June 04, 2014
Summer sucks, or at least that's what it feels like for serious hunters. Memories of last fall start to fade and you can only spend so much time punching paper on the range. Even time spent poring over maps planning this autumn's adventures gets monotonous.
Sometimes a guy just needs to get out there and kill something, or at least try to keep that atavistic nature in tune.
Lucky for you, we've found a few places across the U.S. where openers come early or seasons never end at all. Most of these aren't pushover hunts for baited exotics either, but real tests of woodsmanship where the outcome is far from certain.
From mountain hiking for horned animals to moonlight missions stalking hogs, this is high adventure. We've also got tests of long-range accuracy that can leave even the most deliberate of shooters with an empty brick of ammo and a burning barrel.
The hottest months of the year don't have to be an excuse to let your skills cool down. Instead, pick a region, pack your guns and gear, and go hunting. These are our picks for the best places to hunt this summer.
Maui Axis Deer
Sure, a sunny vacation on Maui sounds better in frosty February, but a summer hunt takes advantage off-season prices. That's also when a majority of the island's axis deer have shed their velvet, giving hunters better odds of bagging a hard-horned trophy. Truthfully, the odds are always pretty good as the population of axis deer has exploded in recent years. Book a hunt with Pat Fisher of Hawaii Safaris (hawaiisafaris.com), who knows Maui's upcountry better than anybody, and ask to add a hog onto your license for another island adventure.
New Mexico Prairie Dogs
We never thought we'd say Wyoming is getting too popular, but good luck booking a prairie dog hunt on a ranch there in June. Instead, this summer, we're looking south to the Land of Enchantment. Dry conditions there have put a hurt on New Mexico rangelands, so ranchers are even more eager to have hunters help save their grass. Slather on the sunscreen and spend a day or two scouting the thousands upon thousands of acres of BLM and Federal land open to hunting. Note the state does require a $65 non-game license for non-residents.
To beat the heat in south Texas, hogs go nocturnal during the summer months, so hunters have to do the same if they want to bring home the bacon. That means stalking pigs with nightvision and thermal-imaging equipment, sitting over green LED-lit feeders or bayed up with dogs. All three have their merits, but we prefer the first for a pulse-pounding adult version of hog hide-and-seek. There is a bit of investment required, though online companies offer nightvision rentals for a small fee.
Maryland Whistle Pigs
Want to make friends with a farmer in western Maryland? Offer to eradicate the woodchucks on his property with a few, or many, well-placed rifle rounds. Young-of-the-year ground hogs are just coming out of the dens in July, leading to lots of shooting opportunities. Find a fresh-cut hay field after a summer shower, and set-up on some high-ground with an AR or small-caliber bolt-action for an afternoon of accuracy-inducing fun. Or go Natty Bumpo on a spot-and-stalk excursion along a woods line with a bow or open-sighted rimfire rifle.
Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation
Illinois River Asian Carp
The most fun hunt you can have in the summer is actually a fishing trip on the Illinois River, where Asian silver carp up to 40 pounds leap from the water like tarpon. These aerial acrobats offer nearly unlimited target opportunities for archers who know where to find the fish and how to get them to jump. Start at Peoria and run upriver to Peru. As the driver guns the outboard (and outboards work best, as do aluminum boats), the designated shooter should be ready to fling arrows as fast as he can.
Florida's public water alligator season runs through the fall and requires drawing a coveted limited-entry tag, but private waters are open all year long. Many outfitters 'hunt ' gators with a weighted treble hook or with hanging baits, finishing the reptiles boatside with a bangstick. Those making for a fun fishing trip, but we suggest doing your research and finding one that offers the more challenging spot-and-stalk hunt. Here you'll creep along canals and slip through swamps, hoping to catch a gator sunning on the bank.
Season: None (Private Waters)
In the spirit of Missouri's motto, show me a longer squirrel season than their nine-month war on the furry rodents. It doesn't exist, though Kansas comes close with a June 1 opener. In either state, you'll find fun, and challenging, summer shooting anywhere there are stands of mulberry trees. Squirrels gorge themselves on the fruit, but thick foliage makes spotting them next to impossible. Best to lie down on your back with a good set of optics and scan for a skylighted squirrel. Then ease your scoped .22 into position and pop off a quick shot before it disappears.
Season: May 24 — Feb. 15, 2015
Arizona Antelope Jackrabbits
Not to be mistaken for the mythical jackalope, antelope jackrabbits are the largest huntable hare in the U.S. Weighing up to 10 pounds and found only in the Sonoran Desert, the giant jacks can take a bullet, so choose your weapons wisely. Step up to a .22 Mag or speedy .17 Super Magnum for picking them off with a rifle, or, for fun on the run, swing a 12 gauge loaded with 6s or 7 1/2s. It's going to be hot. Pack plenty of water and plan on hunting early in the morning before soaring temperatures cause the rabbits to hole up.
Pennsylvania Crow Hunting
Late summer provides one of the best times to decoy young crows that haven't figured out the hunting game yet. Unlike fall's large flocks, small groups are the norm now, so map out a milk run of different sets on Pennsylvania's state game lands or scattered farmlands and spend no more than 30 minutes at each. You probably won't shoot a pile of birds, but it's a good wingshooting warm-up. Despite a reputation for toughness, crows come down fairly easily, so opt for lighter 1-ounce loads in the 7.5- to 8-shot range.
Season: July 5 — April 6, Friday — Sunday only
California Archery Deer
The earliest deer season in the U.S. goes to California, where the second Saturday in July traditionally marks the opener for archery hunters holding a Zone A tag. Though it's broken up into a north and south unit, Zone A is huge, taking up all of Cali's Central Coast. That's a lot of territory for blacktails to be found in, but that also means plenty of public land. Look at Mendocino and Los Padres National Forests, Jackson State Forest and Cache Creek Wilderness.
Season: July 14 — August 3
Limit: One Buck