Imagine having the ability to hunt any place on the planet at any time of the year? For the average working man, this is little more than a pipe dream; it's simply too expensive to hunt Red Stag in Argentina, Chamois in Austria, Cape Buffalo in Zimbabwe, Marco Polo sheep in Tajikistan, Brown bear in Alaska, and trophy whitetails in Alberta all in one year. Sure, we may be able to afford one or two exotic trips a year, but to hunt anywhere at any time is out of the question for most. You're probably passionate about hunting and dream of one day being in that place. I'm betting your idea of the perfect life may involve the freedom to hunt year round. As extreme as it may sound, this notion isn't so far fetched. As I see it, with a little creativity and the ability to travel anywhere within North America here's how I would lay out the ideal calendar as a 12-month hunter.
When we talk about hunting season, most of us think about turkeys and whitetails, basically because they're the most accessible. Truth is there are loads of other opportunities. Following are a few suggestions.
Some states still offer late deer and waterfowl seasons in January, but by this time most of us have filled our tags. In the mid-west where I live, January marks prime time for predator hunting. Mountain lion, bobcat, coyote and wolf are at the top of the list. My own priority would be wolf. As the snow accumulates the wolf hunting heats up. Hunting wolves over bait is most productive during January when deep snow makes predation difficult. Again with significant snowfall, these often elusive predators eagerly search for food. Where regulations allow, wolf baits become active during this mid-winter month. Favorite destinations include Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and Alberta. Alberta's wolf population is, in many management units, out of control.
Among the most accessible predators are bobcat and coyote. These are top priorities with many mid-winter sportsmen. All else being equal, February is my favorite month to hunt coyotes. The weather is usually cold and predators readily respond to calls and decoys when the snow gets deep and the mercury drops. If you're mobile, northern coyote hunts in Canada are a great option at this time of the year. Hunting pressure is almost non-existent and the dogs are abundant. With breeding seasons peaking from mid-February to early-March, coyotes especially can be much more visible and easily duped. Nice thing is most of us have coyotes roaming our favorite woods close to home. Although many commercial outfitters offer high-end coyote hunts, in most instances this can be a do-it-yourself deal.
March is one of those in-between months. New York State recently opened a management hunt for Canada geese. As I understand it, the idea with this one is to take out a percentage of the adult population before they have a chance to nest and lay eggs. Those I know who participated in this unique hunt said it was incredible!
Alternatively, I would turn my attention to hunting predatory birds like crows or chasing wild hogs. Exotics are always a great option as well. Purists often shun the idea of hunting exotic species but it's tough to deny that they offer a great off-season option for shooting enthusiasts. Texas and Florida would be my destinations of choice for exotic species.
If you're a turkey hunter then April is your month. Depending on which subspecies you want to pursue, you can choose your state accordingly with some being better producers than others. I like hunting Merriams. One of my favorite states is Montana. They've got a phenomenal turkey population, lots of wide open spaces and access to productive public hunting land is great. Likewise, I would hunt Kansas for Easterns, Texas for Rios, and Florida for Osceolas.
If resources are available, April is also prime time in the low arctic for hunting spring muskox. The Northwest Territories would be my destination of choice.
While many northern bear seasons open as early as the first of April, many bears are still in their dens until the middle of the month. May marks prime time for spring black bear hunts. As soon as the snow disappears with the arrival of warm weather, they break from their dens and start moving around in search of food. At the first hint of new green growth on south-facing slopes and open lines, bears become more visible. Conversely as the foliage begins to fill out on the trees and shrubs, green growth begins under the forest canopy and the bears once again become more reclusive as they stay closer to cover.
Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia would be my first destinations of choice but if I had to pick one, it would be a spot-and-stalk hunt on Vancouver Island. Coastal black bears are the largest sub-species but they carry the price tag to match.
In some jurisdictions bears can still be hunted in June. The biggest challenge is the heavy cover and availability of forage in the woods. Finding them can be a bit tougher in the late bear season. Alberta and British Columbia would be my first destination choices for late season spring black bear.
Think smaller; consider off-season shooting practice and one immediately acknowledges the world class prairie dog opportunities available to today's hunter. Prairie dog shoots are all the rage these days. For many of us these pesky rodents live right out our doorsteps but if you're looking for an organized option, consider a commercial operator. Most "dog town" shoots take place in late May and throughout the month of June.
Wild hogs are again an option during those slow months when not much else is happening. In many states, hogs are abundant, free ranging, and affordable to hunt. If you're not in a position to do-it-yourself and traveling is an option, consider visiting California.
For wild sheep fanatics with the means, mid-July is the season opener for Dall Sheep in the Northwest Territories. July is a particularly good time for archers to hunt sheep as they tend to hang out in shaded canyons and caves creating great opportunities for ambush hunting.
The month of August offers the first hints of fall in the north. Wild sheep and the various caribou sub-species are among the most prized species at this time of the year. Generally carrying a hefty price tag, those with means can book a Dall or Stone sheep hunt in the Yukon, Northwest Territories or Alaska. Caribou hunts from northern British Columbia across to Quebec and Newfoundland are still within reach for most of us. As a rule, late summer is the best time to capitalize on hunting these trophies before the harsh weather hits the remote mountain ranges and low arctic tundra.
September launches the beginning of the fall hunting season for most species across the continent. Early archery seasons open for deer, among other big game, and waterfowl seasons open in the north as well. For my money, Alberta would be my destination of choice in September. Hands down, Alberta's got some of the biggest whitetails and mule deer in the world. For the early season bowhunter that's a golden opportunity. Alternatively, northern flyway action starts to heat up during this month with swarms of ducks and geese hitting the northern cereal crop fields and waters during the early stages of the fall migration.
As for rutting activity, the pronghorn antelope rut generally coincides with the elk rut throughout September. States like New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota, and the province of Alberta are great destinations for antelope. For elk, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona would be my first choices. Likewise, the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta would also be at the top of my list for elk.
Unless you're passionate about northern waterfowl hunting, October is, without question, the month to hunt moose. With the rut at its peak during the first and second week of the month, seasoned moose hunters wait anxiously for early October. The leaves have turned and moose are eager to come to the call. Although several states offer moose hunting opportunities, my favor goes to Alaska, Wyoming, British Columbia, Alberta, and Newfoundland. If you're looking for an enormous trophy, consider Alaska or the Yukon. If you prefer a destination with character, not to mention an unbelievably high moose population, you definitely want to consider Newfoundland.
November is every deer hunter's favorite month of the year. I prefer rattling and calling whitetails, so my favor leans toward the middle two weeks. Across much of the U.S. and Canada, this is the period in which most does go into their first estrus and bucks respond more readily to calls. Many hunters believe the week following is more effective due to increased movement as bucks search out unbred does with increased fervor. Regardless, November is when the whitetails get active. Nice thing is everybody has access to whitetail hunting in one form or another. As a commercial operator in Alberta, this is where I like to chase whitetails. Saskatchewan comes in as a close second. If you prefer to hunt stateside, Ohio and Kansas would be my two top picks for producing big bucks.
Plenty of deer seasons are still open in December, but throughout most of the continent the rut has come and gone. If you're looking for something more exotic, December is the month for cougar hunting; it's something every hunter should try at least once. Houndsmen across North America anticipate the arrival of snow and hit the tracks hard from December through February. As most experienced cat hunters will attest, the fun in hunting mountain lions is in locating and running the track. Treeing a cat is certainly a reward; the kill itself is often anticlimactic. The trick is finding a friend or outfitter with good hounds. Many northwest states and provinces have high cougar populations.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl
guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails
and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either
bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing,
waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known
outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his
outfitting services, visit www.venturenorthoutfitting.com .
Member of OWAA & OWC.