Hunter-friendly states hold two main characteristics; a high percentage of the state’s population hunts and, perhaps more importantly, significant public land acreage open to those hunters. Other factors such as traditions, variety of game, and even game regulations also play key roles in the hunter-friendliness of a state. Every year, hunters make plans to travel the country in pursuit of hunting adventure. What are the best states to hunt? That, of course, is a matter of preference and opinion. But there are some states that are indeed more hunter-friendly than others.
Here’s the Top 10 Most Hunter Friendly States…
No one can deny that hunting traditions run deep in the Keystone State. School schedules and business hours are often dictated by hunting seasons to accommodate the state’s nearly 1 million hunters. In fact, Pennsylvania ranks 1st in the country in both hunter and bowhunter density per square mile.
14.5% of the state is public ground, comprising 4.2 million acres, and an additional 2 million acres of private ground is open to hunting through cooperative agreements. While whitetails are by far the most popular game species in the state, Penn’s Woods offers chances at some of the biggest black bear in the country, as well as world class elk hunting – though only through a competitive tag draw. Excellent turkey, waterfowl, and small game hunting round out a state with plenty to offer hunters.
9. West Virginia:
With approximately 10-12% of the state purchasing hunting licenses, it isn’t hard to find a good hunting buddy in West Virginia. For many in the Mountain State hunting is a tradition that is passed down from one generation to the next.
Often rugged and rural, 1.5 million acres of the state is open to public hunting. With a little leg work, hunters will find opportunities at a full array of traditional Appalchian game species such as black bear, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse. With quality opportunities to chase true mountain bucks throughout the state, as well as quality trophies in the states southwestern bow-only counties, whitetail deer is easily West Virginia’s most popular game animal.
Though some tags must be acquired through a draw process, Wyoming offers the variety of big game opportunities that eastern and mid-western hunters dream about. Opportunities to pursue elk, antelope, mountain goat, moose, deer, bighorn sheep, and even bison, make Wyoming the ideal destination for hunters looking for the full western experience.
You don’t have to go far to find a fellow hunter in Wyoming, nearly a quarter of the state’s population hunts and the state boasts a very outdoor-enthusiast friendly 31.4 million acres of state public land – that’s 50% of the entire state.
Admittedly, Wyoming would be higher on this list if it were not for a complicated draw system and a law that requires non-resident hunters to hire a guide or have a resident companion if they choose to hunt in federal wilderness areas in the state – while not requiring the same for hikers, climbers, or anglers. Despite those few inconveniences, hunters have a lot to like about Wyoming.
When it comes to hunting, some states get overlooked. Minnesota is one of them. From the duck blind to deer camp, hunting is a time honored tradition among the state’s 560,000 license holders.
The Gopher State offers 8.2 million acres of public land, or 16% of the state, for hunters to roam. Underrated chances to take a trophy class deer or bear are available for willing hunters, and turkey and waterfowl opportunities hold their own in Minnesota as well. Also, bowhunters can access suburban whitetail opportunities around Duluth and other population centers, or try their hand at wilderness and swamp hunting in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Wisconsin is a bonafide blue-blood trophy whitetail destination, however, the Badger State has a lot more to offer hunters than just thick racked bucks. Ranking consistently as a top turkey hunting state, Wisconsin has the habitat and population to make any serious turkey hunter take a second look. Waterfowl and small game are also popular pursuits among the annual 700,000 Wisconsin hunting license holders.
Even if you aren’t chasing waterfowl, be sure to bring your hip waders, as significant portions of the 7 million acres of public land hold water. Navigating these marshes could get you away from the crowds and into the game. Also, the DNR has robust online educational online tools, such as online maps showing the age of timber cuts, to ensure hunters have all the information they need to be successful.
5. North Dakota
Approximately 15-18% of North Dakotans takes to the fields, woods, or waterways to hunt every year. With a variety of opportunities ranging from antelope to mallards and a fondness for rural lifestyles, hunters find few places in North Dakota that they do not feel at home.
About 3 million acres of the state are open publicly to hunters. Whitetails and mule deer are common pursuits, and with an August 31st deer archery opener, hunters can experience the full range of deer behavior throughout the season. Don’t ignore the state’s lottery draws for elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, and moose either. Also, if the treestand or spotting scope becomes a bore, North Dakota offers world class pheasant hunting opportunities to get your blood pumping again.
4. South Dakota
Like its northern brother, South Dakota is perhaps best known for its pheasant and upland bird hunting. But don’t sleep on South Dakota’s other hunting opportunities. Intriguing lottery opportunities at bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and even buffalo should catch the interest of any hunter looking for a chance at a unique experience.
Aside from pheasants, deer and antelope also vie for the attention of South Dakota Hunters. A quality herd and mixed habitat of agriculture, shelterbelts, and CRP give hunters a truly western deer hunting experience. With around a quarter of the state’s population enrolled in the hunting ranks and 5 million acres of public land, it easily ranks among the most hunter friendly states in the country.
A respectable 15-17% of Idahoans hunt a variety of species over diverse habitat types across the state. While the percentage of hunters in Idaho’s population is much higher than the national average, the state’s truly impressive hunter-friendly statistic is that well over 60% of the state is public ground.
Idaho has long been known to hold some stud mule deer, but the Gem State is also a diamond in the rough for whitetail hunters as well. In addition to deer, Idaho offers quality opportunities to hunt black bears, turkey, mountain lions, elk, and even wolves. Controlled hunts are also held for moose, antelope, and bighorn sheep.
Montana has long been on the bucket-list of destinations for traveling hunters. Deer, elk, and pronghorn antelope are the states most sought after game animals, but Montana also offers opportunities at moose, bighorn sheep, bison, and black bear.
About ⅕ of Montanas’s population hunts, which can cause some crowds to develop afield. However, with 50% of the state publicly owned, there is still elbow room to be had across the 30+ million acres of public land. The number of hunters also cultivates local economies that depend on hunting, so many small towns know how to roll out the red carpet for hunters during season.
Hunters love Alaska, and with hunting generating billions of dollars of economic impact yearly, it’s safe to say that Alaska loves hunters. Approximately 15% of residents in Alaska own a hunting license, and many others participate in other wildlife activities such as fishing and trapping.
Alaska puts the BIG in big game opportunities. Home to some of the world’s largest Grizzly and brown bear, as well as moose, mountain goat, and elk. Not to mention the unique musk oxen that roam the seemingly barren tundra. With over 90% of the state owned publicly, much of which is open to hunting, hunters can have truly have a wilderness experience on the Last Frontier.
By shear license numbers, hunting powerhouses like Georgia and Texas could hold legitimate gripes for being left off this list if it were not for the lack of public land access in those states. With hunting access becoming increasingly competitive, public lands are perhaps more important to the hunting community than ever before. Michigan was just squeezed out, as its percentage of hunters, and percentage of public land, is just lower than other similar states.
Also, hunters should consider that we make up only 4-5% of the general population– and that number is shrinking. Without an active role in wildlife management, state politics, and hunter recruitment, the list of hunter-friendly states will shrink.
So, if your state isn’t listed, check out one of these states. In fact, bring a new hunting buddy along. Then, work to make your home state as hunter-friendly as possible.