Depending on which expert you listened to this morning, this virus will either be the end of the world as we know it or, like the flu, it will begin to diminish in a couple months, and life as we know it will get back to some sense of normalcy.

I heard one doctor say on the radio that 700,000 to 1 million Americans could die (there have been at least 88 deaths in the U.S. as of March 16) if covid-19 is not contained and lingers deep into the year.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the virus is going to get worse before it gets better. But he went on to say that if you look at the history of viruses, they tend to lessen as the weather warms and the humidity rises in spring and summer. The doctor said best case, we might see the virus level off and start to diminish within a few weeks months, though he could not be sure. But President Trump said yesterday that the virus could linger into July or August.

Whatever the case, the Chinese coronavirus is affecting everything and everyone, and will continue to do so for a good while, probably years. That includes hunters and the hunting world.

Conventions and Deer Shows

Just the other day the NRA cancelled its 2020 meeting that was to be held in Nashville in April. This is a big deal, especially in this election year. Some 80,000 to 90,000 patriots will not show up to assemble and galvanize their support for President Trump around our Second Amendment. And to voice their displeasure with “AR-14” Joe Biden, who wants to heavily restrict the 2A and cuss and fight any hardworking American who disagrees with him.

Not to mention the millions of dollars lost to the economy of Nashville, the airline and hotel industry, etc.

Some of the largest conventions and deer shows in the country, namely the SHOT Show in Vegas and the Iowa Deer Classic, thankfully concluded before the outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent hysteria that has occurred.

Had the 2020 SHOT Show been cancelled, I cannot imagine the economic impact on the gun and hunting industry. Small and large companies depend on this annual event to market and take dealer orders of their lines of old and new products, from firearms, optics and ammunition right on down to deer calls, scents and clothing. It’s not just a domestic event. Merchants and media come from all over world to attend SHOT. It would have been devastating economically.

Now I see where the Central Oregon Sportsmen’s Show, the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show, the Illinois Deer Classic and the Boat and Sportsman’s Show in Edmonton, Alberta, to name just a few, have been cancelled. A deer classic in Minnesota opened the doors Friday, but last night organizers suddenly pulled the plug and cancelled it for the rest of the weekend, causing further confusion and disruption to peoples’ lives. Hundreds of similar gun/hunting shows and events scheduled for March and April and likely for the rest of the year will cancel as well.

Canceling these gatherings of deer hunters and sportsmen out of an abundance of caution will heavily impact local economies, but with so much fear and uncertainty in the world right now, it’s the prudent thing to do. Deer hunting is an aging sport; of America’s 11 million hunters, the majority are Baby Boomers age 54-72. Many have high blood pressure, a heart or respiratory problem or some type health issue. By all accounts, seniors are most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and all medical experts say they definitely should not attend indoor venues with large crowds at this time.

Actually, while I’m generally in the “to heck with hysteria I’m going to life my life” crowd, I don’t think it’s a good idea for any hunter to attend a large indoor gathering like a deer classic until this virus subsides and is fully under control. You might be young, in your 30s or 40s and healthy as a buck. But suppose you pick up the virus, show no symptoms, take it home and infect your mother or grandfather who has heart or blood issues?

A deer classic is a cool event, a good place to check out new gear and monster bucks shot last fall in your state, but right now it’s just not worth attending in my view. Go next year if things have settled down.

Actually, you’ll have to because as of March 17, states have limited gatherings to no more than 50 people as a rule.

Tag Deadlines and Out-of-State Hunts

In the coming days and weeks applications to draw a limited number of deer, elk and other big game tags are due in many states. For example, April 20 for big deer in Kansas. Will the virus itself, or the economic harm and anxiety it will inevitably inflict on all of us, cause fewer hunters to apply for 2020 tag draws?

In some instances, no. Hunters who plan on driving 5 to 20 hours to their hunting area if they draw an elk or deer tag won’t give a flip, and they shouldn’t. Once you get to your destination it’s all good. I can’t think of a better place to self-quarantine and isolate from the hysteria of covid-19 than a deer or elk camp deep in the woods.

But non-resident hunters who have to fly to a hunting location—a western state from back East, or up to Alaska or Canada– will rightly have concerns. If they spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to apply for and then draw a tag(s), will they be able to travel safely to the hunting destination? Will the airlines still be flying this fall? Will the Canada border be open? It’s all up in the air right now.

TIP: If you do plan on booking a hunt or airline travel for a hunt this spring or fall, check all options for travel insurance. Until we have clarity on when this pandemic will subside, I definitely recommend you purchase travel insurance if you plan go.

You also need to keep in mind that in most all states, big game tags are non-refundable. If you draw, use it or lose it. If you pull a once in a lifetime elk or sheep tag and don’t go, your opportunity to hunt that animal could be lost forever. But these are extreme times, and states could change policy and refund your money and reinstate your opportunity, though like everything else that is unclear. I would hope most states will change their policy, and I think they will.

Tags-wise, it is too soon to know how many fewer hunters will apply for permits. But with all the fear and hysteria and economic uncertainty applications will surely be down. It would not surprise me at all states have leftover tags after the spring draws. It’s almost a certainty now.

Right now, are you willing to plunk down a $2,000 to $5,000 (or more) deposit to an outfitter out West or up in Canada or Alaska for a hunt this fall that, for reasons totally out of your control, might not happen? Could you get your money back if you cancelled because of the virus?

Likely not. Outfitters small and large work on a tight profit margin, and deposits are non-refundable. Since these are uncharted waters, a large, established outfitter might give you a refund, but don’t count on it. The best you might do is work with an outfitter to postpone the hunt until 2021 for the same fee. If he agrees, that would be a good deal.

Fear and uncertainty are strong motivators. I predict bookings for spring bear hunts in May or June in the West and North will be down.a

As for the fall, who knows? Right now I still plan to make my annual trips out West and up to Saskatchewan,

Air Travel and Threat of Quarantine

I was due to get on plane today, fly to Georgia and hunt hog and turkeys for a week. That trip just got cancelled.

More than the fear of getting sick on a flight—knock wood, I’m healthy—I worry most about getting stuck. Suppose the airlines stop flying all together while you’re away on a hunt somewhere? Suppose another passenger on a flight tests positive for coronavirus, and they locked you away in quarantine for 2 or 3 weeks? If you are thinking about traveling anywhere on a hunt in 2020, it’s a risk you must be willing to evaluate.

I’m not into international hunts, so we’ll not even go there. Suffice to say few if any hunters will be traveling to Africa or anywhere across the pond anytime soon.

These are surreal times. Last month such thoughts of avoiding a sportsmen’s show or fearing of flying and being quarantined for weeks would have been ludicrous. Today, it’s the new reality.

In summary, here’s where we are as a hunting community as of March 2020:

1)            The vast majority of you (90% plus) are deer hunters, and hunt within a short drive of home. Even if the virus is still around come October, it will have little effect on your hunting. If you also turkey hunt near home, go for it. The spring woods are the perfect place to self-quarantine and get away from all this madness.

2)            Will fewer people apply for big game tags for hunts this fall? I think the number of non-residents applying will be down, perhaps drastically. Be on the lookout for leftover tags this summer.

3)            Will fewer people plunk down thousands of dollars on deposits for guided out-of-state hunts? Yes. For sure, bear outfitters and fishing lodges in Canada will feel big pain as Americans are reluctant to travel there. Bookings for outfitted hunts this fall will be down, possibly dramatically in the far north and other remote places.

4)            On the bright side, this virus could diminish in few months. A vaccine could be manufactured sooner than expected. By September, if all is back to some sense of normal, people will start thinking about traveling and hunting again. With early outfitter bookings down and plenty of openings, there should be some great deals to be had on very good deer and elk hunts in wild places.

Let’s hope and pray for the best: a leveling off of the virus, development of a vaccine and a quick and booming economic recovery. There will be hardships for sure, at least in the short term and possibly for years. But drive to the mountains or woods and hunt on if and when you can. I can’t think of a better place than a turkey or deer or elk camp to social distance and self-quarantine, to get away from this madness for a while.

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