10 Most Difficult North American Big Game Hunts


Do You Have the Guts to Take Them On?

Colorado Over-the-Counter (OTC) Elk

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10 | Colorado Over-the-Counter (OTC) Elk

Building preference points for Colorado elk could land you in a premier unit where bugling bulls will keep you awake all night in camp.

No preference points? No problem. Colorado offers OTC elk tags, and they’re valid in more than 100 units. But, you’ll share the timber with thousands of other hunters. Add recreationists in there, and the pressure is astounding.

Of course, many elk are annually killed in OTC units. That’s not surprising given the multitude of hunters. Consider, though, that success rates for most OTC units are 10 percent, give or take. With such low odds, the key is to learn an area inside and out over multiple seasons, logging extensive notes and eventually connecting the dots. Success also largely hinges on your ability to hike deep through rigorous terrain to reach elk at or near 10,000 feet of elevation.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Arizona OTC Archery Coues Deer

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9 | Arizona OTC Archery Coues Deer

If you think the only way to hunt Arizona is by drawing a tag, think again. Archers can obtain a non-permit deer tag (also called OTC) valid for Coues whitetail or mule deer. Non-permit deer seasons are in January, August and December.

By nature, Coues are skittish. One of the most well-traveled and successful hunters I know, an Arizona resident, recently said, “Spot and stalk hunting Coues deer might be the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do with a bow.”

December and early January are when Coues rut. Put in long hours behind glass, and you could encounter a pre-occupied buck.

Another viable approach — at least during arid conditions — is a water ambush. Deer must drink. Find maps that denote water tanks for the forest-service ground you intend to hunt. From there, visit multiple tanks on foot to study deer activity.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Flikr

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Washington Roosevelt Elk

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8 | Washington Roosevelt Elk

If you’ve done a DIY Rocky Mountain elk hunt, then you understand difficult hunting. Ready for an even harder elk hunt? Enter the Roosevelt elk.

Washington offers elk tags over the counter. Of course, this means pressure is generally high. Your best DIY opportunity is on private timberlands that offer walk-in public access. But Olympic National Park holds the state’s largest Roosevelt population.

Roosevelt elk live in various habitats, but often inhabit jungle-thick hideouts. Check out the coast, where elevation goes from sea level to 2,000 feet just like that. Here, you’ll hunt impenetrable forests with giant blowdowns.

It’ll most likely rain during your hunt, so pack raingear and boots with superior gripping. Utilize Washington’s online public-land map to identify hunting grounds and study terrain. According to my online research, only the hardcore hunters hike in deep. Will you be one of them? Your success depends on it.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Flikr

Trophy Columbia Black-Tailed Deer

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7 | Trophy Columbia Black-Tailed Deer

Columbia blacktails inhabit a long but narrow coastal strip in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California. Availability is a challenge.

Anna feels Columbia black-tailed deer are underrated on the difficulty chart. “Unless you know someone with land and a couple of apple trees, finding a quality buck can be extremely tough,” she said. “They inhabit the dense forests, and they’re not particularly patternable.”

Many successful blacktail hunters consider these Pacific Northwest and California deer the most difficult deer subspecies. Obtaining a license is usually easy. Finding a mature buck isn’t.

In spot-and-stalk-friendly habitat, spend hours behind glass to locate deer. In arid conditions, waterholes or stock tanks can produce. Of course, the big, dark timber is best-suited for treestand hunting. Be prepared to alternate between multiple tactics based on the topography.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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Alaska Delta Bison

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6 | Alaska Delta Bison

Alaska’s sought-after Delta bison herd epitomizes difficult hunting. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, approximately 15,000 hunters annually apply for 100 tags.

Of course, successful applicants face more challenges. “Bison aren’t fat cows in pastures,” Ken shared. “They’re not easily patterned, and they’re generally spooky.”

Anna agrees. “Mature bulls often alienate cows and young bulls,” she said. “You’re often looking for one animal rather than a herd. They’ll spend weeks in the thick willows or timber and can be challenging to locate.”

Ken drew the Delta tag several seasons ago. “I hunted on weekends for a couple of months before I killed my bull,” he said. “And it was -32°F the day I killed him.”

Anticipate covering lots of ground in brutally cold conditions. You’ll look long and hard to find a mature bull. Pack a positive attitude, and this difficult hunt will be a thriller.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Pixabay

California Tule Elk

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5 | California Tule Elk

Due to the Tule elk’s small “pocket” ranges in California, availability and price create steep challenges. According to several online sources, you must draw a license or purchase a PLM tag through an outfitter, which brings the hunt bill (without travel) to approximately $20,000, plus or minus.

Most Tule elk are hunted in open-type habitat rather than the high-country timber like their Rocky Mountain cousins, so the hunt itself isn’t nearly as physically demanding. Still, approaching a herd in this terrain is extremely tricky.

Tule elk can be had on public land, but drawing a tag is nearly impossible. If you want to hunt a Tule elk anytime soon, you’ll have to pay $20,000 for an outfitted hunt.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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Polar Bear

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4 | Polar Bear

“Certain hunts have high success rates, but are extremely difficult,” Ken said. “Consider the polar bear. First, opportunities to hunt them are few. Second, the fees involved are astounding.”

Yes, a polar bear hunt costs as much as — sometime more than — a brand new, fully loaded Chevy Silverado.

Since polar bear hunting is conducted on relatively flat terrain, outfitters transport hunters to hunting areas via snowmobile. From there, dog sleds are used to locate and approach target bears.

Besides the price barrier, you’ll likely battle subzero temperatures. Most hunters wear goggles and the market’s warmest clothing. That’s not all; you must shoot your bow accurately in that apparatus, too.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Alaska Coastal Brown Bear

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3 | Alaska Coastal Brown Bear

Tundra and willow habitat in Alaska is home to colossal brown bears. These giants are incredibly dangerous and difficult to hunt; most folks who’ve taken their North American Super Slams made multiple trips before claiming their brown bears.

Hunts run approximately $15,000-45,000. This one is full of logistics, as most backcountry brown bear hunts require a week to two weeks away from civilization. A quality outfitter will simplify this.

This hunt takes guts. You must understand that brown bears can kill you. You also must accept the possibility of paying thousands of dollars and being unsuccessful. Those are realities. One final question: Are you brave enough to tent camp in brown bear country?

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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Mountain Goat

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2 | Mountain Goat

Mountain goats are a tough draw in the lower 48, but Canadian hunting opportunities abound. “Mountain goats can be hunted more readily than wild sheep, but most reputable Canadian outfitters get $10,000 or more for a hunt,” Ken said.

While $10,000 is expensive, mountain goats are less expensive to hunt than sheep. Thus, it’s the physical commitment that earns their spot on this list. “Mountain goats inhabit some of the most vertical terrain with loose shale,” Vorisek said. “Imagine camping and hiking in that for days on end. It defines ‘tough.’”

Like any expensive hunt, it pays to plan this adventure years in advance. Many logistics are involved, and shopping around for the right outfitter will take time and extensive research. And, you must spend months preparing your body for the hardships you’ll inevitably encounter.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Wild Sheep

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1 | Wild Sheep

Desert bighorn sheep licenses are nearly impossible to draw. Obtain a tag through an outfitter, and you’ll pay through the nose.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are another tough draw. For example, Montana’s district 680-20 allots two nonresident tags, but more than 2,000 folks annually apply. Good luck.

British Columbia stone sheep are expensive for nonresident aliens. Why? You’re required by law to hire an outfitter. Got $45,000 sitting in your checking account? That’s the ballpark outfitter fee for a BC stone sheep hunt.

Alaska, British Columbia and Northwest Territories Dall sheep hunts can cost $20,000 or more. Once again, nonresidents must hire a guide, even in Alaska. Prepare yourself for one of the most logistically complex and physically demanding hunts of all time.

All sheep hunts require a gritty attitude, great financial resources, a fit body and lots of luck when it comes to obtaining licenses. Beyond that, expect extreme backcountry camping and backpacking. Wild sheep hunting involves many, many hardships.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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North America is rich with challenging hunts. The following 10 are difficult due to money, physical hardships, tough-to-obtain tags or a combination thereof. It takes tough minds and tough gear — like King’s Camo clothing — to get the job done.

Of them, I’ve only done the Colorado elk hunt, so I leaned on North American Super Slammers Ken and Anna Vorisek of Alaska to learn what they feel are the most difficult hunts.

All of these hunts seem fun, but that’s not a fair outlook. Most require pain, suffering, even living on the edge. Others require immense financial commitment with the possibility of being unsuccessful. And others require a tag that’s nearly impossible to draw. Many require all three. So, I ask you, do you have what it takes?