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Best Hunting and Fishing Destinations in the U.S.

best hunting fishing destinations us

Few countries exist with such an assortment of landscape and fauna as the United States. This 3.8 million square mile region of prairies, mountains and lakes is home to a dizzying array of large and small game, waterfowl and fish. The United States offers hunting and fishing terrain for every interest and skill level, from blind hunting for pronghorn antelope in Wyoming to stalking hog through Florida’s scrub brush.

Each geographical region of the United States encompasses not only its own terrain but its own hunting culture and opportunities. We’ll dig deeper into each region to discover the best hunting and fishing destinations the United States has to offer.

Remember: Hunting regulations and seasons, as well as weaponry laws, vary by state. Your first step in planning a hunting trip should be to check the for current requirements through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and each state’s Department of Natural Resources. Second, make sure your tools and equipment are operational. Check out guided hunts if you want to visit an area you’re not familiar with. These are often located on private lands where guides have already done the scouting for you. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to explore the great outdoors.

THE NORTHEAST

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Extending from Maine down the Atlantic coast to Virginia, most of the Northeast lies in the Appalachian Highlands. The Northeast is home to more than 70 National Wildlife Refuges on over 500,000 acres of land.

High and low elevation forests are the natural habitat of several species of tree squirrel and deer. You’ll find familiar game like cotton-tail rabbit and white-tail deer as well as moose, elk and black bear. Fowl and fish are also prevalent in The Northeast. Wild turkey and wood duck are common, as are speckled trout and freshwater darters. New York and Ohio are standouts in this section of the country.

New York

new york hunting statsOutdoor activities like hunting and fishing may not be the first pastimes that come to mind when you think of New York, but statistics show licenses for those activities are very popular among residents and non-residents. Over one million total licenses were issued from 2016 to 2017.

Hunting, trapping and fishing licenses are issued through the Department of Environmental Conservation in August of each year. They offer free or reduced license fees to those who qualify.

New York has produced a pretty significant number of deer harvests, according to the White-Tailed Deer Harvest Summary 2016, put out by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Just over 213,000 total deer were taken in 2016; 107,000 of those were bucks. Steuben County, located just north of the Pennsylvania border, produced the most bucks (5,025) and a total number of harvests (9,729).

Bear harvests are also on the rise; during 2017, the five-year average rose from 1,459 to 1,515. Most of the state is open to bear hunts, depending on your desired implement, but the densest area to hunt is the southeastern wildlife management. Officials in that area are working to reduce the number of bear in their region.

Ohio

If you’re looking for a bit of game variety and big mature woods on hilly terrain, Ohio should be your first choice. Additionally, it’s a location with rich historical value. By 1904, the game population had been decimated by unregulated hunting and deforestation. Deer were non-existent and had to be reintroduced to the area during the 1920s and ’30s. Today, Ohio allows hunting of waterfowl, small game, turkey, deer and the feral hog.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife issues trapping and hunting licenses. They offer free licenses to disabled veterans and former POWs. Bag limits and hunting season depend on the game you’re after and choice of weapon, but the months of June to January are open.

Just over 445,000 total deer permits were issued in the 2016-2017 license year, with those hunters’ harvests totaling just under 182,000 animals. That averages almost three animals per license. Ohio ODNR issued fewer antlerless deer permits in hopes of increasing the herd population.

THE SOUTHEAST

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The Southeast spans from Louisiana and Arkansas on the western borders across Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, all the way to the Atlantic coast. Covering nearly 581,000 square miles, this region encompasses swamp, desert, forest and mountains. It is home to several National Wildlife Refuges and wildlife management areas full of cougar, deer, squirrel, rabbits, turkey and even bear. Florida has one of the largest populations of feral hogs. The black bear population within the Great Smokey Mountains National Park is on the rise, and Kentucky elk are proliferating and migrating into Virginia.

Kentucky

kentucky hunting statsYou’d be mistaken if you thought Kentucky was only known for the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. It’s just as well-known for its plentiful hunting opportunities, especially deer. Kentucky consistently produces enough trophy bucks to rank in the top five of the Boone and Crockett Club listings. Additionally, the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi River calls Kentucky home, and the bear population is starting to grow as they cross the Tennessee border.

Kentucky’s rolling hills and forests allow for plentiful small game and bird hunting. You’ll find no shortage of rabbits, bobcat, geese, doves, ducks, grouse and quail. Wild hog, trout and common snipe are also abundant.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources issues licenses based on zone, time of year and hunting method. Youth and disabled licenses are available for those who qualify.

Record-setting deer harvest numbers have been recorded the past few years, and that’s expected to continue based on the overall health of the herds. The 2015-2016 is now the highest on record, but 2016-2017 wasn’t far behind. Owen County and Pendleton County continually post the highest number of harvests.

Deer may lead the number of harvests, but those looking for bear and elk won’t leave disappointed. Bear harvests have seen a steady increase since 2009. Elk numbers have remained stable within the mid-500 range, though 2009 and 2013 proved extremely plentiful with over 650 harvests.

Kentucky’s new Telecheck system is an extremely convenient and novel method not found in many other areas. It’s useful for backcountry hunts where you might not have easy access to a check station.

Florida

Theme parks and oranges aren’t the only things that draw people to The Sunshine State; over 300,000 hunting and fishing licenses are issued here every year. Florida’s landscape features flat terrain, much of it at or below sea-level, with six million acres of public wildlife management areas. This is a prime location for fishing because the state is full of freshwater lakes but also has easy access to the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issues annual licenses and permits including those for disabled, military and youth hunters. Fishing and hunting licenses are separate, so you’ll want to make sure you apply for both if you plan to participate in both activities. FWC offers a range of permitting and license combinations depending on your hunting weapon, location and preferred game. It can be difficult to decide which permit or license is appropriate, so make sure to doublecheck the requirements ahead of time.

south florida wetland swamp

Florida has various limited entry/quota hunts in selected areas and times of the year; limited entry hunts allow you to gain access to game such as alligator, antlerless deer and doves.

Deer and hogs are the most common harvests, but turkey isn’t far behind. Limited permits can be obtained for some of Florida’s more unique game like the otter. Bear hunting is a hot topic; it’s not yet permitted though biologists agree the population is rapidly growing. FWC will record on the issue in 2018 to make a decision about the 2019 hunting seasons.

An abundance of freshwater and saltwater fish species are harvested from Florida’s coastal and inland waters. Guided fishing charters are very popular in this part of the country and give novice and advanced fisherman unique experiences in locations they may not otherwise visit.

Florida’s saltwater species include:

  • Atlantic Spadefish
  • Atlantic Thread Herring
  • Bluefish
  • Cobia
  • Scaled Sardine

Freshwater fish species found throughout Florida include:

  • Blue Marlin
  • Gafftopsail Catfish
  • Silver Perch
  • Sand Seatrout
  • King Mackerel

MIDWEST

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The Midwest encompasses 12 states located between the eastern Appalachian Mountain range and the western Rocky Mountain range. It includes the Great Lakes, Ohio River and Mississippi River. Most of the area is flat with open rolling plains except for a few rugged areas surrounding the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and some parts of southern Indiana.

Missouri

missouri hunting statsMissouri has much more to offer than just the Pony Express, Mark Twain and rural farmlands. Fees for hunting, fishing and trapping licenses bring in over $30 billion in revenue to the state each year. Over a million permits have been issued each year since 2010.

The Missouri Department of Conservation issues resident and non-resident permits. They have different permitting requirements depending on what species you want to harvest and what implement you plan to use. Pay close attention to the local regulations.

Missouri’s many kinds of prairies are grounds for a wide variety of hunting, including badger, deer, fox, groundhog, raccoon and turkey.

Deer numbers in parts of Missouri are declining, though the estimated population still numbers in the low millions. The decline is reportedly due to liberal harvests of antlerless deer in some parts of the state, as well as some parts of their habitat being converted into farm land. Still, Missourians procure more deer harvests than most other states in the Midwest.

Missouri’s rivers are home to several species of waterfowl and fish including goose, teal, carp, freshwater drum, northern pike and shovelnose sturgeon.

Michigan

With 10 million acres of public lands open to hunting and over a hundred wildlife management areas, Michigan is a hunter’s paradise. It features varied terrain from the dense, rugged forests of the Porcupine Mountains located in the Upper Peninsula to the gently rolling hills and abundant flat shoreline of the Lower Peninsula to the inland marshes and freshwater lakes. Michigan offers plentiful opportunities for beginning or advanced hunters and fisherman.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issues annual licenses and permits. Archery starts the hunting season in October. The licensing process here is pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. A base license gives you access to small game, and then you have the option of purchasing permits for deer, antlerless deer, elk, bear and waterfowl. Michigan offers exemptions for those who qualify.

Michigan boasts over 150 species of fish including brook trout, Atlantic salmon, bowfin and channel catfish. The DNR doesn’t publish annual harvest data, but hunter surveys indicate a high success rate with nearly half of all hunters harvesting a deer.

SOUTHWEST

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The Southwest is widely known for its several natural attractions. National parks like Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon and Arches bring in tourists from around the world, but the big game in this area is also known to attract hunters from all parts of the United States. Species such as bighorn sheep, elk and mountain lions call this wilderness home.

Utah

Utah features an unparalleled naturally diverse landscape: expansive deserts, snow-topped mountains and even vast wetlands. The abundance of big game is especially appealing to most hunters.

Licenses and permits are issued on a lottery basis by Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources. The division doesn’t publish the number of licenses issued during any given year but notes that it’s important to apply early because the number of applicants usually outnumbers the number of available permits.

This is one of those times it might be a good idea to explore guided hunts. These often take place on private property that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible. Many companies offer packages that cover lodging, hunting and butchering services. Check local regulations regarding weapon transport and necessary licenses.

All big-game species are based on limited-entry hunts. This accounts for antlerless deer, moose, pronghorn and elk. Over 86,000 animals were harvested between these limited seasons and the general season.

Bear is usually allowed in 22 areas during two limited-entry hunts. Additionally, Utah has introduced two new types of hunts:

  • Spot-and-stalk where hunters may not use dogs or bait, and
  • Harvest-objective hunts where hunters can hunt a particular area until a quota is met.

Neither bait nor dogs are permitted for bear hunts, but the introduction of these new hunts is encouraging for the overall outlook on bear hunting.