There are as many ways to tackle a Western big-game excursion as there are states. I’ve narrowed my road trip down to focus on the states with easy to get tags, a relatively good chance of success, and an abundance of public land. If you are adventurous enough, try all three of the big-game states on one massive road trip—gas up and go for it.
But if you don’t have that much vacation to burn, pick one state per year and enjoy. Each is a trip you won’t regret or forget.
- Since 1996, when Washington voters put a stop to baiting and hound hunting for bears through an ill-informed ballot initiative, the number of black bears in the state has skyrocketed to around 30,000. Now hunters can buy two tags over the counter…no hassle or draw required. The bear season opens in most units August 1st—perfect weather to hit either the Cascade or Olympic Mountains. This moss-covered, rain-drenched part of the world is relatively dry during this time of the year, so it is an ideal time to hike into the high country of the Olympic National Forest’s 600,000 acres or the 1,700,000 acres of Mount Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest. Key on huckleberries—as the patches ripen, the bears will come. Spend morning till evening glassing. When spotted, get downwind and move quick—feeding bears can cover deceptively long distances. While the focus of this trip is for early- season bears, if you want to wait until September, Washington offers possibly the best all-around big-game combo tag anywhere in the United States—it is good for: one deer (blacktails, whitetails, or mule deer), one elk (Rocky Mountain or Roosevelt), one bear, and one cougar. As if you needed an added bonus, all of these species can be had in the same tract of public land and, if you plan it right, hunted at the same time. One of my favorite memories from September in the Cascade Mountains was arrowing a blueberry-gorging blackie. After gutting the bear, I washed my hands in a nearby creek. While bent over, I heard a twig snap. I looked up and saw an entire herd of elk walking down to get a drink. A quietly drawn arrow yielded a cow. I had all the meat I could pack. It was a good day to say the least. Deer+Elk+Bear+Cougar: $860 Bear only: $318 | 2nd tag: $222