Call it a bucket list. Call it a life list. Whatever you call it, every sportsman has one: a list of the thrills and moments he’d most like to experience in the outdoors. Since there’s more hunting or fishing than could ever be done in one lifetime, we narrowed the list down to these 75 things
BEST PLACES ON EARTH
These are the iconic destinations—country and water so special you’ll never forget them. Even if you go home skunked
Hunt Idaho’s Rugged Chukar Canyons
You own this land, so you might as well hunt it. Just bring good boots
It’s not that the hills of Idaho’s Snake River Canyon are tall, necessarily. It’s just that the river has had eons to carve deeply into them. Scattered throughout the cheatgrass-covered moonscape are coveys of immigrant chukars making themselves thoroughly at home along the canyon walls. As a taxpayer you are part owner of this land and thousands of acres of prime chukar cover in other western states.
Not only have chukars made themselves at home in their adopted country, but they’ve agreed to play our American upland hunting game—after a fashion. Coveys hold among the rocks for pointing dogs; then, as you slip and slide on loose volcanic rock toward the dogs, the birds launch themselves en masse in a downward trajectory. It would be a tricky shot for a hunter on level ground, but in chukar hunting you’re never on level ground.
Just know this: Chukar hunting the hard way—climbing up to the birds from the valley floor—could be the last item you check off your bucket list if you’re not in shape for it. —Phil Bourjaily
Hang a Stand in Iowa’s Land of Giants
Each buck you see here could very well be the biggest of your life
I’m not one to pass on a Pope and Young buck. And here one came, barreling through the hedge apples. The doe he was chasing blew past my decoy. But he stopped, giving me a good look: big frame, heavy, 8 tall points, all of 140—maybe 145. He would be my biggest bow buck. He got to within 8 yards. Perfectly broadside. I shot him with my camera.
The thing is, I was in southern Iowa and had five more days to run into a bona fide giant. During a week here you will encounter the biggest deer of your life. Trust me on this. You and he will share the same small space on this earth. His presence will be palpable, and you will never stop feeling it. Trust me on this.
Four days later, a far bigger buck stood under my stand at 17 paces—and I couldn’t get a shot. He still haunts my dreams. But I saw him, for real, in southern Iowa. —Dave Hurteau
Flyfish Oregon’s Steelhead Cathedral
Strikes don’t come easy here, which makes them even more memorable
These waters are sacred. In winter, Oregon’s North Umpqua River is often shrouded by a fine gray fog that forms on its pools, then wafts through dense timber and creeps up canyon walls. The water cuts a deliberate path around boulders and glides into riffles that shimmer in sparse sunlight. This ornate labyrinth is, from bank to bank, one of the prettiest stretches of river on earth.
These waters have history. Angling traditions ooze from the North Umpqua. The locals can point out the tree that Zane Grey’s cook, Takahashi, climbed to bark casting coordinates to the legendary author. These are the home waters of Frank Moore, considered the dean of American steelhead fishing. Over the years, countless dignitaries from President Herbert Hoover to the actor Clark Gable have come to match their skills against the wild and wily steelhead found here.
These waters are challenging. Today, the North Umpqua is more respected for the lessons she teaches than the fish she yields. If you have a 100-foot fly cast in your arsenal, by all means bring it. But if you catch one fish a day swinging Muddler Minnows through the pools, consider yourself lucky. Still, you don’t have to land a steelhead or even feel a tug to appreciate these waters. Just being here will change you. —Kirk Deeter
Escape to Florida’s Old-Time Bass Lake
No traffic. No condos. Just lots of bass
Wild places can be hard to find in tourist-cluttered Florida. But I found such a place along with exceptional fishing years ago when I first visited what’s called Stick Marsh–Farm 13. It’s a 6,500-acre bass bonanza that’s only 10 miles inland from the coastal cacophony of Sebastian and Vero Beach. I’ve been dying to get back ever since.
The shoreline of this reservoir is undeveloped, save for some water-flow gates and a boat ramp. Gators and egrets abound. There is no buzzing interstate highway, no honking of car horns. The loudest noise I heard was the wind whispering through palm trees and shoreline grasses.
Even better, the lake has been managed as a catch-and-release area for trophy bass since it was created in 1987. No, I did not catch a 10-pounder, although many people have caught double-digit bass here. But the fishing was good, and the sense of peace, of what might be called old-time Florida, was just priceless. —John Merwin
Wade Chest Deep in Arkansas’s Sunken Timber
Welcome to the mallard lode
It’s a funnel of yellow bills and green feathers, the place where the massive Mississippi Flyway necks down to its narrowest passage. Late every winter, the green-tree reservoirs of east-central Arkansas fill up with water, fill up with mallards, and fill up with duck hunters. Imagine flooded woods by the square mile, dotted with duck blinds as big as a Manhattan apartment. It’s a spectacle anyone with chest waders needs to see for himself.
Green-tree reservoirs got their start back in the ’30s, when rice farmers in Arkansas’s Grand Prairie, just outside Stuttgart, built the first impoundments to water their grainfields.
Now world-famous Stuttgart is a destination, home of the duck-calling world championship. Duck lodges dot the big woods and cypress brakes around the town, and this is the South, bless your heart, so most things are taken care of nicely: breakfasts so big you’ll think twice about lunch, dogs with better manners than your kids. Bring chest waders, a camouflage facemask and gloves, and a ringing timber-style call tuned to pull greenheads in on a string. You won’t need much more than that. Except enough cash in your checking account to cover the deposit on next year’s return trip. —T. Edward Nickens
ADVENTURES OF A LIFETIME
These are the hunts and trips you must take. Expect new thrills, challenges, and some danger. You will never, ever, forget them
Chase Foxes on Horseback
After one hunt, you’ll see why this tradition has survived
In the mid 1950s when I was in my early teens, I got to participate in one of the rarest and most exciting forms of hunting known to man—riding to hounds. There were two major hunts held each year: one on Thanksgiving, the other on New Year’s Day. Roughly 30 riders and 40 hounds would try to run down a fox so the dogs could tear it to pieces. The hunt was by invitation only, dress was strictly prescribed, and the proceeding was conducted according to rules laid out in England centuries before.
The sport—and it was a sport, because a great many foxes got away—was brutal on horses, dogs, and riders alike. It was English-saddle only (a few women actually rode sidesaddle), you rode full-tilt almost nonstop from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., and if your horse refused a jump and you went over its head you would be trampled by the riders behind you.
If a rider was first, second, or third arriving at the scene of the kill, he was awarded the brush, which is the tail; or the mask, which is the skin from the face; or a paw. And the first time you rode in the money, the Master of Hounds painted your face with fox blood and you became a blooded hunter. I was awarded a paw on a Thanksgiving hunt, and after the hunt ended, I reported home, my face covered with dried blood, just as my family was sitting down to the turkey. My mother, who assumed I had been trampled, screamed like an air-raid siren, and would not shut up until I waved the paw under her nose.
How else can you have fun like that? —David E. Petzal
Risk Your Life for a Cape Buffalo
You might not come home alive after this hunt, but you’ll feel alive every second of it
A paratrooper friend of mine explained to me that, when you compare the number of accidents with the number of jumps, leaping out of a perfectly good airplane is really pretty safe. So it is with hunting Africa’s wild cattle. I know professional hunters who have killed thousands of Cape buffalo with nary a close call. And while I knew one who was killed by an elephant and half a dozen who have been chewed by leopards, old Syncerus caffer or nyati or m’bogo, as he is variously known, has not accounted for the death of anyone that I know personally.
That is not to say they are unwilling. There was a saying in the Old West: If you think Apaches don’t know right from wrong, wrong one and see what happens. The same with Cape buffalo. They’re perfectly happy to eat, fornicate, poop, and roll in the mud until you go screwing with them. Then they want payback, and if a buffalo gets you down, you will probably not survive unless someone else is there with a very big rifle.
Samuel Johnson said that when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully. So does hunting Cape buffalo. When you are creeping mere feet from the clicking horns, the metallic, deep-pitched grunts, and the thumping of cloven hooves with 1,600 pounds of animal bearing on them, your mind will not go elsewhere.
If the God of the Righteous were to tell me that I could have one last hunt before I was yanked to my reward, and to name the animal, I would answer: “Cape buffalo.” —D.E.P.
Explore and Live From a Canoe for a Week
Load the boat with gear, pick a river, and make like a pioneer
This is how America was explored—a paddle in hand, a box of grub stashed in the boat, rods and guns bristling over the gunwales, a fresh glimpse of wild country around every bend in the stream. From Lewis and Clark’s Missouri River epic to the voyageurs’ beaver odysseys to a million untold stories of pioneers and settlers setting out for an unknown future, canoe tripping opened up the country to anyone with a paddle and a canoe and the gumption to follow a river. And it still does.
Think of all those times you’ve crossed the river near your house and wondered what it would be like to float it for a week. Go. You can still find adventure and discovery and a pile of fish and game. Or find a wiggly blue line on a map that leads who-knows-where. And go. Launch a modern-day expedition to some storied waterway. You are not getting younger. Nothing matters as much as this: Just go.
You can go as cheap as cotton waffle-weave long johns and a tent stuffed into an old cooler, or as high-tech as portage packs and carbon-fiber paddles that weigh little more than a curl of campfire smoke. Go with a friend. Go by yourself. Take the dog. Take the neighbor’s kid.
And go with a few goals in mind, a few marks to shoot for that will help you reach across the centuries and share the ride with those early settlers of yore. First, feed yourself the fish you catch or the squirrels you shoot. Second, if the weather and bugs allow, sleep outside on a sandbar or river bluff or island-in-the-stream. And last, take nothing for granted. Let every kink in the stream waken your senses and quicken your pulse. You don’t know what lies around the bend. You’re just a man with a paddle and a week on the water. This is called discovery. —T.E.N.
Backpack Into the Mountains Alone and Hunt
On a hunt like this, take only what you need to live. And we mean live
Nobody ever shot an elk after waking up with his wife. Such was the wisdom an old hunter once confided to me, by which he meant that elk lived on the mountain and you stood a better chance by backpacking in and making your bed at the elevation where they made theirs. It was this advice that had brought me to a basin in Montana’s Spanish Peaks years ago on a moose hunt.
Camp was a parka, a tarp, and a Raymond Chandler novel, and it was just before dawn on the fourth morning of my hunt, while holding a match to the pages I’d read the night before, that I caught the scent of a moose sinking down the mountain.
A man’s nose never lies. That was another of the old hunter’s sayings, and I worked mine into the wind as I zigzagged up the slope. I came onto the track a little after dawn and lived about as in the moment as modern man can for the next two hours. He was bulking black and solid in a picket of pine trees below me. Compared with a bull I’d shoot years later, he was nothing. But whereas that one meant antlers, this one meant meat, and so the memory of him resonates in a deeper part of the mind. I willed my hands to stop shaking, and doubt that he heard the shot that killed him.—Keith McCafferty
DON’T BE AFRAID TO…
No one hopes for this to happen, but should it happen to you, embrace it and learn something about yourself
Fall Through the Ice
You’ll never forget that first taste of air
It happened while I was trapping beaver through the ice on a January morning in northern Michigan. At that time of year, catching beavers comes down to one’s ability to find their runs or trails. And since the frequent passage of beavers can prevent the solid formation of ice above these runs, one might say that catching them often comes down to one’s ability to find thin ice. I usually preferred to do this by prodding ahead of myself with an ax—you can train yourself to recognize the sound of a run—but on this morning I found one with my boots.
There was no warning, no cracking or sagging. I went through about as quickly and quietly as if I had stretched out a piece of wet newsprint and shot an arrow through it. The initial moment was like the second that passes between psyching yourself up to jump into a cold mountain lake and hitting the water. Except this was accompanied by an involuntary sensation of falling rather than a premeditated impulse of jumping, which means it was about 3,000 times worse.
The brief chaos of falling passed with the realization that I was completely underwater. Instead of dreading the worst-case scenario, which is a big part of doing anything on the ice, I was now living it. I don’t remember if I kicked off the bottom or simply swam up, but suddenly I was standing back on the ice and staring at the hole as if it were something that happened to me a long time ago. I would soon be overcome by a profound physical coldness that would last for a couple of hours while I sat naked in my sleeping bag with the truck’s heater blasting. But for a few moments I reveled in a feeling that becomes increasingly more precious to me every year: that of being alive, and breathing, in the American outdoors. —Steven Rinella
Spend an Unexpected Night in the Wild
Roughing it for a night will toughen you for when things get really bad
It was supposed to be a day hunt—one where nothing dies but the light and what you drag back to camp to toast the stars with schnapps and hot chocolate. And that’s how this hunt was shaping up, until an elk ruined things by making tracks I could follow and standing still at the end of them. I knew before the shot had echoed away that I would be spending the night with the kill, for the hour was late.
I was smart enough to gather a supply of wood before drawing my knife, but I wasn’t smart enough to gather enough wood. When the fire died I retrieved the space blanket I’d used as a drop cloth while butchering the carcass and wrapped myself up in it—frozen blood, bits of guts, and all.
I can’t recommend wearing an offal overcoat in grizzly bear country while hunkering over a bed of coals, but I can say that enduring an unexpected night in the wilderness gives you the confidence that you can do it again, and that addition of character could stem panic and save your life on a more serious occasion. It’s just a matter of misery and darkness of the soul.
What hunter wouldn’t trade those for an elk? —K.M.
AT LEAST ONCE…
These are the acts other hunters did before you—did for you. It’s your time to return the favor for the hunters after you
Pass on a Shot
You don’t need to pull the trigger to have a great hunt
A number of years ago I was hunting elk in Colorado when I got the drop on a young bull that had just finished chivvying his little herd of cows away from another approaching hunter. The critter was standing there, flanks heaving, and I could not pull the trigger because I knew what he was thinking: Damn, was that close. I’ve got to be more careful. To shoot him at the moment he thought he was safe would have been intolerable. The guide I was with, a former game warden named Joe Gerens, understood because Joe was my age and knew something about the fragility of life, having barely survived a car wreck.
One of the things that hunting develops in you is a sense of how precarious life is, and how hard everything wild fights to keep it. When you put the sights on a creature and squeeze the trigger, you are saying: You will never see another morning. You will never eat again or drink again or appreciate the sun’s warmth again. Take a last look around you, for this is your last instant on earth.
I still hunt and I still shoot, but I think about that elk and Joe Gerens a lot. Joe did not live to see another hunting season. Cancer, not an automobile, killed him a few months later. I’m glad I didn’t pull the trigger that morning. —D.E.P.
Teach a Child to Gut a Deer
He’s already shaken by the dead animal. So be delicate with the next job
The fun part is over. The drudgery begins. Let’s get this over with and get back to the house. Having that kind of attitude is exactly how not to teach a child to gut a deer.
Doing it right starts with letting the child see you embrace the task. For everything there is a season, and gutting an animal is as much a part of hunting as scouting an oak flat, watching the sun rise, or pulling the trigger. Approach the job with energy if not downright enthusiasm. That way they’ll know: Gutting a deer isn’t the booby prize. It’s a sacrament. A hunter unwilling to bloody his hands is a shooter and little more.
And when it’s their time, take your time. Talk it through. Take over if you need to, but gently. Judge not. Calmly explain how all living creatures share the same basic architecture: heart, lungs, liver, stomach. At each cut and tug, describe how every step is designed to turn this majestic animal into food for the family.
And don’t push it. The first time I shot a deer with my daughter, she insisted on helping me drag it out of the woods with her hands on the horns. She knelt beside the animal and stroked its fur in the glare of the truck’s headlights. When I unsheathed my knife, she sat in the truck and watched from the front seat. And that was just fine. For everything there is a season. —T.E.N.