Over the past year, the world has encountered shut-downs and restrictions on freedoms that we would have never dreamt possible. During COVID, there are many people who have taken the liberty to stay close to home while others, who have taken that same liberty to continue to travel. The desire to adventure while exploring new terrain and hunt big game species can be satisfied with embarking upon a destination hunt. And, there are many adventures to be had even during times of COVID.
Now is the time to start planning a destination hunt for both foreign and domestic travel as there are many variables that need to be considered. First, you will need to determine a timeline for your hunt, what weapon that you want to use and the game animal that you want to pursue. The species of your choice will begin to point towards the location options for your desired hunt. Next, you need to decide what style of hunt that you want to do. Are you looking for a hard-core backpacking adventure, a backcountry horse packing trip staying in traditional wall tents, or a lodge or hotel? Making this decision will help to refine your search criteria even further.
Before Going Afield
Many hunters have completed a basic hunters education course, however, if you have not and you were born on or after January 1, 1975, you must first successfully complete a certified hunter education course before purchasing a hunting license and heading afield. The National Rifle Association offers a comprehensive online hunter education course, and it’s free. Education requirements vary from state to state, and some require a field-day after the online course is completed.
Regardless of where you want to hunt in the United States or abroad, if you have never been on a big game hunt, it is strongly advised that you hire a reputable outfitter and guide. This will provide an excellent opportunity to learn from them before going on a do-it-yourself hunt.
Joining a conservation group like Safari Club International is a great way to meet and speak with hunters who have perhaps had experience hunting the species that you would like to hunt and be willing to provide information from their first-hand experience. Many chapters can even help with outfitter recommendations.
What you can expect from an outfitted hunt are meals, transportation during the hunt, lodging, a place to hunt, private or public land, guide services, and trophy care. With outfitted hunts, you often get what you pay for. Do some research, as higher prices can mean better trophy unit areas and sometimes an outfitter can guarantee tags, or help to improve your odds of drawing a tag. You can save money if you are flexible and able to purchase last-minute hunts due to cancellations or exploratory hunts into new areas.
As the hunter, it is your responsibility to be in good physical condition for the disclosed level of difficulty for your hunt. Reputable outfitters will provide you with a gear list, however, you must bring all necessary gear from footwear, clothing, backpacks, optics and be competent with your weapon system.
Practical training with your firearm will build a strong foundation of proficiency. The National Rifle League has formed the NRL Hunter series of rifle matches that are designed by hunters to provide a training platform that is realistic while building a community of ethical hunters. More information is available at NRL Hunter.
Semi-outfitted hunts offer an affordable option for hunters that want a DIY hunting experience with the possible benefits of improved draw odds, guaranteed tags, or access to a remote or premium place to hunt. These hunts may include meals, lodging, a base camp or drop camps, and transportation access via flights, boat, or horseback transit into remote hunting areas.
On a semi-outfitted hunt, the hunter has an increase in responsibility. First, they must be in good physical condition and have the woodsmanship skills necessary to self-guide the hunt in the area and navigate safely. They must also bring along any necessary hunting gear or equipment and be competent to care for trophies and physically able to pack meat.
Do it yourself hunts are always the most affordable option but require a lot more planning and preparation. All the responsibility of the hunt relies upon the individual to plan and prepare. With DIY hunts, you can hunt dream animals on a more limited budget for many species like wild sheep, when you draw a state-issued tag. With thousands of hunting units and numerous states, the basic question with DIY hunting is where and how do I apply?
Technology has made big game hunt planning easier than ever before with complete access to an information superhighway that allows you to view a hunting area with a 3D perspective before your boots hit the ground and seemingly limitless amounts of data and hunt specific resources online.
There are a lot of services out there that help with hunt planning, and if you have an Elite membership to the hunting GPS app, OnX Hunt, you qualify for a free membership to services like TopRut and Huntin’ Fool.
The TopRut service provides hunt unit profile information, hunt quotas, draw odds, harvest information, and more. Combined with OnX Hunt, it is a powerful scouting tool to help the DIY hunter strategize the season from home. Also, elite members can now get exclusive pricing and benefits, including a Huntin’ Fool Digital Research Membership. This includes access to endorsed outfitters, draw odds calculator, 3D planner, and more.
When it comes to tag applications, if you are starting from ground zero, don’t worry. There are numerous states that offer over-the-counter tags to hunt big game, for example, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, Texas, and Missouri to name a few.
And, for those that have the desire to hunt internationally, there are limited options currently available, for example, South Africa, Namibia, Mexico, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan. The list of countries that are open to hunt constantly changes and each country has its own travel restrictions in place upon arrival and departure.
Most of the international destinations require a negative COVID test prior to travel. Each country will possibly accept a different type of test and testing timeline. You must adhere to these restrictions for your specific destination country or you will not be allowed to board your international flight. As of right now, the USA is also requiring a negative COVID test before you board your return flight. CDC.gov will list Federal requirements and guidelines for the USA.
My personal experience in traveling internationally during these times has been very positive. Most international flights are at a fraction of capacity, most likely, leaving room for social distancing on long flights. Keep in mind, masks are currently required at all times covering the mouth and nose, even during sleep. Most airlines are very gracious and flexible with changes in travel plans, often waiving flight change fees if necessary.
Due to the situation, international outfitters are very grateful to receive clients because of the lack of business and good prices are available for those that are willing to travel internationally.
To ensure the best experience possible, it is imperative when hunting internationally, especially during these times, that you book with a reputable outfitter or use a booking agent like for example, JR Hunting which specializes in international hunting. A good booking agent will help to ensure that all of your travel arrangements are in order and that you are properly prepared prior to your destination hunt. A reputable booking agent will also have first-hand experience in the destination and be able to provide valuable insight as to what to expect from each hunting opportunity.
Regardless of whether you hunt here in the USA or abroad, take time to thoroughly review and understand your hunt contracts. During these times, you will want to ensure protective language in the contract that allows for your deposits to be rolled over into the following year(s) due to lock-down restrictions or changes in travel.
While traveling in the USA, each state will have its own set of restrictions. Be prepared to wear a face mask while in public, and restaurants may be closed for sit-down dining leaving only fast food or take-out options. If you are driving, consider stocking a cooler with snacks and drinks in the event of reduced hours of operation and fill up your fuel tank often. Keep in mind that many small hotels have closed due to COVID or have restrictions in place. If hotel reservations are required while traveling to your hunt or during, make sure that you book your lodging in advance, otherwise you may end up sleeping in your truck.
The hope is that you take all of the above information into consideration and at the conclusion of your destination hunt, you have had an incredible experience and memories that last a lifetime.