As the first opening days of fall hunting seasons begin to occur across the American West, hunters who thought COVID-19 and its numerous restrictions might leave them alone this autumn are beginning to think otherwise.
In just the last few days, new restrictions have popped up in New Mexico and Alaska as those with outfitted hunting plans and drawn hunting tags nervously eye the news stories coming out of these two states. Or even the lack thereof.
Much of the scrambling for clear and up-to-date information began in the last few days as the first restrictions were announced.
On Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a revised executive order that will put into place a quarantine, that 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 that the 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 industry 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.
Meaning 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 on Monday, August 10, 2020, there are no new updates on the New Mexico Game and Fish website, the Governor’s office website , or 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 Governor 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.
As of right now, several industry friends and Petersen’s Hunting contributors have made it through Alaska’s Covid gatekeepers and into the bush for caribou, bears and deer. All received a negative test before departing and carried the proof with them through their travels. Of course, that was before newest protocols went into place August 11. With more associates planning trips to Alaska in coming weeks, we’ll be interested to see if the process has improved or gotten more onerous.
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, that reach seems likely since 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 across the U.S., 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.
While much of this seems as clear as mud, along with the nature of COVID-19 regulation changes happening frequently, we’ll do our best to keep you advised on the latest closures, restrictions, and adjustments happening as hunting season 2020 unfolds across the U.S.