Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Guides and Guiding, Revisited

Leisurely afternoon stroll through the game plots at Pintail Point Plantation
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So, with this whole "newbornbaby situation," and my resulting current sleep schedule (1030-1130pm and 4am to 7am), let's just say I was not motivated to organize any duck hunts leaving my home at the usual early season time (230 to 315am). However, I really wanted to blow off some steam, and I knew that brother T was coming into town, so I thought, why don't we try something different? So, against my own best intuition, I looked around for an upland bird shoot (if the birds are domestic, PLEASE don't call it a hunt!). Upland bird hunting, except for doves, is basically a dead tradition in the Mid-Atlantic, as a result of land use changes, farm management changes, lack of fox trapping, and the explosion of the coyote and feral cat populations in rural areas. A great subject for a future blog post!

I finally settled on a place on the eastern shore of Maryland, only an hour from Baltimore and Washington DC, called Pintail Point Plantation. Shooters pay for the birds, and the Preserve provides the fields, a guide, and dogs. Sounded easy enough - and with this little sleep, EASY is what I need - but I was wary about my last two (only two) outtings with guides. Let's summarize those really quickly:
  1. In both cases, we were deceived ("lie" is such a strong word) about the amount of preparation the guides had put into the hunt;

  2. In both cases, we asked the guides to reschedule our hunt date (for extra $$), if it looked like the birds or conditions would not cooperate. Both declined, leading to a 70 degree, full moon hunt in October and a 45 degree full moon hunt in February. Both assured us, "we're on birds....BIG TIME!" Between the two hunts...I shot 5 shells? With a total bag limit of 6 ducks and 10 geese.

  3. In both cases, we were assured that the guides were "on top" of the migration and local hunting pressure, and we would be taken somewhere that took advantage of both. Don't want to use the "l" word, but let's just say they were not being as honest as they could have been about their level of hunt preparation & local knowledge.

  4. In both cases, we were "taken" by licensed guides who were SIGNIFICANTLY more concerned about getting paying warm bodies on site, than whether we turned into repeat customers or references for their business, or God Forbid, have an actual good hunt, or even a good time. Both have expressed "shock" that we have not referred more customers to them. Amazing that they didn't think of this before or during the hunt....

My expectations for professionals - of any field - but particularly of guide services - remained unsatisfied, and for the record, were:

  1. Preparation - knowledge of "how things have been working lately"

  2. Gear - should be of higher quality than that of a non-professional

  3. Customer Service - customer safety & satisfaction should absolutely be the #1 and #2 goals...the money will follow.

  4. Vested interest in repeat business...this should go without saying, but has been ignored by most folks I've met in the hunting/fishing guide business, from Florida to New York.

Oh, and for the record, those two lists were definitely not gleaned from hunting trips with these guys or these guys. I'm sure they are both two awesome guide services. Like, seriously.

SO, obviously, the decks were obviously stacked against the guys at Pintail Point. We were paying less for this Preserve Shoot than we would for a hunting guide, but still....we had low expectations, and we still assumed they would not be met.

Boy, were we wrong. Two days before the hunt, the Plantation Manager, Stephanie Whiteley, called us to confirm our shoot, and gave us a rundown on when to show up, what to bring, and the other activities (trap shooting, golf) that they had going on, and ran through their "bird packages" ($xx for 30 chukar, 10 pheasant, etc). I was undeterred in my cynicism ("they just want to sell us more crap"), but the call was nice and very professional. When we arrived at Pintail, we checked in with the receptionist, who called our guide to kennel up the dogs. Stephanie then came out and greeted us, told us to make ourselves at home, and of course, asked us if we needed anything. We hung around and looked at the various bird guns for sale (including, of course, the ubiquitous Silver Pigeon...what a dream!), and all of the Orvis and Beretta items for sale in the upscale "gear shop." Not really our scene, but whatever. Always fun to look at nice stuff.

About 15 minutes later, our guide, Jack Turner, showed up. Jack is also Pintail's Kennel Manager, so I was starting to actually get excited about having a fun and professional shoot. Jack drove us out to one of the fields, which was planted in 12 row strips of alternating corn, millet, sunflower and sorghum, with paths mowed through it. The birds had been released into the field earlier in the day. Jack explained to us how the afternoon would work, and the differences between the techniques of the two dogs he'd selected for the afternoon. Tug and I set out with Jack and the dogs, and within 10 minutes, we were shooting. Jack was diligent about working the dogs and making sure that we were working the field safely and effectively....and suddenly....I realized that I was relaxing. WOAH. We worked the area thoroughly, and Jack entertained a lot of questions from us about upland birds, preserve shooting, and working dogs in uplands (again, this is something we know very little about). Ultimately, we got up 8 pheasants (we paid for 10), got shots on 7, and killed 5. Besides our poor shooting and very tall heavy cover, I think I was hampered by my choke selection (extended improved on my 20 gauge Gold Hunter), particularly on some longer shots going away. But one of the 2 escapees was just a poor miss - I sent tail feathers flying and nothing else...and forgot to put a 3rd shell in the chamber. Oops.

Near the end of the shoot, one of the Pintail staff rode by in a Jeep and asked if we wanted our birds cleaned & bagged for $2 each. On a 70 degree day....no brainer! Jack and the dogs continued to work the field with us in search of "our" last two birds, working for over an hour with just 1 flush (a runner, at that). When it was clear to everybody that we had done as much damage as we could, Jack called the shoot and we rode back up to the lodge. The lodge staff (again) was very friendly, and both Stephanie and Jack seemed like they were highly interested in whether we had enjoyed our afternoon at Pintail Point. Paying them was very low key and they made it feel like it was of minimal importance to them (of course....it's NOT!), which is similar to fishing guides I've had in the past, but VERY dissimilar to hunting guides I've had... The next day, Stephanie called to follow up and see if she could help book another shoot for us, and about a week later, we received a thank you note in the mail (who does that anymore?), thanking us for our business.

So let's review our previously unattainable goals for guides and guiding:

  1. Preparation - no question here. The folks did what they were supposed to do PRIOR to the shoot, which is the first time I've experienced that (other guides have lied to us and said they were prepared) . As a result, I didn't have to think/worry/obsess about it, which is a main reason why I hire a guide. We had no "expectation" to harvest birds, and yet, Jack had every expectation that we have numerous opportunities to do so.
  2. Gear - again, no question. The fields were in awesome shape - some of the best bird habitat I've seen - and the dogs, while not perfect, worked really hard and ultimately, did their job better than my old retriever could have ever done. I would say they met, but didn't necessarily "exceed" my expectation. It could have been better, but I was pleased!
  3. Customer Service - very clearly, the staff's goal was for us to have a safe and fun time, and they worked hard to make sure we did. My expectations were exceeded.
  4. Interest in Repeat Business - this was clearly another main goal of Pintail's staff, and they will be successful. We will be going back to Pintail Point at the River Plantation. They far exceeded my expectation, and I have already spoken to other friends about shooting at Pintail this winter.

I feel compelled to thank Jack Turner, Stephanie Whiteley, and the rest of the staff at Pintail who worked with us, simply because they "did their job" and did it very well, unlike many of the charlatans and hooligans I've come across in the guiding industry. I left their property relaxed, happy, and excited to return and give them more of my hard-earned money. Isn't that the way capitalism is supposed to work? And no - they neither paid for, subsidized, endorsed, or have approved this post!

This is what a good afternoon looks like!

6 comments:

mizlan said...

wow!great catch !...bravo

tugboatdude said...

well written swampy,I can't wait to get back out there this Winter

mizlan said...

My friend...the smallest frog lure for hunt snakehead is Mazzy frog..but it hard to find here,it from Japan

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Great post Swampy

I'm thinking of paying a chap to take me stalking (that's english for deer hunting - not harassing the disinterested) so i'll be referencing your ideas. Cheers
SBW

Phillip said...

Really glad to see that you had a positive guided hunt experience for a change. There are, as you say, a lot of folks out there who aren't worth the paper their guide licenses are printed on, but there are also a lot of us out there who enjoy showing the hunter a great time and making sure you get your money's worth.

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