Gayne C. Young
Lance Kronberger is the founder and owner of Freelance Outdoor Adventures. I spoke to him about his time hunting, his company, and what really irks him as a guide.
When did you start guiding?
I started guiding in 1994.
How old were you?
Did you guide on your own or for a company?
Yeah, I guided for multiple outfitters in Idaho, and then traveled all over the west, and then started guiding for other guys in Alaska in 1998.
So how did you get into guiding? Had you always been a hunter?
No. I got into guiding to fulfill the competition desire I had. I grew up on a farm and playing sports, primarily basketball, and went to college, played basketball in college. And when I was a half year from graduating as a civil engineer, I got into a little bit of elk hunting and said, “I just need to take a break.” And I went to a guide school. I actually went to a guide school that was advertised in Bugle magazine and got a job right out of guide school.
I didn’t grow up hunting so when I started guiding, I was as green as can be, and just lucked out and worked for a great guy in Idaho who taught me a ton, and then worked for friends of his, and they taught me stuff. As I look back at it, I was really lucky as the guys that mentored me were all great guys where this industry isn’t… I mean, it’s got some real screwballs too. So, I got lucky.
Screwballs [Laughing]. That’s a nice way to put it. When did you go out on your own?
In 2003. I started guiding in Alaska in 1998 – but you couldn’t become a registered guide, which is Alaska’s version of an outfitter – until you had five years’ experience as a guide. So, the soonest I was qualified to take my registered guide test, was in 2003. So, in 2003, is when I started Freelance Outdoor Adventures.
And you specialize, in fishing, sheep, grizzly, brown bear, moose and goat. Is that correct?
Yeah, 90% of our business is hunting. We do a little bit of fishing, but all of our fishing is hunting clients that are bringing their families and stuff. Our fishing business has gotten less and less and less over the years, just from the standpoint of, I got to stay home sometimes.
You went out to Alaska to start all this. Were you married at the time?
Nope. Got married in 2004. So basically, I had already decided I was moving to Alaska when I met my wife, and then we got married. We were engaged when I got my registered guide license and then we moved to Alaska in 2004.
What are your most popular hunts?
We’ve got the most brown bear and grizzly bear tags in North America. So that’s probably our biggest draw. And then, I’ve done a lot of sheep hunting, that’s kind of where I made my name, but the sheep hunting in Alaska is pretty poor on a whole right now. But every year, I’ll do six to eight desert sheep hunts in Mexico. I’ll go down there and guide those, I’m not the outfitter, but I go down there. I basically accompany guys to a couple of different places that I go to every year.
I’m looking at your gear list for bear hunting. You recommend several brand names. Why do you do that? Have you tried them all and just find that’s the best?
Yeah. So, I was on the ground floor with development of product with Jason when he was at Sitka, and then did a bunch of his product testing when he started KUIU. Jason and I were friends way back when he was at Sitka. And then when he went over and started KUIU, he asked me, “Hey, you know Sitka wanted everybody to stay there.” I said, “You’re my friend. I’m going with you and I’ll do whatever I can to help you out.” So, I tested a bunch of stuff for him right off the bat and gave a bunch of feedback. All that stuff that’s on that list is all the stuff that the guides and I are all wearing.
There’s a lot of overconfident hunters out there. How do you deal with a hunter that says, “Well, I know what to bring and I’ll bring what I want?”
So to be honest, if a guy said, “Hey, listen, I know what to bring and I’m going to bring what I want,” our next opening is 2000 – never. Because he just hit all five red flags all at once. Even though I’m running a business, I am so personally and emotionally involved in everybody’s hunt that I only have to have one guy screw up the whole season for me. And if I get a feeling that this guy is going to be that guy, then I will not book that hunt.
If you fit our program, you will come back multiple times, and we’ve got about 60% return clientele. But if you don’t fit our program, it could be a very miserable experience.
A lot of guides tell me that the physical condition of the hunter is a pet peeve. Guides tell clients, “You’ve got to be in shape to this degree for this hunt,” and then guys show up nowhere near that.
And that would be one of ours also. But Alaska is a different animal. It’s a whole ‘nother country as far as hunting. I mean, when I say, “we specialize in wet, cold, and miserable,” that’s not a tagline. I’m serious. You will have all of that. So unrealistic expectations, because of them, maybe hunting, other places, they say, “Africa, Alaska, they both start with an A. They can’t be that much different.” And it’s just like…I mean, you go hunt out west, it never rains for seven days straight. You come to Alaska, you could very easily be damp and wet for seven days straight. We don’t have the ability to dry out. We don’t have the ability to make a fire, when we’re doing some of our hunts, we don’t have any heat source other than a lantern. When I say what fits our program is the reason we don’t have that stuff is that it’s not allowed. We can’t take more than that where we hunt. You can have heat, and a cabin, and stuff, but you don’t have great hunting. And we’ve just taken the theme, my motto has always been, “You can be wet, you can be miserable, you can be hungry, but if you get your great big animal, we hung the moon.”
Now, if you feed them good and they’re dry and they’re warm and blah, blah, blah, that’s all fine and dandy. But if they go home unsuccessful, you didn’t win. You lost. And so that’s the program that has worked for us. Now, I don’t say that… I don’t mean that works for everybody. That’s our niche. You don’t get great guides that want to work someplace that you don’t have great animals. Guiding is a huge ego-driven thing. My employees are like a bunch of hardcore hunting dogs.
Back to your question… everybody gets a workout schedule. And we do have some guys that show up out of shape, but it’s more mental than it is physical. I mean, people, we’re never uncomfortable as a society. I mean, we got air conditioning. If it’s raining, you got an umbrella. You’re never wet, you’re never uncomfortably wet. One of my mottoes is, “Skin’s waterproof.” You’re not going to die from being wet, but people think they are.
What’s another pet peeve of yours in terms of clients?
Unrealistic expectations. I mean, I just had a guy that said, “It’s not going to snow on my hunt, is it?” And I’m like, it’s Alaska. It could be 20 and snowing or it could be 80 and you’re getting sunburned. It’s not Texas. It’s not Utah. Those are the unrealistic expectations, both in weather, physicality, the number of animals…one thing about Alaska is we got a ton of country, but animal densities are very low. It’s not like you’re going elk hunting, you’re seeing a heard of a hundred elk. That’s not happening. There are days where we’ll go on a bear hunt, it’s very rare, but we’ve had days where we didn’t see a bear. Well, I mean, that is just demoralizing to some hunters. And you’d be like, oh my goodness, I didn’t see anything today. Then the next day, boom, a great big bear comes walking around the corner. We go down there and smash it and they think we hung the moon.
What about communication between the client and you? I imagine you have quite a few people that you send a gear list to only to have them email you asking what they need to bring.
Here. Here. Here.
I send them the gear list. They say, oh, I got it. I got all that stuff. I’m good to go. Most of the time they show up with a bunch of stuff that’s not on the gear list. They bring way too much stuff. Everything we do is fly in, fly out. Every pound matters.
The next thing that happens is the amount of information out there has become detrimental to us. Guys will say, well, I got on a blog and I talked to some guys and they did this. I’m like, you didn’t book with the guys on the blog. You booked with me. I told you exactly what you needed, and you deviated from the plan. What happens is when they do that, the person that suffers is me and the guides, because we ended up giving them our stuff. Then it becomes a real pain in the butt because now we’re suffering because they didn’t follow instructions.
What about in terms of gear not being familiar with the gear? Do you have people that are still bringing their stuff with the tags on?
No, part of that is because of the communication prior. As you said, I probably have lots of communication with our guys and you know, this year we’ll be over 50% of the guys had hunted with us before. So those guys were easy. For one, they don’t, they don’t deviate. They know what to expect. And the other 50% of the guys who are coming are almost all word of mouth. Nobody is going bear hunting Alaska by Googling it.
Probably if there was a thing you’re talking about, it’s a guy showing up with his rifle and someone else sighted it in, or one of these companies sighted in and just said, “Ben, you’re good to 800 yards and just turn the turret and pull the trigger and it’s dead.” They’re not proficient with their weapon and they’ve done all their shooting off the bench, which you know, we’re not shooting off the hood of the truck. No, we’re shooting laying down in the Tundra, prone off the pack. And yet, even though they’re told to practice that, they don’t do that. One of the most important pieces of equipment is your weapon and guys are not familiar enough with their weapon.
Any other pet peeves?
You know, probably one of the biggest pet peeves is guys come in and bad mouth and other outfitters they’ve been with.
That’s a new one.
Yeah. Not everybody does it the same and having steaks in camp works if you’re in Africa. Having steaks in camp doesn’t work when you’re in bear country. Having a fire every night in a wall tent works when you’re in the woods of Wyoming. That doesn’t work on the Tundra of Alaska. So when you bad mouth, complain that somebody didn’t have something in camp, all you make me think of is what are you going to say about hunting with us?
The hunting world’s a small world. I would say that has become more evident because the longer I’ve been in the business, I’ve heard something negative about everybody, even the guys I’ve hunted with and the negativity, a lot of times stuff that is out of their control or things that they wouldn’t do anyway.
I come across people that don’t go on guided hunts that are hunters. They go, oh man. You know, dealing with those rich guys, you know, you’re babysitting them. And to be honest, that is not the guy I’m dealing with. I would say 98% of the guys I deal with are great, but to be honest we deal with very few professionals. Doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, dentists – that’s not our clientele. Our clientele is all small business owners that built their business and are used to being hands-on.
Good that probably makes for a better hunt anyway.
It just does. I mean, they’re enjoyable to be around. So I was just saying the guys that we deal with are almost all great. That’s part of the reason I’m a guide is because I love the people.