Every year thousands of hunters across the continent book outfitted hunts. Some are booked in their home state or province; others require considerable travel by air. For those with the means, exotic trips abroad are a unique privilege. But regardless of where a hunter goes, the research, booking and travel aspects are imminent. Simple or complex, logistics are a part of the game. I've seen it more than once with first time traveling sportsmen. An excited client fails to do his/her research and ends up with a world of headaches in the way of missing paperwork, packing the wrong gear, and in the worst case scenarios they get hooked up with an unsavory outfitter who doesn't have a clue how to provide the service promised. Trust me, it happens too often. As both an outdoors writer and a professional outfitter/guide I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Unless taught otherwise, most of us bump through our first few traveling adventures, learning along the way. On a positive note, I bring good news. I can save you a bunch of hassle. Booking the trip itself is but a small, albeit important, part of the whole package. Let me share with you some of the things I've learned along the way. I'll begin with a recent example illustrating how one single consideration potentially saved my hunt in northern Quebec.
Shoulder to shoulder, the Kuujjuaq airport was packed with hunters; all waiting for luggage to be belched out onto the conveyor belt. As bags, gun and bow cases trickled out hunters eagerly claimed their gear and vanished. With the crowd thinning, the dull roar of voices mellowed. On one hand it allowed my wife Heather, and I, to converse at a reasonable decibel, but more to the point it allowed us to hear what was really going on behind the scenes. Let me tell you, it made my stomach turn. Behind the walls, it sounded like the baggage handlers were making every effort to destroy what gear remained. I'm not talking about just rough baggage handling; I mean it sounded like there was an all out brawl going on back there! From where we stood, it sounded like they were tossing each item as hard and fast as was humanly possible. "Thud... crash" ... those of us still waiting on our bags swapped stares thinking the obvious, "I hope that wasn't my gun or bow!" Thank goodness, we'd invested in quality cases! I hate to think what might have happened, had we not been using high-end travel cases.
Traveling to hunt or fish isn't what it used to be. Times have changed and so have regulations and the equipment we use. In many respects, regulations have become complicated making it nearly impossible to think of everything. Planning ahead and using checklists can help minimize surprises. From preparatory paperwork to understanding airline regulations, compliance with hunting and fishing regulations at your destination, packing for your trip, protecting your gear in transport, understanding cultural etiquette, budgeting for gratuities, and preparing for the return trip home, the list is seemingly endless. At very least, consider these, as part of your pre-trip checklist and you'll be well on your way to a worry-free adventure.
Charter plane services may have different rules about allowable baggage weights and
transporting ammunition. Be aware of all restrictions and allowances before you travel.
Traveling by air, land or sea, if you plan to cross an international border, you need a passport. Some places, you even require a travel visa or other specialized documentation. Truth is it's smart to travel with your passport even if you're staying within the United States and Canada.
But the paperwork doesn't stop there. Prior to any hunting or fishing trip, be sure to check on the details surrounding acquisition of your license(s) or permit(s). Special restrictions or application dates often apply. Not all permits are available over the counter and many take time to process.
Firearms or other weapon registration documents should be a priority. Be sure to investigate requirements well ahead of your planned departure. Likewise, export and import permits for harvested fish or game should be organized prior to your trip. As long as the paperwork is in order, chances are things should go smoothly.
Airlines are becoming more difficult to work with. Most accommodate hunters, but regulations are becoming more restrictive every year. United Airlines, for instance, recently made the unprecedented decision to disallow some antlers as checked baggage on their flights. Other airlines have antler restrictions but will often allow them as baggage at certain times of the day. Packaging and transportation of firearms and ammunition is another critical consideration. Be sure to check with your individual airline to determine rules and regulations.
Traveling sportsmen must know the rules and regulations about safe storage
of firearms and likewise protect all gear in durable cases.
Planning for a recent hunt, I was advised by one airline that blackpowder or Pyrodex pellets could be transported in my luggage, separate from my muzzleloader, but another airline advised that they don't allow open powder at all. This imposed a big problem, one requiring a creative solution. While my answer was less laborious, I know of one fellow who loaded centerfire casings with blackpowder, then dismantled them in camp to reclaim the powder needed for his muzzleloader hunt.
Another very important consideration is familiarity with local hunting & fishing regulations. When we visit another place, we're usually at the whim of our guide but ignorance doesn't excuse us from our obligations to abide by local fish and game laws. It's always smart to get your hands on a copy of the local regulations; familiarize yourself with the dos and don'ts before your trip. Of particular interest is harvest allowances/limits, slot sizes, antler size/point restrictions, sunrise/sunset and legal shooting times, any licensing and/or hunter orange requirements, tagging protocols, and game registration.
What you bring and how you pack your gear should also be a priority. Many hunting and fishing trips require alternative transportation to get hunters and anglers into remote destinations. In turn, weight and size restrictions are often imposed. Remote sheep hunts are a prime example of this. Likewise, commercial airlines continue to become more restrictive in lowering luggage weights. The best plan is to communicate with your professional outfitter. Reputable operators will provide a "recommended items to bring" list. Pay close attention and stick to it; they develop these lists to include what you need to be successful and safe.
Peruse any Bass Pro catalogue and you'll see a ton of options for gun, bow, and rod cases. Bottom line, as I illustrated earlier, invest in quality, you'll be happy you did. I've tried several different makes and models and, for my money Vanguard, Pelican, and Plano offer the biggest bang for the buck. I've seen each of these cases get tossed around, banged, smashed, and literally abused and I have yet to see any damage to my equipment. For added protection, consider wrapping or cushioning fishing rods, bows and firearms with extra padding, using shirts, socks or towels.
Something often overlooked, but equally important is the question of etiquette. Virtually everywhere I've traveled, I've observed a different way of doing things. Simply put, there are cultural norms and expectations. It's up to you as the visitor to toe the line. In turn, it's always a good move to ask the outfitter if there are certain social or cultural expectations of you as a guest. Yes, etiquette even comes into play with hunting and fishing. For instance, several years ago, while hunting in the Northwest Territories, I learned that the Dene guides were offended if the hunter didn't "pay the land," a mere token gesture, but an important one nonetheless. After killing an animal, it was expected that the hunter take a moment and deposit something of small value, whether it was a coin or a bullet, or something else to show respect for the fallen game. Similarly, on a chamois hunt in Austria I learned of the evergreen tradition. Before anything else is done, the hunter traditionally places one sprig of evergreen in the mouth of the animal and another in their hat or jacket. This as well is considered a gesture of respect for the fallen game.
As far as showing appreciation for services rendered, gratuities are expected and they are a part of the business. Consider gratuities a part of your trip budget. Just as you would tip a server at a restaurant, guides and sometimes other staff should be offered a tip if the service was good. If there's one thing professional guides find offensive, it's a client who doesn't offer a tip following a successful trip. Most wilderness guides and outfitters work hard to produce for their guests and a gratuity, regardless of how much or how little (within reason), goes a long way in showing appreciation. Remember, gratuities are not required, but they are expected if the service was good. A quality guide or other camp staff person will go out of their way to ensure guests enjoy their experience. But remember too, that a quality experience does not necessarily equate to tagging an animal. Aside from high-fence operations, no guide or outfitter can guarantee a kill when dealing with free-range game. As an aside, beware of any operator making such claims. As far as tipping goes, the opposite holds true as well. If you were displeased with the service, don't offer a tip … but be sure to express your concerns to the outfitter along with your reasons for withholding a gratuity. While amounts vary and they are up to your discretion, a rule of thumb is anywhere from $100 to $500 or more for a week-long trip. Remember other camp staff like cooks, wranglers, and others may have also earned this expression of appreciation. Their gratuities may be less, but should be commensurate with the service provided.
The author’s wife and her Inuk guide with a fine northern Quebec caribou.
Good guides work hard and should be recognized with a suitable gratuity.
Then there's the return trip home. All good things must come to an end, and we all have to return home at some point. Take the time prior to your trip to investigate requirements, e.g., export/import permits and regulations surrounding transportation of harvested game. This means addressing the cost, legalities, and logistics associated with everything from return flights, border crossings and transportation of meat and antlers.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl
guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails
and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either
bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing,
waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known
outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his
outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com .
Member of OWAA & OWC.