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Rich Landers: Don’t get cross while attempting to cross border

Looking for an unpre- dictable, heart-rate accelerating outdoor adventure?

Head to Canada. Getting across the border is an odyssey in itself.

Local waterfowl hunter Jack Worden recently added 80 miles to his Alberta waterfowl hunting trip when he tried to return in a muddy pickup through one of the Idaho border crossings.

“The U.S. Customs agent passed me on to another person who said I had to drive back to Creston and wash my rig before I could come back into the country,” he said.

When The Spokesman-Review called for an explanation – none was offered to Worden at the time – Border Patrol officers provided a fairly reasonable rationale for trying to restrict the movements of weed seeds and unwanted worms and parasites that harbor in field mud.

But how would a traveler know that rule? It’s not on a sign, nor is it clearly detailed on a Web site.

Other border crossings have not enforced that rule, Worden said.

That’s the unnerving part. You can cross the border easily a dozen times and then be tripped up by a new rule or regulation, or perhaps by something one agent enforces while another lets it slide.

Backpackers are more likely to be questioned at Canadian Customs about the pepper spray they are advised to carry in case of a bear attack.

You cannot bring a pepper spray into Canada if it’s marketed for self-defense against humans.

However, Canada allows you to bring in the exact same pepper-spray product if it’s in a can labeled for defense from bears.

Choose your companions carefully when going to Canada. Anyone with a DUI record will be turned away by Canadian border agents even if the ticket was issued a decade ago. A lot of group fishing trips have been spoiled by this rule. Other unresolved citations, such as negligent driving, also could foil entry.

On a bicycle tour I was leading for a group of youths from Missoula to Jasper one year, Canadian agents near Eureka, Mont., detained us in the hot sun with little explanation. They eventually said they were concerned we did not have “sufficient funds” for a week in Canada.

As the leader, I was carrying a few hundred bucks and a credit card. We were pedaling and camping. What more would we need? Nothing, it turned out – except two hours of extra time at the border.

Some rules are easy to find on the Internet. For example:

•Canada allows you to bring in no more than 24 cans of beer for personal consumption.

•Minors going into the country need a passport, of course, but that’s not enough if a parent is staying home. In that case, it’s essential to have a letter from the stay-behind parent detailing the length of stay, providing the parent’s address and telephone numbers and authorizing the other person, even if it’s the other parent, to take care of the minor while they are in Canada.

•Each migratory game bird a hunter imports must have one fully feathered wing attached so that its species can be identified. This wing must remain on the bird “until you reach your home or deliver the carcass to an appropriate processing, taxidermy, or preservation facility in the United States.”

The devil can be in the details.

A news report out of Minneapolis tells of a hunting group that followed all but the strictest details of those migratory game bird regulations as they returned from Saskatchewan with a full limit of ducks in the cooler.

“But what’s that you’re eating?” the U.S. Customs agent at the border crossing asked one of the hunters, who’d been passing the time during the lengthy check of their gear and game by having a snack from another cooler.

“A duck sandwich,” the hunter replied.

“That mean’s you’re over the limit,” the agent said before writing him a ticket.

To be safe from return border surprises, travelers should register guns and even computers and cameras with U.S. Customs and Border Protection office before heading into Canada. Get details at (800) 333-4636. Press 0 for a live person.

Additional tips:

•Keep a folder for receipts, permits, hunting tags and other personal documents plus proof of rabies vaccination for dogs. Hunters are wise to carry original receipts for their firearms.

•No matter how difficult border agents might be, stay calm, cooperative and respectful. They hold the key to the rest of your adventure.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or

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