As we finally close the chapter on 2020, it’s time to start planning to resume our lives in a world that is (hopefully) free of pandemic-related regulations and shutdowns. Several hunters I know had travel plans disrupted by COVID-19 last year, but if those long months of lockdown have taught us anything, it’s that the time to enjoy the world around us is right now.
For hunters, enjoying nature oftentimes means spending time in the field, and spring is a perfect season to make up for time lost last fall. Here’s a look at five affordable spring hunts that will help get your 2021 hunting season off to a great start.
1. Turkeys and Bears
Spring means turkey hunting, and warmer weather draws lots of hunters out of winter hibernation in search of love-sick toms. This year, why not turn your spring turkey hunt into a combo trip for birds and bears? Two years ago, I hunted black bears with Brian Lewis of Twisted Horn Outfitters in Idaho and it was a fantastic trip.
That hunt led me into some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, and while your odds of doubling on a tom and a bruin are higher if you’re in mountain-climbing shape these hunts don’t have to be physically demanding. What’s more, bear/turkey hunts are affordable and don’t usually require drawing a tag. Don’t forget to pack your fly rod on this adventure, too.
2. Light Geese in Arkansas
I drove across eastern Arkansas recently and most every grain field I passed was overrun with snow geese. Farmers aren’t keen on all those birds ravaging their crops and the state’s Light Goose Conservation Order expands hunting opportunities in an effort to control exploding goose populations. LGCO runs through April in Arkansas and regulations are relaxed. That means electronic calls are legal, extended magazines are allowed and there are no bag limits.
You can literally fill a chest freezer with meat following a single successful weekend light goose hunt, and these birds make great table fare when properly handled, butchered and cooked. What’s more, guided goose hunts are reasonably priced and there’s simply no other experience in hunting that can match watching and hearing thousands of birds spiral down from the sky to your decoy setup.
Hogs are fair game year-round, but the spring is a great time to hunt them because, like geese, hogs take advantage of newly planted crops and feeding pigs are easy to find. Spring means warmer weather but fewer snakes and mosquitoes than you’re likely to encounter later in the year. There’s no special equipment required for hunting pigs—your deer rifle and a pair of binos will suffice—but you also have the option to hunt pigs at night with thermal scopes, which is an experience you won’t soon forget. Because pig populations are exploding across the south, hog hunts are quite affordable. Texas is the hog hunting capital of North America and relaxed regulations put in place to curb rapidly increasing hog populations means that you may be able to shoot several pigs on a single trip. Many people don’t consider wild boar meat to be edible, but that’s—pardon the pun—hogwash. Greg Ray of Outdoor Solutions offers From Field to Table hunts in Texas where you shoot pigs (and other game) and then learn to butcher, process and cook them. I attended one of Greg’s From Field to Table hunts and can assure you that the wild boar wonton tacos Chef Albert helped us prepare at the end of that hunt were worthy of a spot on the menu at a Michelin starred restaurant.
During the twentieth century Texas ranchers imported a wide variety of game animals, and in the case of some species like aoudad and scimitar-horned oryx populations introduced to Texas are actually larger than those in the animal’s native land. Most of these hunting takes place on fenced ranches and these are great trips for kids or anyone who has difficulty hiking, but that doesn’t mean that Texas exotic hunts aren’t rewarding and challenging. On the contrary, hunting exotic game in Texas can be downright tough. Aoudad thrive in the mountains near Marfa, Texas where I hunted them with Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts, and these wary animals roam free over millions of acres of steep, unforgiving terrain. The odds of drawing a desert sheep tag are miniscule for most of us, but you can enjoy a similar experience chasing aoudad for a fraction of the price. Some exotics like nilgai and axis deer make outstanding table fare, so if you aren’t interested in trophies, consider hunting culls or females of these species to fill your freezer.
5. International Game
Spring in the northern hemisphere means autumn in the southern hemisphere, and that makes it a great time to head south—way south—in search of big game. I love hunting Africa and travel there as often as my schedule and finances allow, and this might be the perfect time to fulfill your lifelong dream of setting foot on the Dark Continent. Safari operators, like so many others around the world, have suffered through an exceedingly hard 2020.
Prices for plains-game safaris are very affordable, meaning you can hunt three or four species for the price of a black bear or antelope hunt in the States. If you can’t afford to hunt dangerous game, you can often tack on a few days of sightseeing in places like Kruger or Etosha Parks where you can wind down your safari alongside lion, buffalo and elephants. Spring is the best time to hunt red stag in Argentina since March through May are the peak of the roar. The first step to booking an international trip is to contact a sporting travel agent like Lori Spears at Travel Express, as they should be able to provide up-to-date info on firearm and travel restrictions and can help with booking flights and firearms transfers through airports. Having someone like Lori on your side makes travel simpler and more enjoyable—believe me.