by Keith Wood - Monday, April 27, 2015
Depending on where you live, the brown landscape may finally be showing hints of color. Most of the cold weather is behind us, and so are the seasons for deer, elk and upland game. Spring is here, but that doesn’t mean we need to put our boots in the attic and forget the combination to the gun safe—there are plenty of hunting opportunities that come along with the changing seasons. Let’s take a look at five spring hunts that meet a variety of budgets.
Spring Bear Hunt
This is the most involved and potentially the priciest of the hunts, depending on where you live, but it has the potential to be the most memorable. Spring bear hunts in the mountain west are usually spot and stalk affairs. They can offer the essence of a true horseback wilderness hunt without the higher prices of elk and mule deer hunts. My first-ever guided hunt was a spring bear hunt in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness Area with my brother, and it’s one that I’ll never forget. We spent long hours in the saddle and hiked some steep country, but the old chocolate fur bear mount in my office brings back fond memories. Many spring bear hunts can be combined with backcountry fishing, so consider bringing a fly rod.
If I were to give it another go, I’d head to western Wyoming and hunt with Non-Typical Outfitters—an outfit that I’ve hunted both deer and elk with. Their great guides and powerful horses will put you on a great bear if you’re up to the challenge. These hunts go for just under $3,000 if you provide your own lodgin,g which isn’t much when you consider the logistics of their operation.
Prairie Dog Shooting
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “hunt,” but shooting prairie dogs is about as much fun as a human being can have. A great test of marksmanship and an unmatched training ground for learning to dope the wind, I’d rather sit over a hot prairie dog town than do just about anything that I can discuss in mixed company. Other than the fact that you’ll shoot a pile of ammo and take a few years off the life of your rifle’s barrel, varmint shooting isn’t expensive. Ranchers hate the rodents, since their holes serve as booby traps for valuable cattle, so you may pay a “trespass fee” at the most to rid them of what they see as pests. I am not aware of a state that requires a hunting license for prairie dogs, but always verify your state’s game laws first.
Public Land Turkey
Turkeys inhabit every state in the union, and many of them can be hunted on public land. If you’ve never felt the surge of adrenaline when a gobbler answers the call in the early morning chill, you need to forget about basketball and get into the woods in March. You don’t need a pile of expensive gear to hunt turkeys, though some of it is nice to have. A resident license to hunt turkey in my home state of Alabama is $25.75 for—check your state’s game department website for licensing details. Add in a tank of gas and you’re in business.
If you’re looking to make a trip out of it, NRA Outdoors has a combo hunt for Eastern Turkeys and feral hogs for $650 per day guided and $550 unguided. The price includes lodging, meals, field dressing, and trophy care. A three-day non-resident hunting license and big game permit will run you $140.
Hogs aren’t truly a wild species in the U.S., but a feral devolution of domestic pigs- nonetheless; they offer a prolific hunting opportunity. Whether they’re considered game animals, and thus subject to licensing and season requirements, will depend on the state (and sometimes whether they are hunted on public or private land). Feral hogs inhabit much of the U.S., save the Rockies, and can even be hunted in Hawaii. Hog hunting methods and prices range from the exotic helicopter “shooting” one sees on YouTube to simple spot and stalk hunting on public land or a farmer’s field. Guided hog hunts in south Texas are available for as little as $650 for three days of hunting. I’ve probably killed more hogs than any other “big game” species and they can be a great deal of fun to hunt. If you’re looking for something that brings out the caveman (or cavewoman) in you, try hunting them with dogs and a knife—I can promise that it will be a memorable experience.
Coyotes have expanded from their traditional range to nearly every corner of the U.S., including places like New York City and Washington, D.C. Bobcats and foxes roam much of the nation as well but, as furbearers, are often subject to more defined seasons than their canine competitors. Though many coyotes are taken as targets of opportunity while hunting other game, a true coyote hunt is a test of one’s hunting skills. If you’re going to be successful in hunting one of nature’s most effective and cunning predators, you’d better bring your “A game.” As with anything, you can spend unlimited dollars on predator hunting gear, but a gun and a mouth call will get you started. Most landowners and wildlife managers view coyotes the way ranchers look at prairie dogs and may be willing to provide free or low-priced access. Offer to protect a cattle rancher’s herd while they’re calving and you’re likely to find a friend.
Take advantage of the hunting opportunities that the spring months have to offer and you’ll welcome the changing weather. Go chase turkeys, hogs or whatever else is legal in your area—get out and hunt.
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