People often come up to me and ask why I love hunting so much. Then again, I did have a ton of people discourage me from this ‘sinful and cruel’ hobby. There is so much to hunting that is misunderstood and I plan to set the record straight about the core experience of hunting while also taking readers through an understanding of what they need and why when it comes to this age-old sport.
Tell you what, let us go at it step by step starting with the top 5 best hunting locations in the U.S.A. I have been to these places myself and can vouch for their ability to provide an ideal hunting experience for newbies and pros alike.
Bear in mind, though, that hunting is not just about bagging deer, quail, and rabbit, it also includes fishing. I do the art no justice with that sentence, but hey that’s why I’m writing as much I can to better detail each phase of the hunting process. Without further ado, here are your top five.
1. Salmon, ID
This Idaho city practically tells you what you are going to be able to hunt there, namely delicious salmon. With millions of acres of hunting grounds open to the public sitting adjacent the Salmon River, you cannot begin to imagine just how much exploration and hunting opportunities I found here.
Not only do all those acres host the Lower 48’s largest wilderness (I like the name they gave this one: the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness) I found my fishing chances extensive. From steelheads and trout and of course yours truly, multi-species fishing is a certainty here.
Head to the benches and crags above the river, especially if you are like me and also interested in wingshooting. Up there, you will find huns and chukar ripe for the shooting (recommended weapon: air rifles). There are yet higher elevations beyond this where you can find spruce and blue grouse (they taste quite good too).
There used to be a timer when wolves were not around in Salmon but since their natural resurgence the ecosystem has changed into something thrilling and beautiful. In due season, prep up to hunt bear and mountain lion (best left to professionals, mind you) not to forget mule deer, trophy elf, and whitetails. Wolves are endangers, so they are off limits.
The hunting scene in Salmon, Idaho, is simply scintillating.
2. Rapid City, SD
I have heard some people say South Dakota is ‘meh’ when it comes to hunting. If you came across the same rumors, do not listen to them. Rapid City is the gateway to western South Dakota’s gorgeous Black Hills. Get started on fishing in the coldwater streams and mountain lakes where you can catch rainbow, brown, and brook trout.
What interested me is that despite hosting several stock dams and reservoirs, the city has managed to stay in tune with its natural surroundings. The prairie terrain is untouched and in the man-made water bodies I baited pike, largemouths, and panfish.
What about hunting season, you ask? It is open almost all year round and I enjoyed some fine elk, mule deer, and whitetail hunting the last time I went there, which was a couple years ago. Go up into the mountains and you will find Merriam’s turkeys; not turkets that belong to a Merriam J.
Where the grassland regions are home to prairie dogs, coyotes, and pronghorns (a kind of deer), you only need drive a short way into the mountains to hunt prairie chickens, sharptails, and pheasants.
Suffice to say, Rapid City made me hungry for the hunt.
3. Appleton, WI
Hunting goes back a long way in this Wisconsin city. Fur traders and trappers made their way up the Fox River hunting for beavers and their rather lucrative pelts; this was 170 years ago.
When I made my way to the Fox River Valley recently, I found a rich opportunity to add more to my list of personal accomplishments. The whitetail deer scene is more extensive than I imagined.
Appleton has earned the title of the number-one American State for trophy whitetails; courtesy the Boone and Crockett Club. I can go into detail and spout a few records, but all you need to know is that Appleton is whitetail territory. But is this all there is to do here? That is exactly what I asked myself before coming to learn that both Fox River and Lake Winnebago contain some of the best walleye fisheries in the nation.
Their proximity to town saved me time and I enjoyed some fine fishing. I even got pointers to head north (about half an hour’s travel) to fish muskie and smallmouth bass. America’s biggest freshwater cattail marsh is also found in Appleton, specifically inside Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area (go south of the city 70 miles and you will come across it).
Fall is a good season to try the marsh due to the enormous geese population that makes a migratory fly by. You think this is all there is? Go north of the city 60 miles and you will land in Nicolet National Forest. 661,000 acres of virgin hunting grounds rife with bears, deer, and grouse. I found this to be true to its reputation, it is inded one of the few genuinely wild spreads left in the region.
Appleton is one place I would love to visit time and again, it has everything and then some for anyone who enjoys hunting and fishing.
4. Centerville, IA
I was hoping to call Appleton the center of hunting paradise until I came across this city in Iowa whose name more than earned that refernece. Whitetail deer, some rare beauties too, are found in this place. Remember that 307-inch Lovstuen Buck you may have read about in the papers? It was shot just north of Centerville.
Few cities and their wildernesses have ‘four-season opportunity’ like south-central Iowa where Centerville is positioned. Go north of the city to Rathbun Lake where you can fish up some nice channel cats, walleyes, and great crappies (this name always makes me smile). Waterfowl and turkeys are open for the shot as well.
Not only does the city have a cool hunting pedigree, you will find that the town and its people are amazing too. Centerville holds the reputation as the first home of the Knight muzzle-loading rifles. You can buy one cheap here. Not only do they look like something out of a video game (I’m sure it is the other way around J) but they provide some of the most accurate shots imaginable.
Before I go full-on gun-nerd, let me tell you that Centerville is where a chunk of hunting action is.
5. Venice, LA
Known more for Hollywood and its stars, not a lot of hunting enthusiasts are aware of the sheer outdoor possibilities in Los Angeles. Similar in name to a city in Europe, Venice is comprised of a small well-knit community living at the Mississippi River mouth. The place has earned its fair share of danger rep. After all, this is where the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened not to mention its recent infamy as Hurricane Katrina’s epicenter.
But I can personally vouch for the fact that no other locale in North America can boast as good waterfowl hunting and fishing as Venice. Its collection of speckled trout and redfish are second to none, and in 2011 competitors from Bassmaster Classic made a run from New Orleans down to Venice to help fill the city’s livewells with largemouths.
If you are looking to catch the big boys, head on over to oil and gas rigs situated offshore. I checked it out and am happy to report they were not kidding when they said you can catch tuna, marlin, sailfish, and one master I have greatly desired to bait, namely the swordfish. I didn’t catch one….yet, but I will someday when I go back.
Waterfowl and teal season make for a great combo (this is in September, so mark your calendars). You will find 14% of America’s wetlands in this southern Louisiana territory, so do not go thinking hunting opportunities are sparse. And when it comes to fishing, I bet top dollar you cannot NOT catch fish in Venice.
What Every Hunter Needs
Now that I have covered five of the best hunting and fishing locations, and my own favorites to boot, let me take give you a rundown on what you need to buy or borrow to prepare for hunting season in any one of those locales; or any other of your choice, does not really matter as long as you know you are going to make the most of it.
I cover below all the bare necessities you will, er, need. No pun intended on the bare word, seeing as how it is the outdoors and you go where you need to go (wink, wink) and of course there is the ‘bear’ reference. Get it? Oh well, moving on.
Talk about starting from the feet up. The type of boots you have will determine comfort and durability levels, not to mention protection, and can enhance or ruin your hunting experience. I learned this the hard way, so pay attention.
Wood lines, briar patches, mud, fencerows, ponds, marsh terrain, wood piles, creeks, you name it, your feet will need to be geared for any eventuality out there in the wilds. I recommend waterproof boots with lug soles. They end well above the ankle and are quite lightweight. I found their durability and toughness ideal.
Do not forget to wear hunting socks or be prepared for chafing. If you have your eyes on other boot brands/models, just make sure that they suit your hunting conditions. Your decision will serve you well.
Generally speaking, gear cannot merely be something you may have seen your favorite movie star wear in a film or show. Attention to detail is called for, which is why I recommend you take a hunting course before you head out. Unless you have ample experience coming from someone you personally know who has been hunting all their life (I was lucky in this reagrd, my dad and older brother taught me everything I know) then a quick diploma will be your best choice.
Game cameras, GPS, ATV’s, attractants, and cover scents are some interesting things to carry with you. They have proven useful to me on several occasions. I especially recommend insulated coveralls, but bear in mind that your gear has to complement what sort of game you are hunting. This is exactly why I suggested you take a course because, well, there are just so many possibilities I cannot hope to cover here.Whether you plan to hunt alone or with a group, or prefer taking trained dogs to help retrieve quails and ducks or spot rabbits and squirrels (I am not so good with pets, so I would not know), hunting is an experience that cuts to the core of who we are as human beings. Good gear keeps you safe and ready to enjoy everything a hunt can offer.
Camo gear, needless to say, is crucial. You cannot go hunting dressed up like a bird of paradise and assume animals only see black and white so you are secure from their vision. Depending on the scenario and terrain, there is an apt camo gear out there to select. As long as its pattern matches the landscape, it does not matter whether the camo gear in question is old or brand spanking new.
3. Guns, Ammo & Other Stuff
Let me start by saying you need to have a competent gun cleaning kit. Contrary to ignorant belief, guns get dirty and fast. They are only as reliable as how regularly (not often; there is a difference) you clean them.
Shotgun shells and rifle cartridges are the go-to ammo choices. Make sure you are at a store where such things are legal (more on this in my next point). If you take the time to sit through a hunter safety course you will know enough about shotguns and hunting rifles to pick the best one for your hunt.
Note that shotguns are measured in gauges while rifles go by caliber. From weight, color, design, and accessibility to manual and automatic weapon choices, guns and the ammo they use are as multivarious as most things to do with hunting.
Let me conclude my weapon-talk with a few pointers.
- The most popular rifle calibers hunters go for are 30-06 but if you are a beginner or just getting into the groove of things, a .22 or .270 will serve you splendidly. I started off with a .270 and I still call upon one from time to time.
- If you want an all-round shotgun, go for the 12-gauge ones. They are a beauty to handle and are perfect for hunting rabbits, ducks, deer, doves, quails, turkeys, squirrels, and other small game. I carry one of these with me on every trip.
I know we broached the topic of firearms but I want to take this moment to highlight the value of a hunting knife. I carry three, one of my favorites being a fixed-blade Gerber. Not only are they easy to maintain they also help me clean game faster. Courses will teach you how to clean game, which I feel is absolutely important for any hunter to know. As an aside, a honing stone will come in mighty handy to keep that knife of yours sharp.
Your backpack should certainly contain the following:
- Zip Ties – Use these to attach tags to carcasses, temporarily connect stuff to your bags or stands, fix branches out of the way, attach lure dispensers to branches, and/or fix broken stuff.
- Lighter – Whether it is to seal plastic or burn rope ends, a lighter is crucial. It can obviously help you get a fire going. Be careful about starting uncontrollable fires (safety courses will take you through this) and you are good to go.
- Rope – From hefting stuff into tree stands to a plethora of safety uses, a rope is certainly one of those ‘common sense’ inclusions to a hunter’s kit.
- Wet Wipes – What do you use to clean up after field dressing a deer? What will you do when nature calls and you have no clue if the leaves around are safe? Enough said.
- Plastic Garbage Bag – I dislike hunters who enter Nature only to litter it with modern dispensables. Keep the outdoors free of ‘modern waste’ or do not call yourself a hunter.
- Brush Nippers – Instead of cutting the entire bush you merely snip a branch here and there so your trail camera can sit snugly in a camo-setting, of sorts, without branches and whatnot interfering with the footage. Nippers are also great for when you find yourself waiting in a tree or burrow and there is that one annoying branch that makes the whole experience a chore. God knows I have put brush nippers to good use in all my years of hunting. Hint: Get a multi-tool from Avid, they sell some good selections.
- Zipper-Lock Bags – You cannot go through the wilderness smelling like all your scents and lures. Keep them non-existent until they are needed. Keep them in zip-locked bags. The last thing you want is to smell so terrible you chase the game away.
4. Training & License
From hunting ethics and safety to maintaining firearms and learning to shoot properly, a hunting course can set you on the path to greatness. My dad and bro taught me all I know but they insisted I sit through a local course, which ended up teaching me things even pops could not explain; he was ‘more instinct less talk’ anyway.
Your training, as mine did, will teach you State-specific laws on hunting (what you can and cannot do). You will also learn varied hunting, trapping, fishing, and shooting techniques. What more can a hunting enthusiast ask for?
It is the Internet Age, people! There are online courses now, so leap on the opportunity when you can. No aspiring hunter can be without a license given to you following such courses. In fact, it is mandatory.
Just because you have invested in top of the line hunting gear does not make you a good hunter. Knowledge is as important as any gear you may have at hand or are planning to buy. These courses instill that knowledge; I cannot stress this enough.
With a license in hand gotten from the State Wildlife Agency where you live, you will gain keen insight on bag limits, specialized requirements, hunting zones, regulations, how much game is permissible for ‘the takedown’, and so on. Going across State lines to hunt? The same or similar rules will apply. After all, States want to keep their natural wildlife population steady.
I am referring to online links, of course. Here are some of my personal favorites when it comes to online portals where you can shop for weapons and gear. You will need to go there in person, more often than not, or provide adequate identification and other papers in case of firearms; be ready with all this. Based on my search suggestions, you can seek out local sources I may not have covered here.
Legal Guns & Ammo:
I aim to provide a few keen hunting suggestions and tips for a handful of animals. I have used these very tips on so many occasions that they seem second nature to me.
1. Bear Hunting Tips
- They may be large but they are calculative predators. You will SEE a bear more readily than you will HEAR them, so keep your eyes peeled.
- Never place bait where you feel like it. Bears have their own preferred movement lanes. Learn these and your bait will appear and smell natural enough to attract a bear. After that, it’s a matter of getting a clear shot.
- Gasoline, tobacco smoke, and engine exhaust (to name three smells) should be avoided a few hours before you even get to your bait post to await a bear. Bears have a supreme sense of smell and you will never see one that can smell modernity on you; they can pick it up a mile away, so to speak.
- The ideal and safest position is up a tree and 20 yards away from the bait where the bear may show up.
- You need a minimum .30 caliber rifle, or the shot will not penetrate deep enough to kill the bear; Remington’s and Winchesters are good weapon choices.
2. Whitetail Hunting Tips
- Scent determines 90% of your success rate with whitetail deer. They can smell so well and so fast that you can merely open the wrong zip-lock bag and, whoosh, your mature buck kill is gone.
- Not only do you have to wash your clothes and gear in scent-free detergent, you yourself have to bathe in scent-free soap and don’t get me started on how important lack of sweating is to this hunt. All these factors determine how fast a whitetail can sense something is off about its surroundings and hightail it out of there.
- As you can imagine, you need a whitetail standing still (especially if you are an amateur hunter). They are too fast to shoot otherwise. I remember landing a lucky shot with one of my whitetail kills; it never happened again.
- Keep the wind ahead of you. Obviously, wind carries your scent around so if the whitetail is positioned where the breeze does not reach it going past you, you will be alright.
3. Goose Hunting Tips
- You absolutely must have goose calls. These birds are very suspicious in nature and do not easily head over to bait. Have more than three different goose call whistles at hand.
- Wear a facemask as you hunker down and wait. Geese are experts at sen
sing movement. They see even an eyeball flicker and they are off. When one goose takes off in fright, the rest of them follow.
- If you happen to go hunting when the temperature is below 20 degrees, you are in luck. It is common geese behavior to lie down as soon as they land in these conditions. Wait, pay attention, this is not so they are easy to shoot, this tip is so you get the right decoy to place on the field so geese know something is not untoward. They will only lie down when there are other geese present with them.
- Speaking of decoys, get some, period. Geese are drawn to decoys assuming it too is a goose and that it found the space safe enough to be in. Full-body decoys are alright but I prefer floaters. With a current, they make it seem so goose-like I myself was tricked when I searched for actual geese to shoot and my crosswires landed on my decoy.
Hunting is a sport, a tradition, a way to connect with who we are and our place in Nature. It is more complicated than that; I am not much for words. Keeping wildlife populations steady is an important fact for any hunter with integrity. Otherwise, you are merely a poacher who in my opinion is the weasel of the hunting world. They give us authentic hunters a bad name.
All the preparation you need to perform will be taught by a good course. There are several ways to get started, in keeping with State policy and regulation of course. Be respectful, know your limits, and practice, practice, practice. Before long, your passion for the hunt will set you aside as one of the best in the great outdoors.
Hunting can become something sacred if you know how to value and appreciate the sport. It is not mindless killing – hunting and poaching are two very different things. As long as you have the skill, have practiced it, and find incredible inner peace ad joy from hunting (I know I do), then you have just made it to the cool club. Now you know what those ‘outdoor types’ are talking about; me included.