DIY vs. Guided Hunts: The Cost, Value and Decisions

DIY vs. Guided Hunts: The Cost, Value and Decisions

Author Ryan McSparran

There are many ways to plan any given hunting adventure. Whether you’re planning a western big game hunt, an upland bird hunt or anything in between, there are pros and cons to DIY versus guided trips.

Access to local knowledge and equipment, access to private land, access to remote areas via horses or bush plane, time, budget, the satisfaction of doing it yourself, and a host of other factors can go into the decision. Ultimately, it’s going to be different for every hunter in every situation.

Personally, I have experienced and can understand both sides on any given hunt. I grew up in a DIY hunting family and I am a proud public lands user. I love the scouting and the planning involved in a DIY hunt.

On the other hand, I’ve also been a hunting guide for nearly 15 years and had the opportunity to see and experience different outfits from Alaska to Mexico. And now running my own outfitting business, I am painfully aware of the logistics and overhead that go into a guided trip.

In looking at the costs, the value and the decisions that go into DIY versus guided hunting trips, here are a few things to consider…

Time and Budget

Among the first considerations for any hunter is the balance between available time and budget. In fact, I was just recently chatting with one of my guided hunting clients about this very topic. He’s a custom log home builder from Ohio. Over the years, he’s had the opportunity to embark on several guided elk hunts in Colorado.

The way he explained it, it’s simply not worth (and not always possible) taking the time away from work to plan and execute the logistics that go into an elk hunt; especially, the type of remote, wilderness hunt that he enjoys so much. Therefore, going with an outfitter on a guided, horseback trip makes the most sense for him. 

For other hunters, the cost of a guided big game hunt is simply out of the question and investing the time into organizing all of those logistics, scouting where and how to hunt an area makes more sense. For each hunter, that balance between time and budget is going to be different.

Keep in mind, that balance between time and budget might change from one type of hunt to another. For example, as a hunting guide here in Colorado, I am well equipped to embark on a DIY elk hunt. But as soon as we start talking about waterfowl, it’s a much different story. I don’t have the know-how, decoys or anything else. Whereas I may not require a guide for elk, I would definitely consider a guided waterfowl hunt.

Equipment and Resources

Another factor to consider is the required equipment and other resources that it might take to pull of a hunting trip. Sticking with the example of a waterfowl hunt above, I don’t have the decoys, trailers or other things it takes to be an effective waterfowl hunter. Nor do I hunt birds often enough to justify those purchases. So for me, it’s probably much more effective to join up with a great waterfowl guide when I want that experience.

Other resource considerations might include horses to pack a large animal out of a remote roadless area. Or even the need for bush planes in places like Alaska. Every hunt comes with a different set of requirements. And each hunter should carefully judge whether it’s worth investing in those things – or whether it’s best to hire someone who already has them.

Legal Requirements

Of course some locations and some big game species require the use of a licensed guide or outfitter. If you want to hunt brown bears, dall sheep in Alaska, mountain caribou in British Columbia, or even the renown Thoroughfare Wilderness in Wyoming, you may need to go with a guide (there are some exceptions).

Depending on the hunts that are on your bucket list, saving up to do a guided hunt might be a requirement.

A Few Thoughts on Guided Hunts 

If you are considering a guided hunt, no matter if it’s an extended big game expedition or just a day of duck hunting in a pit blind, be sure to carefully consider the value versus the cost and do your homework. If the cost of a hunt seems too good to be true, then it probably is – and the actual value is probably lacking. 

From big game to birds, a hard-working and talented outfitter will have excellent staff, equipment, safety measures, food and lodging where applicable, and a host of other critical elements. Choosing a quality outfitter doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be more successful. The weather and the wildlife will present their usual challenges. But going with a quality outfit should ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, no matter the hunting conditions.

Guided hunting isn’t cheap. Nor would you want it to be. When you consider the cost to keep up equipment, vehicles, hiring quality staff, liability insurance, and so on, the thought of going with a cut-rate outfitter can seem scary. Do your research, speak with references, and remember that it’s better to save up for a quality experience, than to throw money away on a lousy trip. 

Finally, one of the most important factors in choosing any outfitter is matching the right one to your expectations. For example, my outfit offers remote wilderness elk hunts on horseback. But I know some outstanding outfitters who offer private land elk hunts in terrain that’s much more accessible. One isn’t right or wrong. They’re just totally different. When it comes to any hunt, start by defining your priorities, your expectations, your physical abilities and your budget. Answering those questions first will help match you with the right experience and find the guided trip that’s best for you.

Gear for the Adventure 

Whether you’re planning a bucket-list guided hunt or your own DIY hunting adventure, we hope you have a safe and memorable trip! Be sure and check out all the great hunting gear that we offer here in the Caribou Gear store. From JetBoil stove systems to Kenetrek boots, we carry items that we personally use and trust in the field. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’d love to help you feel prepared and ready for your next hunt!

By Ryan McSparran

Ryan is an elk hunting guide based in Colorado, and is proud to be a part of the team at Caribou Gear. 


  • Good article. I have been guiding bowhunts on the Midwest for 30 years. Your points are spot on. Good job.

    - R.L. Foster
  • Great article and timely for me personally.

    - Bryan Lingo

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