By Ben OBrien
Hunting is a lifestyle.
A coworker living in the vicinity of HUNTING's home office here in the Midwest once remarked he'd rather live his days as a shiftless, dirty hobo with cardboard box residency in Alaska than spend one minute as a well-to-do suburbanite in the restrictive nanny state of Illinois.
Another editor had a better idea. "I've always dreamed of marrying a native girl from Alaska, strictly for the hunting," he said. "We'd stay together as long as it took me to get my residency and check off every hunt on my bucket list."
You can imagine where the conversation went from there. What would seriously throw grown men toward such desperate extremes? The chance to live in the best state a hunter could ask for, that's what. (Also, the chance to leave a state where finding quality public hunting ground is next to impossible.)
To qualify for your hunting license in Alaska, you must maintain a domicile in the state for 12 months immediately preceding your application. But once you've achieved said residency, your hunting dreams await. Resident brown bear/grizzly tags are $25 - think about that, seriously - and that's only the beginning. There's over a dozen big game species available to hunt in what we lovingly refer to as "The Last Frontier."
This just goes to show you the absolutely life-altering effect the state you call home can have on the quality of your hunting. So to help you consider your best options, we've compiled the 10 best states for meat eaters. Of course, we're only talking wild game meat here, no steroid-contaminated store-bought crap.
Those of us that eat wild game know that there's nothing quite as satisfying as carving out a fresh backstrap. What better way to ensure your family will be fed than to set up shop in the most carnivorous state this great nation has to offer? I'm sure you've made important life decisions for more trivial reasons.
Factors considered by our editorial team include the following: variety of game, favorable regulations/laws, and unique meat eating opportunities. We also included style points for states that just know how to treat a hunter right.
We automatically excluded states like Virginia (PETA is headquartered in Norfolk), California (full of veggie eaters) and New York (we love everything outside of New York City, but can't quite overlook it).
No. 1: Alaska
What can we say about Alaska that hasn't already been said? We're willing to do almost anything for a chance to hunt "The Last Frontier" without the big-time nonresident price tag. Seriously, not to sound desperate, but we'll do anything.
There's around 365 million hardcore, wild acres — an area one-fifth the size of the entire United States — and over 12 big game species to take home if you can handle it. Game options include muskox, brown bear, mountain goat, caribou, moose, elk, deer and grizzlies. A bucket list of big game dreams for most of us.
Why They Really Made the List: We're trying to convince ourselves that moving to Alaska, taking on a native wife and living out our days as dirty, grizzly, Jeremiah Johnson wannabes is OK. But our loved ones keep insisting this is a bad idea. Whatever, we're meat eaters and this is the place to be.
No. 9: Arkansas
Hunting — especially duck hunting — has a long history in Arkansas. Some famous hunters have smacked birds on the waters of Stuttgart Hunting Club. The list includes presidents, senators, Supreme Court justices and countless celebrities — all coming to experience the millions of ducks that migrate to the state's Eastern corridor.
The narrow neck of the funnel-shaped Mississippi flyway has produced a lot of ducks over the years, and a lot of culture to go along with it. Add to that the 12 or more deer hunters can legally take home each year, and a freezer full of game meat is almost a given in Razorback country.
Why They Really Made the List: Southern hospitality marks this state's inclusion on this list. The four states — Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana — that border each other in this southern corridor could be a kickass meat-eating country all its own. Arkansas would be the ugly cousin of this new land, but still a damn fine choice for meat eaters everywhere. An affordable, traditional state that just does it the right way. We've heard the most argument about The Natural State's inclusion in our Top 10 but, heck, we needed an underdog story.
No. 2: Texas
Don't mess with No. 2 on our list. Texas is quite simply the best place for people who love meat. Though not quite the best for meat-eating hunters — close, but not quite. While beef is king for Lone Star carnivores, some of the nation's tastiest and most adventurous hunting is available in Texas.
Hogs, for one thing, run rampant and can be killed in mass — at night, from helicopter, it really doesn't matter. Nilgai, a delicious exotic antelope that just hates cold weather, hang near the southern border in staggering numbers like co-eds on a never-ending spring break. Whitetails are everywhere and there are plenty of turkeys, ducks and upland birds to go around. Don't forget a free-range hunt for the most delicious big game animal in the world: the gemsbok. Nilgai is absolutely one of the most amazing game meats on the planet, but a chance to taste a gemsbok meatball sandwich without having to hop a plane to Africa is worth all the money in the world.
Why They Really Made the List: In a land where barbecue is a religion — and portions range from "will fill you up" to "keep eating, don't be a pussy" — meat lovers will always have a home. And that home will provide them with bacon-wrapped dove breast in the summer, sizzling medium-rare nilgai medallions in the fall, and mouth-watering little balls of gemsbok meat whenever they please. God bless Texas.
No. 3: Oklahoma
Here's an anomaly we didn't plan for: Oklahoma is sandwiched between four other states on this Top 10 list. So should you decide to live here, your neighbors will certainly be nice. Oklahoma boasts great populations of deer, wild turkeys, quail, elk, antelope, bear, pheasant, ducks and geese with more than 1.7 million acres of public land. The state has a surprisingly healthy deer population of around 500,000, and you can hunt three subspecies of wild turkeys within its borders (Rio, Eastern and Merriam's).
It's a state that mixes a little down home Midwest charm with the bronco-riding panache of their Texas brethren. Plus, Sooners are just generally good people — they say one in three residents hunts game of some kind.
Why They Really Made the List: Oklahoma isn't great at anything, but they're damn good at most things hunting related. It might just be the most affordable, most accessible state around that doesn't really have all that good of a reputation. Sneaky as it is, Oklahoma is the only state to have an official meal. Check out this lineup: fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecued pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas and pecan pie. And we're sure they wouldn't mind some wild game substitutions. Mmmmmmmmmmm.
No. 4: Wyoming
If you've ever hunted in the Cowboy State, you know this is a place where all real hunters want to retire. Unlike Alaska's far-off wilderness infrastructure, Wyoming gives you all the comforts of the modern day world while scratching your "get the hell away from civilization" itch. Seriously, just over half a million people live in the entire state — 8.3 million people currently inhabit New York City. If you've ever hunted in Wyoming, you've surely seen the abundance of pronghorn and the lack of, well, other humans.
Usually, healthy populations mean hunter success. Such is the case in Wyoming: Out of the nearly 70,000 antelope licenses sold in 2012, 93 percent were successful. The state still boasts fantastic elk hunting, though wolves have started to erode that once unsullied reputation. Mule deer populations are way down, but still holding strong, while whitetails are flourishing. Wyoming also has two flyways, the Central and Pacific, in which waterfowl hunting can be downright awesome.
Why They Really Made the List: Wyoming just has that get-on-your-horse-and-ride mentality. Open spaces and plenty of the West's tastiest big game await hunters who set up shop here. Wyoming loves its hunters, and there's plenty of room for all these adventurous occupants. We didn't fact-check this at all, but it's safe to say zero PETA members live in Wyoming, and even if one did crop up, you'd never hear membership claimed in public. Hunting is a part of the lifestyle, so you know meat eaters will fit in just fine.
No. 6: South Dakota
Ah, the pheasant capital of the world. A state so into this particular game bird that local motels offer specials to attract hunters. One of our editors once noticed the sign at the Super 8 in Aberdeen reads: 'Hunting Package€¦Free Bird Cleaning. ' You had us at 'free bird cleaning. ' Only twice in the past 20 years has South Dakota's annual pheasant harvest been under 1 million roosters — an amazing number.
But beyond this delicious bird, there's a ton of hidden spots for big whitetails, turkeys, antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain lion and even mountain goat, all in some of the best country hunting has to offer.
Why They Really Made the List: If you've ever had deep fried pheasant nuggets you'd understand our choice here — or if you'd tried creamed pheasant over rice after a long hunt. Not to mention deer and antelope populations in most areas of the state exceed population goals. Which means you're almost guaranteed some venison for dessert — and they'll probably want to stuff it with pheasant too.
No. 8: Louisiana
Let's face it, Louisiana gets huge style points just for being Louisiana. The culture is so downright awesomely redneck that it's hard to ignore. Field dress a gator in your front yard? Well hell yes, I'll bring the beer. These swamp-loving folks can serve up some good grub too. We'll take any of the following with a side of gator meat: gumbo, etouffee, jambalaya, Mufellettas, po boys, or red beans and rice.
Beyond their cultural and culinary excellence is a pretty long hunting year with a wealth of options. You can kill six deer per season, and chase tough Eastern turkeys through the swamps in the spring. Resident alligator hunting licenses cost $25 and there is no cost for alligator tags.The state's lottery alligator harvest program also provides the opportunity for over 300 resident alligator hunters to harvest approximately 800 alligators on almost 40 WMAs/public lakes.
You can't mention Louisiana without covering the waterfowl rich coastal marshes collectively known as "America's Wetlands." There are estimates that over 9 million ducks either reside in or migrate to these areas each year. You can bust gadwalls, blue-winged teal and pintails, among others.
Why They Really Made the List: What Louisiana lacks in big game opportunities, it makes up for with gators, ducks, and yes, its defiantly southern culture. The fact that they still have open season on running dogs for deer shows you just how defiant. Imagine that practice going on in New York — not a chance. Grilled gator tail and boiled crawfish over rice and beans sounds like one of the more perfect things on any wild game menu. Just watch out for anyone who wants to discuss the virtues of your "purty lips."
No. 10: Kansas
A staple of the Midwest — a region that contributes 46.1 percent of the total venison donation nationwide — Kansas makes our list for a few reasons. First, it's got a diverse habitat holding a surprising number of game animals, including a herd of free-ranging wild elk on the 100,000-acre Fort Riley Military Reservation. Permits for these hunts are issued through a drawing, and divided between military personnel stationed on the fort and Kansas general residents.
In fact, all elk hunting in the state is open to residents only. With a limited number of elk, the state holds its tasty, tasty elk population close to the vest. Giant whitetails can be had in almost any part of the state, as well as antelope in the western units.
Besides big game, you can hunt both Eastern and Rio Grande turkeys — with a mix of hybrids — across the Sunflower State, and experience some of the best upland bird populations anywhere. In fact, the largest concentrations of both lesser and greater prairie chickens are found in Kansas. The duck populations are also burgeoning statewide, as some experts believe the Mississippi flyway is shifting west.
Why They Really Made the List: What landed Kansas in the Top 10 was its massive whitetail reputation, sneaky elk population, exploding duck populations and a season for one of the tastiest birds one the planet: the sandhill crane. If you've ever enjoyed the 'ribeye of the sky, ' you'd consider moving to the Midwest just for this great pleasure. We're picturing bacon-wrapped duck breast appetizers with sandhill crane kabobs for the main course.
No. 5: Pennsylvania
When your state allows children out of school for the opening day of deer season, you get extra credit. The Keystone State usually hosts more than 750,000 hunters on opening day of its deer firearm season, and that's probably a low estimate. It's a holiday, plain and simple. No fancy book learning needed.
Hunters harvest nearly 336,000 deer a year, and the state has 4 million acres of public land. Both statistics are far and away the best of any state on the East Coast. In fact, few states kill more deer than Pennsylvania. Beyond that, there's a burgeoning black bear population, a ton of turkeys and even a population of elk open to residents.
Why They Really Made the List: Venison is America's game meat, and this state has a lot of it. One of our editors used to work at a Pennsylvania butcher shop processing deer during the first week of firearm season. "You wouldn't believe the amount of people and deer running around the woods on opening day," he said. "We probably processed 500 deer a day for five days with a crew of 10 people. If these people aren't worthy of being the best meat eaters, I don't know who would be."
No. 7: Idaho
Idaho caught our attention for having a relatively low price on a lifetime hunting license — $386.75 for an adult under 50. With that lifetime, you can hunt a litany of game in some of the toughest, most breathtaking country imaginable. This includes elk, mule deer, whitetail, antelope, mountain lion, black bear, moose, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, various grouse species, sandhill crane, bobwhite quail, pheasant and all three species of wild turkey (90 percent Merriam's). Whew, that's a lot, but I'm sure we missed a few.
We also found Idaho's Super Hunt program to be pretty badass. From Idaho Fish & Game: 'Super Hunt and Super Hunt Combo tags allow hunters to participate in any open hunt in the state for deer, elk, pronghorn and/or moose. To win a tag hunters need to purchase entries for the Super Hunt drawings. Super Hunt tags allow winners to pursue a deer, elk, pronghorn or moose in any open hunt. This includes general hunts and controlled hunts. The Super Hunt Combo winner is able to hunt all four species — deer, elk, pronghorn and moose in any open hunt. '
Why They Really Made the List: The fact that one successful Super Hunt can have your family eating backstraps for months certainly helped Idaho's ranking, but what really landed the Gem State on the list was its dedication to hunters. Low prices and long seasons give residents the leg up, while conservation programs take care of the diverse game populations. Bottom line, Idaho will ensure you always have game to pursue; you just have to fill the freezer. Oh, and you'll also have to develop a deep love of potatoes — just a guess.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.