Normally, as August starts heading towards September on the calendar, hunting plans of many outdoors enthusiasts are crystal clear by now. The licenses are in hand, the bow or rifle is dialed in, the gear lists are complete, and travel plans are etched in stone.
But as opening days happen in several Western states this month and more await next month, in some cases 2020 hunting plans are being scrambled and becoming about as clear as mud.
That includes New Mexico and Alaska, where recent regulations concerning those individual state’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have brought about several key changes. And those changes could potentially impact hunters heading to those states for a variety of hunting for big game, upland birds and waterfowl species.
On Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a revised executive order that will put into place a quarantine, according to a news release from the governor’s office, will require both residents and non-residents arriving into the state to stay put for up to two weeks.
"As neighboring states and other parts of the country have not taken up adequate public health restrictions and guidelines, and in the absence of a coherent federal strategy to slowing the spread of COVID-19, individuals arriving in New Mexico from out of state, whether residents of New Mexico or not, must self-isolate for a period of time sufficient to ensure public health and safety is not jeopardized," said the news release.
"To assure public health and safety and to minimize the community spread of COVID-19, those individuals must physically separate from others in a residence or place of lodging for at least 14 days from the date of their entry into New Mexico or for the duration of their presence in the state, whichever is shorter."
To help ensure restrictions are being complied with, news reports like this one from Albuquerque TV station KRQE indicates that New Mexico’s governor "…has asked hotels to police guests and not book out-of-state residents unless they’re here for more than 14 days, or just stopping for the night on the way through New Mexico."
With the Land of Enchantment’s bighorn sheep and archery antelope seasons already underway, there are numerous other high-dollar outfitted hunts and difficult-to-draw tag hunts waiting in the wings over the next several weeks. That includes the state’s highly coveted tag for the general antelope season in mid- to late-August as well as archery opportunities early next month for New Mexico’s elk and mule deer herds.
Because of all of this, hunters are now scrambling to find accurate information about what the new quarantine means to their upcoming plans in New Mexico. So far this year, many in the state’s hunting and fishing outfitting industries have reportedly been operating under the idea that such operations are considered essential due to food procurement, as well as contractual agreements with essential businesses.
So, does the new quarantine order apply to hunters heading to New Mexico—who will be socially distancing by nature this fall as they try to get close to a big antelope buck on the plains or a bugling bull elk in the mountains—or does it not?
After perusing the Internet and making a couple of phone calls, the answer to that question seems a bit vague for now, at least beyond the Governor’s quarantine order. As of this writing (Monday, August 10, 2020) there are no new updates on the New Mexico Game and Fish website, the Governor’s office website, and the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides website.
But a phone call or two to sources within the state—who wish anonymity for now—indicate that the rumor mills are working overtime and that the New Mexico governor could be addressing the issue as early as today. Stay tuned for updates.
What is clearer—for the moment, that is, in a situation that seems to change almost hourly—is what recent COVID-19 changes will mean for hunters heading to Alaska for fall hunting seasons. That news broke last week as Alaska’s Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced changes that start this week.
According to the State of Alaska’s website, specifically regarding Health Mandate 10, the 49th State’s new travel protocols take effect on Tuesday, Aug. 11. In short, non-residents must arrive with a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to departure or proof of a pending test result from a test taken within 72 hours prior to departure.
Diving deeper into the regulation, the state’s website says that non-residents must test 72 hours prior to departure and upload the negative test result into an Alaska Travel Portal link (a link that is still to be announced).
If a non-resident has been tested 72 hours before departure and is still awaiting results, travelers will need to upload proof of a test being taken and quarantine within Alaska while waiting for the results. And if a non-resident arrives in the state without having been pre-tested, the state’s website notes that one is available upon arrival at $250 per test and the traveler must quarantine while waiting on the results.
But there’s more. Because after all the above, then, all travelers with negative results must still follow strict social distancing for 14 days after arriving into the state or until the traveler receives a second negative test result from a test taken 7-14 days after arrival.
While all that looks somewhat distressing on paper, it’s harder to assess what the actual on-the-ground impact of such restrictions will be for hunters flying into the state.
In fact, colleagues and contributors at our Outdoor Sportsman Group sister publication Petersen’s Hunting indicate that hunters have made it to the state and into the bush country for caribou, bears, and deer over the last several days. All reportedly received a negative test prior to departure and were able to carry that with them through their travels into the state.
So we’ll see how any of that changes on the ground as the Aug. 11 protocols go into place. Stay tuned for updates as the heart of the Alaskan hunting seasons approach.
If the recent COVID-19 restriction news coming from New Mexico and Alaska isn’t enough to cause a hunter to reach for a bottle of antacid tablets yet, it seems likely there’s undoubtedly still more news to come as fall hunting seasons approach in states across the lower 48. And since the political campaigns are heating up and virus protocols are differing greatly from state to state, expect plenty more changes and uncertainty as summer gives way to fall.
Already, hopes are running slim for American hunters hoping to travel into Canada for a 2020 whitetail hunt, moose hunt, or waterfowl hunt in the Prairie Pothole region. That closure to all non-essential travel between the two countries—including hunters and anglers—began in late March and continues through at least Aug. 20, 2020.
Given recent coronavirus trends in the U.S., along with the four border closures since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring, hopes are growing dimmer that U.S. hunters will be able to travel north into Canada for a whitetail, big game, upland bird, or waterfowl hunt this year.
As they did during the bear and turkey seasons across the U.S. this past spring, hunting seasons will likely go on across most of the nation this fall. Undoubtedly, in a situation that frequently changes, more updates are forthcoming that could scramble some plans but leave others intact for fall 2020.