In North America, I found fifty-two species you can hunt. Not all species exist in every state, but choices exist for most hunters. The fifty-two animals listed are classified as Large Game, Small Game, Upland Birds and Waterfowl. Providing details on every species would be worthy of a book. Instead, I will focus on the most popular game animals hunted North America. The entire list will be added to the Resources section of this series.
To hunt successfully from a wheelchair, you must go where the animals live. I won’t discourage you from trying to hunt for any species on the list. However, I will focus on habitats providing access with a reasonable amount of effort. You have my complete admiration if you can find a way to hunt big horn sheep or mountain goats, but they are a hard hunt for an able-bodied hunter in great shape.
Three considerations start our selection of an animal to hunt:
⦁ Your desire to hunt a particular species.
⦁ Your ability to access their habitat.
⦁ The difficulty of obtaining a permit to hunt a particular species.
Many hunters want to harvest a particular animal. If you want one of the animals portrayed frequently on TV hunting shows; white-tailed deer, elk, turkey, mule deer, black bear, pronghorn or pheasant, your desire can likely be fulfilled.
All these animals live in habitats you can access. It may be challenging, they may not show up in your chosen location, but they will present a shot from a wheelchair if luck is on your side. Believe me, you can increase your odds with good prep, but luck is always a factor, for able-bodied and disabled alike.
Hunting any game animal requires an evaluation of terrain you’ll encounter and your capability to navigate it safely.
Hunting from a wheelchair has two access requirements; navigable terrain by vehicle and relatively level ground once you reach your destination.You would be right in thinking that access is our greatest challenge. However, it can be done and is done every season. Some states allow the disabled to shoot directly from a vehicle, other states do not. Some folks ride on a modified quadrunner or Ranger, or use a track chair with tank like trends, ride in a trailer mobile blind, or simply get pulled and pushed along by helping hands until they reach their location.
Your methods will be dictated by state game and fish department laws and the equipment available to you. I’ll share access success stories in a later article. I can tell you from experience that it can be done! There are also many organizations and individuals willing to help and I’ll list them in the resource section.
Let’s take a look at the most popular big game species hunted in North America. Rather than recreating the extensive data already compiled on each species, I’ll link to the resources and talk about how each is typically hunted. Please explore the links and get familiar with the animals. Your success depends on your knowledge unless you get lucky.
White-tailed deer - Naturally found in all U.S. states except California, Nevada, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii, they are the most hunted big game animal in the United States and Canada. They exist in terrain that ranges from deciduous and coniferous forests to the scrub plains of the arid southwest.
Their sense of smell is very keen and they are incredibly sensitive to disturbances in their bedding and feeding areas. Your best chance of success is entering a blind as quietly as possible adjacent to a food plot, along a bedding to feeding path, or in front of feed (if allowed) before dawn or dusk.
Deer season typically begins in the late fall and ends in mid-winter. White tails are usually hunted from tree-stands or ground blinds near food plots or forest cover. They are often the first big game species taken by new hunters.
Elk - These large members of the deer family are popular game for western hunters. Relocation of Rocky Mountain elk into Pennsylvania and Kentucky affords easterners hunting opportunities, but the large western populations provide the best opportunity. You can hunt them with a vertical bow or crossbow if you’re lucky enough to be drawn for a hunt during the rut, i.e. mating season. The male bulls are looking for cows and eager to defend their harem. You may be able to call them into range of your blind or position. Using a rifle to cover greater range in the later seasons will likely increase your odds of a kill. It’s hard to get close to elk. Especially when you’re in a fixed position rather than using a spot-and-stalk technique.
Wild Turkey - These wily birds are a challenging hunt. Their eyesight is very good and they will bust you if they see you move. Again, a ground blind or a camo netting thrown-over yourself and chair can hide you well enough to arrow or shotgun a big Tom. You locate them by calling. Turkey country differs across the United States. The turkey species exist in the arid meadows of the southwest and Texas, lush deciduous forests in the east and mid-Atlantic region, and the tropical conditions in Florida. If you can find a fire road or forest road and setup along the edge with decoys and a call, you may get lucky.
Mule deer - These big bodied deer are residents of the western United States, western Canada and Sonoran Mexico. They are more prevalent than white tails in the states they are found. Mule deer hunts are tough for wheelchair hunters. They live in hilly and difficult terrain. Most mule deer hunting is spot and stalk. However, if you can locate a feeding area near a farm or river bottom, you may get a shot. Getting permission to hunt on private property near food sources is likely your best bet.
Black bear - Though not restricted by terrain, I would advise against dangerous game hunts like bears and wolves. Once you have outdoor experience you may want to consider a black bear hunt. Just remember, you’re on the ground with them. There’s no quick escape so choose wisely. Bears can often be hunted from logging roads. You may get a shot with a rifle if you can find animals near the road. Some states allow baiting which makes crossbow use possible.
Waterfowl hunting - If you can get to a blind along a marshland or water way and can swing a shotgun, you can hunt ducks, geese, and other waterfowl. I have not seen many wheelchair hunters going after waterfowl. However, I will research this activity and post any additional details in the comments section of this post.
Upland bird hunting - This is a challenging hunt because it typically involves moving and flushing the game. However, there are programs like Rolling for Ringnecks in California that provide a guided hunt for pheasant.
Once you select a species that provides a reasonable chance at a kill, we then consider the process for obtaining a permit to hunt that animal. There are two options here, buying a tag “over-the-counter” or entering a “draw.” Over-the-counter is what it sounds like. You visit a game and fish office or a qualifying sporting goods store and purchase a tag on the spot. The tag designates which species you can hunt and in what location. Small game species are permitted this way. If you want to start hunting by going after squirrels, foxes, bobcats, coyotes, or other small game, this is how you do it.
A draw on the other hand is like a lottery. You apply by paper form or on your state’s game and fish website. You then select an animal and a game management unit. After a designated time period, you’ll find out if your selected to receive a tag. If the species is limited in population size or there are many hunters applying for your unit, your odds of being selected are poor.
Selecting a hunt with a robust animal population or a less desirable species can increase your odds.
Big game species like elk, deer, turkey, bears or bison are usually “draw” first animals. The less desirable hunting areas for these animals can be offered over-the-counter after the draw. However, it varies by state. For example, drawing pronghorn in Arizona is a low percentage opportunity. In Wyoming, however, where pronghorns outnumber people, you can buy them over-the-counter.
If you get drawn, your tag or tags are mailed to you. They have an adhesive backing and get attached to the animal immediately after the kill. Check your state laws for details. I’ll show you where to find that information next week when I cover “How to Apply for a Hunt” in detail.
I hope you gained insights about the animals, their habitats and a few high-level techniques for pursuing them. Future article will provide additional details about hunting strategies.
Thanks for reading!