National Wildlife Refuge System

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Hunting Game, Big and Small

Some of the best big game hunting can be found in the Southwest. While these hunts are often associated with hefty price tags, the National Wildlife Refuge System offers a chance for any hunter to participate. Some of the best desert bighorn hunting in the country is found on national wildlife refuges, available to hunters by lottery.

Several southwestern refuges offer the chance to take even more exotic game. The oryx, an antelope native to the Kalahari Desert of Africa, may be hunted at Bosque del Apache NWR and San Andres NWR in New Mexico. The nilgai, an Indian antelope that can reach 800 pounds, is now more common in Texas than it is in its native land, where it cannot be hunted. Nilgai seasons are held at Laguna Atacosa NWR and Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR. Hunting keeps these species from damaging native habitat.

Some of the finest black bear and moose hunting is in the Northeast. The introduced sika elk that damages native vegetation offers a truly unique hunt at Chincoteague NWR in Virginia and Blackwater NWR in Maryland. Hunters can help control the population of these exotics while enjoying one of the few places in the world where this species may be hunted. St. Vincent NWR in Florida is the only place on the continent where hunters can pursue the sambar, an introduced deer species from Asia.

Two of the most famous and successful elk hunts are held on Rocky Mountain refuges – Charles M. Russell NWR in Montana and National Elk Refuge in Wyoming. Additionally, Nevada refuges offer trophy hunting opportunities for several species, including desert bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope in the state’s remote, high-desert country. Pronghorn can also be hunted in northeastern California, where healthy herds still roam the sagebrush-covered hills.

Hunters may be surprised at some of the opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. This region has some intriguing trophy hunting opportunities, including hunts for Roosevelt elk, desert and California bighorn and pronghorn. The high desert sagebrush expanses of Idaho, eastern Washington and Oregon are some of the least inhabited places in the country, and some of the hunts there are true wilderness experiences.

Small Game
If you are a small game hunter, head to the Southeast or the Midwest. Unlike many regions of the country, hunting for species like squirrel, rabbit and raccoon remains very popular here. Many refuges are open to hunting these species, and usually these hunts are open access.

For raccoon hunters, the river corridors protected by refuges offer great places to run hounds without fear of crossing private property. Wheeler (AL) and Wapanocca (AR) NWRs are two refuges that allow raccoons to be pursued at night with hounds. Raccoon hunters are the only ones allowed to use horses on Wapanocca Refuge.

In mid-September, squirrel hunters gather at Crab Orchard NWR in Southern Illinois for ‘squirrel camp’, a tradition that dates back to the late 1800’s when hunters convene to pursue squirrel. Another refuge known for squirrel hunting is Dahomey NWR in Mississippi. The refuge has the largest tree stand in the Mississippi Delta, prime habitat for squirrels

Squirrel hunting is also a great way for young people to become involved in the sport of hunting. A number of refuges offer youth squirrel hunts, including Dahomey and Noxubee NWR, also in Mississippi.

Due to the popularity of hunting in Southeast, refuge hunts are managed for a quality experience. Some regulations differ from state rules. Baiting, for instance, is not permitted, and ATVs are prohibited on many refuges. This book offers an overview of opportunities but is not a comprehensive list of regulations. Please check with refuge Web sites and hunting brochures for the most current regulations.


Last updated: November 21, 2012