Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Northwest

In the northwestern United States, there are ample hunting opportunities and amazing landscapes. Bison, deer, bear, are all game species here. But the Northeast is also home to some really special game that should be on every hunter’s bucket list. In this rugged terrain of mountains, snow, and huge expanses of the wilderness there is opportunity galore for adventure.

Five of the Top Game to Hunt in the Northwest

Mountain Goat

These are members of the Bovidae family, they are closely related to gazelles, cattle, and antelopes – not goats. Both sexes have beards on their chins and horns. Mountain goats do not shed their horns. These black horns stand out in stark contrast to their white bodies. After about two years of age, you can count the rings on a goat to tell his age, much like counting tree rings. Both billies and nannies have horns though the billies horns grow with a greater curve. Older males coat will be more of an aged ivory or light khaki and will have a pronounced hump on their shoulders. Mountain goats will grow up to 180 lbs with the nannies being slightly smaller than the billies.

Mountain goats can be hunted in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Texas, and South Dakota.  Many states have relatively good odds for drawing a hunting expedition – especially when compared to species such as the Bighorn Sheep. There are over 100,000 mountain goats in the united states.

Mountain goats can live in extreme elevations – sometimes above thirteen thousand feet. In those areas, they are the largest mammal around. They stay in these high elevations in the summer, where the newly born kids will be protected from predators, and migrate to the lower elevations during the winter months. 

Mountain goats are best known for their agility. They can walk on narrow rocky ledges and scale extremely steep inclines. Their hooves have very soft rubbery pads on the bottom to help with their traction on the slippery rocks.  They eat grass, herbs, sedges, fern mosses, shrubs, and lichen. 

Just before breeding season in the fall, the males will compete for females. They don’t fight head to head like the Bighorn Sheep, but rather they stab each other’s flanks. It is easier to distinguish males from females during this time of the year because the males typically have dirt on their white fur from battle.

In most states, you have to enter a draw to win a permit to hunt a Mountain Goat. Make sure you pack lightweight gear that is weatherproof – you will have to be in some pretty remote areas to harvest this game. From November on, it will tend to be pretty rainy. But this late in the season will produce a much prettier winter coat.

Having a good set of glass will help you not only locate game but also to judge their horn size. Before you pull that trigger, make sure the goat is in a location where you can retrieve it – and it won’t go tumbling down a ravine in a suicide leap. When looking over the goats, look for a black gland at the base of the horns – only males will have this donut-shaped gland. The more mature males will have thick horns that nearly touch one another at the base. Trophy sized billies will have a fairly consistent mass up the length of the horn. 

Moose 

Moose have a keen sense of hearing and smell. Their antlers actually amplify their hearing and can grow up to five feet across. They are the largest member of the deer family and the tallest mammal in North America. Moose are found in Alaska, the Northeastern states, and as far south as the Colorado Rockies. They prefer willow bogs, low hanging brush, and dense forest. Males can weigh just shy of two thousand pounds. Their coarse hair is hollow, which helps to insulate the animal and their front legs are longer which helps them to jump over fallen trees.

Mating season is in early fall. The females will call the males with scent and with a deep sounding call. The bull moose will fight over females and create threatening displays with their antlers towards other males.  Their fights involve a lot of pushing and rarely result in death unless their antlers get stuck together. After the mating season, their antlers fall off and are consumed by rodents for their calcium.

Their large size makes it difficult for them to survive in warm climates and they prefer to stay near large bodies of water that will allow them to cool off when overheated. Moose have poor eyesight and are most active at dusk and dawn. They are highly territorial. Moose will charge humans and can run 35 miles an hour – care must be taken when hunting them. 

The word “moose” is an Algonquian word for “twig eater”, which describes them well. Moose will browse through twigs and brush looking for food. They eat twigs, leaves, shrubs, and buds trees like birch, balsam, aspen, and dogwood. They also will eat some aquatic plants like water lilies. 

But for most hunters, the moose is once in a lifetime trophy game. When hunting remembers, spread in inches in the least reliable predictor of trophy quality. So pay attention to what you are looking at before deciding if it is worth your shot or not. Look for bulls with wide and tall palmations – which is the antler material in the paddles of each antler. Tall antlers score well because they are usually very wide. Tines, which are the points that come up from the base of the palm and run parallel to the nose are important to look at. You need at least two front points, preferably more. Each additional point on the perimeter of the antlers earns one inch of trophy score. They are only able to be counted if they are an inch or longer – so the little nubs worn off from rubbing don’t count.

Moose is a pretty difficult tag to draw. Utah has tags for purchase.  These can be anywhere from $5K to $15K, depending on the size of the antlers. When hunting moose – you get what you pay for. 

When on the hunt, remember that moose are extremely sensitive to weather. If it is slightly too warm you are not likely to see a bull at all on your hunt. Moose are rather solitary, sedentary animals and have a very large territory range – so you are not likely to see a large number of moose on a hunt.  On the positive side, moose, unlike other deer species, don’t bolt at the sight of a human. They tend to “wait and see” a moment before deciding what they will do. This gives you just the moment you need to size him up properly.

Grizzly Bear

In North America, we have two species of brown bear: the Kodiak, which is found only in the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Grizzly Bear. Grizzlies are found in Asia, Scandinavia, Europe, and Russia too. In North America, the Grizzlies used to be all over the western states, even in the Great Plains, and down into the deserts of Mexico. They have been extirpated from 98% of their original habitat. Populations are now in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and the northern part of Idaho. Alaska has the biggest population in the United States.

Grizzlies will be found in wooded forests, tundra, alpine meadows, and alpine prairies. They prefer locations near rivers or streams. They are omnivores and their diet will vary tremendously. They have been known to eat seeds, berries, roots, grass, fungi, deer, elk, fish, dead animals, insects. They can eat up to three pounds of food a day.

A female grizzly will weigh around 800 lbs and a male can weigh 1,800. Grizzlies have a rounded face and a very distinctive hump on their shoulders. Their claws can be four inches long. While most are dark brown, some will be light cream and others black. In the lower 48, the term Grizzly is used in lieu of brown bear. This term comes from the grizzled appearance the long guard hairs on their back have due to the white tips.

While the grizzly is very solitary, they are not highly territorial. It is not too uncommon to see multiple grizzlies eating together in a place where food is abundant. After about three years a cub will leave its mother but will still stay fairly local.

There is a lot of controversy about hunting Grizzly and within recent years the laws have changed considerably – in some places back and forth. Make sure you double check your state’s laws before venturing out. Please remember, hunting, when done properly is one of the keys to proper wildlife management and species conservation.

Wolf

Wolves are the largest member of the Canid family but have never been domesticated. There are technically three species and almost forty subspecies of wolf. The most common type is the Gray Wolf or Timber Wolf. They can grow up to 6.5 feet long and weigh 175 lbs.  The Red Wolf is a little smaller growing to be 5.5 feet long and 80 lbs and is critically endangered. The Eastern Timber Wolf is a threatened species and is only found near the in Canada where it is a protected species. Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Alaska allow wolf hunting. Interestingly, in 2016 further genetic testing has shown that these three are actually the same species and that the Eastern and Red are hybrids caused by Wolves breeding with Coyotes.  

The Alpha male and female are typically the only ones who will mate. They mate in late winter and nine weeks later will have a litter of up to eleven pups. All the adults in the pack will care for the pups and will regurgitate food for them after they are 10 weeks of age. By 6 months they have learned to hunt.  Around two years they are considered adults. Most wolves will live up to eight years in the wild. Wolf packs can travel up to twelve miles a day.

Wolves are highly social and will howl to communicate with their pack members. They also communicate through scent markings. Their behavior is quite similar to other dogs – they love to play. Wolves are highly intelligent and require good tracking skills to hunt. Interestingly, most of the wolves hunted in Idaho and Montana were killed by a hunter who just happened to have a wolf tag but was purposefully out to hunt some other game. Most hunters will track wolves with a pack of hounds or will trap them. There are only a handful of hunters in the country who consistently hunt wolves without those tools.

Hunting over bait will vary from state to state – so please check with your state before trying this. If you do hunt over bait – you need to make sure you are far enough away from it. Using calls is helpful when hunting this game. Wolves will respond at roughly the same distance as calling coyotes – which is about a mile or more if you are convincing enough. Even with calls, a lot of time needs to be taken in locating the roaming pack. Wolves are very suspicious – if they get a slight hint of your presence, they won’t come near. 

Packs are typically only about ten in number, though it isn’t unusual to have up to thirty individuals. Wolves will sleep during the day and hunt at night. They will eat up to twenty pounds of food in a single meal! They eat deer, rabbit, rodents etc. 

Hunting wolves is a highly debated subject. Wolves are a threat to farmers – they have been known to kill cattle and sheep. But the conservation groups are quick to point out how crucial the role of the predator is to the entire ecosystem. That’s why hunting is so vital to the species. The numbers are kept in check for the protection of the farmers, and to prevent the spread of weak genes and disease through the population. And the information from the hunters is invaluable for the conservation of the species. 

Caribou

Caribou is a wild species of deer, one that has never been domesticated. They are related to pigs, hippos, giraffes, camels, antelopes, llamas, and other even-toed hoofed animals. Their brown coats will turn a grey hue in the winter. Caribou and Reindeer are the same species, Rangifer tarandus. However, you can still tell the difference. Caribou is found in North American and Greenland. Reindeer are slightly smaller and were domesticated in Northern Eurasia, while they are still some wild populations left, they are mostly considered a domesticated animal, and are herded by many of the arctic people groups who depend on them for every aspect of their lives. 

The males are significantly larger than the females. Both sexes will have antlers, though the males are much larger. They are the only deer species in which both sexes consistently grow antlers.  They use their forward-facing antlers to help dig in the frozen tundra, where their large hooves also help to dig for food. Their hooves also serve as helpful paddles when crossing the icy waters. 

Caribou are a migratory herd game animal. They have to keep moving to find an adequate supply of food and will cover vast distances during their migration. During the winter, they eat mostly lichens when there are fewer green plants. During the summer months, they enjoy birch, willow, grass, and sedge. 

Population density, predation by bear and wolves, and disease are a huge threat to the Caribou. Hunting is vital for the health of the species. While in some areas the herd size is being diminished, Caribou is being found in places that they have never been before. 

Mating season is in the fall and they will calve in the spring. Males will fight for access to the females. The dominant males may mate with up to twenty females in a season. He will stop eating completely and lose a significant portion of his weight. They will shed their antlers after the rut each year like other deer species. 

When hunting caribou, be prepared to make shots that are 300 yards away.  It takes a bit of patience when glassing out a herd to spot a choice bull. The Main Beams are the long part of the antler that comes out from the skull. It extends outwards and then back, and then curves forward again. It will usually show palmation at its upper portions. Shovels, or Brown palms, is the typically palmated antler that comes out from the main beam perpendicular to the bulls face. It can extend out as far as the nose. The rear point is the rear pointing spike that grows out of the middle of the main beam. Bez is the forward facing lower portion that comes off the main beam. They will branch into two or more fingers and often are palmated. Tops are the finger-like points that come up form the top of the main beam. 

Unique Game in the Northwest

Musk Ox

Musk Ox are massive, bovine animals that rather resemble a bison even with a hump on its shoulders. They are related to the buffalo, and to the Dall sheep, and mountain sheep. The coat is dark brown or black. They have a soft insulating inner layer of fur called Qiviut, under a coarse outer layer. These guard hairs can grow up to two feet long and they do not shed them. Both sexes have long horns which curve downward and then outward. Their thick fur makes them appear much larger than they actually are. Males can weigh up to 900 pounds and females 500 pounds. Mature males will stand 5 foot high at the shoulder. A 900-pound male will equal out to be a little over 300 pounds of meat. 

They are surprisingly agile climbers and one of the very few large mammals that are able to live year around in the arctic. They primarily feed on sedge, grass, and willows that are most often dried and buried beneath the snow. Calves are born only every two or three years. Within just a few hours the calves are able to follow their mothers back to the herd. Wolves and bears are the musk ox’s main predators. And though agile, they do tend to fall off cliffs or drown. The musk ox is also highly vulnerable to starvation. The Cows can live up to twenty years and males tend to die earlier due to the physical strain of fighting for females. When the muskoxen are threatened, they will form a fight circle or a crescent-shaped line of defense. They force their rumps together and face their horns outward.

This game animal can be found in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, and Scandinavia. There are over four thousand muskoxen in Alaska and while game hunting is permitted, there are numerous laws in place pertaining to harvesting this game species.  

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