Hunting deserves recognition as one of America’s favorite pastimes. Just as it was done a thousand years ago, information about the local fish and wildlife and how best to pursue them is passed down from fathers to sons and daughters through shared experiences outdoors in nature.
One of the coolest things about hunting in the U.S. is that we have many varied habitats that yield different animals in distinct balances, each of which is unique and deserves celebration. In that spirit, let’s take a look at some of this country’s great outdoorsman’s paradises.
Idaho and Montana are large and sparsely populated states, making them an outdoorsman’s dream. Public land is abundant, and the fish and wildlife services offer as many hunting opportunities as possible. These states also offer hunts for many species, including whitetail, black bear, turkey, mountain goats, moose and more. They are best known for great elk herds and abundant mule deer.
Nevada offers big game hunting for elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope and black bear. Public land is readily available, but all big game hunting is done on a lottery-draw system, as opposed to states that can offer tags for purchase. Nevada is known for the chukar, a ground-nesting partridge originally native to the mountains of Afghanistan that has thrived in the Nevada high desert, and it also has the best bighorn sheep herd in the Lower 48.
Arizona is covered mostly by harsh desert, which yields mule deer, as well as the interesting, small and difficult-to-hunt desert whitetail, or Coues deer. It’s definitely worth grabbing your deer rifle here. In northern Arizona, however, the terrain is mountainous and receives reliable annual snowfall. Great water, habitat and unparalleled genetics make parts of northern Arizona some of the best trophy elk and mule deer areas in the world. Rifle tags are all drawn on a lottery system, and you need some serious patience if you want to draw one of Arizona’s legendary, trophy-rich units.
Although hunting is popular in Texas, there is almost no public land. Texas naturally has great migratory waterfowl numbers and a lot of whitetail deer. To hunt anything, you need to know someone or pay to get on a private ranch. The private-land setup of Texas has also made for an interesting mix of exotic animals. Many land owners have shipped in animals from all over the world, including African antelope, big cats rhinos and Bengal tigers. If you have the money and desire, you can find somebody in Texas who will let you hunt almost anything.
Oklahoma is like Texas, but with public land. It has great waterfowl opportunities, great whitetail deer numbers, and turkeys galore.
Like most eastern-U.S. states, Kentucky has good whitetail numbers. What is really interesting, however, is that Kentucky iz a great example of elk repopulation done right. Originally, eastern-U.S. states had their own elk subspecies, but then hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Rocky Mountain elk became introduced in 1997, and they have flourished in the Appalachian Mountains where eastern elk used to roam.
Michigan, Wisconsin and similar northern, farmland-rich states boast good enough whitetail numbers to allow nearly any residents who want to the opportunity to fill their freezers with well-fed whitetails yearly. In addition, these states offer great waterfowl hunting on their numerous lakes and rivers, and there is excellent upland bird hunting, including species like ruffed grouse, woodcock, pheasant and Hungarian partridge.
South Dakota offers the best pheasant hunting in the U.S. According to South Dakota Game Fish and Parks, the average pheasant harvest over the last decade has been 1.2 millionroosters annually, a number that dwarfs that of other states.
The Rocky Mountains support deer, moose, elk and bear. Adjacent valleys support pronghorn antelope as well as a number of small game animals, but elk is king in Colorado. Anybody can buy an elk hunt in Colorado until the tags run out, but it’s going to cost you. Out-of-state license and tag fees earned Colorado almost $100 million across the 2018-2019 season. Let that number sink in!
The South offers good waterfowl hunting in the Mississippi Flyway, which covers everything from Minnesota up to the coastal states to the east. Half of all U.S. waterfowl hunters live in the Mississippi Flyway. Aside from waterfowl, these states also became known for abundant whitetail deer and numerous small game animals. Nighttime raccoon hunting with dogs is popular, and upland bird hunting, including quail, and grouse. Furthermore, squirrel and dumplings is a staple dish in many places in the South. Turkeys have flourished here since their reintroduction.