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Big-game hunters have many options

January 13, 2008|By BILL ANDERSON

For the most part, January and February are slow times for outdoors activities.

There are some late small-game and waterfowl seasons, but it's mostly the diehards who are out there after the beginning of the new year.

This is an important time for big-game hunters, however, because its the time period to choose states and seasons, with the important decisions of where to hunt and which outfitters to book this fall.

Experienced hunters know to settle on the guide or out-fitting service. In many states, they are facing deadlines to apply for licenses or tags.

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It is not too early to get started.

The modern big-game hunter has a lot of things to deal with. There are preference points from previous unsuccessful drawings, special areas that are managed for trophy animals only, and various season options - such as bow, muzzleloader or regular firearms seasons.

In many states - New Mexico and Arizona, for example - some of the very best elk and mule deer areas are restricted to "primitive weapons" - which means bow or muzzleloader only. If you are interested in hunting with a bow or muzzleloader, you have many more options available in areas with exceptional trophy potential.

If unsuccessful in drawing one of those special tags, there's another option. That's the landowner tags.

In New Mexico and several other states, land owners who manage their property for game habitat are issued those tags for the deer or elk season. This means you can skip the drawing and be guaranteed an elk tag if you are willing to purchase the landowner tag.

The price is often steep for really good tags. A good friend of mine paid $3,200 for a landowner elk tag last fall in New Mexico.

It worked out well for him as he bagged a trophy elk that narrowly missed the record book. He thinks it was worth every penny. At last report, other family members were not as convinced.

There are still outfitter and travel expenses to consider, so the total price tag for a high-quality hunt can get pretty serious.

In recent years, more and more hunters have used the big outdoors shows to meet guides and outfitters. They can help with the tag applications and landowner tags.

The Eastern Sport and Outdoors Show in Harrisburg, Pa., is one of the biggest and best. This year the show will run Feb. 2-10.

Based on both good and bad experiences, I would recommend hunters choose their guide or outfitter with extreme care. Good guides and outfitters provide a reference list with their brochures or their Web page. Obviously, if they list a person, that client had a good hunt.

One approach is to ask for the entire client list from the previous year and contact the ones you pick. If the guide or outfitter objects to providing the list, I would probably find another one. The very best reference is one from a friend that has hunted with that outfit recently, but that is not always possible.

Booking a hunting trip in another state or even another country is a great experience. The planning work hunters do this winter can help insure they have a great trip and get fair value for their bucks.




Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail. He can be contacted via e-mail at bill@weekend-sportsman.com.

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