Yes! You can hunt in wilderness.
Hunting is a recreational activity you can enjoy in many wilderness areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service. Hunting is allowed in over 40 National Park Service units, about a third of those are wilderness areas.
Wilderness areas offer some of the wildest hunting experiences and often shelter the healthiest game species populations, as well as the largest trophy individuals. Motor vehicles, game carts and any other mechanical devices, trail cameras, and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones used for scouting are all prohibited in wilderness. Many hunters prefer a primitive and more challenging hunt that wilderness areas provide. Wilderness hunting includes elements of primitive outdoor skills and challenge on a fair-chase landscape.
Hunting is jointly managed by the federal wilderness agencies (Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service) and the states. Information about hunting regulations should be obtained from the federal wilderness agency and the state fish, wildlife and parks agency (names vary by state) for a particular area. Hunting regulations that include licenses, seasons, take limits by species and hunting units/districts, and specific hunting zone requirements can vary greatly by location. Hunters should acquire the appropriate hunting license(s) and tag(s) from the state agency. In limited situations or locations, you may be required to obtain a special hunting permit from the federal agency in addition to a state issued license. It is your responsibility to contact the federal wilderness agency and state hunting agency so that you:
- Have the correct license (ex. over-the-counter, application, lottery tags; in-state vs. out-of-state tags) for the species you are hunting (ex. mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, moose, black bear, turkey, chukar, boar etc.)
- Have the correct license for the type of hunting you are doing (ex. archery vs. rifle)
- Have the correct license for the hunting unit or district you are hunting in (ex. hunting units don't always follow wilderness boundaries)
- Know your take limits (ex. one animal or multiple; size, age restrictions etc.)
- Know your species (ex. the difference between mule deer and whitetail deer or black bears and grizzly bears (an endangered species))
- Know when your hunting season begins and ends (ex. season length can vary by type of hunting, unit and species)
- Know all state, federal, and wilderness specific regulations and considerations for the area you are hunting
In addition to knowing, and following, all federal and state regulations pertaining to hunting, it is the responsibility of the hunter to be aware of, and follow, any applicable federal regulations associated with hunting activities on federal lands (e.g. use of tree stands/blinds, traveling off designated routes or trails, camping, collecting of firewood, use of dogs, etc.).
Tips for hunting in wilderness aren't much different from tips for other recreational activities in wilderness and include the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace. Learn how to adapt LNT to hunting including:
- Wilderness hunts can be strenuous. Be sure you are in good physical and mental shape to enjoy your wilderness hunting adventure. Know your limits and honor them to prevent any unnecessary search and rescues. Many remote locations are not within cell phone coverage areas, so do not rely on your cell phone.
- For your safety and the peace of mind of others, always tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back.
- Ensure you are ready for a wilderness hunt by honing your hunting skills. Test your equipment and dial in your target shooting and calling skills before your trip.
- Research your chosen hunting area in advance. Since game cameras and drones are prohibited in wilderness, use paper maps, online maps and Google Earth to get familiar with your hunting area. It is also your responsibility to avoid trespassing on private property on your way to your hunting area, so research both your hunting area and your approach.
- Maximize the safety of other wilderness visitors by avoiding popular destinations and trails. Familiarize yourself with federal and state regulations on where it is safe and permissible to discharge a firearm (including archery). Wear hunter orange, but be aware that other wilderness visitors who are not hunters may not be.
- When hunting off-trail, be sure you have current paper maps and a compass with you in the field and the orienteering skills to use them properly.
- If you're hunting out-of-state or in a place you don't know, consider hiring a reputable, wilderness-knowledgeable outfitter and guide to take you hunting. Outfitter and guide services range from minimal assistance to fully-outfitted trips. Make sure the company you select is permitted to operate in the wilderness you are hunting in.
- Hunting seasons sometimes occur during colder parts of the year. Ensure you have the proper gear to stay warm and dry, as well as pack out your animal.
- Pick your target carefully and ensure a clean, humane shot.
- Gut, cool and pack out your kill as quickly as possible. Salvage as much of your kill as possible, both to enjoy at your dinner table as well as on your trophy wall. Stay vigilant when dressing your animal in bear country. Pack out spent brass, and keep your hunting camp clean to avoid attracting predators.
- Know the rules for tracking, and dispatching, wounded animals in areas (both inside and outside wilderness) where hunting is not allowed. Also know what is required to transport legally-taken animals through areas where hunting is not allowed.
- Unless you have a special outfitter camp permit, avoid the temptation to set up a permanent hunting camp during the season. Not only is it illegal to cache equipment in wilderness, it can impact the experiences of other visitors. Locate your hunting camp in areas where camps are allowed.
- Learn more about fair-chase backcountry hunting ethics through Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and other groups that support wilderness hunting. Share the wilderness hunting experience with the next generation by mentoring a young hunter.