How to Cope with New USDA Requirements
To Import Ruminant Hides from Mexico
Editor's Note: In the May 2012 issue of The Hunting Report, correspondent Michael Bodenchuk explains how new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements affect hunters returning from Mexico with green ruminant hides, i.e. the untanned hides of deer, sheep and other even-toed ungulates. The regulations require hides to have been frozen for 24 hours and be free of any ticks, live or dead. The purpose of the new requirements is to prevent the spread of two particular disease-carrying ticks that could infect US cattle with heartwater and cattle fever. Here are Bodenchuck's tips on how to successfully clear any green ruminant hides you may be personally importing from Mexico into the United States:
The new regulations being implemented by USDA and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) require a hunter to assure that the green hides of ruminant species are free of live and dead ticks. Mexican outfitters have or will quickly catch on to this requirement, but if you cape your own trophy, it would serve you well to do the inspection yourself during that process. Ticks tend to concentrate in areas where they are difficult to scratch off. So, areas around the eyes, inside the ears and the back of the ears are likely places on a shoulder-mount cape. Hides intended for life-sized mounts will also need to be checked under the tail and around the anus and in the folds of skin where the legs connect to the body. Of course, unattached ticks may be anywhere on the hide, so careful inspection by rubbing the hair backwards is also a good practice.
Freezing a hide solid for 24 hours and subsequently thawing it for inspection poses more of a challenge. This will require hunters to plan extra days after a hunt, in case they shoot a trophy on the last day. Freezing, thawing, and then refreezing will not damage the hide if the thawing and refreezing process does not take too long. Hides slip because of degradation in the skin, often assisted by bacteria. Keeping the hides cool during the thawing process will assure that they don't slip, but will add to the thawing time.
Salting the hide will prevent it from freezing solid, so a practical solution may be to cape and flesh the animal and immediately place the cape in the freezer. Once it has been frozen solid for 24 hours, it could then be removed from the freezer, thawed and salted. A hide treated in this way still meets the 24-hour freeze requirement and will still be properly thawed for inspection, without the worry that it will spoil before it can be refrozen. Just be aware that salted hides produce a lot of moisture, so pack it in multiple plastic bags while enroute, then take it out and allow it to dry immediately when you get home.
The "documentation" necessary upon importation appears to be an unresolved issue. The hunter is the "importer" under these regulations, and his statement that the hide was frozen for 24 hours should suffice. The hunter/importer should have a written statement attesting to the fact that the hide in question was frozen solid for 24 hours on whatever two calendar dates apply (date frozen and date thawed). If questioned, this statement should be provided to CBP, along with the clarification memo available on the USDA web site. Be sure to download a copy before exporting your hide.
Although these new regulations do not prohibit the importation of hides, they do add a level of burden to the traveling hunter. Hides that do not pass inspection are not automatically confiscated, but they will be refused entry by Customs and Border Protection. If your outfitter drives you to the border, you could return the cape with him, but if you fly, it is impractical to send the hide back unaccompanied. Plan ahead and follow the tips above, and you should not have a problem bringing your trophy home.