Traveling to hunt is something I feel everyone should do at least once; it represents an adventure that can quickly make a hunter feel years, if not decades, younger. An unseen valley, an exotic species, perhaps the need for a different rifle or cartridge, it all adds a flair to the sport we love so much. I’ve been blessed to have been able to hunt on four different continents and a bunch of different countries, but that has also been my goal. It wasn’t always that way; when I was growing up hunting was something we did out behind the house, and anything else seemed like the wildest of adventures. I was raised in the Hudson Valley of New York, in close proximity to the Hudson River, in an area dominated by fruit farms and patches of woods. The Catskill Mountains – about an hour away from home – represented a completely different experience, and when I was finally old enough to accompany my Dad, providing I was invited, it was like hunting a different continent. The air, the trees, even the soil was different, and the rugged terrain and desolate setting were intoxicating to me. It still is, though for slightly different reasons these days. Now, depending on where you call home, the destinations I’m about to list may or may not seem like an exotic place to hunt, but here are ten places that I’ve either fallen in love with or plan to in the near future.
1. South Africa
The southernmost country on the African continent has some excellent hunting, in a variety of conditions so wide that it probably shouldn’t be lumped together as one. Forty years ago or so, the Afrikaners realized that the natural game species would thrive much better than the domesticated species, and many of the cattle and sheep farms were turned into game ranches. I hunted South Africa first among the African nations, and it’s a magical place. Loaded with all the plains game species anyone would want on their first safari, South Africa will make memories for any hunter who has the desire to leave his or her footprints upon African soil. Some refer to it as ‘tame’ but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. Yes, there are many fenced areas – but huge tracts of land, mind you – but South Africa has it all, including the Big Five. It’s home to the thick bush of the Limpopo region, the wide open desert known as the Kalahari, and the Karoo region, which looks quite like the classic Kenyan safari areas we’ve all read about. Kruger National Park, on the eastern border of the country, offers a great post-hunt diversion, allowing for game viewing that will rival any place I’ve seen on the continent. I’ve hunted South Africa on three separate occasions and had a great time. I’m certain that I will hunt there again.
2. A Dangerous Game Block in Africa
As wonderful as South Africa is, it is a gateway drug. The normal progression for any African hunter is to cut your teeth on plains game, and move up to Cape buffalo, possibly culminating in one of the big cats or an elephant. Buffalo are my absolute favorite animals on earth to hunt, and to hunt them properly you need time and a whole lot of room, elephants even more so. The dangerous game blocks in Africa are truly the remnants of wild Africa, and my favorite places on earth. Danger can literally lie around every corner, in the form of a poisonous snake, bull elephant or a camouflaged leopard. Even hunting plains game in these areas is a bit of a different endeavor. There is no light pollution, and the stars are absolutely stunning in these huge blocks of undisturbed land. The sounds at night are a symphony to the hunter; the lion’s roar, the insane cackle of the hyena, the screams of the monkeys, all will make for an absolutely unforgettable experience. It will require a large-caliber rifle, one you can bet your life on, as you’ll need it in these blocks like few other places on earth. Special shots and a malarial prophylaxis will be required, as you’re truly in a wild place, where disease is a reality. These remote blocks usually require a charter flight, which just adds to the adventure. I’ve hunted dangerous game in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and while the country was different in each area, it’s all been magical stuff.
3. The Great Plains
The American west is a very special place to hunt; the sheer vastness of the country is beautiful in and of itself. Add in the wildlife and you’ve got a very special experience in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. When I think of the Great Plains, I think about mule deer, bison and the pronghorn antelope. I’ve had the privilege of hunting bison in South Dakota, but my favorite hunting there is the pronghorn. They’re fast, they’re wary, and they’re hunted at a gorgeous time of year when the weather is mild and the leaves are changing. The smell of sage, and more than a few cactus thorns in your knees and derrière will make for some good memories, and if you’re successful, you’ll long to head back to hunt pronghorn under those impossibly wide open blue skies.
I have to admit that I have yet to make the journey to the 49th state, but it’s high on my bucket list. I have many friends who either reside there or have hunted it often, and I stare at their hunting pictures longingly, as Alaska is, quite possibly, one of the most rugged places on the North American continent. Snow white Dall’s sheep on a mountainside, moose in the willow thickets, and caribou on the tundra would all be wonderful hunts, but my mind’s eye turns to the huge coastal brown bears and the opportunity to pit my shooting skills against their bulk. Standing in excess of ten feet tall, they require a steady hand and a heavy bullet, especially if they’re in the thick vegetation of the river systems that hold the fish they dine upon. It’s not a place for the faint of heart, and that’s what makes it so alluring.
To be completely honest, hunting in Scotland was something I’d never given a whole lot of thought, that is, until I received an invite to take part in a traditional Highland stalk for red stag. The traditions that run with the area, with regard to the role of the stalker (your guide) and the gamekeeper of the estate, are deep-rooted, and to take part in that ceremonial function is an honor. Hunting is conducted with strict rules, with the game herd and the grounds kept foremost in mind, but you’ll quickly find that when on one of those gorgeous hilltops, with the traditional garron ponies that transport the deer once taken, that Scotland gets into your blood. It’s steep, it’s wet, and loaded with midgies (the Scottish version of our black fly), but it’s intoxicating, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Coming off those steep hills, crossing a stream filled with salmon, to arrive back at a lodge replete with a warm fireplace and a dram of whisky to ward off the chill, to exchange hunting stories with the other hunters is a wonderful experience, similar to our own American deer camp, but with more than a bit more pomp and circumstance. It was a hunt I truly enjoyed, and not just for the stag I took.
6. Australian water buffalo
If you’re living in America, a trip to Australia is more of a pilgrimage than a plane flight. Crossing the Pacific Ocean, and the International dateline, will require a minimum of 13 to 14 hours, should you live on the West Coast, and closer to 21 or 22 if you’re in the Northeast like me. Couple that with a four-hour flight to Darwin, where the big herds of Asiatic water buffalo live, and you’ll feel like you lost half a year in the journey. But, it’s all worth it once you see those great herds of huge bovine, and the vast country they inhabit (my outfitter’s concession was 2.5 million acres). Arnhemland, situate on Aboriginal lands, is a beautiful yet harsh place; it gets very hot, there are all sorts of lovely poisonous reptiles, and it’s all great. Kangaroos and wallabies, crocodiles and dingoes, and the Aboriginal peoples themselves all add to the mix, as do the wild horses (brumbies) and donkeys that occupy the bush. While receiving constant comparisons to the African Cape buffalo, the Asiatic water buffalo are a unique experience, requiring a big rifle; they are most definitely bigger than a Cape buffalo, if not as mean. The hunting is excellent, and the scenery is breathtaking.
There’s something special about hunting in Texas, whether it’s rattling in a big whitetail buck in the mesquite, or pursuing feral hogs on the huge ranches that make up a large portion of the state. Texas was my first real exposure to warm-weather hunting; here in the Northeast, if you can feel your fingers and toes, you’re probably not doing it right. But, I got used to Texas weather quickly, and the older I get the more I prefer it. Not all of it is hot – I’ve actually seen snow while hunting there – but it is certainly milder than any of the northern states. While the whitetail is the most prominent big game animal, Texas is dotted with ranches that offer exotic game species from around the world. I took a handsome blackbuck ram in Texas; the species originates in India where it is impossible to hunt them. Texas has wonderful fishing as well, so there is truly something for everyone. Texas, I’ll be back soon.
8. A Bull Moose, anywhere
I think moose are one of the coolest of the deer species, and while I’ve hunted them twice before, I’ve yet to pull the trigger on a bull. They inhabit the northern United States and southern Canada, running coast to coast, and offering some excellent hunting opportunities. Newfoundland, on the east end, has a healthy moose population, while Alaska and Canada’s Yukon offer the biggest specimens on the continent, with antlers approaching and exceeding 70 inches in width. Hunting moose is a sport for the physically fit, in both the pursuit of a bull and in the packing out of the meat and antlers. But, it takes the hunter to the rugged and wild places, truly testing the mettle of those who sign on. We have a small – and currently not huntable – moose population in the Adirondack Mountains of New York; once you see their tracks or if you’re lucky enough to get a glimpse of a bull, I think you’ll be inspired.
9. Driven boar in Europe
I’ll admit that I have issues with pigs, on any continent. I simply love hunting them, as pigs can be tough, reasonably dangerous, and plentiful. Feral hogs in the States, warthogs in Africa, doesn’t matter, and I think that a traditional European driven boar hunt is a spectacular endeavor. The traditions surrounding boar hunting run as deep as those with the red stag, and I’m alright with that; after all as a hunter, I cherish gathering all the experiences I can. With a tough gristle plate and an attitude to match, the European boar has been a trophy for centuries, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon. The large hunting parties, the schweinhunds, the winding of the horn; all add up to an experience that I personally long to have.
10. Elk in the Rocky Mountains
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to hunt elk, you already understand. If you haven’t, it’s something well worth doing. I haven’t had the opportunity yet, and I emphasize the word yet. But, having spent a bit of time among them – mostly in national parks – I look forward to the chance to grab a good rifle and head out among the quakies. The bugle of a mature bull elk is up there with the gobble of a turkey or the roar of a lion; though it can be recorded, there is a depth and breadth to the sound that can’t quite be replicated. To me, elk represent a huge part of the spirit of the Rocky Mountains, and while not as big as his cousin the moose, a mature bull is a very impressive animal. The antlers can grow to almost unbelievable dimensions, making the elk a highly sought-after trophy. I’m not getting any younger, so perhaps I’d better look into booking a good elk hunt before too long.
Comment below with your dream hunting destination.