The following post comes to us from Tony Mandile, a regular contributor to NSSF.org’s “Hunting and Shooting Opportunities” section. This article and others like it — as well as information about hunting and shooting opportunities in every state — can be found at nssf.org/events.
Reservations to Hunt
Native American lands might provide excellent opportunities
By Tony Mandile
Photos by the author
Legal court cases have established the basis for every tribe in the U.S. to have sovereignty to regulate consensual activity between tribes and non-tribal members, including on tribal lands. It set a precedent for the more than 300 reservations in America, and in the decades since the court decisions, many of the tribes have formed their own game departments and an initiated their own list of hunting fees.
For nontribal members, the outcome kind of fits the good news/bad news scenario.
In general, the tribes have done an excellent job of managing the reservation wildlife. In fact many of the most sought after hunts in the West now occur on the reservations. For example, when it comes to elk hunting, few places under control of the state agencies can compare to the trophy quality and success rates on the San Carlos and White Mountain reservations in Arizona or the Mescalero and Jicarilla in New Mexico. All four are controlled by the Apache tribes. The Navajo Nation in Arizona also offer trophy hunts for mule deer and elk.
That’s the good news.
The bad news as far as the guided trophy bull elk hunt packages on those listed above is the cost; they start at $13,500 and top $25,000 in some cases, depending on the added fees tacked on according to trophy size. Yet, despite the high costs of these hunts, each tribe has a waiting list every year for one of the coveted and limited openings. In fact, about 90 percent of the package hunts on the White Mountain Apache Reservation each fall are booked by repeat customers, and the waiting list for new clients is now so long that the tribe is no longer taking names.
But there’s other good news, too. Reservations all across the country offer multiple options that are affordable for the common man. Even those above dole out reasonably priced cow elk permits for self-guided hunts that are usually in the neighborhood of $500 to $600. A management bull permit can be purchased for $5,000. On other reservations across the country, nontribal members have other big-game options. They can hunt pronghorn antelope, both white-tailed and mule deer, bear, bighorn sheep and even bison.
For example, in Montana, the Fort Belknap has an extensive program offering substantial numbers of deer and antelope permits. This 700,000-acre reservation, located in Montana’s high plains about 50 miles east of the town of Havre, offers about 80 buck antelope permits at $750 each and an unlimited number of doe permits for $100 each. Hunter success on pronghorn is nearly 100 percent, with a good percentage of bucks over 14 inches taken each year. Fort Belknap also sells a small number of whitetail and mule deer permits each year at nominal costs. The application process for both deer and antelope is the same — first-come, first-served by telephone beginning the first working day of January.
In South Dakota, the Lower Brule, Standing Rock, Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations all have both whitetail and mule deer hunts for nontribal members. Only the Pine Ridge requires a guide.
One of the newer options for bear hunting is the Quinault Nation in Washington. This reservation only opened these hunts to nontribal members a couple years ago, and the bear population has been compared to British Columbia and southeast Alaska. A permit costs $250, but you must hire one of the approved guiding services. Although this adds to the cost, the rates are not exorbitant.
The javelina has always been a quarry that interests hunters, particularly if they hail from states other than Arizona and Texas, where these collared peccary are native. Both the San Carlos and White Mountain reservations in Arizona sell permits on a first-come, first-served basis to hunt the sometimes maligned little peccaries.
Of course, the Arizona Game and Fish Department also sells javelina permits, but here’s where the good news applies again. A nonresident of Arizona can buy one of the tribal permits on first-come-first-served basis for $75 to $175, depending on the reservation and hunting area, and no guide is required. Comparatively, the cost to hunt off reservation with a state-issued nonresident permit would currently be $151.25 for a license and $7.70 to apply through the lottery draw. If successful, the hunter pays an additional $105.00 for the permit for a grand total of $263.75.
Small-game hunting is another area where reservation hunts make the best option for a nonresident of the state they want to hunt. A small-game permit to hunt quail on the White Mountain Reservation is $10 per day or $50 annually. The state cost is $61.25 for three consecutive days or $151.25 annually.
A similar comparison exists for fall turkey. Arizona’s San Carlos tribe offers 100 permits at $100 each. A state permit would run a total of $236.50.
In 2012, the Rosebud Sioux Reservation had 600 turkey permits each available for nontribal members through a drawing. The $150 permit cost includes two gobblers but also requires a $3 hunting license, a $10 habitat stamp and a $15 application fee.
For hunters looking to complete their American grand slam, guided hunts for the Osceola subspecies are available on Florida’s Seminole Reservation.
Want to shoot a few prairie dogs? No problem. On the Rosebud $80 for an annual license allows you to kill up to 2,500, or you can buy a three-day license with no limit. The $3 hunting license and $10 habitat stamp are also needed.
So if you live in a state with few big-game species to hunt or you can’t get drawn for a permit, be sure to investigate what’s available on the reservations. Same goes for some of the smaller critters. The cost and quality of the hunting and game might surprise you.
To get started, let your mouse do the walking by searching the web for the game species you want to hunt with something such as, “turkey (or insert any other game species) hunting on American Indian reservations.” From there it’s easy to narrow down the search so you can contact the agency that regulates the hunting on a specific reservation.