Of all the great game animals in the country, which should make up an American hunting slam?
For many of us, hunting isn’t about what hangs on your wall (or doesn’t) afterwards: it’s about the experience. Spending time in the outdoors, either with friends or in quiet solace, enjoying all the opportunities that this land affords, and interacting with a great diversity of wildlife is enough reward in and of itself. Nature is no respecter of persons or their stations, and many a hunter has learned invaluable life lessons from their time afield.
This list represents 10 of the greatest game animal achievements in the country. Many species (like the wild turkey or even the whitetail deer) aren’t here because they make impressive decorations, but because we can hunt them in the first place; the fact that they exist in hunt-able sized populations is a testament to the massive restoration and conservation efforts, spearheaded by generations of outdoorsman, over the last 100 years. Pursuing them can also offer some of the most rewarding and memorable hunts imaginable, which is the greatest reward of all.
Plus, some of them can eat you, and it doesn’t get much more exciting than trying to hunt something that thinks you’d make a great main course.
1. Whitetail Deer
The whitetail deer is the most popular North American big game animal, and for good reason. Despite being hunted almost to extinction in many areas, the deer population has made a huge comeback in the last several decades. Deer can be found all over the country, offering the chance to chase them in a variety of climates and settings.
Records are being broken all over, so regardless of where you live and hunt, that buck of a lifetime could be just around the corner.
2. Mule Deer
Although broadly similar to whitetail deer in appearance, the locations where mule deer are found offer a vastly different hunting experience. From the Sandhills of Nebraska to towering Rocky Mountain peaks, mule deer hunters get to see what most eastern whitetail hunters can only dream about.
They also make great wall decorations.
3. Wild Turk, any species
The wild turkey is another species that was once in danger, but has since rebounded tremendously. While killing a turkey is not nearly as impressive as, say, a grizzly, it is perhaps the most fun hunt on the list.
There is nothing in the world like standing in a field or in the woods on a cool, foggy spring morning, enjoying finally being outside after being cooped up all winter, watching the world (and the day) come to life again, and listening to the hammering of a big gobbler. The idea that anyone who tries it isn’t immediately addicted is beyond me. From the popular Eastern turkeys to the elusive Osceolas of South Florida, hunting any of the turkey subspecies should be high on every hunters list.
4. Rocky Mountain Elk
Hunting elk is something that many hunters from the East (or down South) only dream about. Chasing bugling bulls up and down the slopes of the Rockies or across the southwestern plains has to be one of the best experiences in the outdoors.
Plus, harvesting something that you can’t then completely carry out on your back is pretty sweet.
5. Rocky Mountain Elk… from an Eastern State
Although once found all over the country, for many decades elk have been confined to the Western part of the United States. Recent reintroduction efforts (funded by sportsmen and women), however, have established sizable (and even hunt-able) populations in many Eastern states, including Kentucky, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
Harvesting an elk from a region where they were once hunted to extinction is an experience that any hunter would be privileged to have.
6. Black Bear
Although black bears are the smallest, most timid and most widespread of all North American bears, who wouldn’t want to hunt something thats as big as they are… and has claws?
7. Grizzly Bear
While many experts claim that grizzlies don’t actively hunt humans, the thrill afforded by pursuing an animal that could turn you into lunch is an amazing opportunity. Their size, speed, and power are incredible, and are an amazing test of a hunter’s skill.
8. Mountain Lion
While smaller than other carnivores on the list, the mountain lion is infinitely more elusive… and arguably more dangerous. While the methodology varies by region (and hunter), bagging a mountain lion is perhaps the greatest achievement in American big game hunting.
The Moose is far and away the largest animal on this list, standing up to seven feet tall at the shoulder and weighing up to 1,500 pounds (the largest on record was an 1,800 pound monster killed in 1897). An impressive animal anywhere, harvesting a moose is an achievement most hunters will only dream about.
10. Pronghorn Antelope
The pronghorn antelope is far and away the fastest land mammal in North America, which when combined with its 320-degree field of vision makes it one of the ultimate tests for a hunter. Found all over the American West, any hunter who has successfully harvested a pronghorn certainly has a trophy to be proud of.
While there are certainly other great game animals in America, these ten represent perhaps the top of the heap. Some are dangerous, some are more fun, and some wouldn’t have even been able to be hunted until recently. All, however, offer the opportunity for a memorable, even live changing, experience.