Hunting season is almost there for the 90% of humankind living in the Northern Hemisphere, and you’re probably anticipating your upcoming hunting trip or trips. But are you sure you’re ready for it? Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned hunter, preparation is key to ensure both safety and success. Here’s a list of things to cover; it is created with a hunt out of state, or even out of the country, in mind, but will work for your routine hunts near home as well.
Some of these tips may sound obvious to the point of stupidity. However, all those years at BookYourHunt.com taught us that, while 999 of 1,000 hunts booked on our marketplace go without a hiccup, some people may lose track of the most obvious things. One of our favorite stories is about the Hungarian who assumed Hungary had a no-visa agreement with Russia, and was very unpleasantly surprised at the airport. We could help that guy out, and he got his capercaillie all right, but you get the picture. So, obvious or not, here are the things you want to check.
Licensing and Regulations.
- Have you got all necessary licenses, permits, and tags?
It is a duty and a matter of honor for any lover of the great outdoors to obey and respect hunting laws and regulations. Which can be sophisticated: it’s not unusual, for example, that hunters who want to pursue a coveted big-game animal such as elk in a particular unit, need to obtain a license to exercise their general right to hunt, a permit to pursue the particular species, a tag to make the harvest legal, and a conservation stamp because, er, fundraising and stuff. Timing is also important – it hurts to do a long trip hoping to buy an over-the-corner license only to discover they’re all sold out, while you could have easily bought one online. Make a list of what you need, and obtain everything earlier rather than later.
- Are you familiar with the up-to-date rules and regulations?
This year the Canadian province of Manitoba stopped selling waterfowl hunting licenses to non-residents over the counter. They are now limited draw or available through a quota system to registered guide-outfitters. Imagine driving all the way to “Canadian Siberia” only to find out you should turn back home or book a hunt on the spot. Which is easy to do on BookYourHunt.com, if outfitters still have spots open, but still. Even minor changes in regulations may make or break your hunt, and/or turn you into a felon. Make sure you’re up-to-date.
- Is your trip thoroughly planned?
Are you flying, driving, or perhaps taking a train? In each of those cases you should think all your route through, and prepare for potential problems and bottlenecks. From whether there’s room in your vehicle for all you plan to take, to should you book a hotel to get a few hours of sleep during that 10-hour changeover, the deeper you go through all details the smoother your journey will be.
- Have you got all necessary visas, including for transit areas?
There was once a Hungarian hunter, who…. you’ve heard this one already? Good, then you know why you should always verify if you need a visa to enter a country. Double-check all changeovers in third countries: most of the time you don’t have to go through passport control between planes, but sometimes you do (always when you need to change airports, occasionally when you need to change terminals), and if you need a visa for this country but don’t have it, that might be the end of your flight.
- Are you clear to travel with your firearms?
Most countries (even the USA) require foreigners, who want to come over with their legally owned guns, to obtain some sort of a permit. The systems vary for each country, and your outfitter will usually be familiar with it. But it never hurts to double check. Again, mind the junctions on your route: for example, if you’re traveling to another African country through South Africa, in some cases you might be required to obtain a South African firearm import permit in addition to that of your destination country.
- Are you familiar with firearms rules of your airline or other carrier?
Regulations that govern transport of guns and archery gear differ from carrier to carrier, and what worked for one a year ago may not work for another this year. Airlines are especially gun-unfriendly, and some don’t allow firearms on board at all. Double-check the rules for your particular flight(s) and make sure you can abide by them.
- Is your car, boat, ATV or snowmobile in full working order?
“Things don’t break down if nobody touches them!” is a phrase we all heard from our parents now and then. Unfortunately, some complex mechanisms can develop malfunctions simply through sitting unused in a garage or shed for a few months. Check your outboard, ATV, etc. a few weeks before you’re going to need them, so that you have some time to fix any problems. Also, see if you have any planned or needed maintenance, tire change, etc. during the season – it may be a good idea to have it done in advance.
- Is your gun or bow in full working order?
If you regularly practice with the particular weapon you intend to hunt, then you can confidently answer “yes”. But if it has been sitting in the safe since you don’t remember when – for example, when you plan to use a bigger rifle for your elk hunt than your regular deer rifle – a few weeks before the trip is the time to take it out, clean it, and take a few shots with it, just to see if it still holds zero or needs to replace the strings, as the case might be.
- Do you have enough ammunition?
Ideally, a big-game hunter needs only a few rounds per season. But figure in practice, the need to check the zero after a trip, and sighting it in again if anything went wrong, and you realize you should have at least 50, better yet a 100 rounds of your favorite ammo in stock. And the day before the hunt is a wrong day to replenish the supply, especially if it’s the day before the opening day – you’re likely to find the shelves cleared of not only your favorite, but all decent cartridges as well, and what you can buy may not work and will require some range time to check how it shoots in any case.
- Do you have the right clothing and boots?
Check out the weather conditions in the area you’re going to hunt, minding not only temperatures, but also wind and humidity. The type of hunt also matters: the setup that works for a tree stand may not be the best choice for a spot-and-stalk hunt with a lot of walking over broken terrain. For fall and winter hunts, select the layers that will keep you comfy not only at the temperatures that you can expect, but also if it drops 15-20 degrees. And if you think your old stuff is good enough, take it out of the closet for inspection. Most hunters won’t forget they need their gun cleaned, or their outboard serviced, but minor ruptures or mud and blood stains too often fall victim to “I’ll think about it later” approach.
- What other gear are you going to need?
Waders for a duck hunt, spotting scope for a sheep and goat hunt, backpack and tent for a backcountry hunt – each hunting adventure requires a different minimum set of gear. Draw a list of what you’re going to need, discuss it with your outfitter, and check if you need to buy, fix, or replace any of the items. And don’t put it off until the day before departure!
An ounce of prevention is proverbially better than a pound of cure, so a safe hunting trip begins at home. Think your hunt through, looking for potential risk points, and prepare for them; waving danger aside is usually a sign of stupidity, not bravery.
- Have you checked your tree stand and harness?
In North America, falling from tree stands is by far the most common cause of accidents while hunting. Most of them are connected with not wearing a safety harness, improper use of equipment, or with equipment breakdowns, usually due to wear. Check your tree stand and your harness for signs of wear, and be sure you know the proper and safe routine to use that. Yeah, that’s boring, but sure beats spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair.
- Do you have the proper navigation and communication devices?
Getting lost is no fun, and can often get you killed. In daily life, most of us rely on a smartphone with navigation software, but for most hunting scenarios this is not enough. As a minimum, download and save on your device the maps for the territory you hunt, so that you can use the software offline, and carry a big, fully loaded power bank and charging cable. Rescue services can often pick your SOS even outside regular coverage area, but not if your battery ran out. Navigation is a secondary function for mobiles, which rely on signal from base stations as much as on satellite connection, that’s why dedicated GPS devices clearly outperform mobiles off the grid. If you venture far into the wilderness, consider buying or borrowing a satellite phone. An old-fashioned paper map and compass may be helpful too – as long as you know how to use them!
- Are you aware of situational risks?
What should you watch out for in the place you’re going to hunt? Is it a grizzly country, where you should carry pepper spray and/or a handgun for defense? Are there poisonous snakes or insects? Any risks of sudden floods, cold blasts, avalanches? Being prepared is the best preventive, so do your homework.
- Have you got all the necessary vaccines?
Forget Covid-19. In some areas there is a non-imaginary risk of catching a really nasty infectious disease that can actually kill you if you don’t get the jab. Think yellow fever. And some vaccinations require time before the immunity develops. With tick-borne encephalitis, for example, you must have your first dose of the vaccine six months before your planned visit to the encephalitis risk area, which currently includes about half of Europe. So, check out the requirements and talk to your doctor if there are any vaccines that are not required by law, but still nice to have.
- Do you need insurance?
In some countries you’re legally required to have special insurance, mostly concerning third-party reliability, before you can go hunting. For some hunts, it’s simply a good idea to have your medical expenses and evacuation costs covered in case of emergency. We at BookYourHunt.com have partnered with Ripcord, a company that can offer you dedicated policies, and haven’t had a chance to regret this partnership yet.
- Does anyone know what you’re up to?
Always inform someone close to you about your hunting location and expected return. This is crucial for search and rescue operations if they become necessary.
Training and Fitness.
- Do you have a sufficient level of fitness?
Many guys tend to overestimate their physical capacity. And that’s not only about that overweight middle-aged manager who thinks he can outperform Bear Grylls. Ray Marjerus, a guide-outfitter from British Columbia, once had a client who ran marathons but couldn’t complete his mountain goat hunt, because he failed to train going up and downhill. Invest some gym time into cardiovascular and weight training, doing your best to imitate the specific conditions of your hunt. If you’re going to go up and down steep slopes, go up and down steep slopes, etc.
- Is your health adequate for the hunt you’re going to do?
That’s a hard, but necessary question. Although many hunters say dropping dead in a Dall’s sheep hunting camp is how they would like to go, in most cases it’s better to skip a hunt, or even a season than to risk losing hunting for the rest of your life. If you have any health issues, discuss it with your doctor – and with your guide. You can achieve a lot at hunting even if your fitness and health level isn’t perfect, and most guides are flexible and can adapt to almost any client’s ability, but you’ve got to be honest about it.
- Do you know enough about the kind of hunting you’re going to do?
Nothing can replace practice, but having at least some theoretical knowledge is better than being totally clueless about the specific hunting method or territory. The Internet is full of videos, podcasts, and blogs about all things hunting, and if you can’t find the information you need online – try a library!
- Have you done your scouting?
Of course, it’s hard to do traditional scouting for a caribou hunt in Yukon if you have a full-time job in Dallas, Texas. But you can and should do your homework from home. Check long-term weather forecasts. Study the territory on maps and satellite images. Read stories of those who hunted there before you. Follow a couple of local hunters, bloggers, and regional media such as small-town newspaper. If there has been a drought, flood, or wildfires, or if there are tornado or cold blast warnings, you need to know!
- Have you had enough shooting practice?
And not just “some” shooting practice, but “the” shooting practice for the hunt you’re going to do? E.g. long range shooting for a mountain hunt, or quick off-hand shooting for a driven hunt in Europe or moose hunt during the rut. And with the very weapon you intend to use on the trip, too. Granted, doing 200 shot series with a Big Five caliber like .458 Lott may be expensive and counterproductive (as in developing fear of the recoil and promoting flinching). But getting used to the weight and trigger pull of the beast by dry-firing and working the bolt with snap caps is never a bad idea. Consider signing up for a match or competition, too – this will teach you to fight against your anxiety and stabilize your nerves in a situation when a lot depends on your shot.
Preparation for your trip can be almost as fun as the actual hunt. Proper gear, training, adherence to regulations, and safety precautions don’t only ensure success – the less you have to worry about things like a dysfunctional outdoor motor, the better you can concentrate on the important stuff: the environment, wildlife, and feeling connected to nature. Follow these guidelines, and you can look forward to many memorable hunting adventures!