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Pandemic Whitetails: How Will COVID-19 Really Affect Deer Season?

With restrictions and guidelines that are constantly changing, hunters are left to wonder what will become of the 2020 deer season.

If you go to an internet forum devoted to whitetail hunting and post a question about traveling to a specific state to deer hunt, you’ll get a wide variety of responses. From folks flat-out lying to keep nonresidents away, to others that will tell you in no uncertain terms that the buck quality isn’t what it once was, to a few helpful hunters who are actually willing to practice what we all preach and help each other, the information will cover the gamut.

In some ways, it’s a little bit like the information we’ve gotten around COVID-19 from the people in charge. We’ve been told to wear masks, to not wear masks, to stay inside, to not stay inside, that gatherings aren’t condoned until they are, to you-name-it. Obviously advising the world’s population on how to proceed in a pandemic is a moving target, but the lack of clarity when it comes to what is okay and what is a big no-no is frustrating.

And this frustration and clear-as-mud direction will have ramifications for whitetail hunters this fall…

Travel Troubles

First off, I’m not in any way minimizing the potential harm that this coronavirus can cause. It’s not the flu, and it’s obviously not something that all of us shrug off with no symptoms. This means that we have to take into account our personal health and willingness to risk exposure whenever we leave the house.

Flying to an outfitted hunt might be a dicey proposition this fall, but the global pandemic should still leave the door open for driving to a destination hunt.

This also means that getting on a plane to fly from Pennsylvania to Montana for a velvet-whitetail hunt might not be the greatest idea, especially for older hunters who may have underlying health concerns or for any of us who may come in contact with an immunocompromised individual. That doesn’t, however, mean that the same hunter couldn’t load up a travel trailer and head to Ohio to camp and hunt whitetails there in a nearly self-sufficient, and therefore lower-exposure, style of trip.

Of course, I could throw out of million examples of going from State A to B to hunt, but they wouldn’t take into account the fact that the rules might change tomorrow. Self-quarantining for two weeks might be the mandate for traveling to your chosen deer state now, but might not be the case in September — or vice versa.

There is, without doubt, a lot of uncertainty when it comes to travel these days.

The Best Research

As someone who hunts multiple states each year for public-land whitetails, it’s engrained in me to study the regulations closely. Hunting laws vary from state to state, across individual counties, and even parcels, which makes up-to-date knowledge important.

Uncertainty, at least when it comes to traveling for deer opportunities, will be a given this fall. But, the opportunity to hunt is going to be there and it’ll be worth a few extra headaches and some additional research.

That particular reality is going to slam headlong into the reality of having to know what the COVID-19-related travel rules are for all traveling hunters this fall, which lays the responsibility directly on our shoulders. Planning for business as usual like every other fall isn’t going to cut it and your hunt plans might not be affected the way you imagine.

It’s unlikely that too many states will suspend nonresident license sales, for example. But like we saw during turkey season, it can happen, or states might shut down all campgrounds or even motels. Sure, you can get a license, but what if you have no place to stay?

Really nailing down the pre-hunt research is an important step toward success on any trip, and will be the lynchpin that holds any hunts together this fall.

The Shake-Up

Hunting trips in non-pandemic times occasionally blow up from unforeseen circumstances. I’ve had hunting buddies have to cancel for family emergencies, a few vehicles that decided to stop running at inopportune times, and just the randomness of life step in and say that there won’t be any deer hunting that week.


In 2020, this is more of a given than ever. Whether it’s a state mandate for self-quarantining if you choose to visit, an outfitter who doesn’t want to risk exposure, or some other COVID-19 related issue, you’d better have a backup plan.

A good idea would be to research what other options are available when you’ve got your PTO scheduled. For me, this involves knowing what other states offer over-the-counter tags to nonresidents just in case my top destination is suddenly a no-go. If the timing aligns, it might be nothing more than switching gears and pointing your truck in a new direction. Or at least, not floundering around trying to salvage the best time of the season by starting from scratch.

Certain Possibilities

If spring turkey license sales, and fishing license sales, are any indicator (and they most likely are), there will be a lot of deer licenses sold this fall. Meat shortages and sky-high protein prices, along with the early pandemic grocery hoarding have created a demand for venison and other wild game. Lockdowns also created a demand for freedom to go outdoors and do enjoyable things, which perhaps societally we won’t take for granted so much this fall.

If turkey license and fishing license sales are any indicator, the woods could be crowded this fall with more hunters than we’ve seen in a long time — particularly if you hunt public ground.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying, if you’re a public-land hunter you might have more company than ever. Private-land hunters who don’t hold a title to their deer spots might also experience an uptick in company and a downtick in available elbow room come November.

This will be an inconvenience for the individual hunter, no doubt, but is also a good thing. Scratch that — a great thing! If it takes a global pandemic to get more folks to recognize the value of the outdoors and a freezer full of the good stuff, so be it. It’s a silver lining in my book, even if it might mean more crowded parking lots this fall.

The Takeaway

Uncertainty is the new name of the game, but the deer will still be there and states are going to sell licenses so we can hunt them. General travel might be iffy, outfitted hunts that require plane travel may have to be postponed, and it’s no guarantee that doing a multi-state swing is going to be all that easy to pull off.

With the right research and an open mind to backup plans, however, you can still have a great season. It might not look like it used to, but it’ll still be deer hunting and that’s worth the effort. Period. So stay safe, but get out there and enjoy it, because if there is one thing that this year has taught us is that there’s nothing guaranteed to us in the future — including time on stand.

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