I remember the good ol' days well. You know, those years when we had well-defined hunting seasons and those of us who live to hunt could actually catch up on our sleep and reacquaint ourselves with our families during the off season.
Those days are as long gone as two-dollar-a-gallon gasoline. These days, the serious hunter can find plenty of adventure if he's willing to travel and explore new possibilities.
The following are North American Hunter's picks for some of the finest hunting trips you'll ever encounter, regardless of the time of year. Some are bowhunts, some gun hunts. But please, before you jam the switchboard and crash the e-mail servers here at Club Headquarters by telling us how dumb we are for overlooking one of your favorites, understand that we know we missed a lot of great hunts. With a guideline of listing only a first choice and a runner-up each for each month, that was bound to happen. We also know that some of the hunts we listed overlap into adjoining months. Further, we also know there are many outfitters who offer good hunts for some of the species listed, it's just that when recommending an outfitter is appropriate we've limited ourselves again by listing only those outfitters we know and have hunted with personally.
If you read the following and only dream, we've done our job. But we hope instead to get you thinking about how, someday, you might extend your own hunting season. Now go get 'em!
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|April: Wild Turkeys||April: Coastal Alaska Black Bears ||September: Elk |
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|October: Pre-Rut Whitetail||November: Rut-Crazed Whitetail|| |
First Choice: Bowhunting Arizona Muleys And Coues Deer
It might be snowing in much of the country, but during January in Arizona the sun is shining and the deer are rutting. Both muleys and Coues whitetails are available to hunt in good numbers, there is a ton of excellent public land and both a nonresident hunting license and any buck archery deer tag are available over-the-counter for a season lasting the entire month. Quail season is still open, and the bird shooting is terrific, too. Try the southern tier of the state with the desert muleys found at lower elevations, and the Coues deer found in the mountains and foothills. DuWane Adams ((520) 385-4995; arizonabiggamehunting.com) is the best glasser I've ever hunted with. He guided me to my first-ever Coues buck, and he's still one of the state's best at finding quality bucks of both species.
Runner-Up: Deep South Whitetails
The rut might be over in Minnesota, but not in Mississippi where the bucks are feeling spunky and the hunting can be excellent. There are lots of excellent lodges and outfitters, but it's hard to beat Giles Island ((877) 944-5374, gilesisland.com). Located only 15 minutes from Natchez, Mississippi, 2,000 of the 9,400 acres here are designated as “bowhunting only” and this management program has resulted in the average buck scoring near 140 Boone & Crockett Club or Pope & Young Club points. Both firearms and archery hunting are available and a big bonus is that the food and accommodations are deluxe.
First Choice: Mountain Lions
When it's bitter cold and you're bored to death, why not limber up those legs and follow the sound of the hounds in pursuit of a big mountain lion in the snow-covered Western mountains? Lion hunting is poo-pooed by some as a slam-dunk, unsporting hunt, but I've been three times—taken one cat—and been physically tested by the steep terrain and deep snow each time. As a bonus, lion meat is some of the best I've ever eaten. There's good cat hunting in many Western states like Montana, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho, as well as farther south in Arizona and New Mexico. My friend Rick Wemple ((800) 725-4306; huntinfool.com/rickwemple) is one tough cookie and all about adventuring. He's a hunting fool who guides for elk, muleys, black bears and pronghorns, and he also knows how to catch cats for his clients.
Coyotes are found coast to coast, in big numbers. In much of the country the “song dogs” kick last year's pups out of the pack about now, meaning there are a fair number of young, uneducated dogs running about. That's good news for those hunters who want to try and call them in. A bonus in some areas is the fact that many times landowners who are shy about letting newcomers hunt their land have no problem with sportsmen trying to thin out coyotes. Check with your local game and fish department for regulations and recommended hunting areas.
First Choice: Musk Ox
Oomingmak is a prehistoric beast inhabiting the frozen arctic, drawing the adventuresome sportsman back into time. March is a great time to pursue them, as the winter days are lengthening, hide quality is superb and the hunting excellent. Expect temperatures anywhere from minus 10 to minus 50 degrees—not as bad as it seems with the right clothing, which is often supplied by the outfitter. While some musk ox hunting occurs in Alaska, the best bet for the nonresident is Canada's Northwest Territories. Fred Webb & Sons ((250) 577-3708; http://fordinfo.com/fredwebb) has been conducting highly successful arctic hunts for decades. My musk ox bowhunt with Fred was one of the most exciting trips I've ever made.
Runner-Up: Florida Wild Hogs
In addition to great whitetail, Osceola turkey and exotics hunting, Cracker Swamp Hunting Preserve ((386) 328-6111; crackerswamp.com) offers incredible spring hunting for wild hogs ranging between 250-450 pounds. These folks will make you feel right at home—and the hogs are big and mean!
First Choice: Wild Turkeys
With more turkeys in North America than ever before, the hunting opportunities are almost endless. For current conditions and population updates, check with both your local fish and game department and the National Wild Turkey Federation (nwtf.org.) Brian Gilliland of Smoky Ridge Outfitters ((270) 885-8141; huntingkentucky.com) has 6,000 acres overrun with wild turkeys, with both greenfields to draw strutting toms to your blind and decoy, or oak-studded hills to chase them around.
Runner-Up: Coastal Alaska Black Bears
This is a pure spot and stalk adventure based from a comfortable boat with a near 100 percent chance you'll stalk at least one big bruin with a 7-foot or better hide. Add the great food and you can't go wrong. I think so much of this hunt that I often guide here myself, just for the excitement! My friend Jim Boyce (Baranof Expeditions, (907) 747-3934; baranofexpeditions.com) has been doing it for more than a decade with near-100 percent success.
First Choice: Alaska's Giant Brown Bears
There is nothing in North America that compares to the adrenaline rush of stalking to within spitting distance of 1,000-plus pounds of fang and claw. There are many excellent Alaska brown bear guides and one who I recommend highly is Tracy Vrem of Blue Mountain Lodge ((907) 688-2419; bluemountainlodge.com). Vrem hunts near Becharof Lake on the Alaska Peninsula and has a superb track record of producing excellent bears and near-100 percent success.
Runner-Up: Baited Black Bears
In many areas of Canada baiting bears is still legal, and many outfitters take it quite seriously. I love to hunt over bait, and for the nonresident a trip north of the border will help cure spring fever. To help sort the wheat from the outfitter chaff and find a small outfitter who specializes in personalized service and very high success rates in a two-bear area, contact booking agent Wade Derby ((925) 679-9232; crosshairconsulting.com) who works hard for his clients and has personally checked out all the outfitters he recommends.
First Choice: California Barley Field Wild Boars
There are more free-ranging wild hogs in California right now than ever before, and while the season is open all year, when the barley crops begin to emerge in late May and June the hogs swarm the central California fields, making it possible to often see more than 100 hogs a day. Two-day guided hunt packages run anywhere from $500-$800 and on the best operations success is near-100 percent. I've hunted with Doug Roth at Camp 5 Outfitters ((805) 238-3634; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) near Paso Robles (halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco) since he first began guiding during the late 1980s, and have never been disappointed.
Tired of shooting 3-D targets and hitting golf balls? Maybe it's time that you tried your hand at some bowfishing, which can be much more fun and challenging than you might originally think. It doesn't cost a lot to gear up, and most states offer some sort of bowfishing opportunity. Check with your local game and fish department for regulations and recommended bowfishing areas.
First Choice: Yukon Territory Dall's Sheep
Summer hunting is never more exciting than when stalking a majestic Dall's sheep ram in the Northwest Territories. Clients hunting with South Nahanni Outfitters have been scoring at virtually 100 percent on rams averaging about 38 inches for a maximum of 12 clients a year. Though this is a backpack hunt, helicopters are used to access the area, and most hunters find these hunts relatively easy, physically. It's an awesome hunt, and Wade Derby of Crosshair Consulting ((925) 679-9232; crosshairconsulting.com) does the booking and can fill you in.
Runner-Up: Prairie Dogs
Hot summer days were made, it seems, for honing your long-range shooting skills on prairie dogs, rock chucks and ground squirrels. Many ranchers and farmers will grant you permission to shoot these pests, and there are also many commercial hunting operations catering to those who prefer packaged deals. Bring lots of ammo!
First Choice: Caribou
There's so much good hunting to choose from in August, yet if I had to pick just one hunt it would be stalking caribou bulls across the tundra. While good, Quebec can be a hit-or-miss affair—one reason I prefer Alaska. The huge Mulchatna herd hasn't started migrating yet, meaning you can often fly around and find thousands of animals that aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Both guided and unguided drop-off hunts are popular. Gary, Louise and Steve Pogany (Osprey Lodge; alaskahuntfish-osprey.com; (907) 688-1511 or (696) 2390) run a super program featuring both guided and unguided hunts from a spacious lodge located less than 2 hours by small airplane from Anchorage. The price of their trips includes bush plane service, which is a hidden savings.
Runner-Up: Western Pronghorns
Pronghorn are awesome to bow hunt. I love sitting in a blind waiting for the right pronghorn buck to arrive, trying to sneak within arrow range of bedded bucks – a huge challenge! -- and decoying rutting bucks into early September. Any way you cut it, it is great fun.
First Choice: Elk
When the leaves begin to turn in the Rocky Mountain West, is there a better place to be than trying your hand at seducing a mature bull elk into bow range? There's absolutely nothing like it anywhere in the world! With tons of public land available and more elk than at anytime since the turn of the century, the chances for do-it-yourself success are as good as ever. However, far better odds occur on the right guided hunt—especially those conducted on private land or on public land where tags are limited. Van Hale's Trophy Outfitters ((928) 333-5290; trophyoutfittersonline.com) is a small outfit specializing in arguably the top two trophy states in the West: Arizona and New Mexico. He can help you apply for the very best tags as well as with some private land hunting.
Like elk, moose are rutting in mid- to late September, and if you think calling an elk in is something, try keeping it together when 1,500 pounds of love-crazed Alces charges toward you! While you can hunt moose on your own in Alaska, if you have no experience in moosing, hiring a guide is highly recommended. And if you're going moose hunting, why not try your hand at the continent's largest bulls? My friend Terry Overly of Pioneer Outfitters in Chisana, Alaska ((907) 734-0007; e-mail email@example.com) has a long track record or producing nice bulls and high success rates on horseback moose hunts.
First Choice: Mule Deer
The thing about mule deer hunting is, unless the deer live in an area conducive to making a successful stalk, they might as well be living on the moon, and that eliminates much of their home range. Chad Schearer of Central Montana Outfitters ((406) 799-7984; centralmontanaoutfitters.com) specializes in elk and muley hunting and prides himself in personalized service—but best of all, the ranch he has leased is ideal for locating, then stalking, quality mule deer bucks. Chad's hunters seem to always get shots with either bow or rifle.
Runner-Up: Pre-Rut Whitetails
It's starting …. and we all want to be in a tree when the bucks begin their rutting ritual. Near the end of October is the time to break out the deer calls and rattling horns and begin sitting in those stands along traditional rub lines and among dropping acorns. Need I say more?
First Choice: Rut-Crazed Whitetails
Most of America's hunters live for the whitetail rut, when those nocturnal monsters finally show themselves during legal shooting hours. Where will you be this November? If you're looking for an outfitter who's dedicated to quality, keeps hunter numbers low and has some truly monster deer, Dick McCormick's Central Illinois Outfitters ((217) 452-7945; centralillinoisoutfitters.com) hunts The Grigsby, located 25 minutes northwest of Springfield in west-central Illinois. His area comprises 12,860 total acres and is the largest contiguous privately owned tract of land in the state. I've been there, and I will be back. It's that good.
Runner-Up: Oregon Blacktails
Speaking of nocturnal, no deer is more so than the Columbia blacktail of the northern California/western Oregon and Washington state coast. The biggest bucks of all come from near Medford, Oregon, where my friends Doug and Janet Gattis of Southern Oregon Game Busters ((541) 770-5050; blacktails.net) have produced some monsters for both firearms and archery clients. The best hunting occurs from mid-November to season's end in early December when the deer can be hunted from a treestand, by spot and stalk or by rattling and calling. It's extremely challenging—and incredibly fun.
First Choice: Texas Whitetails
If you haven't been to Texas, you owe it to yourself to make at least one pilgrimage to a land where the deer hunting is a world unto itself—and where it can be superb during mid- to late December when the bucks are starting to rut and the big boys show up. Much of the hunting is done from a treestand set over, or near, a feeder—a turn-off to many, but something I have found both fascinating and not as easy as it sounds. The Perlitz Ranch ((210) 494-6421; perlitzranch.com) has been featured often on the “Realtree Monster Bucks” video series for a reason—it's awesome!
Runner-Up: Winter Rabbits
In snow country, both cotton-tailed rabbits and snowshoe hares are romping about, leaving tracks to follow and making spot and stalk hunting a great excuse to get out of the house and get some shooting in. Bunny hunting is also a super way to introduce a young or novice archer to bowhunting; the fact they make an awesome stew is a bonus. Check with your local game and fish department for regulations and recommended hunting areas.