January 19

Bob Humphrey: Bag a bargain with an out-of-state hunt

The slow economy keeps outfitters’ rates reasonable.

It’s show season, the time of year when avid hunters suffer from cabin fever and look for any excuse to start thinking about and perhaps even planning for the next hunting season.

You hit the sporting shows to check out new gear, learn the latest tips and tactics, and to be among kindred spirits. In among the vendors trying to sell the latest, greatest new products, you’ll also find outfitters tempting you to visit them next fall. Whether you’re merely tired of the local scene or have long dreamed of that trip of a lifetime, there are some compelling reasons why 2014 might be the year to take an out-of-state hunting trip.

The Economy: There are pros and cons to doing a guided hunt. The biggest pro is that the guides are familiar with the land and the deer on it, which is crucial if you only have a week or less to hunt. You don’t have to waste hours or even days learning the lay of the land and the local deer patterns. The biggest con is cost, which is why this might be the year to do a guided hunt.

Few of us survived the recent economic downturn unscathed, but being in the luxury-tourism industry, many guides and outfitters really took it on the chin. In order to survive, some lowered their rates while others simply kept them static for the last four or five years. It’s unlikely many will raise their rates until they’re assured the economy has recovered and they see customer numbers come back up. Then they will. But that means plenty of bargains this year.

Much the same is true for amenities like meals and lodging. Air fare and gas are up, but even those might be offset by the lack of increases in other things. And rest assured, once the economy turns around, everything will go up in price.

Deer Herd Status: Outside of northern New England, the growth of North America’s whitetail population over the last two decades has been nothing short of spectacular. Most whitetail states have seen their herds grow to numbers that in many cases never existed.

But all good things must end. More recent trends from several areas suggest we may be at or even past the peak, with deer populations leveling out and even declining. In most cases deer hunting has never been better, and may never be better than it is right now.

There are plenty of sources you can consult about specific destinations, but the best is probably the Quality Deer Management Association’s annual whitetail report. It’s loaded with up-to-date and comprehensive information on harvest trends, age structure and herd status from every state.

Best of all, it’s available for free at www.qdma.com. It will tell you which states’ hunters harvest the most deer, the most bucks and the oldest bucks. There’s also a ton more information on a variety of topics of interest to the whitetail fanatic.

There are plenty of things to keep in mind while booking your hunt, like getting and using references. Among the most important is keeping realistic expectations.

An outfitter’s brochure and website are going to highlight the biggest and best of what he has to offer, and you can’t blame them.

Just keep in mind that even in the best locations and under ideal conditions, trophy specimens are the exception, not the rule. If you see a mature buck, consider yourself very lucky, and if you bag one you’ve beat the odds. The real trophy is what you take home in your memory, not in your cooler. Enjoy your time in the woods and in camp, and the people you share it with.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

bhunt@maine.rr.com

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