicing Nevada, Utah, California and Arizona. They help their clients with all aspects of the hunt, including obtaining tags and permits, as well as finding trophy elk and deer.
  • Swan Mountain Outfitters – A Montana-based company that provides guided hunting and fishing trips. Swan Mountain Outfitters is proud to offer “next generation” guide services, placing an emphasis on high-quality vacation experiences.
  • Worldwide Trophy Adventures – This organization provides guides with just about every kind of hunting and fishing trip imaginable, like guided red stag hunts in New Zealand and Costa Rican offshore fishing trips.
  • Fly Fishing Outfitters – A Colorado-based fly fishing guide service that has been operating since 1992. One of the premier outfitters in the world, Fly Fishing Outfitters has been crowned the Orvis Endorsed Outfitter of the Year award — twice.  
  • Wild Trout Outfitters – Based in Montana, Wild Trout Outfitters provides a variety of different fly fishing experiences for their clients. This includes private fishing trips through Yellowstone National Park as well as float trips down several trophy trout waters and streamside clinics for large groups.

As with hunting and fishing guide organizations, there are a great many outfitters working in all parts of the country and specializing in the pursuit of different game species. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the relevant outfitters in your field.

Notable Hunting and Fishing Brands for Guides and Outfitters

In addition to guide services and outfitters, it is important for would-be guides to learn about the major manufacturers and brands associated with your sport. A few of the most notable brands are featured below, but there are countless others, and you should become familiar with the brands that make the gear you and your clients will use.

  • Vortex Optics — Vortex Optics is an American manufacturer of optical equipment. Featuring world-class binoculars, spotting scopes, riflescopes and more, Vortex is leading the optics industry in hunting, outdoor recreational sports and law enforcement.
  • Browning — Since 1878, Browning has played a strong role in the firearms market, offering innovative technologies on shotguns, rifles and pistols. Best known for the A-Bolt and X-Bolt bolt-action rifles, the brand also makes high-tech clothing, shooting accessories, gun safes and knives.
  • ScentLok – ScentLok is a manufacturer that specializes in producing outerwear, footwear and apparel designed to minimize game-spooking odors. They produce a large number of products, including active ozone generators that help to destroy odors and help hunters achieve their goals.
  • Mystery Ranch – Since 2000, Mystery Ranch has been manufacturing lightweight hunting packs and load carriage systems for military, hunting, wildland fire and mountaineering customers, with a focus on use-specific designs and hand-built quality. From scouting to pack out, Mystery Ranch makes sure hunters get in with everything they need to get the job done.
  • ZamberlanFounded in 1929 in the mountains of Italy, Zamberlan makes some of the highest quality hunting boots on the market. The boots are designed for maximum performance, support, and durability in the most extreme terrain and conditions and are still made in the rugged Italian mountains where they were founded.

Most hunters and anglers become familiar with these brands by taking a trip to their local retailer, visiting trade shows, spending time on online forums, or taking a deep dive on ExpertVoice. Knowing the mission and innovations behind the best brands in your industry will help you get the right gear for your needs, and help your clients do the same.

 

How to Find Fishing and Hunting Guide Jobs

The journey to becoming a professional fishing or hunting guide is often long and trying. It’s rarely a lucrative career, and it’s not easy to break into the job market. But if these things seem like a fair trade-off for a career that allows you to work outdoors, chase your preferred fish or game and embrace your passion, you’ll find guide work to be exceptionally rewarding.

Whether or not a career in guiding is for you, your expertise in hunting and fishing deserves to be rewarded. Explore ExpertVoice to share your passion and knowledge with the industry’s top outfitters, guides and brands. This will keep your closet stocked with some of the best gear available (at a significant discount), as well as give you the ability to show potential employers or clients your ability to impart knowledge, communicate and teach in an effective manner.

 

Not sure a fishing and hunting career is right for you? Check out our other career guides below:
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