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Travel tips for hunters—planning ahead for a successful hunt

By James Powell

When Dr. James Earl Kennamer, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s senior vice president of conservation programs plans his upcoming hunting season each year, he takes his planning to a level of detail that many hunters wouldn’t even begin to consider. It’s not just that he’s a stickler for detail, which he is, but also the fact that Kennamer travels throughout the year on both business and hunting trips that take him around the country. 

Traveling abroad to hunt often means extra effort and planning before the hunt, but it doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience. In fact, traveling can open up a whole new world of opportunity and lead to the hunt of a lifetime—if you take the time to plan ahead for success. 

“Hunting in places that are new to me really adds to the hunt experience,” said Kennamer. “Part of the excitement is in planning the hunt, getting my gear ready and thinking about what I’ll get to experience. By the time I leave, I know I’m doing something really special and I’m as excited as a kid at Christmas.”

Kennamer isn’t alone. Thousands of hunters travel each season to pursue wild turkeys, deer, elk and dozens of other game species from Alaska to Florida. 

In fact, hunters contribute more than 1.8 billion to the U.S. economy every year traveling to hunt around the country. If you’re not getting out and seeing some new country every once in a while you should because you’re missing out on some great hunting opportunities.

But before you catch your flight or get in the truck headed to your new, exotic hunting destination, there are some considerations you need to keep in mind. 

Plan ahead
You wouldn’t jump in the car and head out on a family vacation without any planning, and you shouldn’t take a hunting trip lightly either. Traveling can be expensive, certainly more so than driving to your neighbor’s place on the other side of town. So take the time to make sure you are getting what you really want out of the hunt. 

Perhaps the first decision you need to make, once you’ve decided on the species you want to hunt and the general location you want to go, is to determine whether or not you’re going to hire a guide/outfitter or go it alone. 

The main considerations here are budget and personal hunting style. Hunting guides and outfitter services cost more, generally, than hunting on your own. But they typically know the land and wildlife better that you would, and they can often put you on game faster than you could find on your own. They also can provide amenities and services like heated or air-conditioned lodging with meals and showers, access to private or restricted-access land, special license and permit opportunities, four-wheel drive vehicles or horses, butchering and taxidermy services and other perks that can be awfully nice when the other option is hunting on your own from a tent, with none of those amenities and services, in an area that you hope has abundant game, but aren’t sure. 

Here’s where personal style comes in. If you like to rough it and hunt with a real “do it yourself” sense of accomplishment, go it alone. If you want a generally better chance of success, nicer accommodations and some support from a professional staff, hire an outfitter.

Do your homework before hiring an outfitter. Use web sites, brochures and word-of-mouth recommendations for general information on the outfitter, but make sure you have a good discussion with them to iron out the details of what you can really expect. Don’t skimp on questions. You have the right to know exactly what you are paying for. Also, ask for—and take the time to call—a few references who can tell you about their experience with a particular outfitter. In general, more questions at this stage will make for a better experience when you arrive to hunt. 

Pack smart, pack light
Once you’ve determined where you’re going and how you’ll be hunting, you need to start gearing up. Careful planning here as well will make for a better experience both on the way there and during the hunt. Think three things: pack light and compactly, pack for the terrain and weather and pack efficiently and legally.

Packing light is the rule when assembling your gear, so make a prioritized list of what you really need to take and what you would like to take. The big considerations here are that lighter bags will be much easier to carry and store. Plus, airlines will charge you for overweight bags, sometimes a lot. In addition, keep space considerations in mind if you’re traveling and hunting with others. All of your bags might pass muster at home or the airport, but will all those bags fit in your buddy’s SUV or the rental van that four of you are going to have to share for days? Work out the details ahead of time on who gets to bring what—and how much.

Make your list as detailed as possible. Did you remember your toothbrush? You put down camera on your list, but did you add film and batteries? Then, when packing your clothes, think about what the weather will be like at your destination, and use that as your guide. Generally, pack using a layering system that will accommodate a wide range of weather conditions from hot to cold, and dry to wet. For instance, if you’re going on a Merriam’s hunt in the mountainous southwest in late April, you could encounter anything from dry, hot and sunny to cloudy, cold and wet snow flurries. 

If you pack in layers (base layer of mid-weight long underwear and socks, mid-layer of cotton, wool and/or fleece pants, shirts and light jackets, and outer layer of waterproof, breathable pants and jacket), you’ll be prepared for all conditions without overpacking with big, bulky insulated coats or other items you probably won’t need. This is also the time to weed out any unnecessary items from your turkey vest, backpack or jacket pockets. Keep only the necessities, things that you absolutely will use during the hunt (calls, gloves, small flashlight, etc..) as well as the emergency items you need to remain self-sufficient and safe (first-aid kit, water bottle or purifier, energy bars, compass and GPS, etc..) Remember, those little items really take up valuable space and can add an amazing amount of weight to your luggage. Call someone locally, like an outfitter or chamber of commerce office in the area, for help with what to pack. 

Be efficient and know the rules
Finally, make sure you pack your gear efficiently and in accordance with the law. Keep your maps, licenses, tickets, contact information, directions and other stuff you’ll need during the trip easily accessible in a separate small bag you can carry on with you when flying or keep in the front of the vehicle within easy reach. This bag is also a good place to put irreplaceable things like medications, eyeglasses, camera gear or other small, expensive or fragile items.

Traveling with firearms and ammunition, whether flying or on the road, presents another unique set of challenges. According to Sgt. Don Reese of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, safety should be the first thought when carrying a firearm in your vehicle. 

“The most important thing to remember is to keep your firearm unloaded for safety reasons above all else,” Reese said. “We would recommend you carry your shotgun in your trunk. If you have a truck, behind the seat or in the bed is best. If you have a case, we would recommend you carry your shotgun in a case.”Since laws are different in most states, it is important to contact the authorities in the state in which you plan to travel.

“All states have different laws regarding firearms in vehicles,” Reese said. “It’s not a bad idea to check with the highway patrol just to be safe.”

In some cases, the car just won’t get you there fast enough and catching a plane is in order. Airlines will allow you to travel with a firearm, but there are a few important items to keep in mind when traveling by plane:

Firearms or archery equipment must be stored, unloaded, in a lockable, hard-sided case.

Upon arrival at the airport for check-in, you must inform the ticket agent that you have a firearm. You will need to open the case to show that it is unloaded and complete a short firearms declaration form that you sign and store with the firearm during transport. If you must enter a security checkpoint prior to check-in, be sure to inform security personnel that you have a firearm.

A single gun-case with a maximum of two shotguns inside will count as one bag of the total of three checked bags or two checked bags and a carry-on. Additional shotguns or rifles will be assessed an excess baggage charge.

Shotshells or cartridges must be stored in their original packaging or securely packed in fiber, wood or metal boxes and transported in a checked bag. Whenever possible, use the original packaging. No more than 11 pounds of ammunition will be accepted.

Items that can be considered as explosives, weapons or cutting instruments, such as lighters, knives, razors, etc… must also be stored and secured in checked baggage.

For good measure, it is suggested to get to the airport at least two hours early for domestic flights—even longer for international flights. Also, be prepared to pick your gun up from airport personnel in their baggage claim office after you reach your destination. For security reasons, many airlines won’t put gun cases on the baggage carousel with regular baggage after a flight arrives. Always remember that each airline may have different firearms restrictions—and keep in mind that regulations can, and do, change. Always call ahead or check your airline’s Web site for their latest regulations before packing for your hunting trip.

Relax and enjoy
Once you know what you’re going to face and plan ahead accordingly for fun and success, a hunting trip becomes what it should be—an adventure. Planning ahead means no surprises and will leave you with more time to hunt and relax. Have a safe and successful season.
 

Check out the NWTF’s Turkey Call magazine for more tips on hot spots for turkeys. Call (800) THE-NWTF or visit www.nwtf.org to join the NWTF and receive one of NWTF’s great magazines.

The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is a great resource for turkey hunting tips and other wild turkey information. Visit the NWTF’s website at www.nwtf.org for information or call (800) THE-NWTF to become a NWTF member and receive one of our great magazines filled with turkey hunting tips and stories. 

About the NWTF: In 1973 when the National Wild Turkey Federation was founded, there were an estimated 1.3 million wild turkeys and 1.5 million turkey hunters. Thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and the NWTF's many volunteers and partners, today there are an estimated 5.4 million wild turkeys and approximately 2.6 million turkey hunters. Since 1985, more than
$135 million NWTF and cooperator dollars have been spent on over 15,000 projects benefiting wild turkeys throughout North America.

The NWTF is a 390,000-member grassroots, nonprofit organization with members in 50 states, Canada and 11 foreign countries. It supports scientific wildlife management on public, private and corporate lands as well as wild turkey hunting as a traditional North American sport.
 


** For lots of excellent Wild Turkey Recipes check Cooking Turkey With SusieQ


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