The Airborne Outdoorsman

It’s no surprise that aviation and hunting go hand-in-hand

I obtained my commercial pilot’s license in 2007, and in the time since have flown many types of aircraft for many types of owners. Any pilot that has spent much time in
Texas has likely flown hunting parties to ranches and bays in search of deer, dove, or dorado. I estimate nearly half of the private flying I do involves carrying hunters and their families to and from ranches and leases. Many game ranches have airstrips, some with features found in tower-controlled airports such as advanced navigation systems and large runways suitable for large turbine aircraft to land.

It’s no surprise that aviation and hunting go hand-in-hand, and not just in Alaska. Being the largest thawed-out state in the country, Texas offers vast expanses of terrain and virtually unlimited hunting and fishing opportunities and an aircraft can shrink the state considerably. Unfortunately, the same endless forests and prairies that make Texas a sportsman’s paradise also make for some serious hours logged on the state highway system. Out-of-staters faint at the mention of four and five hour drives at which most Texans wouldn’t bat an eye. That being said, after years in the saddle of your rig en route to your hunting destinations, you may find yourself looking out the window at that
white speck streaking across the sky and thinking “that’s where I should be!” You may be thinking about buying an airplane, but how much do they cost? What size would you need? Could you fly it yourself, or would you need to hire a pilot? Where would you keep it? These are all questions that you should answer before you make your decision to leave the asphalt below.

Be aware that aircraft ownership should not be taken lightly. It is much more involved than remembering to install drain plugs or adding fuel stabilizer in the winter. You need to know the aircraft as well as the regulations and maintenance requirements, or be willing to spend the money to pay someone who does.  While an airplane opens up opportunities to enjoy locales previously out of reach, the penalty for cutting corners or bending the rules is harsh.

The best way to decide what kind of plane you need is to determine the mission profile.
The mission profile is the exact requirements you either need or want your aircraft to fulfill. Begin by asking yourself where you plan on flying to and from, how many people you will be carrying, the amount of equipment, and runway length at landing locations. Then move on to acquisition cost, operation costs, and maintenance costs. You should also understand and accept that flying a private aircraft will never be cheaper than driving. I cannot stress this enough.The most commonly used aircraft in Texas for getting to hunting destinations may be the Cessna 182. The 182 is a single-engine, high-wing airplane that has hardly changed since its debut in the early 60s. Unlike automobiles which are “improved” every three years or so, the aviation community lives by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The design and features that were reliable and safe 50 years ago are still that way today. The air-cooled piston engine powering the 182 has been strong and reliable for generations of outdoorsmen.

While new 182s can fetch upward of $275,000, used ones in decent shape can be found for $40,000-$80,000, depending on avionics and time on the airframe. The fixed landing gear offer excellent handling of bumpy, uneven surfaces like dirt or grass landing strips and are one less thing to break and are less expensive to maintain. The simple controls and predictable handling make the 182 an excellent choice for the hunter that is also a pilot. The one downside is that the 182 is no rocket—most cruise around 130 mph, but that still will make a six hour drive from Houston to Junction shrink to 2.5-3 hours. Be careful about
considering the 182’s little brother, the 172. While very similar looking and available at much cheaper prices; there is a reason for the discount. The 172 is a great trainer and a fine family run-about, but for carrying hunting equipment such as coolers, guns, game and more, the 172 may be underpowered and too slow for hunting applications, not to mention it has a longer takeoff and landing roll than the 182. In my personal opinion, the 182 is a great place to start but definitely not the only place. I just don’t know anyone who bought
one and later regretted it.

If you plan on flying your airplane yourself there are some things to consider. If you do not already have your pilot’s license, getting one is a great idea – though it can be very expensive if you do not have enough free time to dedicate towards lessons.  A private pilot’s license costs anywhere from $8000 to $12,000 and a minimum of 45 flight hours must be logged before you can take your flight test. Depending on the size of the aircraft you buy, it could be quite some time before you can legally or safely fly the plane yourself. A basic private pilot’s license will legally allow you to fly yourself and some friends but most insurance companies will not cover a new or inexperienced pilot flying an advanced aircraft with multiple engines and retractable landing gear. You can hire a flight instructor however, to ride along with you while you gain experience and many will even do it for free. Don’t get me wrong; I think everyone should get their licenses and ratings all the way to commercial multi-engine, but that isn’t realistic for everybody. If you plan on flying yourself, picking a plane you are capable of flying is a good idea. One of the pitfalls a prospective aircraft owner can encounter is what I call the “big body goggles.” In a desire to have ramp presence, an owner will buy a large, older, cabin-class aircraft for a low acquisition cost. The owner often ends up with an old airplane with outdated avionics, and exorbitant operation and maintenance costs. The good news is that the bad economy has resulted in a buyer’s market for aircraft. Prices have dropped substantially in the past few years. You should also be wary of odd or rare aircraft as well as it is hard enough to get maintenance or parts in backwater airports for common planes like Cessnas and Pipers. Trying to get a fuel pump for your French-made Partenavia on Memorial Day in Cotulla, Tex. would not be easy.

If you still think you want to join the club and leave the truck in the driveway in your future endeavors, take the time to hang around some small airports and talk to pilots and owners. Most are more than willing to help and almost everyone likes to talk about their airplane. The aviation community is a close-knit and friendly bunch, just as the sportsman community is. The two overlap in many cases, especially in Texas.

Travis Martin is an outdoor writer and editor from Texas. His work has appeared in a variety hunting and fishing publications and websites. When he can afford it, he can usually be found in the field, forest, or surf. He can be reached at beechkingair@gmail.com or the Devil’s Backbone Tavern.


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