International travel may be out of the question this year, but you can still put together an interesting late-season hunting adventure.
Covid-era travel restrictions continue to be devastating to the hunting industry worldwide. Outfitters, guides, PHs, travel agents, taxidermists, shippers, camp staff, and wildlife are all suffering. With international travel mostly prohibited, we are left to innovate. Many are rebooking to 2021 and beyond, but that leaves the remaining fall and winter hanging like a fat plum. How should we pluck it?
By all accounts, U.S. outfitters have been swamped with clients looking to replace canceled hunts. Still, it’s worth a try: call your favorite outfitters or hunting consultants, and you may find an opening for a late-season hunt. Last-minute cancellations are always a possibility. Otherwise, get ready to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when a hunting adventure meant a road trip, a do-it-yourself camp, and self-guided hunting.
Hundreds of thousands of hunters plan and execute their own trips each year. It seems that right now the public land/backcountry hunt is “in.” On TV shows and YouTube, celebrity hunters are challenging each other and themselves to see who can carry the most, hike the farthest, climb the highest, and cook the finest venison. This is a marked improvement over the “drive and shoot from the truck” ethos of too many hunters decades ago. Bravo to those dedicated, tough young hunters, but if you’re an old-timer, don’t feel as if DIY hunts have passed you by. Not too many years ago I had the pleasure of sharing an elk hunt with a guide who was in his early seventies. I couldn’t quite keep up with him! He’s now in his eighties–and still climbing the mountains.
The biggest stumbling block to any DIY deer, elk, or black bear hunt these days is limited tags. Very few western states still sell over-the-counter non-resident tags. Some states, however, hold late-season depredation hunts to alleviate deer and elk pillage on private farms and ranches. There are also Midwestern and eastern whitetail hunts, and a few bear hunts, as late-season DIY options.
One destination to consider: Texas. Texas has almost no public land hunting, but its private ranches offer the widest variety of big game in North America. Much of it is behind fences, but some of those fences are so far apart that the game itself probably hasn’t seen them. New Mexico allows landowners to sell big-game tags, so you might try there. Hawaii is a good bet for axis deer, mouflon sheep, and Spanish goats. (At this writing, travelers to most islands in Hawaii may bypass the state’s mandatory quarantine with proof of a negative Covid test, but be sure to check for the most recent requirements.)
Another overlooked big-game hunting option: Alligators. Check out our southern states from Texas to Florida. And as long as you’re looking south, don’t forget feral hogs. They can be hunted year-round in many states, with no limit. Do Mother Nature a favor and help trim the hogs.
Should you fail to put together a late-season big-game hunt, set your sights on birds, waterfowl, and small game. South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas pheasants are always a good bet. Southwest desert quail are hit or miss depending on recent rains. Check with fish and game agencies. If bird numbers are up, go. In addition to enjoying good hiking and shooting, you might discover a new pronghorn, Coues deer, mule deer, or elk destination.
Ducks Unlimited reported good nesting conditions across much of Canada this spring, so waterfowl numbers should be good to excellent. By November 10th, the northern mallards are pouring into South Dakota. Snow geese usually precede them by a week. Canada geese? They’ve gone from rare trophies to darn near vermin in my lifetime. If you can’t put together a Canada goose hunt, you aren’t trying—and seasons in many places extend through winter into early spring.
Finally, there are squirrels and rabbits. Don’t laugh. During the first half of the twentieth century, these were the two most commonly hunted species in the U.S. Much of the reason was because big game hadn’t yet recovered from the overharvest of the previous century. But plenty of the reason was because stalking squirrels and cottontails is quintessential hunting. These days it’s lonely, too, because so few indulge. Slip a handful of .22 Long Rifle shells in your pocket, tuck a sub-MOA rimfire rifle under your arm, and stroll into the hardwoods, watching, listening, and calling for gray and fox squirrels. I’ll bet you’ll forget all about your missed kudu and buffalo hunt–for a few hours, at least.
Small game hunts have the advantage of no tags to draw, large bag limits, and delectable dining. Who knows? Without the worry and hassles of travel, you may rediscover the simple joys of uncomplicated hunting the way it was done back when sportsmen and women merely walked out the back door, loaded up, and started hunting.