Hunting can be done as a means of survival (food) or for sport. Hunting is most often done by humans to get meat, for recreation, to remove predators that can harm humans or domestic animals, to remove pests that destroy crops, or for trade. There are several types of hunting: camouflage hunting, dog handling, bird hunting, big game hunting, small game hunting, wild boar hunting, bait hunting, active hunting, recreational hunting, and safari.
Each state in the United States has something to offer hunters, but, as with all things, it can vary greatly from neighbor to neighbor. Another major difference is regulation. Each state independently makes decisions regarding wildlife that can completely oppose the ruling of the state next to it.
Be sure to look into the hunting regulations of whatever state you plan to hunt in, as they are always subject to change. A good measure to take would be looking into local conservation efforts as they can change which species are available to hunt and which are not. Also, check with transportation laws if you are looking to hunt out of state.
How Hunting Affects Ecosystems
When you look up “hunting and conservation”, you see titles like “Hunting Is Conservation” and “Why Hunting Is Not Conservation.” There are two key ideas of this argument. On one side, the hunter argues that hunting is a vital part of wildlife survival in the United States, both financially and practically. The other side, that of the conservationist, believes that there is too much focus on hunting interest in conversation efforts and that the focus needs to be broader.
Hunting’s Relationship With Conservation
Modern-day conservation efforts were born from those of hunters facing the extinction of many beloved species. Theodore Roosevelt was an avid hunter, founder of the United States Forest Service (USFS), and warned against the exhaustion of natural resources, something that the people of his time had become so used to.
Hunters were paramount in lobbying Congress to pass motions regulating hunting and protecting wildlife. They also helped conservation efforts financially through fees and taxes paid on hunting licenses and equipment. The “Duck Stamp” Act, the Pittman-Robertson Act, and the Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act have all been extremely helpful to preservation efforts.
Today, especially in states in the southeast, hunters will work with local biologists to control prey animal populations that fluctuate due to landscape changes and a lack of predators. Wild boars are a great example.
Where Hunting And Conservation Divide
Recently, public opinion believes that hunting, while an important part of conversation efforts, is not the whole picture. Since hunters started conservation efforts, most of the funding collected by taxes and fees goes to help protect game species. In each state, wildlife decisions take hunters' interests into account much more than the general public. The issue there arises when conservation's focus continues to stay on game species, despite growing issues with other populations.
Theodore Roosevelt was not wrong, but he didn’t have all the facts. The logic that conservation efforts were built on looks at wildlife similar to agriculture, like it’s a numbers game. Today, we understand that there are ecosystems that require each part, no matter how small, to function properly. Conservationist groups argue that favoring game species over others is not actually conservation. It’s game management.
It’s not hard to tell that hunting is becoming less and less popular in the United States. Younger people tend to lean away from such activities because of the impact of overhunting, examples of which can be seen in almost every region of the world. Nature documentaries often discuss how this one kind of bird or this one kind of whale was hunted to near extinction in the 1800s. It doesn’t leave a good impression on the sport.
As with each topic, there is nuance. While hunting doesn’t have the greatest reputation in popular culture, it is still vital to survival in many parts of the world. It is also the preferred hobby and occupation of many. That being said, there are some better ways to do it than others.
The Big Game Hunting Blog has a piece on six hunting ethics everyone should know. It covers everything from following laws to using the animal fully. Conservation efforts, as we’ve discussed, are what keep these populations alive and well, so it’s important to follow them. Additionally, using all parts of the animal is a great way to respect the animal and respect the population that you’ve enjoyed in this occupation.
Best States For Hunting
The best states for hunting have two main features:
- a percentage of the state’s population hunts
- a significant amount of public land is open to those hunters.
Other factors considered for the best hunting state are their hunting traditions, variety, and amount of game and regulations. In most cases, if you want to hunt legally in the United States, you must obtain a hunting license from the state in which you are hunting and comply with all of that state’s fish and wildlife department requirements and regulations. The age at which a hunting license can be purchased varies from state to state. You must take a hunter safety education course and pass the test to get your hunting license. Courses and requirements vary by state.
Some states honor other states’ hunting licenses. For example, California’s Hunter Education Certificate is accepted by all U.S. states, provinces, and countries that have mandatory hunter-education requirements. California will also accept Hunter Education certifications that are issued by other jurisdictions that meet the official IHEA-USA requirements. In some states, hunting draws are used. Hunting draws are special licenses that allow successful applicants to hunt a specific type of game. Sometimes only residents of the state are permitted to apply for the draws.
Unsurprisingly, Alaska is one of the best states for both fishing and hunting. Alaska has miles and miles of nearly untouched nature and breathtaking glaciers, tundras, mountains, and forests. Over 74% of the state is open to hunting, which translates to over 292 million acres. In 2020, 12.3% of all Alaska residents have hunting licenses. The state is home to some of the biggest game in North America, including grizzly bears, brown bears, moose, elk, and mountain goats. Alaska hunting licenses can be found on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.
Hunting in Idaho is very popular, with about 15-17% of the population participating in the sport. While this is a significant portion of the population, 60% of the state is public land. Idaho’s diverse habitat types are home to many species, including turkeys, elk, mountain lions, black bears, and wolves. There are also controlled hunts for moose, antelope, and bighorn sheep. Hunting licenses for both Idaho residents and non-residents can be found on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game website.
Wyoming is the country’s least populated state and has plenty of room hunters, over 31 million acres. It also has plenty of big game. A little less than one-quarter of Wyoming’s population hunts the 31.4 million acres of public land - about half of the state’s entire land area. Wyoming has hunting opportunities for elk, antelope, mountain goats, deer, moose, bison, and bighorn sheep. While a great state for hunting, Wyoming does have a complicated draw system and requires non-resident hunters to hire a guide or have a resident companion if they choose to hunt in federal wilderness areas. Information about obtaining a Wyoming hunting license can be found on the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website.
Another beautiful state popular for hunting is Montana. Hunting in Montana has cultivated local economies that depend on the sport. About 20% of Montana’s population hunts, but with 30 million acres of public land available, there’s plenty of space for hunting. Montana offers opportunities to hunt moose, bison, black bears, deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope. Montana hunting and trapping licenses can be found on the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks website.
Wisconsin is best known for its whitetail deer hunting but is also one of the best turkey hunting states. Within Wisconsin’s 7 million acres of public land are 15,000 lakes, so hunters should be prepared with hip waders, especially if they’re looking for waterfowl. 11.7% of Wisconsin residents are licensed hunters. You can obtain a Wisconsin hunting license on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.
6. South Dakota
Approximately 25% of South Dakota residents are hunters, and it’s a staple in the state’s culture. The state is best known for its pheasant and upland bird hunting but also has lottery opportunities for mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and buffalo. There are over 2 million acres open to hunters in South Dakota, which makes up just under five percent of the state. To obtain a South Dakota hunting license, visit the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks website.
While Texas is known for many outdoor activities and occupations, hunting tends to take a backseat to things like ranching and farming in the Lone Star State. It has over 1.7 million acres open to hunting, which is only 1% of the state’s total acreage. What secures Texas’ place on this list is how friendly the state’s legislature is to hunting. If you are interested in seeing license information or obtaining a license, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
It’s no wonder that states over in the southwest, like Arizona, Utah, and Nevada are great places to hunt, with over 32 million, 35 million, and 54 million acres open to hunting, respectively. The reason Arizona made this list and not the others is the leniency of hunting and fishing laws. They also have an abundance of big game hunting opportunities while having a legal landscape, hunters can easily obey and navigate. You can find more information about Arizona hunting and fishing licenses at the Arizona Game & Fish Departments' website.
It’s not surprising that most of the states on this list are massive, Colorado itself is over 66 million acres, and over 23 million (35.3%) of those are open to hunting. The states in the west also have more abundant big game species than those elsewhere. Colorado has elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, black bears, and both white-tailed and mule deer. If you are interested in their licenses, you can visit Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife website.
Minnesota is a great state for both hunting and fishing. About 560,000 Minnesota residents are licensed hunters. About 16% of Minnesota’s land, 8.2 million acres, is public land. Hunting is a longtime tradition in Minnesota, from duck to deer, bear, and turkey. Swamp hunting is also common in Minnesota, as the state is home to 13,000 natural lakes. Minnesota hunting licenses can be found on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.
The above states are the highest-rated states in the nation for hunting and fishing, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity elsewhere.
Pennsylvania is one of the most hunter-friendly states in the U.S., with 4.2 million acres open to hunting. Plus, an additional 2 million acres is private ground open to hunting through cooperative agreements. Pennsylvania ranks very well for both hunter and bowhunter density per square mile. Popular game in Pennsylvania includes black bear, elk, turkey, and waterfowl. To obtain a Pennsylvania hunting license, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website.
While not many of Nevada’s residents hunt, there is a lot of room for it. Over 76% of Nevada is open to hunters, which equates to over 54 million acres, and in the season, you can hunt everything from elk to mountain lions. They do run on a tagging system, and tags are awarded randomly through a draw process. You can find out more information at Nevada’s Department of Wildlife website
Almost 10% of Arkansas’ residents have hunting licenses, and over 3 million acres of the state are open to hunting. And even though they have little space to hunt compared to some states, Arkansas has a good deal of big game available to hunt. They also have more relaxed regulations and laws for hunters to follow. If you are interested in hunting in Arkansas, you can visit the Arknasas Game and Fish Commission website.