There are many fine outdoor guide schools and outfitter training programs all across the country. But are all professional hunting or fishing guide schools created equal? How do you choose the best hunting guide school for you?

While some guide school candidates may simply be looking to learn how to hunt a specific species or improve their horsemanship skills, many realize that becoming a successful guide or outfitter, marketing yourself, running a referral-based business and staying current in state-of-the-art hunting techniques and equipment requires a new type of hunting guide school experience. In fact, many outdoor guide schools today cater more to the guide school owner’s type of experience than towards the present-day needs of aspiring guides, outfitters and hunters seeking to update their techniques, expand their depth of knowledge and improve their opportunities to attract new clients.

At Swan Mountain Wilderness Guide School, we have researched what aspiring hunting guides, outfitters and serious hunters are looking for in today’s outdoor guide school experience. We have carefully updated and expanded our curriculum to improve upon the more traditional models out in the market.

Swan Mountain Wilderness Guide School is different in four key areas

  • Techniques and Skills
  • Knowledge Base
  • Quality of Facilities Used and Size of Staff
  • Guide School Resources

Techniques and Skills

Curriculum Focus Traditional Guide School Swan Mountain Wilderness Guide School Why You Should Care
Hunting Techniques Cover topics at a high level and then go out on mock hunts to practice spot and stock primarily Go into more depth about specific hunting techniques and which ones work under which circumstances. Explore many of the recent writings by species and discuss pros and cons. Review different types of clients and client expectations. Utilize laser computer program to teach shot placement. Most guide candidates coming out of schools feel they aren’t ready to be a hunting guide yet, they are yearning for more specific information, confidence and detail.
Skinning and Scoring Cover the topic by having you score old racks and skin non game animals. Instruction from an experienced taxidermist that goes into detail about capes and mounts, scoring methods and how to identify potential for scoring in the field while guiding and common guide mistakes while caping.  Students skin deer and elk heads. Clients paid good money for the trophy of a lifetime then guides have damaged many a cape not knowing what a taxidermist needs.
Fishing Unless you are attending a fly fishing school, little time is spent on fishing. Fishing is explored from the perspective of mountain stream and lake fishing, using spinners as well as fly fishing techniques to enhance a client’s overall wilderness experience. Fly guiding down a river is specialized, and most guides seek that type of specialized training through “fishing only” guide schools. Most guide jobs outside of float rigs go about fishing as an add-on to a pack trip or hunt. Guides need to know the difference.
Packing Most schools spend the majority of time (some 2 of 4 weeks) on this going through old techniques not used as often and practicing a lot. More time is spent presenting solutions to common problems and new innovations in leading pack trips. Additionally, students do a real hay run on a very difficult trail rather then a mock run around a ranch. It is important for students to learn what different outfitters located in different parts of the country will expect from them. In addition, students being exposed to new innovations will increase their marketability to prospective employers
Horsemanship Teach you the anatomy of a horse and veterinary issues. Go into detail about how to be a better rider, understand the signals from animals, what typically can go wrong and why, how to deal with issues in the field. Too many guides coming out of school still don’t know how to ride, and still don’t know why animals behave the way they do.
Woodsmanship Cover basic tenants of setting up camp, chopping wood, etc. Go into details on how to safely use a chain saw, what employers and clients expect of a wilderness drop camp, and most importantly wilderness survival skills. Guides are better prepared for the potential problems that they can face when going out in the wilderness.
Orienteering Go over basics of map reading and using of compass, usually navigate an orienteering course. Will cover in detail use of GPS. Spend more time on what goes wrong and how to prevent getting lost with clients or appearing like you don’t know what you are doing. Most clients show up with GPS, guides need to know how to use them. Guides also need to know the common mistakes and how to avoid them.
First Aid Red Cross or equivalent standard first aid. Our curriculum includes in depth training in Wilderness First Aid specific to situations you might encounter as a wilderness guide.  This program is 3-days versus typical courses in other schools of 4 hours. If you are going to be in the wilderness, you need to know how to deal with situations you will face. Most standard first aid isn’t relevant.

Knowledge Base

Curriculum Focus Traditional Guide School Swan Mountain Wilderness Guide School Why You Should Care
Tack and Equipment Covers use in the course of instruction on a particular topic. Go into depth on the parts and functionality of saddles, bridles, and other non-equine equipment, how to repair, but more importantly how to prevent damage. Outfitters fire guides all the time for not taking care of their equipment. Guides are faced with equipment breakdown frequently, and seldom know how to respond.
Fish and Game Regulations Hand out regulations and go over some of the highlights. Presented by a fish and game officer who outlines expectations of guides, pitfalls and other issues from regulatory perspective. Why not hear from the horse’s mouth. Guide relationship with F&G enforcement is very important, learn how to develop that early in your career
Forestry, Plants, and Wilderness Issues Make mention of aspects of Federal and State permits, typically ask you to read up on species but don’t cover in class. Forestry Officer will go into depth regarding tree and plant species and why you care, typical client interests and covers regulations that effect guides. Clients want to know what they are seeing. Guides need to know what the rules are in state, federal forests and wilderness areas.


Curriculum Focus Traditional Guide School Swan Mountain Wilderness Guide School Why You Should Care
Job Search and Interviewing Many schools give you some tips and some will give you contacts. We will actually give you time to develop a resume using our computer and format. We’ll take you through a search, communication and interview process that will help you organize and manage your search process more effectively. The vast majority of candidates go home and wait for the phone to ring. We want you to get interviews, but you need to take the lead, we’ll show you how to be proactive.
Personal Behavior, Appearance, and Hygiene Most schools mention the importance of this in passing. We’ll go into some detail here and help candidates understand the guide image all the way to health issues. We’ll also cover dos and don’ts about what to say when clients ask certain questions, good conversation topics, etc. Guiding is a social business, and how you look and present yourself will make or break your ability to be successful.
Becoming a Good Employee/ Looking For the Right Employer Throughout the sessions, many instructors will make reference to what outfitters look for, mostly in passing comments. We’ll spend time outlining exactly what an employer looks for not just in a new employee but also for a long-term employee. We’ll also go into detail on how to spot an outfitter you might not want to work with and how to flush out problems with outfitters. It is a two way street, too many candidates go to school and wind up having a bad experience because they guide with a poor outfitter, or they don’t know what performance expectations are.
Customer Service Usually presented in the general context and in an afternoon with other topics such as ethics. Will go into detail as to what clients expect of their guides and critical success factors for establishing ongoing relationships with clients. Guides need to know what it will take, and what behaviors lead to poor client relationships and therefore poor tip earnings.


Curriculum Focus Traditional Guide School Swan Mountain Wilderness Guide School Why You Should Care
Texts, Handouts, and Other Teaching Aids Too many of the schools are using texts or bibles that are woefully outdated, others just expect students to take notes. We will provide the most recent publications from a variety of authors as well as material we have developed ourselves. Each student will have not only complete workbooks for attendance of the sessions, but a full reference guide after they leave that they can refer to. Outdated material does little good in this day and age. Guide candidates will forget things, and a reference guide that you can use over the course of your career is invaluable.
Instructors and Lecturers Most schools feature one individual, sometimes two to present the entire four or five week course. We have a staff of experts: USFS & State Foresters, Fish & Wildlife Officers, Professional Hunters, Outfitters, Veteran Guides, Taxidermists, Wilderness Medicine Instructors, MBA’s. In most cases it is better to hear directly from an expert. A variety of exposure makes classes more interesting, and time moves quicker.