You love to hunt and are ready to move. But where? This subjective dream list may help.
This ranking is based on the variety and abundance of available species, quality of game (size matters, after all), access to both public and private ground, hunting culture, and the simplicity—or complexity—of game laws in each state.
1. Alaska. If you’re already a hunter, this choice needs no explanation. It’s the Jurassic Park of big game hunting. Inside of every American hunter is the flickering flame of desire to one day travel to the wildest place on Earth, to walk the land that time seems to have forgotten. From brown bears the size of Volkswagen buses to vast herds of caribou, the biggest moose in the world, not to mention elk, sheep, mountain goats, grizzlies, black bears—oh my—the Last Frontier is the original sportsman’s paradise.
2. Colorado. The state is blessed with a wealth of public hunting opportunities. While the mountains draw most of the attention from hunters, the state’s eastern plains are resplendent with big mule deer and whitetails—to say nothing of pronghorn, upland birds and some of the nation’s best duck and goose hunting. With the largest elk herd in North America, some of the continent’s biggest Shiras (mountain) moose, an abundance of mountain lions, black bears, and forest grouse, Colorado can take its rightful place near the top of this list.
3. Montana. With a small population and plenty of vast, open forest and rangeland, Montana has forever been known to hunters as a pick of the litter. While the mountain goats, sheep, moose, elk, black bear, and deer dominate the western mountains, eastern Montana offers exceptional hunting for sharptails, pheasants, Hungarian partridge, waterfowl, and whitetail deer.
4. Arizona. Some of the largest elk in North America are found in Arizona, along with tremendous mule deer, desert and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, desert quail, mountain lions, some of the country’s best pronghorn and numerous other species. The vast national forest and BLM lands, lack of severe winters and good genetics make for exceptional hunting.
5. Wisconsin. Boasts millions of acres of public lands as well—roughly 30 percent of the northern one-third of the state is public—and a mix of whitetail deer, black bear, and a budding elk herd make it a compelling big game state.
6. Kansas. From quail hunting to the mega-bucks that roam the western plains of the state, Kansas has rightfully earned its reputation as a hunter’s dream destination. A mix of eye-popping whitetails and mule deer make Kansas a great state for those looking to take the biggest bucks of their lives, but drawing tags is not easy. The state also is loaded with some of the Midwest’s most abundant pheasant populations, and Cheyenne Bottoms is legendary for some of the Central Flyway’s best water fowling.
7. New Mexico. Because big game seldom die of winterkill here, the animals tend to live longer (re get bigger) than their cousins farther north. Elk, mule deer, sheep, exceptional pronghorn, black bear, and mountain lions are just some of the big game species available in New Mexico. Desert quail, waterfowl, and doves also offer big game hunters a reason to pack a shotgun when headed to the desert.
8. Texas. Texas is comprised mostly of private land and, as such, access is more difficult than other destinations on this list. Nevertheless, the state offers a diverse array of hunting for indigenous species like turkey, quail, doves, whitetails, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep as well as myriad free-range exotics like nilgai (an Asian antelope), aoudad (Barbary sheep) and axis deer (perhaps the best-eating venison on the planet).
9. South Dakota. The prairies of South Dakota might be one of the most underrated hunting areas in all of America. Between an abundance of whitetails and mule deer, elk in the rugged Black Hills, plenty of pronghorn and some bruiser bighorn sheep, South Dakota is far more than a pheasant hunter’s paradise.
10. Louisiana. When it comes to hunting, just about anything that crawls, slithers, or swims is fair game—including alligators, boar, and nutria (an exotic rodent—think a lab rat exposed to nuclear fall-out). It isn’t so much that Louisiana competes with big game rich western states as it is the mere fact that hunting isn’t so much what Cajuns do as it is who they are.