Tag Time Is Also The Time To Vet Your Next Hunting Partner

A good hunting partner is worth their weight in gold. Finding one, on the other hand, can be extremely challenging. Here’s how to vet your next hunting partner.

by Mark Kayser

It is turkey hunting season. For many, the rush has already kicked off for the Osceola quest. For others, it is tag season. Those coveted draw tags for deer, elk, pronghorn, and species with horns that I never seem to get lucky on are being drawn from now through early summer. 

As I type this article, I am applying for Montana’s elk and deer and researching options in New Mexico. My Wyoming resident status gives me some breathing room with a May 31 deadline. For the rest, I rely on the experts at Worldwide Trophy Adventures. They landed me an excellent archery elk tag last year, and I have high hopes for Nevada very soon.

With each application, I dream of what might be ahead. With those hopes playing out in my mind, I also contemplate whether I will be going it alone or hunting with a partner. Several of my applications include party options, and recent phone calls indicate several friends wish to apply with me. The real question is, do I want them to apply with me? 

The good folks at Worldwide Trophy Adventures vet my hunts and provide the best information for me to make informed decisions on what unit to hunt. I appreciate that service as it is a big, ever-changing hunting world. Unfortunately, hunting partners also change from season to season, myself included. Although I can vet myself and hopefully be frank with my personal assessment (not always), nobody is helping me vet future hunting partners except me.

Finding a good hunting partner equals lots of help in the field when you need it.

If your future holds a hunt, especially one with extreme potential, vet your hunting partners carefully. Here are a few guidelines that might help you find the perfect partner or use a famous line from President Trump, “You’re fired!”   

Good At Hunting 

One of the first things I vet is a person’s hunting experience and expertise. Experience is great, but I want to hunt with someone who keeps a freezer full. I know many people who hunt just to sit around a campfire and brew coffee over a wall tent cookstove. You likely have someone already in mind and understand their level of hunting skill, but every year, people reach out to me wanting to join the hunt. Without question, I treat them respectfully as I query them. I visit their social media accounts, and do my best background check through others who may know them. 

In addition, I will meet them somewhere and grab lunch for a face-to-face conversation. How a person reacts, responds, and simply looks can tell you a lot. Like dating profiles, some images on social media do not reflect the person you meet. You especially do not get a sense of their true personality until you spend some time with them. Make sure they are personable, easy to spend time with, and good at hunting before you sign on the dotted line. 

Physically Fit For The Hunt

Another reason I like to meet prospective hunters is to see if they are fit for the hunt ahead. Nobody has mistaken me for Cameron Hanes. Still, I regularly outpace my partners in the mountains, even with more than half my life behind me. As noted above, pictures can be deceiving, but meeting someone offers a glimpse of their physique that you can compare to their hunting accomplishments to see if the profile picture is current or from 2010. 

Mark Kayser and Joe Higginbotham have teamed up on several backcountry elk hunts with great results.

Although a particular segment of the hunting population stays in shape to tackle the extreme hunts, I understand the real world. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, less than five percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity daily. Only one in three adults receives the recommended amount of physical activity weekly. Over 80 percent of adults do not meet the guidelines for muscle-building and aerobic activities. And more than 70 percent of the population is overweight or obese. That data decreases the odds exponentially of running into someone ready to tackle elk in vertical country. Vet wisely. 

Garage Sale Gear

I started my big game success with a garage sale compound bow, so I know subpar equipment can do the job. Nevertheless, vet your next hunting partner to guarantee they use quality gear and keep it in solid, working condition. 

Not only does quality gear improve their hunt, but it also aids them in being an equal team member, especially when the going gets rough and requires specialized gear. If they lack quality gear, it could lead to an abbreviated hunt. It could also lead to you doing more work if your gear outshines their inferior Walmart special. The gear reference also pertains to hunting vehicles and maintenance. Hunting with a truck or ATV refusing to start can be difficult. 

Make sure your hunting partner is in good shape, has the right gear and will not play out on you in the middle of the hunt.

Their choice of weapon may only affect their success, but poor optics, a shabby backpack (or daypack in the backcountry), bargain boots, a lack of first aid, and hunting clothing from a 1990s Realtree commercial could all sideline your helper in the field. 

On one hunt, a partner did not have the common sense to incorporate a binocular chest harness into his gear arsenal. His optics were constantly drenched in drizzle, making him worthless for glassing chores. Later, his new boots chewed up his feet and I had to resolve the issue with my own backpack stash of moleskin, and athletic tape. We never hunted together again due to his disregard for gear. Had we killed, he did not even have a kill kit on hand. 

Integrity & Ethics 

Integrity and ethics may come to light in your preseason planning, but be aware of a person’s approach to hunting strategies and secrets. One of my pet peeves is taking someone to a hunting area, especially hard-found public lands, and then they begin sharing the location. I mention this aspect before taking anyone to one of my favorite areas. Several times, I have looked in my hiking rearview mirror to see people placing waypoints on their hunting apps or GPS systems.

When I share a quality public area, I expect reciprocation. DIY hunting, especially, should be give and take, not take and take. Finding a property worthy of hunting with little hunting pressure is as rare today as a verified trail camera image of Bigfoot. 

Next, watch their hunting ethics in the field. You may not be able to determine their oath to fair chase over a few meetings, but it likely will surface during an intense pursuit of game.

Making an ethical judgment call is often easier alone since a debate can arise when two are involved in the decision. In either case, alone or partnered up, review any circumstance relating to the law. If you still have questions, a solid decision could be made by referring to Boone and Crockett’s Fair Chase Statement. B&C defines it this way: Fair Chase is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals. 

Time and Cash

In closing, be sure your hunting partner has two additional items: time and cash. The time part focuses on having enough time for a great hunt. They may not have enough vacation time to put towards a challenging hunt or may leave early due to hunting hardships. Any more, I bring my camp and vehicle and let my partner do the same. That way, if they want to leave, they can go.

The reference to cash does not signify a need to be wealthy. It merely means they have enough money to split costs and not constantly think they must be back at work. Any hardworking person who squirrels a hunting budget away is fine with me, but when it comes time to split hunt costs, I expect shared payments. 

It is too bad there is not a platform like Indeed.com to help you vet a hunting partner. Do your homework until they create a site to solve the hunting partner dilemma. When you finally land an excellent hunting tag, you do not want the party ruined by a partner’s letdown. 


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