On March 18, Canada joined dozens of countries in closing its borders to all foreign nationals, with the only exception being trade-related travelers from the United States. Canadian and US officials have agreed to close the shared border to all non-essential traffic until further notice. Likewise, Mexican and US officials are working on a similar agreement. With the current sheep hunting season in Mexico and also spring black bear and snow goose seasons in Canada only weeks away, hunters with booked trips are left on tender hooks regarding the likelihood of traveling for hunts this spring.
Indeed, Mexico sheep season and Canada spring hunts have joined the interrupted hunting seasons in Argentina, New Zealand, West Africa, South Africa and Namibia. The list of hunting opportunities and conservation programs impacted by COVID-19 travel restrictions may continue to grow in the coming weeks. Numerous SCI members have been left unable to travel to hunt or wondering what to do about an upcoming trip. Outfitter members have been left without clients or income and wondering if they can survive the season should travel restrictions last much longer.
SCI has been communicating with guide and outfitter associations around the world regarding options and advice for both hunting operators and clients. Here are some sensible recommendations for all parties:
-Keep abreast of travel restrictions and border closings. A good source is the US State Department Travel website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel.html. Also try Googling the government website for the country where you are hunting and look for information/alerts on COVID-19. Developments and corresponding changes in restrictions can occur very quickly, so daily monitoring of news is necessary.
-Review your hunting contract now to understand the cancellation and postponement provisions and the possible effects on your deposit. Understand that operators must often use deposits in preparation for your upcoming hunt (such as government fees, permits, landowner payments) and may not be able to return it even if they would like to do so. In Namibia, for example, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism is offering outfitters a credit on permits they do not use because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but they are not providing refunds. Restricted cashflow may very well affect both hunting clients and operators during this crisis.
-Contact your hunting operator and discuss possible options. Both you and the operator are caught in a difficult spot here, so be flexible. Choose postponement over cancellation wherever possible. Some specialty hunts or specialized operators may be booked out for years in advance, as well as some hunters! Try to work out a mutually beneficial alternative before simply canceling
-For hunts that are many months away, be patient and see how things develop. Even the infectious disease experts cannot predict with certainty how long we will be in crisis mode over COVID-19. What can be predicted is that mass cancellations or a complete season without income will have a disastrous effect on hunting destinations, operators, communities and conservation programs. As a community, we need to work together to prevent that from happening.
SCI will continue monitoring the situation as it affects hunting travel. Click here to access SCI’s Hunter Information Service detailing COVID-19 related restrictions that can impact global hunting activities. For additional assistance, contact SCI’s Hunter Hotline at [email protected], or 800-997-0179.