Hunting Wildlife in the USA

By Annabelle Carter Short

The United States may be one singular country, but its geographic regions are very distinct. The swamps of Florida are entirely different from the deserts of New Mexico, and those are quite different from the forests of Oregon. All these regions also have varied ecosystems with separate species and subspecies from one another. The hunting in these varied regions also offers both a lot of similarities and a lot of diversity. Hunting is a huge part of American culture and it is shared in every state. Every region of the US has a unique hunting culture based on the common animals present.

Photo by Neil Moore

Large Game

When it comes to big game, the most popular animal hunted is deer. It is the most commonly hunted big game animal in all but six states, and it is the second-most commonly hunted in five of those six. Deer hunting is appealing for many reasons. For one, it offers an ecological benefit. Traditionally, prey animals have predators that keep their populations in check. Ecosystems can be delicate things in the short term, and when a species’ natural predator is removed, problems can ensue. While at one point in time deer had common natural predators, largely in the form of wolves, humans are their main predators today. When the deer population rises too high, they can end up consuming too many resources that are necessary for other species, such as rabbits and squirrels. This can have a ripple effect throughout ecosystems throwing it out of line. Responsible deer hunting becomes a necessary form of environmentalism under these conditions. Deer are also practical creatures to hunt. They offer copious amounts of meat that hunters can use to feed their families.

In the southwestern US, alligators are actually one of the most commonly hunted creatures. They are the most commonly hunted in Florida, where the Everglades occupy the south end of the state. Alligator hunting can be a dangerous business, but the sport makes up a significant part of the culture in certain regions. Along with offering hunters the thrill of the hunt, they offer meat and hides which are turned into leather. Speaking of thrilling hunts, cougars and bears are also hunted in certain states. Due to the low number of them in the wild, hunting of these animals has to be restricted, but some hunters are able to chase these majestic predators every year. 

In Colorado and New Mexico, elk take the top spot, and antelope take the top spot in Wyoming. These animals are also found and hunted in nearby states, but they are most commonly hunted in these three. Hawaii, Oklahoma, and some other states are home to large amounts of feral pigs. While pork, ham, bacon, and similar meats derived from pigs are popular in the US, hunting feral pigs is an ecological necessity in some regions. Feral pigs are notorious for wreaking havoc on the land, crops, and the ecosystems they run rampant in.


Small Game

When it comes to small game, rabbits and squirrels are the most commonly hunted in many states. They are plentiful, and they offer many hunters a source of game that is useful and that doesn’t have to be searched for as they essentially occupy every rural area. Some hunt foxes for their beautiful coats, and some hunt foxes to keep them away from small farm animals. The red fox and the grey fox are the two main species in the US. Coyotes offer similar problems to animal owners, although they can be a problem for larger animals like sheep. Other animals like woodchucks, raccoons, and beavers are hunted across the US in different capacities.


Birds

Bird hunting is another American pastime that hunters in every state can partake in. Waterfowl are generally separated from upland game birds. The major difference for
hunters is that waterfowl tend to be larger than most species of upland game birds, so hunters tend to optimize their hunting setups for longer ranges and larger birds. In the continental United States, ducks and geese are by far the most commonly hunted waterfowl. Hunters use shotguns and bird dogs, dogs specially bred for retrieving shot birds. When it comes to upland game birds, the dove is the most commonly hunted in the majority of the southern states. Turkeys take a close second in many of these states and are the top spot in some northern states. Turkeys are one of the few upland game birds that tend to be larger than their waterfowl counterparts. Pheasants and grouse are commonly hunted birds in certain regions, particularly in northern, midwestern, and west coast states.

Minute Man Review created an interactive wildlife hunting map that shows harvest estimates for the species and species groups for each state. You can check it out here.

The data in this guide was obtained from a multitude of credible sources that report the number of animals hunted in a given year. The infographic is designed so that hunters in different states can have an accessible and comprehensive guide to the best hunting in whatever state they live in. Along with knowing what animals to hunt, hunters should be sure to educate themselves on local laws and hunting seasons regarding the different game in their state.