I've noticed dozens of threads over the last few years on this forum inquiring about one guide service or another. Granted, I recognize that the bulk of those requests are either concealed attempts at free advertising or trolls looking to start a fight, but many are legitimate inquiries into how to select the right guide service. Because the subject is getting old, I am posting the following helpful hints for finding the right guide service. How you use this information is up to you.
Caveat: I AM NOT AFFILIATED WITH ANY GUIDE SERVICE, FINANCIALLY OR OTHERWISE, AND ANY REFERENCE TO SPECIFIC GUIDE SERVICES IN THIS THREAD ARE BASED UPON THE CRITERIA LISTED IN THIS THREAD AND MY PERSONAL OPINION. I HAVE NO FINANCIAL INCENTIVE HERE.
1. Do Your Homework PRIOR to Booking a Hunt. The fact that some shmuck tells you that he's carrying you out on Pappy's North 80 doesn't mean anything. For all you know, he may or may not have even stepped foot into this state prior to signing the leases on land he knows nothing about. It seems to be a popular fad for fly-by-night OOS'ers to incorporate a "guide service", call some local landowners, secure a few leases, and then tell you that the service is based in this state. Many times, they haven't even seen the property before their "clients" get carried onto it.
My suggestion is that you check references before contacting the guide service. I'd also highly recommend using the Arkansas Secretary of State's online resources if the guide service is an organized entity (LLC, INC, LLP, PLLC, etc.). That website will tell you whether the entity is domestic or foreign and will give you the telephone number and address of he incorporator. Finally, and pay attention to this one, take a look at their telephone number. If the guide service's telephone number does not include an area code (501), (870), or (479) prefix, that guide service is almost certainly NOT BASED IN THIS STATE. That may or may not influence your decision to use a service, but it will aid you in verifing the information you receive from guide service representatives. There are absolutely valid and reputable guide services in this state that employ agents abroad. One example of that would be the L'Anguille Lounge club. A search of the telephone number will yield a Mississippi area code, but you can rest assured that the reputation of the proprietor is impeccable (don't take my word for it, check him out), and I would recommend him without hesitation.
Face it, not every hunt will include swarms of mallards from dawn to dusk, but at the very least, checking into a guide service before booking will help to avoid situations where you show up and have no water or no place to hunt.
2. Look for Guide Services That Can Verify OWNERSHIP of Their Land. Land OWNERSHIP, as opposed to leasehold agreements, eliminates the mere possibility of disputes over who has rights to a particular tract on a particular day, who is responsible for water levels, how many people get crammed into a blind, etc. Check out Byers Farms, for example, a sponsor on this site. A quick review of their website will confirm that this is a local, multi-generational, family-based operation. They are quick to proudly describe their heritage in farming within the borders of this state and you'll notice local prefixes on the phone numbers employed. Inquiries on DHC will yield positive impressions and endorsements. While I don't have any experience with Byers, I can state as fact that they're a locally-owned, family service with a clubhouse in their back yard and generations of experience with the land they hunt. If I were looking for a guide, they'd certainly meet the criteria.
3. Consider DHC Sponsors. Sponsorship on this site means that you can check their references fairly quickly. If you invite PM's, people will be honest about their experiences and what they know about the reputability of the service. Not all sponsors are created equally, and there is at least one that advertises here that I couldn't endorse, but at least you have a starting point to gather information.
Despite all the banter regarding OOS'ers and their hunting exploits in Arkansas, the last thing our residents want to see is innocent parties being taken advantage of by folks looking to exploit their lack of knowledge about the sport and the people that make their living by it. Employing a reputable guide service will ensure a positive experience, even if the birds don't show. If you'll carefully follow the steps listed above, your chances of having a fun and successful trip to our state will increase exponentially.
Smell that? Smells like sumthin died in here.