Some hunting seasons are already open for spring, others are fast approaching, and the COVID-19 pandemic is in full swing. Here’s what hunters need to know.
Snow is melting, spring is here, and gobblers are strutting around the country. But it’s important to take safety into account as COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S.
The quick (and yeah, a little killjoy) takeaways are the following:
- If you’re traveling far enough to restock on supplies or use public facilities, you’re traveling too far.
- Some hunting seasons are affected. Check in with your state fish and game agency before heading out for a hunt.
- Most public facilities, campgrounds, and recreation sites are closed. And dispersed camping might be off the table.
- Some public lands — including many state lands and wildlife areas — are currently closed.
- It’s best to hunt alone, with immediate family, or with roommates. Social distancing still applies while hunting.
With travel and public land closures very much in limbo, be sure to know the facts before dusting off the old turkey gun and heading to your favorite spot to call in the toms. And if you’re holding a spring bear tag, the same advice applies.
Currently, most hunting seasons and dates are going on as normal. But a bevy of other issues might interfere with your annual camp. Here’s the best info we were able to dig up.
Coronavirus Travel Restrictions Affect Hunting
To be blunt, this is a bad time to travel far from home. And while some states don’t have specific orders in place, COVID-19 now affects everywhere in the country.
There are currently travel restrictions in place for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for the next 2 weeks. Thankfully, the Centers for Disease Control breaks down the questions you should ask yourself if you’re considering traveling domestically.
If you live in an area that’s sheltering in place but allowing outdoor recreation, your best bet is to stay near home. Use cautionary measures while getting gas. Pack all your own food, drinks, and necessities to minimize contact with others.
Now for some tough love. If you plan for a long trip that requires you to cross state borders, stay at campgrounds, or resupply, it’s probably best to put it off until next year.
Rural areas across the U.S. are pleading with people to stay home as to not over-tax healthcare facilities. So as much as it sucks, the responsible thing is to cancel big trips. The turkeys will be there next year.
If you must make that trip, remember to check shelter-in-place guidelines for the places you must visit along the way. And do everything in your power to provision your trip from door to door to minimize contact with people along the way.
Coronavirus and Hunting Seasons
Local and state authorities manage many turkey hunting lands. So if you plan to hunt a state-managed wildlife area, park, or forest, check with local authorities before heading out the door. We checked in with a few states to see how COVID-19 will affect the turkey season.
This list is far from all-inclusive, so check with your local authorities before heading to the field.
Nebraska: Nebraska today suspended the sale of nonresident spring turkey hunting permits. Nonresidents who have purchased permits will be able to use them, but they won’t be able to purchase additional permits.
Nebraska Game and Parks will contact nonresidents with turkey permits through email within the next week with information, including potential refunds. As of writing, Nebraska’s hunting season is still open and camping is still permitted.
Alabama: Most Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources outdoor facilities remain open for recreation. However, some offices may be closed to the public.
Colorado: Colorado has a shelter-in-place order through the first half of the turkey season. Colorado Parks and Wildlife closed all campgrounds, dispersed camping, and camping facilities at Colorado’s state parks as well as camping at State Wildlife Areas.
While the hunting season is open, hotels, restaurants, and camping facilities are closed across the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers tag refunds to those canceling their plans.
Florida: For those hunters yearning to fill an Osceola tag, Florida hunting remains open. Most public land in the state is also open for hunting.
However, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission closed all designated campgrounds on the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) system for a minimum of 30 days beginning Monday, March 23.
In areas where it’s currently allowed, dispersed wilderness camping (camping outside of designated campgrounds or where no permit is required) is open only for groups of fewer than 10 people.
Kentucky: Fishing and hunting for 2020 are still open per statewide seasons/regulations. Open-air sites such as public lakes and streams, as well as WMAs, remain open.
State offices and facilities are closed to in-person contact with the public to minimize health risks. Until further notice, please use this website, call at 800-858-1549, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Minnesota: Hunting is open for turkey and WMAs, state forests, and Scientific and Natural Areas are open for recreation. Campgrounds, group camps, and remote campsites — at all state parks, state forests, and state recreation areas — and most other facilities are closed.
Missouri: Nature centers, visitor centers, and staffed shooting ranges are closed. Otherwise, the hunting season is open at this time.
Montana: All seasons are on as scheduled. But state parks, fishing access sites, and WMAs remain open for day use only, with camping prohibited and public bathrooms closed. All FWP offices are closed as well.
Washington state: One of the harder-hit states by COVID-19, Washington already closed several seasons. The state has also canceled the youth turkey hunt scheduled for April 4-5.
Six game management units that were scheduled to open on April 1 for spring bear hunting are closed pending further evaluation. Nearly 90% of spring bear permit holders in northeast Washington would be traveling from outside the area, according to WDFW.
Recreational fishing and shellfishing are also closed until April 8.
Federal, State Land Closures: Know Before You Go
Around the country, public lands closures are affecting both recreation and some hunting and fishing opportunities. Many recreation sites like camping areas are now closed. Even many popular trailheads of otherwise open land are closing to mitigate potential contact.
Some places like the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are entirely closed to all recreation. Others like the Gallatin National Forest have specific measures in place for recreation sites. All DNR lands in Washington state are currently closed to the public. Washington state has even closed all recreational fishing and shellfishing.
It’s wise to call ahead or check online if you can. If you’re hunting national forest lands, you can check the specific forest on the USFS site. Many sites have moved to day use only, so even dispersed camping might be affected as well.
As we head into the field, we also must minimize risks to first responders. Although backcountry travel isn’t typically associated with turkey hunting, many bear hunters do go deep in the mountains. Consider the terrain and mileage you’re taking on. Be conservative with backcountry travel until COVID passes and avoid calling for help.
Social Distancing and Hunting Camp
Although it’s possible to maintain 6 feet of distance while hunting, attending a shared hunting camp with folks from outside your household is likely a no-go at the moment.
This is a good time to test your solo turkey hunting skills, provided safety remains top of mind and you’ve mitigated the other risks mentioned. And hunting with roommates or immediate family members is certainly within bounds.
I know we all know the basics by now. But, if you do encounter other hunters, maintain the 6-foot rule at a minimum. And practice your usual hunting etiquette of social distancing, which is clearly much, much more than 6 feet. Or two labrador retrievers, which is a bit easier for us hunting folk to remember.
Spring turkey hunts can provide a bit of respite as 3 out of 4 Americans are currently under some sort of shelter-in-place mandate. If you’re lucky enough to have private land or permission to hunt on private land, you can avoid many of the issues others will face. And if asking for permission, please call or email rather than knocking on doors.
Other seasons will also see their share of changes. Spring bear hunters should follow these same steps in considering their hunting plans. And all sportspeople should pay attention to their local fish and game websites in order to follow possible date changes, closures, and, of course, reopenings as COVID-19 continues to spread.
We hope this information helps as you navigate the strange new ecosystem of a pandemic. Good luck if you head to the field — and stay safe out there.