Unlike most of their targets, professional hunters are a very rare breed -- those few who are fortunate enough to receive pay for something millions of others do strictly for sport. Competition for such positions is fierce, and pay is often low for all but the most accomplished hunters. Often, compensation amounts only to free gear or travel to exotic hunting locales instead of a traditional paycheck, but reaching such a level also designates you as one of the most elite members of the trade, which, to some, is far more important.
What Kind of Hunter Are You?
You should first decide what type of game you wish to hunt based on seasonality, geography and your own personal interests. Do you prefer big game, small game, waterfowl, upland birds or amphibious creatures? Also, what type of weapons do you specialize in? Rifles, bows, shotguns or something else? Determining your expertise and then conveying that to others is essential in landing coveted assignments. The most commonly paid hunters include pro staffers who promote a specific brand of equipment -- particularly hyphenates like writers and videographers who can document their experiences. Also well-paid but less common are professional hunting guides and television hunting show hosts. A few hunters may even be able to thrive selling meat to farmers' markets or by working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with animal control.
The Application Process
Most organizations that hire pro staffers hold annual screenings in which they try to fulfill a particular need; this may include hunters with a lengthy resume, specific skills or experience tracking certain game. For instance, Drury Outdoors hires only hunter-videographers with a video resume and at least four years of experience, while Realtree seeks pro staffers who are well-spoken, well-written and highly educated. You should contact each organization directly to inquire about the application process. As an alternative, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers a simple online application that's open to the general public, with a variety of jobs posted all year round. Regardless of where you apply, be sure to play up your unique qualifications, skill sets, accomplishments, accolades and the passion you have for the outdoors.
Education, Certification and Memberships
Although not essential, a college degree in animal sciences or range and wildlife management may give you know-how and resources that set you apart from the pack. In addition, completing certification and hunter education courses offered by individual states can increase your desirability among employers. Many states offer both instructor-led classes and online self-study programs. These courses make you eligible for certain permits, train you on local wildlife, and teach you about codes and regulations for areas where you will be hunting. Membership in recognized hunting organizations is also beneficial, building credibility, knowledge and personal contacts that could help with a professional transition. Groups like Buckmasters, IPHA and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are all well-known in hunting circles.
A Few Tips as You Search
Be willing to accept a lower position as a "shop shooter" or field staff assistant first. With some tenacity, you can eventually work your way up to a fully paid pro staff member. Don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, either. Be open to learning new specialties or areas of hunting that could increase your chances of getting work. Maybe learn an additional skill you can couple with hunting in order to increase your marketability, such as video editing, photography, butchery or taxidermy. Be active in your hunting organizations, as well, by volunteering to sit on boards, work event booths and mentor other members. In addition, use social media like Facebook and YouTube to gain exposure.