Back when I was in college, I Was always torn by the choice of where I would spend my mid-March spring break. On the one hand, there were sunny beaches down south hopping with half-dressed sorority bunnies; on the other lay half-frozen farmlands up north that were hopping with snowshoe hares. I usually decided to chase the four-legged variety. Was I nuts? Maybe, but not more than any other hunter is at this time of year. March can be maddening. For many of us hunting seasons are closed, but the weather is still wintry, and unless you're willing to shoot crows and opossums (I'm never that desperate), there seems to be very little reason to get out of bed, let alone venture afield. But if you're not sated from an entire season's worth of chasing game, and you're willing to travel, some fine hunting can be had in March. Consider the following:
1 ALABAMA [TURKEYS] Jump-start your turkey season where the magnolias are starting to bloom and the longbeards are already gobbling in the hardwood bottoms and strutting in the hayfields. While most of the country's turkey hunters are left twiddling their thumbs until April or May, the spring season for the majority of Alabama's turkey country (with a population estimated at 450,000) starts on March 15.
"There's good hunting from one end of the state to the other," says Steve Barnett, a biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, "and we have some very sizable public areas with excellent hunting." He points visitors to the 37,291-acre Coosa Wildlife Management Area in east-central Alabama, the 39,139-acre Upper Delta WMA in the extreme southwestern part of the state, and the Choccolocco WMA in the northeast, where hunters willing to hike or bike can find plenty of elbowroom in 50,100 acres of prime Appalachia turkey woods.
But the epicenter, according to Barnett, is in the southern part of the state, where the hunting largely takes place on private land. The area is home to several renowned lodges where one can chase gobblers in genteel southern luxury. Spend the morning calling toms on 21,000 acres of prime turkey habitat, for example, at the White Oak Plantation near Tuskegee. Afterward, stuff yourself with a gourmet meal, cast for bass in the private pond, or shoot at one of the country's best sporting clays courses. "We offer three- and four-day hunts and allow only six hunters at a time to ensure a quality experience," says marketing manager Wes Cumbie. "It's all fair chase, with one-on-one guiding."
Season Dates: March 15 to April 30 in most of Alabama •Bag Limit: One gobbler per day; annual total of five (spring and fall) • Nonresident License: $77 for three days •Guide Fees: $1,875 for a three-day hunt, including lodging and meals in a luxury facility •Contact: White Oak Plantation, 334-727-9258; www.whiteoakplantation.com
2 FLORIDA [PIGS] In Florida, wild pigs are classified as game animals on state lands, and there is an official fall season. On private lands, they are considered domestic livestock, for which there is no closed season or bag limit, and hunting with spears, axes, or rocks is legal, if that's your thing. Otherwise, take your rifle, muzzle-loader, or handgun onto Native American ground at the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in south-central Florida. Here, specialized buggies take you through an exotic landscape of cypress heads, hardwood hammocks, pine flats, and prairie grasses—all overrun with pigs.
Guides drop you off at prime stand locations where you may also see bears and, if you're very lucky, a panther. "These are totally wild pigs roaming 3,500 acres of very wild habitat," says Ed Woods, the director of the reservation's Big Cypress Hunting Adventures. "And there are lots of pigs to go around, including some giant trophy boars. I don't think we've ever had a hunt in which the client didn't get a shot."
Season Dates: Year-round on private land •Bag Limit: None • Nonresident License: Not needed •Guide Fees: $175 per hunter per day, plus $150 for a meat hog (includes skinning and quartering) or $325 for a trophy boar •Contact: Big Cypress Hunting Adventures, 800-689-2378; www.seminoletribe.com/enterprises/big cypress/hunting.shtml
3 MISSOURI [SNOW GEESE]
Tired of watching snow fly? Head to northwestern Missouri and watch the snow geese fly instead. Home to one of the Central Flyway's top staging areas, the Show-Me State led the nation's spring snow goose harvest last year with more than 140,000 birds taken. Just north of Kansas City, Smithville Reservoir and the Squaw Creek and Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuges lie amid a sprawling expanse of corn and beanfields, drawing more than a million of the big white geese in spring.
"Our hunters are astounded by the number of birds they see," says guide Tracy Northup, who operates Up North Outdoors in the Mound City area near Squaw Creek. "On our best day last year, we took 154 geese from one field. On average, though, we kill 10 or 20 geese, which is a good hunt." Exactly when in March to visit northwestern Missouri is a toss-up. "Goose numbers typically peak here in the beginning of the month and can get spotty after the 20th," Northup says. "However, the juvenile birds tend to fly through late, from mid-March through the end of the month. So you've got numbers on one hand and gullible birds on the other."
There is limited public hunting on the Smithville Reservoir. The surrounding farmland is mostly private, but landowners are known to be willing to allow access for snow geese hunts.
Season Dates: Open through March •Bag Limit: None •Nonresident License: $6 •Guide Fees: $190 per gun for a full day •Contact: Up North Outdoors, 563-382-0530; www.huntupnorth.com
4 MAINE [SNOWSHOE HARES]
The bunnies are abundant and the POSTED signs scarce up in the vast Maine woodlands. "Traveling sportsmen are amazed at how much open land there is," says James Hall of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. At least 75 percent of the entire Downeast Maine region is open to hunting, the majority of which is commercially managed forest north of U.S. 1. "There's excellent snow-shoe hare habitat, and it's very lightly hunted. Some logging roads may be closed in March due to mud, but there's still good access along the main roads."
Plenty of good terrain is available for do-it-yourself hunters—so much that hiring a guide is both advised and affordable. "We have very good snowshoe numbers," say Randy Flannery, who runs Wilderness Escape outfitters in Danforth, about an hour and a half northeast of Bangor. "You can bring your own dogs or hunt with mine. Typically, everybody gets some shooting in. It's lots of fun, and there's virtually no hunting pressure."
Season Dates: Open through March •Bag Limit: Four daily • Nonresident License: $33 for three-day small-game •Guide Fees: $125 per day (with beagles), including lodging and meals •Contact: Wilderness Escape Outfitters, 207-448-3238; www.wildernessescape.com
5 LABRADOR [CARIBOU]
Maybe you think you can't afford a far-flung big-game adventure. Maybe you're wrong. Although fall caribou expeditions can cost more than $3,000, spring hunts can run less than half that, because by March most of the big bulls have dropped their antlers, which makes them unappealing to many hunters. The caribou have not, however, dropped any of the richly flavored meat beneath their hides. Meanwhile, the wide frozen expanses of the Far North are no less beautiful, and the lights of the aurora borealis are no less breathtaking.
"The hunting is very good in March," says Edward Burke of Labrador Adventures and Out-fitting in Labrador City. "The caribou are usually herded in groups of 15 or 20, but you might see 200 or 300 in a day. We use snowmobiles to get close, and then we stalk within gun or bow range." As for the weather, Burke says the latter part of March is "really nice" for that part of Canada. "You get long sunny days, with high temperatures that get up to freezing."
Season Dates: Open through April •Bag Limit: Two caribou • Nonresident License: $143 (Canadian) •Guide Fees: $999 for a three-day hunt, including lodging, meals, and unlimited snowmobile use •Contact: Labrador Adventures, 709-282-5369; www.caribouhunts.ca