We know that big game hunting season is still months away, but just the idea of getting to travel more easily and safely this year already has us thinking about dream hunts. S we asked our experts to pick the best big game hunts in North America that the average hunter can actually pull off. To be clear: This isn’t another lists of cheap, DIY hunts (though some of these are easily taken on your own), nor is it a roundup of expensive outfitters. These trips are chosen for value. So, quit dreaming and start planning.
The 20 Best Hunting Trips for Your Budget
We’ve done the research—and taken many of these hunts ourselves—to create a list of the very best big game hunting opportunities and affordable hunting trips.
1. Where to Hunt Moose in Alberta
Logistics: Once you secure a moose tag from your outfitter, you just need a passport to get into Canada, the proper paperwork to get a firearm across the border, and a Wildlife Identification Number (WIN) card to hunt Alberta. Price: $5,000 to $7,000 —Will Brantley
2. Hunt Record-Book Black Bears in Northern Saskatchewan
Why You Should Go: Huge swaths of northern Saskatchewan are only accessible by boat or plane. Up there, most black bears die of old age. A few outfitters are pioneering into areas where bears have never been hunted. This region has the genetics for giant boars; it may be the best opportunity anywhere to shoot a true trophy-class black bear. Logistics: The best hunting is in June. Licenses are only available through an outfitter. Hunters fly into Saskatoon, and then make the rest of the trip in vehicles, floatplanes, and boats via the outfitter. Price: $4,000 to $5,000 (Guided) —Brad Fenson
3. Travel to Kodiak Island, Alaska, for a Blacktail Deer Adventure
Why You Should Go: If hunting blacktail deer on the home turf of the world’s largest brown bears doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping, then we can’t help you. These true wilderness hunts are usually based from a boat that provides a dry place to sleep (and protection from bears). Good bucks abound here, and depending on the weather, you may find them anywhere from the beach to the high peaks. Logistics: The small planes and boats required to get to Kodiak make travel challenging. Transporters provide boats for D.I.Y. trips, but the hunting is up to you. Outfitted hunts are much more inclusive. Licenses are over the counter. For more information, go to adfg.alaska.gov. Price: $3,000 to $4,000 (Transported and unguided or guided) —B.F.
4. Stalk Giant Velvet Mule Deer in Alberta
Why You Should Go: Three-hundred-plus-pound muleys, close-range spot-and-stalk, and velvet antlers are indeed the stuff of dreams for most bowhunters: It’s what makes Alberta such a hot destination during the September bow season—and your odds only go up during gun season. The region is marked by rolling prairie, steep coulees, and a smattering of cropfields, making it the perfect place to grow trophy bucks, and to sneak up on them. Logistics: The only way to obtain a tag in Alberta is through an outfitter, but there are dozens in the region. The Alberta Professional Outfitters Society has a directory. Price: $3,000 to $4,000 (Guided) —B.F.
5. Why Idaho Is the Best State to Hunt Color Phase Black Bears
Why You Should Go: Idaho has one of the largest black bear populations in the Rocky Mountains, and a high percentage of color-phase bruins. From mid April through June, you can spot bears on south-facing slopes, munching on the green grass they need to flush their systems after hibernation. You can hire a guide, or spot-and-stalk from the dirt roads and trails coursing through national forest land for a rare D.I.Y. trophy. Logistics: There are plenty of tags available over the counter, and some units allow you to take two bears. There are dozens of reputable outfitters for both spot-and-stalk and baited hunts. Price: $2,000 to $3,000 (Guided); $1,000 to $2,000 (Unguided) —Ben Romans
6. Wyoming Pronghorns Is One of the Most Affordable Hunting Trips in the U.S.
Why You Should Go: Wyoming has more antelope than people, and an array of hunting opportunities. To chase a trophy pronghorn, you can build points for a managed area. If you just want to hunt antelope, there are zones where you can draw every year or buy a leftover tag, of which there are usually plenty. You can hire a guide, hunt on public ground, or hunt private ground for a landowner fee—or in some cases for free with permission. Logistics: Wyoming begs for a D.I.Y. hunt, but there are plenty of good outfitters, too. Wyoming Game and Fish’s new Hunt Planner is an invaluable resource. Price: $2,000 to $3,000 (Guided); $1,000 to $2,000 (Unguided) —B.F.
7. Welcome to Axis Deer Paradise
Why You Should Go: If you’re after adventure, natural beauty, exclusivity, and the finest red meat on earth, then Lanai, a 90,000-acre private island 40 miles west of Maui, is the spot. You may see hundreds of animals in a day while hunting one of the world’s largest populations of free-range axis deer. There are mouflon sheep, too. The terrain is spectacular and diverse, with mountains, plains, and ocean vistas. Logistics: You’ll fly to Maui, Hawaii, then ferry to Lanai. The stunning Hotel Lanai is under $200 per night. Since the game is privately owned, you’ll pay an outfitter about $3,000 for one day (though bowhunters might need two) of guided hunting that includes a trophy stag and two non-trophies. Price: $3,000 to $6,000 (Guided) —Jeff Johnston
8. Chase Barren-Ground Caribou in Manitoba
Why You Should Go: Northern Manitoba borders Hudson Bay, and the mixed habitat along the shoreline is the historical migration route of central barren-ground caribou. This hunt won’t cost you much more than a D.I.Y. fly-in adventure in other parts of the North, but it’s logistically easier, and success rates on trophy bulls are much higher. Logistics: The region is only accessible by airplane, with licenses available through outfitters who take care of planning and details. Much of the hunting is done from boats, and from both permanent and spike camps. Price: $5,000 to $6,000 (Guided) —B.F.
9. Stalk Trophy Mule Deer in the Nebraska Sandhills
Why You Should Go: The Nebraska Sandhills are the up-and-coming place to kill a big mule deer buck. Miles of rolling hills are woven with creekbottoms and some agriculture. Like Alberta, it’s ideal habitat for growing big deer and for spot-and-stalk hunting—but more affordable, and with great D.I.Y. opportunities. Logistics: Permits are available via application, and most tags are good for either a mule deer or a whitetail (outdoornebraska.gov/huntingseasons). There are significant chunks of public land, along with some excellent outfitters for hunting private ground. Price: $3,000 to $4,000 (Guided); $1,000 to $2,000 (Unguided) —B.F.
10. Tag a 350-Inch Bull Elk in New Mexico
Why You Should Go: The Gila National Forest in southwest New Mexico is 3.3 million public acres of famously good elk hunting. Secure a tag and you have a solid chance at killing a 350-inch bull. The terrain is largely sandy, and full of pinyon and ponderosa pine. The climate is mild. Though some outfitters use horses to get deep into the backcountry, plenty of the Gila is accessible on foot. Logistics: New Mexico doesn’t award preference points. Nonresidents hunting solo are allotted 6 percent of the licenses in a drawing pool; nonresidents who book with a guide, 10 percent. You can apply as a party to help your chances, and a good outfitter can assist you with the process and put you on elk once you’ve drawn. According to the outfitters we polled, most hunters get drawn at least once every four years, so put in now. Price: $5,000 to $6,000 (Guided); $2,000 to $3,000 (Unguided) —W.B.
11. Plan the Ultimate Big Game Hunting Trip in Montana
Why You Should Go: Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness is one of the only places in the world where you can rifle hunt rutting elk, mule deer, black bears, and wolves all at the same time. Hunter success with a good outfitter runs about 50 percent, meaning that a hardworking hunter should take two of the four species during a 10-day hunt, with pretty good trophy potential. Logistics: Riding in via horseback takes a full day and can leave you too sore to hunt hard the next, so opting for a picturesque helicopter ride into “The Bob” is worth considering—and less costly than you may think. Contact an outfitter early to apply for tags, and you’ll almost surely draw. Price: $4,000 to $6,000 (Guided) —Joseph von Benedikt
12. Travel to Utah for One of the Best Mule Deer Hunts Ever
Why You Should Go: Utah’s extended archery hunt offers a chance to chase rutting muley bucks on an easy-to-draw tag. Draw for any unit in the state (some regions are almost 100 percent odds even for nonresidents), but don’t hunt the regular season. Hold off and that unused tag will qualify you to hunt the archery-only area in the public-access Wasatch Mountains during late November and early December. There’s no rifle season here, allowing bucks to grow big and old. It’s arguably the best big-buck hunt in Utah short of drawing a premium tag, which can take decades. Logistics: You’ll need to earn an online-education certificate for this hunt, but it’s not difficult and well worth it. Prepare to glass big country, stalk up steep canyons in knee-deep snow, and shoot long. Price: $1,000 to $2,000 (Unguided) —J.v.B.
13. Chase Northwest Colorado Pronghorns
Why You Should Go: There are antelope all over the West. But if you’re after a true bruiser of a buck, few regions are better than northwest Colorado. Moffat County consistently produces more Booner speed goats than any other county in the state. The rolling landscape here has plenty of peaks and valleys for spot-and-stalk hunting, and numerous irrigated alfalfa fields and livestock operations for water-hole archery hunts. Logistics: You can apply for points, hunt the ample BLM ground in the area, and probably kill a giant buck in a couple of days—especially with a rifle. The best trophy units here can take up to 15 points to draw, though with a little research, you can get a tag within five years in units that are almost as good. If you’re going guided, a number of outfitters have tags for sale every year. Price: $3,000 to $4,000 (Guided); $1,000 to $2,000 (Unguided) —W.B.
14. How to Plan a D.I.Y. Coues Deer Hunt
Why You Should Go: These tiny gray deer live in lonely, high-desert country, and they behave—and are hunted—more like desert bighorn sheep than whitetails. Prepare to have your mettle tested against steep, remote mountains infested with thorns—and your soul renewed by a backdrop of shockingly beautiful desert sunrises and sunsets. Logistics: Tags are easier to draw during the November pre-rut than for the December rut hunt. If you’re willing to build points, you can eventually draw a tag for a unit offering a legit chance at mature bucks with big genetics, though it’s possible to draw every year in some less popular units. Check the Arizona Game and Fish for details. Price: $1,000 to $2,000 (unguided) —J.v.B.
15. Guide Hunts for Mountain Lions in Idaho and Colorado
Why You Should Go: If you love the sound of hounds at work, intense physical challenge, and an element of danger, go on a mountain lion hunt. Both Colorado and Idaho have thriving cat populations, and the states are neck-and-neck for B&C entries. When the dogs strike a hot track, the experience is as intense as it gets. Logistics: Both states offer over-the-counter licenses and long seasons open to hunting with hounds, but you want to go later in winter. Ideally, you keep a flexible schedule with an outfitter and hunt after a fresh snow. Check regs closely; in Colorado, you must pass a free (but easy) online course before getting a license. Check quotas daily. And plan on bringing the meat home—it tastes just like pork. Price: $4,000 to $5,000 (Guided) —W.B.
Win the Lottery: Our Top 5 Bucket List Tags for the Ultimate Big Game Hunting Adventure
These five bucket-list hunts can take 10 years or more to draw. But you’ve just got to try…
1. Bighorn Sheep: Missouri River Breaks, Montana
If you draw, you can tackle this adventure on your own or hire an outfitter. Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
2. Trophy Elk: Arizona
In several trophy units, bulls scoring 380 B&C or better are regularly taken, including some over 400. Arizona Game & Fish
3. Mule Deer: Utah
Odds of drawing in a trophy unit are long, but this 20-plus-point tag promises a muley buck of a lifetime. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
4. Mountain Goat: Colorado
You don’t have to leave the Lower 48 to hunt a billy if you’re persistent. Colorado Parks & Wildlife
5. Desert Bighorn: Nevada
The holy grail of sheep tags will cost $1,200 if you’re drawn. Nevada Department of Wildlife —B.F.