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Beating the Headwinds That Threaten International Hunting

Feb 24, 2009

International hunters are a special breed. We endure being cooped up in a plane, sometimes like livestock in a cattle car, for close to 20 hours. We brave carrying security sensitive items, namely a firearm or a bow, to places where we don’t know the language, the culture or the system. We dare travel to places that CNN paints as chaotic, lawless, depraved and deadly. And we put ourselves in danger, trekking into remote wild places where a bear, a Cape buffalo or a slip and fall down a steep rocky ravine can literally put our lights out. So, what could be so terrible that it would make us balk at hunting abroad? It’s the little things. The last in a pile of straws that break the proverbial camel’s back.


I’m talking about a number of developments that have popped up over the last couple of years. Here at The Hunting Report, I receive hundreds of reports from subscribers every year returning from hunts all over the world. When there’s a problem, I hear about it. And the problems that have come up recently are perhaps by themselves, small things. But all together at once, they threaten international hunting and thus the conservation programs that we hunters support from the Arctic to Zimbabwe.


The biggest problem-maker recently is, quite frankly, the pigheaded bureaucratic approach to CITES regulations and the Endangered Species Act by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. Continuing Hunting Report subscribers know I and John J. Jackson, III, of Conservation Force have reported extensively on the problems USFWS has created for hunters over the last year or so. These problems stem from some new, Draconian, regulations the Service passed in August of 2007. The regulations greatly expand the letter of the law, but they do nothing to enforce the spirit of the law. They have led to scores of unnecessary seizures, prolonged delays and increased costs of shipping on legally taken trophies. The hassles have many hunters scrambling for legal assistance and reeling from fines and additional shipping charges into the thousands of dollars.


Right up there with USFWS are numerous airlines. Continuing Hunting Report subscribers will remember our coverage on Air Canada’s discriminatory practice of charging hunters to check their firearms due to “special handling” requirements, while other sports equipment such as golf bags and skis are accepted without charge. Other airlines have since followed suit, and now we have Air France and KLM refusing to take sport hunted trophies as cargo. That has been a big problem for hunters going to west and central Africa for bongo and Lord Derby eland. Other airlines are hassling hunters for gun import permits just to allow them boarding. Mind you, most countries (such as South Africa) issue gun imports only upon the hunter’s arrival to that country.

Once your firearms are checked onto an airline, there’s the question of whether your guns will arrive at your final destination with you. South African Airways and KLM seem to be competing for the number one spot here. Looking at the reports I receive every day from returning hunters, I would have to say that South African Airways wins as the worst international airline when it comes to delivering your guns and baggage at the same time it delivers you as a passenger. There are worse regional airlines, however - specifically, Airlink, known for permanently losing baggage of all kinds.


What else is wearing at international hunters? How about restrictions on transiting countries with a firearm and then laborious importation requirements once at your final destination? Most international hunters know South Africa has some stringent import requirements, but every year first-timers are caught unawares. About two years ago, the Netherlands began requiring a transit permit that caught scores of hunters off guard and left them without their firearms on safari. Now the UK is simply banning the transit of firearms to certain countries. Many of those are important hunting destinations such as Russia, Tajikistan, China, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Ethiopia and many others. All that said, the United States is perhaps the worst about allowing the transit of firearms. No non-US citizen is allowed to transit the United States with a firearm - period. That means that Canadian hunters on their way to New Zealand cannot make a connection in the US with a firearm. In fact, they can’t even fly on a plane that stops to refuel in the US. And getting a temporary import permit to bring a firearm into the US requires a long and patience-trying application procedure with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It’s a real treat.


Any one of these complications by itself can be seen as a big, fat inconvenience, or a hassle to be endured. But all together, one right after the other, they create the kind of uncertainty that makes a person, especially someone new to international hunting, think long and hard about traveling abroad to hunt. Will my airline take my gun? Will TSA confiscate my ammo? Will my gun and hunting equipment make it to my final destination, or will the airline lose it? Worse yet, will customs agents confiscate it during transit? Once I arrive, will I be able to import my firearm? Will my trophies be delayed because the airlines won’t ship them? And if they arrive in the US, will USFWS reject them, confiscate them or even destroy them? And if they do, will they charge me with a wildlife violation even though I hunted legally and the mistake on the paperwork was a third party’s?


Count the questions. That many uncertainties are enough to destroy international hunting. Perhaps, old hands at international hunting travel won’t be deterred, but newer hunters hit with a string of these problems on one or two trips become sufficiently discouraged to continue hunting closer to home. So, what can we do about this? To start with, we need to face it the same way we do a charging brown bear, an angry dagga boy, or a leopard intent on disemboweling us. Know what the danger is, be prepared to deal with it, be armed with the facts, have a fall back plan in place.


What do I mean by that? Well, basically, hunters can no longer just jump on a plane and go somewhere. We have to do our homework on every aspect of our trip, not just the actual hunting. Here are a few tips to follow:


1-     Be sure to deal with experienced, reputable professionals who know what they are doing. That means booking agents, safari operators, PH’s, and trophy shipping companies that understand and follow the requirements involved in shipping trophies. Check the Hunting Report’s database of subscriber reports and articles for recommendations. Subscriber reports include the hunter’s contact information so you can ask them specific questions about how their trip and trophies were handled.

2-     Don’t let bonus miles dictate how you travel to hunt – your guns may not make it. Use travel agents who understand the varying airline requirements and transiting restrictions on traveling with guns. And make sure they’re prepared to help you track down a lost gun case or reroute a cancelled flight. Airline reservations agents don’t know what’s going on with guns, and they don’t care if you lose a day of hunting.

3-     Get travel insurance that is customized for the special needs of hunters. I recommend Sportsman’s Insurance Agency/Lechner & Staufer. They have custom-designed travel insurance that even covers hunt closures by governments. You’ll find them under our Corporate Sponsors at the top of the Hunting Report homepage.

4-     Stay up to date on issues that affect traveling hunters – read The Hunting Report and Conservation Force Bulletin. The latter is written by John J. Jackson, III, and delivered each month with The Hunting Report. Jackson stays abreast of legal and conservation developments affecting hunters, especially the actions of US Fish and Wildlife Service, CITES and other regulatory bodies. He is also leading the challenge against USFWS’ treatment of hunters for clerical and other errors made by third parties on shipping documents.

5-     And lastly, we are all members of hunting and conservation organizations. We need to petition our organizations to take note of these “inconveniences” that together are building up the greatest headwinds against international hunting that we’ve ever seen. Hunters need to present a united front to airlines, government agencies and our government representatives and demand they respect our rights as citizens and as a major travel consumer group. Conservation and hunting groups need to pool their strength across the globe to confront these issues.


Yes, conservation programs are important. But if hunters won’t travel to a destination there won’t be any money to support those conservation programs. What practical good does the right to hunt somewhere do us, if we stop traveling to that destination because we can’t get our guns there or we can’t get our trophies back home? The reality is that if hunters stop traveling to hunt because of the onslaught of hassles they face, conservation and the species we’ve fought so hard to save will disappear. The antis don’t need to close hunting. They just need to discourage us from leaving home.



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