Hunting and fishing are popular hobbies for many Americans. This season sees plenty of hunters plan their trips to various exciting destinations across the country, some even cross the border to set up hunting expeditions in Canada. It’s always a big season full of festivities.
Different states across the US offer varied hunting experiences. Moreover, you are likely to have different hunting opportunities in two random states than similar ones. Some states have a great hunting appeal from out-of-state hunters making them preferred destinations for many people.
Data has shown that a considerable pool of hunters prefer to hunt in their home states. Those who travel don’t go far since a majority of states are ecologically endowed with a rich diversity. We’re ranking the top hunting state destinations for the 2023 season based on data collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Top Hunting Destinations for 2023
Colorado is a paradise for big game hunters. You can hunt elk, deer, moose, bear, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep in the Rocky Mountains. The state has wild turkeys, mountain lions, small game, and waterfowl species in abundance.
Photo by Jp Valery
Public lands such as National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, State Wildlife Areas, State Trust Lands, and State Parks provide healthy hunting areas in the state.
Here are some hunting areas in Colorado:
- Barr Lake: waterfowl
- Boyd Lake: waterfowl
- Colorado River: waterfowl
- Crawford: waterfowl and big game hunting
- Harvey Gap: waterfowl
- Highline Lake: waterfowl
- Navajo: deer, elk, and bird
- Ridgway: big and small game hunting
Important Resource: License and Permit Information
Montana has plenty of diverse wildlife, ranging from bison and wolves to pheasants and grouse. There are over 30 million acres of public land open to hunting in Montana, including national forests, wildlife refuges, and state parks.
Image by Jan Temmel
The state sold more than 24,000 hunting authorizations to non-residents in 2021. It is one of the best states for upland bird hunting, especially for pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse.
Here are some of the best places to hunt in Montana:
- Bitterroot Valley: elk, antelope, deer, etc.
- Gallatin National Forest: elk, deer, black bear, etc.
- Yaak Valley: deer, elk, mountain lion, etc.
- Flathead National Forest: elk, deer, bear, and mountain lion
- Badger-Two Medicine Area: mule deer, whitetail deer, & upland birds
- Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest: elk and deer
Important Resource: Hunting License and Permits Information
Iowa may not have the rugged terrain or as large of predators as some western states, but it has one of the best deer populations in the country. The state is known for producing trophy whitetails with massive antlers, attracting hunters from all over.
Image by PublicDomainPictures
Furthermore, you have an opportunity to hunt turkeys, pheasants, quail, and waterfowl in Iowa. Figures from 2021 show that the state issued an excess of 24,000 hunting authorizations to out-of-state visitors in addition to 220,576 active hunting license holders in the state.
Here’s where you should check out:
- The Loess Hills: deer, turkey, and quail.
- The Driftless Area: deer.
- The Mississippi River: waterfowl
- The Habitat & Access Program (IHAP), is a public hunting access granted by Iowa landowners.
- Ledges State Park: variety
Important resource: Hunting licenses and laws
Wisconsin has over 7 million acres of public land open to hunting, including state forests, game lands, and national parks. It has a strong deer hunting tradition, dating back to the early settlers who relied on venison for food. The state of Wisconsin offers hunting opportunities for bears, turkeys, waterfowl, small game, and furbearers.
Photo courtesy: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Wisconsin still faces challenges in managing chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurological disorder that affects deer and other cervids.
Here are some of the areas you need to visit in Wisconsin
- Black River State Forest: deer
- Chippewa Moraine State Recreation Area: variety
- Copper Falls State Park: deer
- Flambeau River State Forest: variety including fish
Photo by Gerald Swindle
Illinois is a top destination for deer hunters, especially those who prefer archery over firearms. The state has a long bowhunting season that runs from October to January, giving you ample time to pursue your quarry. Illinois is said to have a significant population of high-quality deer herd that produces many record-breaking bucks every year.
In 2022, Illinois issued more than 300,000 hunting licenses, tags, permits, and stamps in total. The number of hunting authorizations for 2023 is expected to surpass this.
There are strict regulations on rifle hunting for deer in Illinois, making it a limiting factor since you are allowed only one firearm permit per season and only single-shot rifles in certain calibers. However, these regulations do not apply to other types of firearms or hunting seasons.
5. South Dakota
Almost everyone knows South Dakota is the “mecca” for upland bird hunters. The state is popular with pheasant and waterfowl. Every fall you can go to South Dakota to hunt grouse, partridge, and quail.
Photo courtesy: South Dakota Hunting
South Dakota has a strong hunting culture with 24.2% of its population registered as hunters. This explains why a considerably sizable piece of public land is set aside for hunting with other private ranches enrolling for walk-in-access programs.
Aside from Upland birds, South Dakota has deer, pronghorn antelope, turkeys, and coyotes offering a wide range of experience for hunters. Due to its impressive reputation among hunters, the state was reported to have sold 206,316 hunting authorizations to non-residents in 2021.
Most game hunting in South Dakota is done in the western region area of the Black Hills. The grounds have a rugged terrain offering hunters immaculate elevations ranging from 2000 to 4,000 ft.
Photo courtesy: South Dakota Hunting
Areas to hunt in South Dakota
- Custer State Park: deer and elk
- Black Hills National Forest: pronghorn and bighorn sheep
- Buffalo Gap National Grassland: diverse species
- Grand River National Grassland: deer and pronghorns
- Bear Butte State Park: elk
Hunting in Texas grew from being a necessity to being a more urgent necessity. It is a strong culture you cannot help but admire. Texas is a huge state with a huge variety of game animals, from whitetail deer and mule deer to javelinas and hogs.
Photo courtesy: Texas Hunting public forum
The Lone Star State also has exotic species such as axis deer and nilgai antelope that can be hunted year-round on private ranches. Texas has over 1 million acres of public land open to hunting, as well as private lands leased by wildlife management associations.
Texas is also the best state for hog hunting, with an estimated population of over 2.6 million feral pigs that cause millions of dollars in damage to crops and property. Here are some of the best areas to hunt in Texas.
- Pineywoods: Texas deer, whitetails
- Hill Country: wild turkeys, deer, feral hogs, javelina, squirrels, and doves.
- South Texas Plains: upland birds, deer(bucks and whitetails), javelinas, and nilgai
- Coastal Prairies: Waterfowls, Texas ducks, and geese
Pennsylvania is arguably one of the best hunting destinations with a strong hunting heritage, diverse terrain, abundant wildlife, and exemplary conservation efforts. The state has one of the highest hunter densities in the US which rides predominantly on deer hunting.
Gene Bakner's photo via Pennsylvannia Game Commision
For those who don’t know, hunting in the Keystone State is pretty organized. The season begins with archery-only hunting before a two-week firearms period, which comes along in November.
There are more than 1.5 million acres of public hunting land in Pennsylvania including state forests, game lands, and national parks. The state has one of the largest deer populations in the country, as well as abundant turkeys, bears, small game, and waterfowl. You can check out the Pennsylvania hunting map for more information on hunting grounds.
Michigan is a state with diverse habitats and wildlife offering a unique location for hunters and wildlife. The state is surrounded by 4 of 5 Great Lakes making it a freshwater “island”. Michigan has a large and healthy deer herd, elk, bear, turkey, waterfowl, small game, and furbearers that attract hunters from across the nation.
- Seney National Wildlife Refuge: deer, bear, and small game
- Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge: waterfowl and small game
- Huron-Manistee National Forests: deer, bear, turkey and small game
- Ottawa National Forest: deer, bear, turkey, and small game
- Michigan State Parks: deer, waterfowl, and small game
Important Resource: Michigan Licenses and Permits for Hunters
Photo courtesy: Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Wyoming is the ultimate hunting state for many Americans. It offers elk, deer, antelope, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, turkeys, wolves, bison, pronghorn, mountain lions, upland birds, and mountain goats in the majestic Rocky Mountains.
The state has over 30 million acres of public land open to hunting, offering you a wide range of wild animals to hunt in ample space and terrain. Wyoming has a generous hunting season that runs from August to December, giving hunters plenty of time and options to pursue their game.
Photo by Hagerty Ryan
Here are some of the state's best hunting locations for you:
- Yellowstone: elk and bighorn sheep
- Rocky Mountain West: elk, deer, antelope, black bear, and turkey.
- Sundance: deer, turkey, elk, and antelope
- Bridger-Teton National Forest: mule deer, elk, antelope, moose, mountain lion, black bear, and bighorn sheep.
- Green River: Deer, elk, moose, bear, antelope, bighorn sheep
- Powder River Basin: antelope and deer
- Bighorn National Forest: deer, antelope, elk, and turkey.
Important Resource: Wyoming Game and Fish Public Portal for Hunters
We can comfortably say that a big chunk of states in the US offer hunting services, albeit with different regulations. Based on the data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other sources. We have presented some of the most popular locations where people set up hunting camps. Every state has its own charm and challenge for hunters, and the best state for you may depend on your personal preference and budget. No matter where you choose to hunt, make sure you follow the local laws and regulations, respect the land and the animals, and have a safe and enjoyable hunting experience.
What are the criteria for ranking the top 10 hunting states in America?
The criteria for ranking the top 10 hunting states in America may vary depending on the source and methodology of the ranking. However, some common factors that may be considered are:
- The quality and quantity of game animals, such as deer, elk, turkey, waterfowl, upland birds, and predators.
- The availability and accessibility of public land, such as national forests, wildlife management areas, and state parks.
- The cost and ease of obtaining licenses and tags, as well as the regulations and restrictions for hunting seasons and methods.
- The diversity and beauty of the terrain, such as mountains, plains, forests, and wetlands.
- The hunting culture and traditions, such as the popularity, history, and ethics of hunting in each state.
How can I find out more information about the hunting seasons and regulations for each state?
The best way to find out more information about the hunting seasons and regulations for each state is to visit the official website of the state wildlife agency or department. Here, you can find detailed information about the dates, zones, bag limits, license requirements, tag applications, hunter education courses, legal methods, safety tips, and more. You can also contact the state wildlife agency or department if you have any questions or concerns.
How can I prepare for a successful hunting trip in one of the top 10 hunting states in America?
Here are some of the steps you can take to prepare for a successful hunting trip
- Do Your Research
Learn about the game animals you want to pursue, habits and habitats, population trends and distribution, peak activity times, and seasons. You should also look for information on public land available for hunting, their locations, boundaries, access points, parking areas, and their rules and regulations. You can use online resources such as maps, aerial photos, satellite images, trail cameras, scouting reports, harvest statistics, etc.
- Plan Your Trip
Decide on the following;
- When and where you want to hunt?
- How long you want to stay?
- What kind of accommodation you want to use (camping or lodging)?
- What kind of transportation you want to use (driving or flying)?
- What kind of equipment you want to bring (firearms or archery)?
- What kind of clothing you want to wear (camouflage or blaze orange)?
- Get Your License and Tags
You need to get your license and tags from the state wildlife agency or department before setting out for hunting. You can usually do this online, by phone, by mail, or in person.
- Practice Your Skills
You need to make sure you are proficient with your weapon of choice, whether it is a firearm or a bow. Also, sight in your weapon, practice your shooting or archery form, test your accuracy and range, etc.
Which state is the best for hunting deer?
This is a subjective question that depends on personal preferences and goals. Some hunters may prefer states with large whitetail deer populations, such as Texas, or trophy potential for mule deer or elk, such as Wyoming, or Montana. Check out this resource; What is the best deer hunting state and why?
Which state is the best for hunting waterfowl?
This is a matter of opinion and taste. Some hunters may favor states with abundant and diverse waterfowl species, such as Arkansas while others may consider those with prime habitat and migration routes, such as North Dakota. Other states may offer conducive weather, great sceneries, and easier regulations to attract hunters.
Which state is the best for hunting upland birds?
Some of the most renowned states for upland bird hunting are South Dakota, Kansas, and Iowa, where pheasants, quail, and grouse are plentiful and accessible. Other states that offer excellent opportunities for upland bird hunting include Idaho, Oregon, and Maine, where hunters can pursue chukar, sage grouse, and woodcock.
Which state is the best for hunting predators?
Predator hunting is a challenging and exciting activity that can help control the populations of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, etc. Some of the best states for predator hunting are Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.