The Life Of An Outfitter
by Chris Larsen
For many hunters the life of a guide or outfitter is a dream. Paul Korn of Tombstone Creek Outfitters lives that dream every day. Tombstone Creek Outfitters offers semi-guided archery hunts in Northern Missouri’s Buck Belt. Korn believes he is one of the luckiest men alive and many would agree. However, Paul says the job isn’t always roses. “I can guarantee whatever people are thinking, it is a lot more(work) than people can imagine.”
Korn is constantly maintaining equipment and facilities. “We have 108 stands on 23 different properties.” Of course, keeping equipment at it’s best is pointless unless you can get bookings. Tombstone Creek has an advantage over many outfitters. Paul says 60% of his clients book through his archery shop, A1 Archery in Hudson, Wisconsin. Word of mouth referrals are a big part of their business as well. Making sure clients are happy with their hunts is critical to getting word of mouth referrals. “Our re-book rate is very high. I believe it’s 80%.“ The Tombstone Creek website is invaluable. Potential clients can see up-to-date photos of deer on various properties. Korn maintains and checks dozens of trail cameras to get in the field reports of deer movement.
Working on equipment and buildings as well as booking hunts is a big part of the job. Still, Korn says communication with clients one of his biggest priorities. “The number one thing that I do is I do not over sell it. That’s a huge mistake. And I make sure there are no surprises. 27% of our hunters last year actually harvested a trophy buck… That may not seem like a great number from the outside looking in. Some people say, “Wow, that’s it?” But people who really understand go “Wow, really? One in four?” 38% of our hunters actually shot at a deer… When you tell someone that and they don’t think that is good, you have to explain that this is a free-ranging whitetail hunt and you are trying to kill deer that are three-and-a-half years old. That is very good. If people don’t understand that they probably shouldn’t go.”
Once hunters are in camp, they are assigned a property. Paul or one of his guides shows the client the property they are hunting. But the work isn’t over at that point. “I need to have at least a Plan A or Plan B for everybody. I gotta have a backup plan. If you‘re first plan doesn‘t work out, I got another plan for you.”
Paul says guiding whitetail hunts is the most difficult game species to guide for. They are just too elusive to consistently pattern and kill. “I’m a registered guide in Alaska. I’ve been coordinating hunts in Canada for twenty years for bear. I’ve coordinated antelope hunts. I’ve coordinated caribou hunts. Almost everything we do, we run very close to 100%. Last year we went to Ontario on a bear hunt we do annually. I took seven hunters. We took seven bears… Now you’re talking deer hunting… People love big deer. There are a lot of traveling bow hunters out there. But you just have to realize that it is what is. When you boil it down it is not easy to kill a mature whitetail with a bow. There is a lot going against you. But when it does happen it is great. Last year I had a guy take his first buck ever, 153 7/8 inches. The guy was crying. I helped him do that. It is very rewarding, satisfying feeling. But there is much more disappointment”
The best part of being an outfitter is building relationships with clients. Many of his clients rebook for next year before leaving camp. He has hunters from ten different states coming to camp. “You are doing something that people love. It is the best job in the world.” Paul also loves working with his partners and employees. “If you are trying to do everything yourself and you don’t have a support network it makes it very difficult. It allows me to do a job that I’m not taking for granted. I have the best job in the world and I guarantee you that 90% of the people that walk through the door want that job… But a lot of people have no idea what it takes to make a living doing this… To be successful it takes a lot of hard work.”
Still, it is the people that makes the hard work worth it. “Bow hunters in general are excellent people. They understand that success is not easy. They understand commitment. We’ve been in business for 22 years and I have had one bad check in 22 years. You tell me what kind of business that can say that. We are dealing with some of the best people in the world.”
To listen to the entire conversation with Paul, click the “Play” button at the top of this page.