By Mike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large
Editor note: Thanks to the internet, there are more ways than ever to find the right accommodations on your next do-it-yourself (DIY) or semi-guided hunting trip. Here, Editor-at-Large Mike Bodenchuk reviews a couple of new options.
Experienced hunters know that on most outfitted hunts, accommodations are included in the hunt and in many cases staying elsewhere is impossible. Access to a wilderness area, for example, may require you to camp in a wall tent a dozen miles inside the wilderness boundary.
But in other cases, accommodations may be left up to you. Many Wyoming pronghorn hunts, for example, are based out of motels, and you are responsible for locating a motel and letting your outfitter know where to pick you up. Of course, on a DIY hunt, you are also responsible for finding your accommodations and arranging your own transportation to and from the hunting areas.
There are any numbers of ways to locate accommodations, and each hotel chain has its own website. Chambers of commerce in the towns where you plan to stay may offer insight as to whether a particular hotel is “hunter friendly” (in South Dakota many rural hotels have dog kennels and a bird cleaning area), and the hotel itself can tell you its policies regarding hunting dogs in the rooms.
But now several online services can help you find perfect accommodations you might not have located before. On a recent DIY group hunt for Mearns quail in Arizona, I used a web-based service to locate and secure a rental cabin right in the middle of the area I wanted to hunt. Our group consisted of six close friends coming from five different states plus two pointers. On a whim, and based on a television commercial, I connected with VRBO (www.vrbo.com) and searched for a rental cabin or house in the rural town I intended to hunt and the dates we needed the place. What popped up was a cabin that slept six (including two on couches) exactly in the center of the hunting area. The site provides prices, minimum stay requirements (if any) and a list of amenities, which for this cabin included “excellent bird watching and nearby hunting, hiking.” Through the web site, I contacted the owners directly with a description of our needs (i.e., six friends and two hunting dogs that will be kenneled at night for three days and two nights) and received confirmation of availability and price. I paid through the web site with a credit card and also received confirmation.
Clearly the site acts as a broker for the owners and guests, but the next part impressed me. The owners provided directions and promised to let me know the rest of the particulars “soon,” but I was well on my way to Arizona and still did not have information about how to physically access the cabin. Before driving off to where I’d lose my cell signal, I contacted VRBO and they contacted the owners, who provided the combination to the key lockbox as well as info for a nearby caretaker. The owners dropped the ball, but VRBO was invaluable in getting me the right info.
Another option is www.Recreation.gov, a web-based location and reservation service for government-owned campgrounds and cabins. I used this service to locate a cabin for my 2016 Prince of Wales (POW) Island Sitka blacktail hunt in Alaska. There are several cabins on POW, but only two you can drive to. Others provide road access nearby, but the final leg must be completed in a rowboat and a few require floatplane access. Descriptions of the sites, including access and a calendar of availability, are provided on the website. On POW, the cabins are basic—no electricity and bare wood bunks (bring your own air mattress and sleeping bag), but a good kitchen, cooking pots and pans and firewood for a woodstove is available, and the cabin will keep you out of the rain. The site allows you to review the particulars for each cabin, reserve the cabins (or camp sites) up to six months in advance and pay online. They send a gate or lockbox combination to your email address or cell phone prior to your arrival.
Not all government campgrounds are handled through www.Recreation.gov, especially those in national parks, so a little bit of homework may be necessary, but for hunters, especially DIY hunters in southeast Alaska, this site provided everything needed to locate a remote place to stay at a reasonable rate. And, for us, it was all part of the adventure.