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Original Issue


A preseason report from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's outdoor correspondents on where and how to find the nation's top big game hunting trophies

Hunting prospects for America's favorite and most abundant big game—deer—have never been better. There are now more than 12 million roaming the U.S. and by season's end an estimated one and three-quarter million will have fallen to hunter's guns. The whitetail, hunted in 43 of the 48 states, continues the nation's top big-game animal. Rhode Island, for the first time in many years, opens a deer season this year, but limits it to archery only.

Kentucky, which last year had a similar archery season, reports such increases that this year firearms will be permitted. In all states, with the exception of Minnesota, populations are either up or the same as last year's record levels. Virginia reports more deer now than when Captain John Smith settled Jamestown, and Maryland, which had only three small herds in 1930, now has so many deer they are creating crop problems.

The only two states where deer cannot be hunted are Kansas and Illinois.

Mule deer in the West continue to maintain excellent herds and 12 states, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Utah, all report increases. In California, clearing of heavy timber has resulted in deer moving into the new forage areas, and bigger herds are building up there.

Blacktail deer, found primarily in Washington, Oregon and California, are following the same trend. Oregon's population is up, and California and Washington report its numbers about the same as last year. Even the number of stragglers border-jumping into Nevada has increased measurably.

Once threatened by extinction and down to a total of only 31,000 in 1924, the pronghorn through conservation has now been built up into the second largest population of big-game animals in the U.S. Top antelope hunting state is Wyoming with a population of 110,000 and an expected kill of 30,750. Montana is second with 60,000 and an expected kill of 30,000. Antelope can also be hunted in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.

Hunting methods and weapons for antelope are the same as for deer except that shooting is generally at longer range.

Found in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, this fast-moving relative of the domestic pig provides excellent sport whether hunted on foot or horseback. Texas, which has 100,000 of the 125,000 javelina in the U.S., reports increases this year and regular seasons in November and December.

Arizona's population is 18,000 and a kill of 3,000 is expected during its season in February. New Mexico's 1,000 javelina are still protected by a closed season.

Usually hunted with a pack of dogs, the javelina requires a fast, clean shot in the brain or spinal column to drop it quickly. An average deer load is adequate, or a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with rifled slugs. Shooting is at close range and generally through heavy brush.

If the meat is to be eaten—and it is excellent—be sure to remove the scent glands or they will foul the meat.

Across their 32-state range, black bear Continue to do well. Only New Mexico, Louisiana and Wyoming report decreases. New York, North Carolina, Utah and Vermont all show increases. Regular seasons prevail in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington (with some areas open all year), West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Elsewhere the black bear will be hunted year round in Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah. Seasons are closed in Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland and New Jersey, and populations are stable. Black bears are even cropping up where they're not supposed to be. A Connecticut farmer last week reported unexpectedly meeting one in a bramble patch behind his property. And everyone knows there are no bears in Connecticut.

The future of the blackie's big brothers, the brown and grizzly, is not as bright. The brown bear, which once rambled over much more of the U.S., today is found only in Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming. These last two states report populations dwindling although hunting is still permitted. Idaho, with hunting legal all year, and Montana, with a regular season, report populations static. The grizzly can only be hunted in Montana and Wyoming. Colorado, with a handful, and Idaho protect them year round.

An estimated 25,000 bears will be killed in the 27 bear-hunting states during the 1956 season. Of these, all but about 100 will be members of the black bear family. Most of them will be taken by hunters seeking other big game (usually deer) in areas where bear are also found. For all but very large black bears, brown bears or grizzlies, the average deer rifle is adequate. But only a good marksman, certain of the shot he makes and of his weapon, should tackle bear. Wounded, even the usually docile black bear becomes a formidable enemy. Popular big bear rifles are the .300 Weatherby Magnum, the .375 H&H Magnum, .300 H&H Magnum and .348 Winchester.

Idaho remains the top elk state with its population of 60,000, and this year some 45,000 hunters will kill 9,000 animals in that state alone.

Bigger herds are building up in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon, and elk in Virginia have been pronounced stable enough to permit a November season on regular license for the first time in years.

Other hot elk spots are Montana, which has a population of 52,000, Colorado (50,000) and Wyoming, with 37,000. Seasons will also be opening in the next few months in Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and New Mexico.

California and South Dakota have been forced to close their seasons this year due to herd decreases. Seasons are also closed in Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Harder to bag than deer, the elk is better tasting and carries a bigger rack of antlers. One of America's top trophies, it attracts thousands of out-of-state hunters to its range every year.

It is almost essential to use horses in pursuing elk due to their tendency to roam and the weight of the carcass. The elk hunter should use a gun that is accurate and punishing at extreme ranges.

Mountain sheep prospects are the best in years. Populations are up in Arizona, Colorado and Oregon, and are promisingly steady in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. Hunters in California, Oregon, Texas and Utah, where seasons remain closed, look hopefully to next year. Idaho adds a regular season to its special-permit hunt this year and Nevada, closed to sheep hunters in 1955, has opened two special hunts. New Mexico reports the only decrease and has closed its season. However, Barbary sheep, planted experimentally in New Mexico several years ago, continue to thrive and will be hunted again this December.

Patience, perseverance and limber muscles are needed to bag this fleet-footed cliff climber. An experienced guide is a good idea; telescopic sights are a must. Average shots are at about 200 yards. Long-range shooting and long-range rifle toting influence choice of weapons. Rifles of high velocity and flat trajectory in .270, .30-06 and .300 Magnum calibers are most commonly used.

Often called "white mountain buffalo" by early pioneers because of its humped back, the mountain goat can be hunted only in three states—Idaho, Montana and Washington. Hunting for goat is by special permit in all three states, though Idaho, has this year also established a new short season on regular hunting licenses. Oregon, which has a closed season, reports its populations are on the increase and hopes for a hunting season in the next couple of years, should the trend continue.

The mountain goat is a thorough-going introvert, uninterested in what goes on around him and therefore not difficult to kill once the hunter gets within range of it. The precarious peaks on which it lives make finding it the most arduous part of the hunt.

Shooting is almost always at ranges of 200 yards or more and the weapon used should combine hair-fine accuracy with quick killing power. It should have a telescopic sight of at least 4-power. Generally preferred is a .300 Magnum because of its accuracy and the high shocking effect of the Magnum cartridge at long ranges. In addition, the goat hunter needs a spotting scope and an experienced guide. The prize is excitement and a trophy; as food the goat has little appeal.

This largest member of the deer family can only be hunted in the U.S. in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, but increasing herds are also reported from Maine, Minnesota and Utah. Populations comparable to last year are noted in Montana and New Hampshire. Seasons occur anywhere from September to January depending on areas hunted.

Moose territory ranges from open country to heavy brush and woodland. At either extreme the moose is a master at deception, blending its great bulk perfectly into the surrounding foliage. Where terrain permits, spotting scopes or binoculars help. For long-range shooting, telescopic sights of from 2½-to 4-power are popular. Great size makes the moose an easy target to hit but a difficult one to kill. A fast handling rifle, capable of delivering shocking blows in rapid succession, is best. Lever actions in .30-06, .348 and .300 Magnum calibers fill the bill.

If moose steaks on the fire are more important than moose heads on the wall, an early fall hunt, before the rutting season, is recommended. The flesh of the bull moose in rut takes on a strong, unpleasant flavor distasteful to the gourmet.


Variously known as puma, panther, catamount and cougar, the mountain lion is classed as a predator throughout the West and may be hunted there year round, although it is not pursued in the Southwest during the summer due to the extreme heat. In the South, Louisiana permits hunting throughout the year. Only in Florida, where the panther is confined for the most part to the Big Cypress Swamp, is there a season—Nov. 20 to Jan. 13.

It is almost impossible to hunt these wary cats without a pack of well-trained hounds. Due to the scarcity of good dogs it is imperative for the casual hunter to obtain the services of a professional guide and his hounds. Even treed, the cougar will rarely attack man. Hunters seeking it in the Southwest can engage an expert guide for a 10-day hunt for approximately $500.

A head or neck shot is recommended for an instantaneous kill and a light carbine has sufficient power to bring the big cat down.

This ponderous, stuporous mammal of the Alaskan coastal waters hasn't been hunted by white men since 1941. Now, with a recent amendment to the law protecting the walrus, white hunters will be permitted to shoot one bull a year, provided the hunter is accompanied by an Eskimo guide and turns the carcass over to him after the kill. The trophy, including hide and tusks, may be taken home. Most successful shoots will occur between mid-April and early June during the northern migration.

Although the Eskimos have been hunting walrus with a motley of weapons, the trophy hunter should employ a powerful rifle such as a .375 H&H Magnum. The preferable method for hunting is to go out in an umiak (an Eskimo craft made of walrus skins) until a solitary bull is sighted on a floe. The hunter should cautiously stalk the beast until he can get a precise shot at short range. Once alarmed, walrus generally head for water.

Of all the felines only the lion and tiger are larger than this formidable cat which ranges from northern Argentina to Mexico with an occasional straggler crossing the Rio Grande into the U.S. Because the jaguar is essentially a nocturnal animal, it must be hunted early; dogs are essential in hunting it during daylight, as a jaguar has wary habits. Although it is very fast, the jaguar's lungs are small and it gets winded easily, coming to bay shortly after being started. A 12-gauge shotgun with a rifled slug or a high-powered rifle is suggested for the kill.

Another method of hunting the cat is at night with lights. Some hunters also employ a horn similar to a moose call which they use to "call up" the jaguar.

North Americans may hunt jaguar in Mexico by obtaining the necessary permits through the Mexican Consulate. Tourists planning to hunt in South America, where the terrain is usually more accessible than the dense Mexican jaguar haunts, normally have to go through a good deal of red tape before securing the necessary permission. One way to avoid this is to contact a professional guide. One of the best is Ernest Lee of Tucson, Ariz. His expedition, with all arrangements made beforehand, is leaving this winter for Colombia. The total cost is $1,000, which includes everything except weapons and transportation.

The origins of this wild pig in the U.S. are obscure. New Hampshire biologists, who claim their strain is the only pure one, say that the boar was brought over in 1898 from Germany and released on a badly fenced preserve north of Danbury. The southern strain is believed to have been imported in 1910 by an Englishman who dreamed of establishing a game preserve in a timbered tract just southwest of the Great Smokies. The southern pigs have occasionally interbred with feral razor-backs. Those in California are thought to have been shipped there from the South.

Boar may be hunted throughout the year in New Hampshire. There are intermittent seasons in North Carolina (October to January), Tennessee (October and November) and California (October to March).

Whether crossed or pure, the wild boar is a creature of exceptional stamina. The only practical way to hunt it, due to its keen sensitory organs, is with dogs. In New Hampshire, which has more than half the U.S. boar population, this is invariably a wintertime pursuit because of easier tracking. Boar hunting is exhausting, for the animals can run for days and it is heavy going following the dogs.

When cornered, the boar can be a formidable animal, moving with great speed and agility for all his bulk—mature animals reach 600 pounds. Boar hunters claim that "pigs" can assimilate more lead before dropping than any other American game. Most shooting, because of the heavy brush the boar holes up in, is done within 50 yards and a .30 caliber rifle loaded with .170-, .180-, or .220-grain bullets is suggested.