By Nick Hammond
A HUNTING trip in the US can be one of the most rewarding, fun-filled, life-affirming, friendship-cementing, memory-making things an outdoorsman can do.
Astounding scenery, abundant wildlife; birds, insects and plants to admire; and the opportunity to return to nature and do something that’s as natural to man as breathing.
But you work hard to earn your money; and you’ll want to make the most of both it and your precious time. If you underprepare for your hunting trip in the US, you’ll likely be disappointed.
That’s why we’ve put together this ten point plan to ensure everything goes smoothly and you fulfil all your hunting trip dreams.
Where do you want to go? If pheasant shooting over pointers in Utah is something you’re desperate to try, don’t settle for anything less. Alternatively, you might be planning on a moose hunt in Maine. Before you do anything else, you’ll need to decide – at least roughly geographically speaking – where you want to be.
Whichever way you plan to take advantage of your break, make sure you do your research. The best testimonials usually come by word of mouth from people you can trust. If friends and colleagues have been on hunting trips before and extolled their virtues, then take advantage and chat to them. Find out what they liked and didn’t like, places they’ve been and places they’ve heard of. Utilise the expertise of hunting magazine writers and get inspiration online. And, of course, you can always grab a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes browsing Eagle Review, where there are thousands of US hunting opportunities available across the continent.
Next – make a list. It sounds simple, but it’s advice all good planners abide by. When you consider your dream hunting trip in the US, write down exactly what you’d like to achieve. If you’re not sure from the outset what you’re dream hunting trip will look like – how is anyone else supposed to know?
What type of hunting are you looking for? Bow hunting from a hide? Shotgun hunting over dogs? Stalking?
This may point you to a likely location. Some of your quarry may only be found in certain parts of the country.
This will also help you highlight what equipment you’ll need. Will you require a deer rifle, or a light shotgun for walking? Will you need warm clothing if you’ll be sitting in snowy conditions in a blind for potentially hours at a time? Can you hire some equipment from the hunt host or can you take your own? And if so – what about firearm travel arrangements?
These are the sort of questions you will start with – and by the time you’ve considered all the options, you may have a mighty long list in front of you! Never fear; these can be ticked off or removed as time goes by, but be pedantic now and you’ll save time and trouble later.
Don’t be too ambitious. If you’ve never shot a rifle before, you should not embark on a serious rifle hunting trip. It’s unfair to you, your host and most importantly, your quarry. Ensure your marksmanship is up to the task, but by all means be adventurous; that’s part of the attraction of a hunting trip in the US anyway. Also think carefully about who you’ll travel with, if any, and make sure your levels of experience are compatible. You perhaps won’t feel comfortable with someone who hankers for more exciting/extreme quarry; and he or she will perhaps want to ‘get ahead.’
How far are you prepared to travel? This will obviously have time and cost implications all of its own. And if spending hours in a plane or perhaps days in a car will put you off your hunting trip or exacerbate your back ache, do yourself a favour and opt for somewhere that’s easier to reach.
Make sure your health is up to the trip. It’s one thing shooting turkeys up-county but if you are planning red deer stalking over difficult terrain, you’ll want to know in advance that you can handle it. Your colleagues won’t want their day cut short if you discover on the ground you’re not up to the task, and your guide/host won’t be best pleased either; he or she will have spent time and effort in planning your trip to get the most out of it as per your instructions.
Set a realistic budget. In general terms, it’s sensible to adhere to that old adage, you get what you pay for. If you opt for a budget trip, don’t expect fancy lodges, fine dining and all the bells and whistles. On the flip side of the coin, if you spend good money, make sure you know exactly what is included and what isn’t. You’ll want to check things like accommodation, transport, guide cost, equipment hire, food and drink. Tips are usually at your discretion, but make sure you make allowance in your budget for them. If you have a great trip and a great Guide, it’s only polite to do the decent thing and reward them. There’s nothing wrong with enquiring about tipping etiquette and levels with your host before the trip.
At the same time, you can take the opportunity to check the bona fides of your trip organiser. Be aware of small inconsistencies; of changing plans, differing accounts of the same story. These can often be giveaway signs that your contact is flaky. It’s best to learn that now and bow out gracefully than find yourself stranded in a freezing hunting lodge in the middle of nowhere.
Make sure your trip agent, guide or operator is fully registered, insured and compliant. You’re perfectly within your rights to ask to see a copy of his or her insurance. And don’t be afraid to ask for references.
If he or she is worth their salt, they’ll have scores if not hundreds of happy clients behind them, and will be more than willing to allow them to do their marketing. So, call a few up and get their opinion on the trip, their host and whether or not they would go back again.
And while you’re getting into the nitty gritty, make sure you are covered and legal, too. Are you and your equipment insured? If you break a leg and need a medical evacuation from a remote area, who’s paying for it?
Finally, read the small print before signing anything. Think back to your initial list and the reasons you wanted to go on a hunting trip in the US in the first place. Does the contract you’ve been sent reflect this? (And if you haven’t been sent a contract – ask yourself why not!)
If you give yourself the time and headspace to tackle the above before your set out, your chances of having the US hunting trip of your dreams are greatly enhanced. Get out there, see the great wilderness, enjoy the company of like-minded friends and experience some of the incredible hunting the US has to offer. You’ll be amazed at the enrichment it can bring to your life and your hunting.